I’ve gone to the ground unexpectedly only two or three times in my bicycle commuting career. This is the only occasion that has a decent story to go with it.
One pleasant afternoon in June 2002 I was heading out Pennsylvania Avenue toward Georgetown to connect up with the Capital Crescent Trail and head home. I had just ridden onto Washington Circle near the George Washington University campus and was working my way around it in the empty outermost lane when I was overtaken by a convertible in the middle lane that had entered the circle behind me. As the car came abreast of me, it began to move right, into my lane, forcing me toward the curb.
This pissed me off. The circle was practically empty and I couldn’t imagine how the driver, approaching me from behind in a traffic circle and in an open convertible, could have been looking anywhere but right at me as she prepared to change lanes. I had two choices. I could simply feather my brakes, let the car pass me, and surrender the lane. The other was to take the driver to task for her obliviousness and for threatening to crush me. I chose the latter.
The car was only a couple of inches from my left knee so it was easy to slap the trunk with the flat of my hand. (Experience had taught me that this makes a good bit of noise and gets the driver’s attention, and doesn’t hurt you or the car.) But a problem immediately emerged. I had run out of riding room on the right. Instinct made me steer left to keep from crashing and before I knew it I was leaning hard against the car with only my outstretched arm keeping me from falling onto it entirely. But the car was still moving faster than me, and in an instant it was past me altogether. The moment I lost contact with it I fell into the empty space and thud! was on the pavement. Luckily I landed mostly on the meaty back part of my left leg and even though I’d been going a good 13 or 14 mph, I knew right away that I wasn’t seriously hurt. I picked myself up started to walk the bike (likewise not seriously damaged) to the curb.
The driver was a cute blonde of college age. Her passenger was a matching brunette. The blonde had heard the thump of my hand, looked in her mirror just in time to see me go down, and stopped immediately. (To her credit. She did not, however, bother to get out.) For a moment she thought she’d actually hit me but as I shook myself off, I explained what had happened and admonished her to pay closer attention on the road. She apologized, promised up and down that she would, then sped off. As she pulled away I noticed her Texas license plates and thought, “tourist!”
Only after the adrenaline had worn off did I put it all together. A young blonde and young brunette from Texas, headed into Georgetown at happy hour. And less than a mile from the White House to boot. Who else but Jenna and Barbara? It's true that Secret Service was nowhere to be seen. But Jenna was notorious for ditching her protectors by speeding off in her car. See here. The only thing that has ever caused me to doubt my conclusion is that these two girls were hopelessly self-absorbed, immature and irresponsible; the daughters of a sitting President would certainly have had more dignity and self-possession than that.