Wednesday, December 21, 2011

a general shout-out to cycler and chris of Massachusetts bicycling fame

First off hey, thanks for reading and commenting.  Attentive people will notice that I have exactly four followers.  I'm not blogger of the year or the month or the minute so I'm honored when anyone (who bicycles) stops by and reads and comments. 

Second off, this is Chafe City not Love City and I am a bad tempered bicyclist not one of those kind and compassionate people who alternates yoga with bicycling.  I have to keep things calm at work but here I'm rude and abrasive.  The Californians are working at my personality but I foresee another seven to ten years of bad attitude.   In sum, not only am I not blogger of the month but I'm not trying to improve.  You've been warned.

A recap of what caught your attention:

Massachusetts Acquaintance non-bicyclist says, and I quote:

"I cannot conceive of where it would be safer for a bike, a slower and less protected vehicle, to make a left turn than a car.  We have bike lanes in Cambridge, but people in cars drive in them all the time. "

Which made me mad.  Did he not appreciate my nice icon?  Was he really so benighted that he could think of no place where a bicycle could make a left hand turn and a car could not?  Did Massachusetts drivers put their fat worthless asses in bicycle lanes all the time???

The guy represents a single data point.  With my extensive research in to car behavior patterns I think we can re-write the quote as follows:

"I cannot conceive of doing any bicycling myself.  We have bike lanes in Cambridge and I drive in them all the time. "

Has the ring of truth, eh?  This would account for you feeling fine about your bicycle lanes as it is unlikely that your path would have crossed with this other individual's path.

But I still have to put my cards on the table.  I lived and bicycled in Massachusetts for decades.  I felt fine about it.   I commuted by bicycle in Cambridge, Somerville, Northampton, Amherst, South Hadley, Pocasset, Falmouth, Arlington, and Belmont.  I  biked to work and biked to school and biked from Cambridge to Cape Cod on an ancient Raleigh road bike with only three working gears just because.  I really love bicycling and when I lived in Massachusetts I thought bicyling there was aok.  I bicycled in rain and snow and sleet and smirked at the people who were too weak to get out the door when the weather was not sunny.  Try this after the next big snowstorm.  Find an outdoor tennis court with the net still up.  Bike hard at the net and at the last moment jump off your bicycle and over the net and land in the soft snow.  It's epic. 

Then work took me to California and bicycling became worlds more wonderful.  That's probably hard to tell from reading here as I am so bad tempered.  I got here and my first thought was "the houses are so fucking ugly!" and the second thought was "and expensive!" and some time after that I met the Contraption Captain and went bicycling in California and I realized I would have to buy one of those goddamned expensive ugly houses because the bicycling here was so good I could never survive anywhere else. 

I assume if I moved to Portland, OR the bicycling would be even better.  I assume if I moved to Tampa the bicycling would be much worse, (cue angry Tampa bicyclists).  I'm half-Dutch and I have bicycled Holland.  Despite the wind and rain it is better than any place in the US for bicycling.  The Contraption Captain has biked LA.  It's tough there.   I just read that Dallas has exactly zero bicycle lanes.  The Dallas bicyclists are working their tiny brave muscular asses off to change that.  Judging by cycle's blog the lines are getting painted in Massachusetts even as I type, which is fabulous.

In my infinitesimal corner of the world, however, the lines are already painted.  I am not even close to the Dallas cutting edge.  I'm coasting on the work of other bicyclists and I am grateful.  

Bicycling will get better on both coasts, and everywhere in between, as long as people continue to bicycle, and continue to care.  

So.  To you.  To bicyclists everywhere making a difference.  To people everywhere making a change for the better I offer you a quote from The Lorax.

The Once-ler: And all that the Lorax left here in this mess was a small pile of rocks with one word.
Boy: [reading it] "Unless?"
The Once-ler: Yes. "Unless."
Boy: What's an unless?
The Once-ler: Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing's going to get better. It's not.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

these are two of my favorite things

I'm lucky (or cursed) in that cold weather appears to have less impact on me than it does on other people.  Starting in late September the Californians begin bicycling in snow parkas while I am still in shorts and a tee-shirt.  On one occasion a car pulled up next to me and a guy said "Aren't you COLD?"  I said that I was raised in Massachusetts and that of course explained everything.

