I’ve never called 911 before. The closest I’ve come is calling the non-emergency police line when the cranky old man down the street threatened to do terrible things to my dog for peeing on his lawn (I still wish they had locked the guy up…). Last night, however, I made my first call to the most useful three digits in America. I experienced the agony of waiting, waiting, waiting for an ambulance to finally show up. I felt the heartache of seeing a man upended and strewn about a street, despite not knowing the man at all. I realized how quickly tragedy visits and how quickly we try to push that tragedy out of our minds.
The evening started out beautifully. I was at the Little Next Door restaurant, a Frenchy cafe that was trying to amp up its dinner menu and spread the word via a media dinner where a huddle of LA’s food writers come, eat, and hopefully write about the experience. In between bites of spicy harissa-accented shrimp and bread slathered with brie and mascarpone, I took a second to appreciate the early summer sun hitting my face.
This has always been my favorite time of the year. It’s the week of my birthday. It’s the official changeover from spring to summer. It’s the time when school gives way to vacation and there are times now when my life feels like permanent vacation. I’m a very thankful guy and when I’m able to step back and have some perspective, I’m amazed at how lucky I am to be able to do what I do.
More courses came, more photos were taken, more food was shoved into mouths. And then it happened.
All I remember hearing was the crunch of car on car and glass shattering. The sound was all too familiar after having two car accidents myself in the past six months. I quickly turned, expecting to see a standard fender bender. Perhaps a car pulled out from the curb too quickly and didn’t see the on-coming traffic? Instead, I saw a man literally flying through the air.
He was one of the valet attendants and was politely opening the door for someone. As a result, he was exposed to traffic and a car crashed right into both him and the door. My reaction was visceral.
“OH MY GOD,” I exclaimed, not even realizing that I was speaking. Within seconds, I had my phone out and called 911 for the first time in my life.
On Mother’s Day, I listed all of the things I’ve learned from my mother and staying calm under pressure was one of those things. I’m lucky to be able to keep a clear head in situations like these. After explaining where I was to the operator, I hung up and wondered how long an ambulance would actually take to get to the restaurant. At this point, the injured man was sitting on the street surrounded by a sea of broken glass and bleeding through his white valet uniform. The look on his face was disbelief; complete shock.
Minutes went by and still no ambulance. The entire restaurant was standing and watching the situation, as were a large collection of onlookers on both sides of the street. People had their phones out and were taking photos (which made me want to grab all of their phones and throw them down a sewer grate). The driver who had struck the man was pacing around nervously. Luckily, he hadn’t driven off.
After what seemed like hours (but was roughly 10 minutes), the ambulance arrived and whisked the man away to the hospital, which luckily was less than a mile away. The other diners in the restaurant sat down. Platters of dessert arrived to our tables. People took out their phones again, but this time to take photos of the beautiful macarons.
In the span of twenty minutes, a terrible accident occurred, emergency services came, and a meal continued as if nothing had happened. I couldn’t sit down. I had no interest in dessert or anything else. I just wanted to leave. While there was nothing I could do to make the situation any different, there was nothing I could do to get it out of my mind, either. That’s the thing with tragedy. It pops up in the middle of your life, consumes you, and then disappears. Like a song that gets stuck in your head, though, the effects linger.
It’s amazing to think that the most significant moments of our lives are just that: moments. Whether it’s your first kiss or a tragic accident, they take up so little of our time and impact our lives so greatly. A few minutes after the ambulance drove away, I said my goodbyes and drove home to see my girlfriend and my dog. That man went to the hospital and will most likely be dealing with the aftermath of last night for a long, long time. I can’t decide if the tragedy is the accident itself or how soon it will be forgotten by everyone else who was there.