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The Hawk's Nest

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Photo by Michelle Dennis Photo by Michelle Dennis

He'll always be my little brother

When Bob started to wake up he was lying on his back, but he didn’t know what on; it wasn’t the ground, at least not pavement or grass. A face he didn’t recognize leaned over him.

“Robert Hawks?” 

Bob’s focus wandered past the face to the sky. A shadow swept across the blue, then another and another; it was the blades of a helicopter spinning slowly. 

“Robert E. Hawks?” It was more frantic this time. 


“Can you give us a contact we can call?”

His wife’s cell number rattled out. 

“Good, what’s your address?”

“Um... 4... 1... ”

“Any more? What street?”

Bob could not remember the address were he had lived for over 30 years. 

“We are going to put you in the helicopter for L.A. County Hospital. They handle head trauma. When we saw your bicycle helmet we called for air lift right away.” 

I remember when Bob (and there were also several less dignified names) came into my life as a newborn 60 years ago. To the limited perception of a three-year-old, he was just a new kid in the house; to my older sister he was the best doll ever. 

We don’t get to see each other much anymore because of geography but we talk regularly.

Last weekend, after a couple of days, I discovered my phone was missing and found it in the car. That is not unusual, for me, but to find I had a missed call was. My sister said Bob had been in an accident the day before—now two days before. 

A quiet Valentine’s Day dinner at home with my wife turned into a series of anxious calls. 

Bob puts thousands of miles on his bike. Our talks often take me back to the day when I was riding like that also. 

A few months ago, we spent an evening on phone and online. He had just bought another new road bike and we were checking it out. The technology is much different now. This bike is all carbon fiber. The tubes are oval rather than round for aerodynamics and the spokes are flat instead of round wire, and no pedals, just a stem where he clips his special shoes. No longer do they use “rat traps” to strap your feet, almost permanently, to the bike. The shifters on this new bike are attached to the brake handles. His new helmet looked like something from outer space; not like the old brain buckets I used. 

When he talked, I could hear his excitement. He talked about “flying” along the bike paths and keeping up with traffic on the busy L. A. streets. 

We talked about street riding. I had found when I rode intentionally, taking my space responsibly, not making the drivers guess what I was doing, I was safer. Just as driving a car, be predictable. He agreed and added, with this bike, he can almost accelerate with the cars, which made him feel safer. 

Now I was thinking about that “new kid” taking his space on those streets. Sure, there have been miles and miles of safe riding. But it sounds like there were a few feet that were not. I was wondering how good those fancy new helmets are.

Years ago, I had seen some wrecks that made me believe in bicycle headgear. After seeing several scary injuries, I decided I would sacrifice the extra weight and wear one. Then there was the day I was in a fast moving pack and contact was made. Going over the handlebars, I put that extra weight to good use. The helmet was the first thing to hit the pavement followed by protective eyewear. I will never forget the noise they made hitting, scraping and sliding along the asphalt. 

When it was all over I had a broken arm and needed some stitches in my lower face, but I never had any sensation of head or neck injury at that time or later, thanks to the brain bucket.  

Finally an answer to my call. Bob’s wife picked up. They had just settled in after getting home from the orthopedic surgeon. He has a broken collarbone on the left side and lots of pain from hitting and bouncing down the road. His head, though, seemed to have fared quite well. Obviously, there was some trauma—he was knocked out for a while—but after a few hours, there didn’t seem to be any lasting condition. I started feeling better when he said he told them, “I’m a Hawks, that’s the way we are. You should meet my older brother.” 

He started filling in details; as they were loading him into the chopper someone said, “I can’t believe there was a live head in this helmet.” That’s when I got scared again. Being a very visual thinker I suddenly saw my little brother lying crumpled and unconscious in the middle of a busy Los Angeles intersection. 

He said there are more gaps than memories, starting just before entering the intersection until he was at the hospital. One thing he does remember: as they were preparing him for the trip, he heard someone say, “Hey, that old guy was riding a four thousand dollar bike.” Bob started to laugh but it hurt.

The satellite computer he carries said he was doing 18.8 mph when everything stopped. He still isn’t real sure what happened and no one who saw it has come forward. He thinks someone came by fast and close and blew him out, then sucked him back in and he lost it. I have felt that sensation and I know how fast it can happen. He was finishing a 50-mile ride so there could have been a degree of fatigue to figure in. His bike doesn’t appear to have been hit, but the wheels are twisted a bit. All of that would be consistent with a blow over. Bicyclists feel this phenomenon often but an actual accident is rare.

Yesterday in town, I watched a man riding in and out of traffic not paying much attention and not wearing a helmet. The folks I was with wouldn’t let me tell him to stop being stupid. 

I know how fun bicycling is. However, there is a responsibility to yourself and others when sharing the road with cars. Yes, there can be accidents, but if Bob can do thousands of miles in L. A. traffic with only one accident, it is possible. Nothing is completely safe but safety can be part of the sport and the fun. 

Finally, HELMETS. They were dorky looking when I wore them and I think they are dorkier looking now. However, some broken plastic looks much, much better than a broken skull.

Heal fast little brother; you old man with a fancy bike you.  

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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

Tagged as:

health, Family, brothers, accidents, bicycles, biking, helmets

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