Yes I have known cold weather.  The kind of cold weather that chews up the tips of your ears and leaves them red and painful.  The weather that freezes the snot in your nose, a truly disgusting experience that I do not recommend.  But even New England cold weather (I've biked ME, NH, and MA) has never bothered me as much as the next person---although it's payback time when the weather is hot and humid as I seem to be more than usually sensitive to that particular combination. 

By my standards California is warm.  I could probably bike California all year in just my bathing suit if it were not for twenty things and the names of those twenty things are:  Fingers And Toes.

My fingers and my toes get cold.  My toes are pretty much "meh" - I can forget about them.  I think it's because relatively speaking they are far away from my brain.  My toes send up a distress signal (we're dying down here) and my brain, which is busy wondering whether that car reversing out of the driveway is going to back over us considers for a zillionth of a second before putting the toes into a queue with a low priority.  The toes continue to complain but they lack leverage since I effectively staple them to my SPD pedals each day.

My hands do not put up with this kind of bullshit from my brain.  The fingers are the prima donnas of my extremities.  They say "cold!" and if they do not get immediate attention they "forget" how to work the brakes and "can't recall" how to change the gears. 

So I need gloves for my commute when the weather is cold.  I should buy some.

A problem is that I lack the shopping gene that the rest of American women seem to possess to excess.  This has saved me a great deal of money over the years at the cost of my walking around looking like an un-made bed.  I don't like to shop I don't like to buy things I don't give a damn that people think I'd look better in something that actually fit and usually this is all fine but when you actually really fucking need something like gloves to bicycle in because the temperature has dropped, well, I am crippled. 

The first pair I bought were on clearance (which I liked) but did not fit (which was bad) and did not keep my hands warm (which was worse).  I dutifully wore them anyway until my older daughter kindly took them off my hands (haha) to wear while tree climbing. 

The second pair I bought I was not fucking around.  I try them on.  I pay way the hell too much.  They seem great.  I am very excited.  I get on my bicycle the next frigid morning and all is well until I try and reach my brakes at which time I realize that the gloves fit only when I am not on a bicycle.  I force myself to wear these as well but after a few near death experiences where I can't stop (and a lifetime conviction that I will never be a brake-free fixie rider) I give up.

I decide to punish myself by wearing no gloves at all.  I will ignore the pain.  This works for about three miles.  Then I give up and put one of my hands in my mouth.  Mmmm.  Warm.  Then I switch hands.  Now I have a wet saliva covered hand in the freezing cold.  Damnit.  Also ewwwww!

Then it happened.  I was saved at an REI.  There was a sale bin.  Expecting nothing but heartache I start picking through the items thrown in on clearance.  I consider an odd pair of gloves that look suitable for a War of the Worlds alien.  They have a place for the thumb and a place for two fingers and another place for another two fingers.  Three pronged gloves.  Gloves for a tripod?  I hear a choir of angels singing softly in my ear.  I slip them on.  They fit.  I walk over to a road bike and experimentally try the brakes.  I can reach them. 

Contraption Captain walks over and his eyes widen.  "Those are great!  I've been looking for a pair!"  We gazed at my find in rapt wonder for a moment longer before digging through the bin of un-wanted colors and flavors.  Imagine our shock and awe when we find a second pair suitable for him.  O frabjous day!  Caloo!  Calay!

I've had these gloves for two winters now.  They are made by Novaro.  I love these gloves.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Bicycle Safety Edition

Here I address good bicycling habits that keep you safe.

Blah blah blah signal, blah helmet, blah blah blah two lights, blah blah blah.


I'm exhausted by the number of articles about how bicyclists should follow x,y and z behaviors to avoid being turned into creamed corn by a passing car.  Bicycles don't kill bicyclists.  Cars kill bicyclists.  If you're still interested in covering bicycle safety I refer you here.   I think it's as good as many and better than most.  Their material on the right and left hook was useful to me. 

So why call this The Bicycle Safety Edition?  Patience.  I'm getting there.

Back in 1990 or so there was a proliferation of books with titles like 50 Simple Things To Do To Save The Earth and these books were filled with helpful suggestions about using less toilet paper and recycling water bottles.  A better title might be How To Feel Fine About Doing Nothing.  A friend of mine told me about a (much less popular) book called 50 Difficult Things To Do To Save The Earth.

