Tuesday, April 10, 2012

best friends for bicyclists.

The most awesome book ever is Best Friends For Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban.  The humor and pathos of Frances, Gloria and Albert as they navigate the complicated grounds of friendship, partying, solitude and discrimination is without peer.  Don't read the on-line reviews --- none of them begin to touch on the complex issues presented in this one slim work.

Frances and Gloria are badgers.  Gloria wants to play ball with Frances but Frances says she's too little and Frances heads over to play ball with her friend Albert, instead.  Gloria cries.  Unfortunately for Frances, Albert has plans to spend the day catching snakes, eating a lot, and wandering around vaguely and so he rejects Frances's overtures for inclusion.  A mildly disgruntled Frances heads home to spend time with Gloria instead, and in a surprise plot twist, it is not as bad as she had originally supposed to play ball with her sister.

Day #2 and Frances again heads over to visit her friend Albert.  Damningly, his reason for excluding her today is that he is playing ball with Harold who says of France's ball skillz,  "She's not much good" and that "besides, this is a no girls baseball game."  Albert does not contradict Harold's unfriendly and sexist position and Frances is supremely pissed off.

Frances de-friends Albert and heads home to Gloria.

"How did you play so fast that you are home so soon?" wonders Gloria.
"It was a fast game." said Frances.

Frances and Gloria seize the offensive and arrange that they will go out for a fabulous picnic-gala.  With no boys.  Their mother helps them load their wagon with a spectacular spread of food that takes nearly two pages to describe and they pack prizes for games and they make a large sign that says "Best Friend Picnic.  No Boys."  Then they head out, their route incidentally taking them past Albert's house.

Albert (who has a food-tooth the way some of us have a sweet-tooth) comes galloping over desperate to attend the "Eating."  Frances corrects him with appropriate coldness:  "Outing."   Albert wants to come along and play games and help them eat.  Frances points out that this is a No Boys outing and it is only for best friends.

"What good is an outing without boys?" said Albert.
"It is just as good as a ball game without girls," said Frances, "and maybe a whole lot better."

Gloria kindly advocates for Albert.  Frances thinks it over.  "Maybe you'll be best friends when it is goodies-in-the-hamper time, but how about when it is no-girls-baseball time?"


Yesterday Rapunzel had a field trip and needed to be at school early.  At the appointed time she got her little bicycle out of the garage and the three of us set out  together.  We came to the traffic light at Sharon Road and the Alameda and waited our turn with the other cars.  Most of them turn right or left.  We were going straight.

Straight is down a hill populated by those big humps in the road that don't bother a bicyclist very much (the Contraption Captain has caught air on a few occasions cause that's how he rolls) but which slow down a car quite a bit.   It's a very quiet residential road and (surprise) the residents have installed massive slower-downers-of-cars because they like their children and pets in non-flat format.

Cars do a funny dance on this hill: they step on the gas until they come to one of the speed hummocks and then they step on the brakes.  Then they step on the gas and at exactly the moment that they are about to finally get around that fucking bicyclist they have to stomp on the brakes.  The drivers fume, their passengers get whiplash, and the bicyclist coasts happily down, enjoying the gentle ocean-y swells in the road.

The three of us bicyclists head down this hill.  A boxy orange Honda Element moves into oncoming traffic and steps on the gas to get around us.  I have time to see the bumper stickers.






Mr. I-fucking-love-bicyclists comes to the first speed hill and stomps on the brakes, skittering in behind my implacable eight year old daughter.

Mr. You-better-fucking-make-room-for-bicyclists-if-I-am-on-one-otherwise-not-so-much gets over the hilly bit and steps on the gas again, careening around the three of us in a plume of blue-grey exhaust.  This continues for about 2.7 seconds and then of course he arrives at the next speed bump, the bump we easily bump over but he has to step on the brakes or risk losing the undercarriage of his automobile and we are in front again.

Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat with the extra  je-ne-sais-quois that because Mr I-have-covered-my-car-in-bicycle-love-stickers-because-I like-to fake-out-those-asshole-roadies is threatening not just myself and my husband but my darling eight year old Rapunzel?  I want to tear the hood off his car and throw it through his living room window.  I demonstrate restraint though and am content to watch the show of this car behaving like an idiot.


Back to the wisdom of Frances.

"Can't I be a best friend?" asked Albert.

"I don't think it's the kind of thing you can do," said Frances, "and it would ruin my whole day to have to explain it to you."

I'll try though.  Being best friends means that it is make-room-for-bicyclists time when you are on a bicycle and when you are in your car.  Being best friends means that even when you are not the bicyclist on the road  you still have to slow down and not pass little kid bicyclists in a haze of putrid exhaust.  You don't have to be on your bicycle all of the time to be best friends, but you can't ever be a worthless muppet when you are driving your car, not even once.

So what is it.  Are we best friends only when it's goodies-in-the-wagon?  Or are we best friends all the time.  In the case of one moronic orange Honda Element I have my answer.


  1. awesome post. admire your restraint. maybe we need "bike bff" schwag to hand out to those who are True.

    1. The Contraption Captain reminds me that they were also trying to get around a school-bus. What a winner :/

      I have a bias against mountain bicyclists who seem to have about the same sense for bicyclists in traffic as say, a person who skis.

      I also have a bias against I HEART BICYCLE bumper stickers. I mean, if you love bicycling so much, why the f are you in your effing car??

  2. Yes- it seems like several times I've been close passed or otherwise endangered by people with bikes mounted on their cars, or with pro-bike bumperstickers. I wonder if some of them are recreational cyclists who never ride in traffic, and don't have the empathy to think about how their actions would impact someone riding?

    I will say that when I'm driving, which is something less than once a month, that it pisses me off to no end when bikers do stupid shit around me- like lane split or run lights/ blow stops. It just seems like they're ruining it for the rest of us, and I would be so upset if I ever hurt someone with the big car, even if it was not my fault. I'm a very careful driver around bikers, and I'm very patient about passing and people taking the lane because I know how it feels, but it's still enraging when people do stupid crap around me on their bikes. I don't know if I hold bikers to a higher standard, being one, or if it would be more infuriating if I never bicycled and couldn't understand the bicyclists' point of view.

    1. When I drive (4x/month to gymnastics class) I do really well with even difficult bicyclists. I see it as part of my penance for being in a car to be extra compassionate to even those bicyclists who annoy me. It's taken me some practice to get to this point but I;m happy with deciding to take the default position that just by being in a car I am lower than the most inept bicyclist.

      When I am on my bicycle I struggle a lot more with the bicyclists I perceive as asshats. I just this morning (silently) freaked out at three bicyclists, two of whom ran a red pedestrian crossing light and the third who went up on the sidewalk to run the light. I wish I could stop hating the people who bicycle like jerks. I keep trying anyways.

  3. I love the Francis series and have given them to most of friends when they had children. Most of lifes lessons are covered in them. Glad to see she has another fan.

    1. I am also very very partial to A Birthday For Frances.
      I wish I were more like Gloria but with the passage of time I have come to accept my Frances-nature.
      I continue to work on relinquishing Chompo bars.