Wednesday night. A screech of brakes, a thud, and then a young woman screaming. A yellow cab had struck her baby stroller in the crosswalk. A small boy, maybe three or four years old, naked other than for a diaper, was thrown over a hundred feet or so along Amsterdam Avenue to end up lying motionless in the gutter immediately below our living room window. Within ninety seconds, thanks to dozens of cell phone calls, three police cars and two ambulances had arrived. After about five minutes the paramedics revived the child whose cries were chilling but reassuring (although he did not appear to be able to move). Ten minutes later the vehicles sped off with sirens howling, leaving us and the assembled group of bystanders below wondering how tragedies like this come about.
What is particularly confounding is that there was no traffic around at the time, there were no cars parked for over sixty feet before the intersection, and the impact was in the center of the second lane out in the Avenue. It seems unimaginable that the cab driver did not see the stroller, and equally implausible that the mother (assuming she was the mother) did not see the cab.
What could possibly distract a mother from looking to make sure she was not wheeling her child into a speeding vehicle? A cell phone, Walkman, personal problems, tiredness, alcohol? Or was it the invincibility of the young that assured her that this sort of thing could not possibly happen to her? I am constantly horrified by the increasing number of strollers that are thrust suddenly and confidently out into the street without the parent or guardian ever attempting to establish eye-contact with approaching traffic (so they can be confident that they have been seen), apparently convinced that this is some kind of urban game of chicken that they cannot possibly lose.
What of the driver? A cell phone again? Cab drivers constantly seem to be wrestling with paying attention to them or to the road ahead. Or a conversation with a fare? The fact that there was no other traffic at that moment could also suggest that the lights were at the end of their cycle, and had possibly prompted the driver to focus his attention on speeding up to beat them.
Whatever the explanation in this case, it seems that to a smaller or larger extent, our retreat into the private world of cell-phones, headphones, and other distractions could be contributing to and certainly not helping to prevent this kind of tragedy. Not that I am arguing against cell-phones or personal listening devices as such, it is just that there are times when being aware of the world around us is more important. In any event, let us hope that one small boy somewhere in New York will recover and not suffer permanent damage as a result of our inattentiveness, whatever the reason.