1.  Bury your car.

I still find this pretty amusing and in that spirit I offer my Bicycle Safety Edition. 

1.  When you are driving a car, do not exceed the speed limit. 

I'll pause for you to get your jaw off the ground.  Yes I really just suggested that you follow the speed limit.  Seriously.  Yes.  Yes, I mean those numbers in white boxes with a black rim that you frequently see beside the road.  No I do not give a rat's ass if you are a Formula 1 driver.  No those white signs with the black numbers are not "suggestions." Drive the goddamned speed limit.  Thanks.

2.  When you are driving your car, do not talk on your phone, send text messages, listen to headphones, or snort heroin. 

I don't care if President Barack Obama awarded you the Congressional Medal of Honor for Distinguished Multi-tasking.  When you're driving your car, pay attention to the goddamned road.

There.  All done.  Wasn't that easy?  Two easy rules for bicycle safety.  Both of them are directed at cars because it is cars that hit bicyclists and not the reverse.  Attentive readers will notice that obeying the above rules also brings you into compliance with US law.  Like speed limits, US laws are not suggestions, they are hard and fast rules. 

I also have a suggestion for an improved road experience.  Each car will have mounted on front and side those diamond/triangle shaped plates that you see on tractor-trailers that indicate when a truck carries hazardous cargo.  You can flip the plates up and down to reflect an accurate picture of the truck's condition.  The car signs can be modified so that they can display the following messages:

1.  I'm Lost.  I May Do Anything.  Watch out!
2.  I'm Drunk.  You Should Pull Me Over.
3.  I Just Got Laid Off.  I'm Self-Destructive.
4.  Hormones = Raging!!
5.  Have Not Been Laid In ~18 months.
6.  My Dog Ate My Honor Student.

grandma, u so awesome!

grandma, u so awesome!

El Camino and Sandhill has been voted "intersection where Chafe City is most likely to have a temper tantrum."  There are multiple problems here and I keep meaning to get a few photos because the idiocy is 100% reliable, I never go through there without seeing something ridiculous.

Friday evening I was still morose over seeing the black squirrel get crushed.  I pulled up at El Camino with the Contraption Captain.  An older woman, a young-looking grandmother with a halo of dandelion-like hair around her non-helmeted head pulled up behind me.  My heart sank a little.  My experience of the grandma-types is they examine my (empty, but this is not obvious) kid-wagon and they Disapprove.  It's a long light.  They have several minutes to air their disapproval. 

Grandma:  Is that your little one?
Me:  No, we just use this to take her to school.
Grandma nods.

I brace for a pithy lecture on how I should be careful with my very precious cargo but no lecture comes.  I most definitely do not lecture her about not wearing a helmet. 

The light turns green for us bicyclists and pedestrians and (number one reason I get upset at this intersection) the cars continue to force their way across, ignoring their red light and filling up the intersection as there isn't sufficient room during rush hour for them on the other side of the box. 

Contraption Captain and I grimly force our way out, engaging in the somewhat dangerous business of weaving in and out of the cars that we know are looking for an opening to get out of the intersection.  This is when it happens.  Grandma, who is behind me, yells:


Yes.  We are.  Thanks for reminding me Awesome-Grandma-Person.

Friday, December 16, 2011

a light hand on the trigger

Many bay area traffic lights are designed to trigger (turn green, maybe after a delay) only when there is a car or bicycle waiting to cross.  Occasionally, these lights lose their mind.

Contraption Captain and I were pedaling hard towards El Camino Real, a busy thorough fare especially during rush hour.  Regrettably the light turned red before we could cross and so we settled down in the bicycle lane to talk and wait for our turn to come around. 

To our left was one lane of cars waiting to cross the street.  To our right was a short length of lane for cars turning right.  Behind us was a single car lane.   C and I are talking when he suddenly says, "hey, did the light skip us?"  I remind him that we just missed the light and that's why the wait is so long. 

We go back to talking and I watch the traffic cycle from cars turning to cars straight and then oncoming traffic plus turning cars and then...  no green light for our direction.  We *are* being skipped. 

