…but she's working on it.
I made an important discovery yesterday as I pedaled home from work. I was churning through a busy intersection and accelerating (with the usual adrenaline surge) towards a just turned green light when I saw a bicyclist up ahead of me. He was just getting underway and I complained (in my head, where it is safe to complain) that I would have to get around this (gasp) slower bicyclist. I saw a break in the car traffic and passed him and then I had an epiphany. My epiphany was to realize that I get annoyed with bicyclists who are slower than I am because then I have to get around them before I can resume usual speed. Also, I get annoyed with bicyclists who are faster than I am because I want to be fastest. Attentive people will notice that this only leaves room for bicyclists who are exactly the same speed as I am and it turns out I don't like that either (gets crowded) unless I happen to be married to the bicyclist. Extra attentive people will notice that is bears a more than passing resemblance to the behavior of automobiles (must win! must get around!)
This series of realizations does not represent a very proud moment for me.
I was thinking about all of this dislike as I waited at a traffic light and the bicyclist I had passed pulled up beside me. He at least had no hard feelings. He said "hello!" and correctly guessed where I worked. Since most of my bad temper happens inside of my head I was able to be pleasant and I asked where he was biking from. Turned out to be up by NASA which means he'd probably been on his bicycle for three or four miles already. I said something like "you've already put a few miles on" and he offered with shy pleasure "I've been bicycling since '74."
Damn. The guy has been bicycling since…before I could bicycle. I looked at him with fresh respect. I had guessed him to be maybe ten years my senior but now I saw that it was closer to 20 years, he was just in a supremely healthy condition. I said "This is a nice area to ride" and he nodded his head happily and then we went through the light and pedaled along until we were stopped at the next red outside the Mountain View REI. We both took the opportunity to admire the evening sky which was a wide pool of indigo water that had been swirled with flamingo pinks. "It's a beautiful night" Bicycling-Since-74 offered and I agreed. He was going to Palo Alto and I was going to Menlo Park. The light turned green and we took off again.
This time I just barely missed clearing the light at San Antonio and Charleston. 74 arrived a few moments later. He wondered politely if I had considered the Bay Road route, "no lights" he explained. I said that I had tried it a few times but that my route picked up Bryant (Bicycle Boulevard) which I loved so I went with Charleston-Bryant combination. Bicycling-Since-74 started nodding as soon as I said Bryant and he again wished me a great ride and this time we went our separate directions under the always unfolding evening sky.
Why does any of this matter? A few things come to mind, and the first is selfish. That guy has been bicycling to work and then home again for over thirty years. He was strong, fit, and endlessly cheerful. Assuming we bicyclists can avoid being run over by cars we have a long good life ahead. What else? Bad tempered alone in your car never really changes. Bad tempered on a bicycle brings you out into the world where you may find yourself changed.