I have my Canon camera with me most of the time when I’m out and about, which has led to some fantastic photo opportunities. Many of those pictures have been incorporated into my essays. Having owned an SLR camera since 2010, and referencing the law of large numbers, it would stand to reason that I would have witnessed at least a few unfortunate occurrences in traffic, which has been the case.
My then-partner and I were on holiday in Italy back in 2017. We had grabbed a quick lunch at Caffè Vaticano across from the Vatican City, which we were about to tour, and were waiting near steps not far from the restaurant. That lunch and a chance to sit down for a little while was a welcome break, following a hours-long walking tour we had just taken of the Roman Colosseum. We were waiting for our tour guide to arrive when I heard a thud, the sound of broken plastic skittering across the pavement, and a sea of gasps from onlookers.
The driver of this A5 Volkswagen Beetle had hit a guy on a scooter who, thankfully, was wearing his helmet. Everybody looked okay, and the biker was even standing, walking and talking before our tour guide arrived. Roman police were there very quickly. Impatient drivers behind the VW had started to honk, then finally go around the vehicles, which were situated exactly where they were immediately following impact. I remember a lot of things about those moments, but a couple of them in particular.
The first is that I felt helpless to provide any meaningful assistance, as I don’t speak Italian, even if I’m sure there were many English speakers around. I had my phone with me, but being a foreign country and with the service I had, I wouldn’t have known what number to call if this had been more serious. In the United States, we call 9-1-1. Obviously, there were other people around who could, and thankfully did, help. So, what did I do in this moment? I took a picture and said a prayer. About the latter, I’ll say that outside of a medical facility, if one is going to be involved in a traffic accident, I think the next-best place to do it might be within meters of the Pope.
My first SLR camera, my Canon EOS Rebel XS – now retired, but still in my possession.
I really am an empathic person and I care very much about the well-being of other people. I hope this comes across in my writing. It’s just that I didn’t know what else to do, and I felt that this was a noteworthy moment to document. After my shutter went click, my ex darted me a glance that was a mixture of disbelief, embarrassment, and disgust. “Joe, did you seriously just take a picture of that? How would you like it if…” I have forgotten exactly how I shut that whole thing down, which I did, though this was by no means an actual fight. It was a good day. I’ll just say that I honestly hope that I will not be a first-person witness to another passenger car-motor scooter collision, outside the Vatican, and with a significant other next to me, ever again – combining those three, disparate elements all at the same time. Am I glad I had taken this picture? Yes.
I was on a walk back home from a local beach when I heard a crash between this 2000 (or ’01) Toyota Camry and a bicycle. It was a chilling sound, the dull thud of the actual impact and light squeak of a bicycle tire against the pavement. In this case, as well as the other, I didn’t watch this sequence of events unfold exactly as they happened, even if I could hear it with my earbuds in. As I walked closer to the intersection, I could see that the bicyclist was standing up and that she and the driver were talking. They didn’t appear to be talking angrily with each other. There seems to be a fine line between watching something like this as an observer and turning into a “looky-loo” and lingering. Could my involvement in this matter have benefitted either party, given that I didn’t actually see what happened? I honestly didn’t think so. I chose, again, to snap a quick picture and be on my way – certainly not out of disrespect, but just because this is something that someone like me doesn’t see every day.
I’d like to think that if I’m ever struck by any sort of vehicle, whether as a pedestrian, bicyclist, or fellow motorist, that if I’m not okay, someone will come to my aid instead of just taking pictures of it with their phone. In both of these instances, though, it was apparent that all parties were on their feet, and more importantly, that other onlookers were already involved in making sure folks were alright before emergency personnel arrived. “Are you okay?” “Stai bene?” Here’s hoping everything turned out okay following both incidents.
Rome, Italy, Monday, November 13, 2017; and
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois, Saturday, July 6, 2013.