I look behind us.  A long row of cars has already piled up.  Some of them are trying to turn around but they don't have enough room.  Others have pulled into the skinny bike lane in a vain attempt to drive up on the side and make a right hand turn.  It's vain because there is no way that those Ford F150s and Range Rovers and Pilots and Tahoes are ever going to be able to crush themselves into a bicycle lane that can accomodate two bicycles if they're both a little careful.   Still, the SUVs sit there, or at least as much of themselves as they can get into the bike lane.  I'm suddenly reminded of sick or senile cats who start pooping next to the litter box instead of inside it.  They just can't seem to help themselves.

I look forward again at the unyielding red light.  To my left is a car that is about one car length back from the white line.  It is possible (but odd) that he is too far back to trigger the green light.  We look at the driver hopefully and gesture that he could pull forward.

The driver is not enjoying being at the red light either.  He does not pull over though.  He gestures back at us, pointing urgently.  It takes us a moment but then light dawns.  The walk signal!  To the walk signal!!  Contaption Captain hops off his bike and puts the kickstand down.  The cars watch mutely but hopefully as he gets on the sidewalk and then punches the walk button.  He rejoins me.  The light turns green.  We head on to work. 

ps.  to those cars.  you're welcome. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This is where the party ends.

This is where the party ends
I can't stand here listening to you
And your racist friend
I know politics bore you
But I feel like a hypocrite talking to you
And your racist friend
          - They Might Be Giants

I had a charming and witty (in my opinion) post prepared in my head but the ride in to work today crushed the charm right out of me.  First a story from my childhood though.  I knew this guy in high school, Peter, and one day he told me the following story.  He was riding a bus on the way home from work.  The bus abruptly swerved to the left and right.  Then there was a bad smell, a skunk had been hit and killed.  The driver winked at Peter and said "I almost missed it!"  I still remember the ugly smile on Peter's face as he shared this story.  Mostly I remember that my only response was to nod.  I didn't laugh, and I was not amused, but I did not call him out for an asshole either.  I was a coward then but I've changed.  I'll say what I think.  So hey, Peter?  You're an cretinous stunted individual and your sense of humor makes my gorge rise. 

Today started off in the usual way.  Breakfast for the kids, make lunches, read a book, Sparkle Pony walks to school and then load up Rapunzel for her Burley wagon ride in to school.  We dropped her off and we all hugged good-bye and then we turned our bicycles towards work.  The road here is very pleasant for a bicyclist.  Part of it is blocked off.  It is heavily residential and many children walk to school on this route.  I am pedaling along talking to Contraption Captain.  I automatically take note of the red (color of old blood) SUV that pulls out of a driveway and turns onto the road.  I watch as it accelerates.  I watch a small black squirrel that had started across the road before the SUV arrived run forward, run back, run in terror.  I watch the squirrel dodge the front tires of the SUV and I watch it helplessly draw it's tail close to it's body just before the back wheels of the SUV crush it's spine. 

I started screaming before the squirrel was killed and I continued to scream as the SUV drove away.  I pedaled up to where it turned right.  I shook my fist in it's direction and roared my unhappiness, a long low howl of hatred.  Then I turned left and pedaled away but I had to stop at the side of the road to sob my ugly desperate hopeless sobs.  Between sobs I told Contraption Captain "I hate them."

Maybe you think one squirrel doesn't matter.  Lots of squirrels, right?  I've heard squirrels referred to as "tree rats."  I've heard pigeons referred to as "flying rats" and I guess actual rats are just  ... rats.  Humans don't like pigeons, rats, and squirrels.  Is it because they're not beautiful?  They are beautiful.  The bay area squirrels are a deep midnight color.  They build homes and raise families.  They have soft feathery tails.  Pigeons?  Pigeons have iridescent necks.  Pigeons are far more monogamous than humans and when their mate dies they mourn for at least thirty days.  Rats are intelligent community minded mammals.  If a mother rat dies and her children are left vulnerable, another mother will take over raising them.  But these creatures are all vermin to the average human, apparently because these creatures are relatively common.

Newsflash.  There are seven billion people these days.  We are vermin.  The roads I bicycle are streaked with rainbows of gasoline from our incontinent vehicles.  We spoil the oceans and the forests and we pollute the air we breathe.  Rabbits do not have large brains but they have learned what humans do not learn:  rabbits never shit in their own homes. 

I get in to work and make it to my morning meeting.  Before it began I said to my manager that I was upset, I had seen a squirrel killed by a car.  He was sympathetic (he's a great guy) and then his eyes widened as something occurred to him.  "You were on your bicycle, that makes it so much worse.  In a car you're kindof insulated from it."

Yes.  A car insulates you from your trail of damage.  I hate that about cars.  I hate the way they wall themselves off from the horrors they wreak as they drive two miles to get a mocha grande skinny from Starbucks.  I hate them and if you're in a car?  I hate you too. 

So what do I want?  To that worthless sack of shit who drove that car too fast this morning and killed that squirrel.  Stop your car.  Get out.  Kneel down by the side of the road.  Press your cheek to the rough wet pavement.  Watch that squirrel slowly gasp out it's life, it's feathery tail ruffling gently as it's broken back twitches.  Watch the fear in it's eyes.  Wonder if it had a family.  Wonder if it's mate will wait long for her dead partner.  Wonder why you could not drive a little more slowly on this very quiet residential road.  Wonder what it means that you just killed an animal.  Think and watch and wonder and beg forgiveness for your disgusting crime.

And one more thing.  I'm not a native Californian and I'm not all that compassionate.  I think of you as vermin.  Also, I am very good with numbers.  How good?  Good enough to recite the ASN for thirty major networks.  Good enough to remember the loopback addresses and host names for over two hundred routers.  Definitely good enough to remember your license number and where you park your car.  As a friend of mine used to say, "put that up your pipe and smoke it."


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

don't curse the darkness. also woops.

The last set of lights are out in the world as of Monday evening.  The Contraption Captain and I had just cleared the big intersection of the Alameda and Sand Hill when we noticed a bicyclist in our respective rear view mirrors.  Captain leaned towards me and said softly "does he have lights?"  I squint and whisper back "I don't think so."  C Captain then faded back to check out the other unsuspecting bicyclist more closely.  Next I hear---

Captain:  Hey, want some lights?
Dark Bicyclist (heavy accent):  Umm, no.
Captain: [wheedling a little]: They're freeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
Dark Bicyclist (very surprised):  Really?  Uh, yes, yes I would!

We all pull over and drag our bicycles onto the sidewalk to avoid surprising the cars.  Contraption Captain digs through his high-end water-proof bike bag and pulls out the last set of lights and unwraps the front white one.  He demonstrates how to wrap it around and secure it and then gets out the red light.  Briefly, I see the look on the Dark Bicyclists face when the lights turn on.  He looks surprised and delighted.  He looks so happy and in that moment I am happy.  He thanks us and then pedals his now-blinking bicycle away into the darkness of Sand Hill Road.

Contraption Captain and I ride the last short leg home.  We're going to buy some more lights to give away, we decide. 

We get home to the usual turmoil of happy kids and departing nanny.  C. Captain takes off his bike shoes and goes to put on his around-the-house-and-office shoes.  They are not in his bike bag.  He considers.  Where could the shoes be??

1.  He left them at the office.
2.  He left them at the side of the road when he went fishing for the bike lights.

He tells me something a little unintelligible and hurries back down the stairs.  I hear the garage door open.  He pedals away and returns a few minutes later with the shoes that were sitting neatly on the sidewalk at the corner where we stopped.  Woops.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

You "cannot conceive." Yes. Alas.

I have for several years kept an on-line journal.  Entries are protected and get shared with a group of friends and acquaintances.  A not inconsiderable number of the entries were about bicycling until I decided I needed a blog as none of my readers were bicyclists and I wanted to see if I could connect with other passionate bicycle commuters.  Failing that I wanted to say what was on my mind because with the delicate feelings of my driver readership at stake I was inclined to sugar the pill.

The specific precipitating incident that brought about chafecity was a comment I got over an icon I uploaded to the journal to associate with bicycle-related entries.  You can see this same icon in my blogger profile, it's a "No Left Turn" sign with "EXCEPT BICYCLES" appended.  I see this sign every day on my way in to the office. 

Here's what I wrote when I uploaded the icon:

I don't usually bother to write a post for an icon, or even bother explaining an icon, but this picture is special to me. I asked Contraption Captain to stop and snap a picture of this sign that we see every day on our commute to work. At this spot, there is a left turn lane that is just wide enough for a bicycle. Cars must continue on Alma street and take a far less convenient left further along. One reason that biking in this part of California is so wonderful is that bicycles are valued, mostly with nice broad bike-only lanes but also with these kinds of signs and accommodations which serve as indications that what is correct and acceptable for a bicyclist may not be appropriate for a car.  In this case a bicyclist may make a left turn but a car may not.

Most of the people reading the journal are people I met and knew when I lived in Massachusetts.  One of them commented.

(Massachusetts driver)   I cannot conceive of where it would be safer for a bike, a slower and less protected vehicle, to make a left turn than a car.  We have bike lanes in Cambridge, but people in cars drive in them all the time.

This in a nutshell is why I find bicycling in Massachusetts so loathsome.  This perception that bicycles (slow and less protected) do not belong anywhere.  Not even on roads with bike lanes because hey, people in cars drive in them all the time, right? 

California has it's short-comings but at least in the corner of the state that I bike, the bike lanes are used by bicycles.  Sometimes a car parks there and I get annoyed, sometimes a car drives in the bike lane and I get super-annoyed but I take it for granted that the lanes are there and mostly available.  And I take it for granted that I belong, as do the giant majority of people around me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Life Death and Jenna Morrison

Jenna Morrison, mother to a five year old and pregnant with her second was killed as she pedaled to pick her son up at school.  A truck crushed her to death under it's wheels.  The driver (wait for it) did not see her.  She is missed by her friends and her son and she is missed by her husband who adored her. 

When I first began bicycling in California, people would ask me if I wasn't afraid of being killed by a car.  I said that I was afraid of being killed.  I have had no car love affair like the rest of American.  Yes I can drive.  Yes I can drive a standard.  No I do not like cars.  I like horses.  Also bicycles.  When I started towing a wagon and carrying my kid home from preschool the same people asked again, "Wasn't I afraid of being killed?  What if something happened to Rapunzel."  Yes I worried.  Superstitiously I never wrote about it because I didn't want to make it happen but now she's in 2nd grade so I can say "yes, I worried that someone would kill us on Middlefield Road."  Amusingly enough a second class of people would ask a lot about the Burley bicycle wagon I used.  "Was I afraid it would tip over?  Had it rolled over?"  I said, honestly, that my only fear was that a car would hit us and crush us both.  Awkward silence would follow this pronouncement.

So why bicycle?

Know that joke about masturbation?  The boy gets told that if he continues to wank off he's going to go blind.  He asks "Can I do it until I need glasses?"

If you told me today with total accuracy that I'd die on my bicycle I would ask if I could bike until I needed glasses.  I love bicycling.  Today was grey and cool with the taste of rain in the air.  My tires made their soft steady noise of rubber and pavement.  As I rode towards Mountain View a sudden breeze caused a flurry of bright yellow leaves to swirl down around me.  Where in our solar system but on Earth can you have such a short perfect experience? 

Like most parents I want to live long enough to enjoy the love of my husband and see my children safely to adulthood.  If I am killed on my bicycle I will fail on this count.  But there are many ways to die and in my family, it is not cars that have killed us it is coronary disease.  My maternal grandfather was dead before my mother graduated High School.  My mother had quadruple bypass surgery before she was fifty. 

Go back four years and the Contraption Captain requires open heart surgery to repair a congenital defect to his mitral valve.  Despite the various confused dietitians who stopped by a problematic mitral valve has nothing to do with what you eat and everything to do with the heart you were born with.  Contraption Captain is tall, slim, and athletic.  Amusingly (sortof) enough the person in for surgery immediately before him also needed a mitral valve repair.  This guy was also slim and athletic.  Every other person on the ward was neither slim nor athletic.  They were huge panting miserable people in terrible pain.

I repeat.  Terrible pain.  Open heart surgery hurts like a motherfucker.  They saw open your rib cage to get at your heart.  You wake up in the ICU with a tube disappearing into your chest.   Guess what you do immediately after surgery?  Get out of bed and walk.  You have to walk to recover.  You have to move or fluid accumulates in your chest and you get sicker until perhaps you die from the complications. 

Guess who was up and walking around within twelve hours of this surgery?  The two guys who needed mitral valve repairs.  I would walk around and around with the Contraption Captain as he wheeled his iv and tried to move without hurting his damaged body.  We walked by room after room of giant pale people who were damp with pain and far too weak to get out of bed despite the fluids building up in their bodies that needed to be circulated away.

What I am getting at is, not bicycling can kill you also.  It is slower and less dramatic but it is a terrible death just the same.  Could I die of a heart attack?  Sure, yes, of course.  If you test my blood is there any indication of inflammation?  No.  There isn't.  I don't have any of the signals of heart problems that turn up in other members of my family, most of whom are on statins. 

I don't want to be killed by a car.  I don't want to die in agony on a hospital bed, either. 

Friday night is alright for lighting

Friday I biked home for the second time in two days with a co-worker.  We both bike a lot but generally he has taken a different route.  I notice that one of the many small perks of being a bicyclist is that when you decide to ride home with a bicyclist (as opposed to a car person) the bicyclist does not have to leave their vehicle at work.  The other good thing is that you can ride together exactly as long as is convenient and then split up whereas if you are both in the same car one person has to drive you to your house before they can drive home. 

It was a pretty uneventful ride.  But pleasant.  I spotted a guy with a bicycle and wagon and no lights and offered him some. 

me:  want some bicycle lights?
him:  No.
me:  you sure?
him:  Positive.  I live right here.
me:  ok!

...and so we went along to about Palo Alto where I met up with the Contraption Captain.  We all had a cheerful bicycle meet at the side of the road before co-worker rode away.  Not to go on too much but.. how often do three cars meet up on their travels and lean over and slap each other on the back and wish each other well?  Not often.  Bicyclists may not all be in a community, and we certainly don't all know each other, but we meet up and become acquainted at least some of the time.  Cars never meet up unless they are colliding with each other and having a big metal on metal accident.

At El Camino and Sand Hill the Contraption Captain and I pulled up at a red light.  We were joined by a group of about five young bicyclists.  I eyed them surreptitiously.  Few lights.  I hesitated.  The one in the lead had a white light fixed awkwardly to his glasses.  As I watched it fell off.  I looked at Contraption Captain and he made a "why not?" face.  I got out my lights and said something like "hey, here are some lights for you."  The pretty young woman looked delighted, "Thank-you!" and then they started considering the best way to deploy the lights in their group for maximum visibility.  The light turned for me and I pedaled off, a little awkwardly, as I had not shown them how to put the lights on or collected the small cases that keep the lights from going off in my backpack. 

But I think it was ok just the same. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

we're not smug. we're happy. says that smug is contentedly confident of one's ability, superiority, or correctness; complacent.

I think the emphasis can be safely placed on "superiority." When I think of "smug" I tend to think of money, like a person who made a fortune with the bubble and invested sensibly and now has several fabulous expensive houses. "Smug" means "I have it and you do not, in fact, what I have you will never have."

Smug is also about possessions more than attributes. We don't describe a brilliant athlete as "smug" because we know they acquired their strength and grace because of a lot of hard work. Smug translates to taking credit for something that is more about what you own than what you are.

A smug bicyclist might be one who owns a fabulously expensive bicycle that another person cannot afford.  A smug bicyclist might own a fabulously trendy ride that they feel makes them superior to the next bicyclist.  But here's the thing:  once the person is on the bicycle, it all evens out.  The race is won just by riding and bicycling is a club anyone can join. 

So last night we had a 7 year old friend (who I will call Don't-Bug-Me for the slogan on her tee-shirt) stay over and we wanted to bring her in to school with Rapunzel this morning.  We always bike Rapunzel in and she usually rides in a wagon and reads a book on the short trip.  The wagon only fits one kid.  We have  often carried Sparkle Pony on the back of the Contraption Captain's bicycle.  He's made covers to protect feet from the wheels and we put a pillow on the rack so that it's comfortable.  After clearing the matter with Don't-Bug-Me's mother and getting buy-in from Don-'t-Bug-Me herself, the four of us rode to school in style, under our own power. 

It felt awesome. We were all so happy!  Not smug though.  Smug would be if this club were exclusive, but it is not.  Anyone can join this club and have the same fantastic time.  You need a bicycle.  That's it.  You're in. they are by the way.  I've artfully blurred their faces to preserve anonymity but they were both smiling.  Really. 

hope for the flowers

Yesterday evening was dark and cool and I was excited to be on my way home and I was looking forward to a nice night with my family and a couple of friends.  I was pedaling on Charleston coming up to where I need to take a left onto Rengstorff when it happened.  The light ahead was green for those going straight and I didn't want to cross in front of cars heading towards a green light --- not just because I do not want to die but because, hey, it's a green light.  I don't really like someone crossing in front of me when I'm trying to clear an intersection.  So I am considering my rear view mirror and also looking over my shoulder to gauge when and if the traffic might thin so that I could cross two lanes and get into a third for left turners and this thing happened whose name is:

The Cars See Me Looking Over My Shoulder and Slow Down.

It sounds small, maybe, but really this slowing down is so huge!   Those drivers were able to turn their desperate eyes away from that green traffic light long enough to see me, and to think that maybe I needed to get over, and to then silently offer to give me room.  I waited until there were fewer cars and then I signalled and made my way across.

It doesn't always happen, this slowing down, this taking notice of me, but it happens more than once a week.  In the end it is almost the sum total of what I am asking for from the cars, what I am shouting for, or pleading for or begging for.  Look for me, a little.  Notice me a tiny bit.  See me there on the side of the road and very occasionally, make a space for me.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

the best revenge is living well

Monday I'm bicycling in to work after a week out sick.  I still can't really talk.  I know people will think I'm nuts for not driving but..  bicycling feels great.  My legs don't stop working when I have a runny nose.  Life's too short to waste it in a car.

I'm on Middlefield coming up to where I need to take a left onto Charleston.  The light is red.  No one is going very far.  I signal that I need to get over and the first car immediately yields and I move out of the bike lane and in front of them.  I signal that I need to cross the next lane.  I watch in my mirror as a black SUV steps on the gas rather then let me cross in front of him.  Fine.  Whatever.  I cross the lane after him and then settle at the red light, immediately behind black SUV, at a red light.  He's in front so I guess he wins or something.

Light turns green.  Black SUV goes through the intersection and turns left and I follow him.  And something funny happens.  There's road construction ahead and traffic for the cars is backed up all the way to the intersection.  I slide into the slim bicycle lane and pass the black SUV.  I continue passing cars all the way to the next intersection where a construction worker calls me "chica" and waves me through.

I never see the black SUV again.  I suppose he got to wherever he was going.  Eventually.

Monday, December 5, 2011

I love you bicycle. Let's not spend any more time apart.

Last week Thursday I vowed to get back on my bicycle.  I hadn't run a fever in twelve hours.  More importantly my back and hips were threatening total annihilation.  The great thing about bicycling (lots of different kinds of exercise) is that it keeps your body young and happy.  I'm 43 but people either think I am much younger or are so afraid of me that they pretend they think I'm much younger.  The bad thing is that if you stop exercising and lie in bed (like if you have a 103 fever day after day) you do not start aging where you left off, you accelerate and zoom past 43 within a few hours.  By nightfall you may be feeling like you're 90. 

So it's Thursday.  I'm somewhat better.  I need to take Rapunzel to school.  My back and hips are crying for some movement.  And here's the next thing:  taking Rapunzel to school by car is like being torn apart by rabid squirrels.  You're fighting about two hundred other mothers for one of ten parking spaces or you are swirling into the line that doubles as an entryway to hell.  Biking her in is a pleasant ~1.5 mile jaunt.  Driving her in is an exercise in self-torture. 

I'm going to bike, damnit.

I head down the stairs to the garage and find my bicycle.  It nods politely in my direction from it's place leaned up against a work table.  I ask if it minds if I join it.  It shakes it's front tire "no" and I prop myself up next to it and rest for awhile.  And so with frequent pauses for good behavior I get the bicycle to the driveway with the wagon hitched up behind it and then get Rapunzel buckled in and reading a book.  We set off.  I love bicycling!  It's so easy!  Turning the pedals is no effort at all!  Then I remember I'm pedaling downhill. 

I pedal along and except for not being able to breathe I feel pretty good.  My hips and back feel exceptionally good.  In fact if they could talk you would have heard them yelling "FUCK, YES!" as we rolled down the street.  We get to the school in one piece.  I hug and kiss Rapunzel and then rest awhile before attempting the arduous 1.5 mile ride home.