Thursday, June 28, 2012

hit me one more time

I got this email about two years back that really ticked me off. 

The email went to a very large group of people and in it the writer described driving past the aftermath of an accident involving a car and a bicyclist.  The accident was serious enough that there was an ambulance pulled up and as she drove by the scene of the crime she saw the bicyclist lying in the road be readied for transport to the hospital and she was quite upset. 

The action item of her resulting email was "so please please always wear your bicycle helmet" and it was signed "your friendly mother hen" or some similar nonsense.  That's right.  A crime had been committed and the name of this crime was "a bicyclist went out without his helmet and startled a poor innocent car into hitting him."

Well fuck you and the horse you rode in on, I thought to myself, where unprofessional thoughts are safe and secretive.  Here is the email I would prefer to see:

To [redacted]

Which one of you worthless muppets knocked down a bicyclist on the way in to the office?  You better change your name and update your LinkedIn profile because I am going to hunt you down and tear you a new tail pipe.

-your hostile mother bear

....but we will never see that email, at least not in my lifetime.  Possibly because people who write emails like that (namely me) get fired early and often and end up inhabiting cardboard boxes and do not live to reproduce.

Since we (I'm looking at you NYC) are considering having laws requiring bicyclists to wear helmets for the purpose of providing (possibly, if they are lucky) some protection from the SUVs that want to run them over....I think it's time that we consider similar protections for women generally and not just bicyclists specifically.  As a female bicyclist I think I am extra well qualified to pronounce on the matter.

It is a well known fact that some men batter their wives/girlfriends/random strangers.  If women were required to wear motorcycle helmets (so much less wimpy than the bicycle helmet) and bullet-proof vests they would be far less likely to be injured.  In fact, you can make a case that women not wearing motorcycle helmets and bullet-proof vests are responsible for any damage they incur on their un-armored bodies.  If women aren't wise enough to wear helmets and vests every waking hour of their partnered life, it is the responsibility of the non-women to get some legislation on the matter stat so that we can enforce proper protection of female Americans because you love female Americans don't you?  Of course you do.

I'll take Q&A now.

Q:  Hi, I'm a happily married man who does not beat up his wife.  I like the way she dresses and I like her hair and I do not want a law that forces her to dress up like the Michelin man.  Can we please be exempt?

A:  Thanks for playing but no, insufficient.  A change in job or a brain tumor or a momentary lapse in judgment perhaps brought on by alcohol could result in your becoming someone who beats up women, and so we will need to install protection on all women in your vicinity.  Think of the children if you are unwilling to think of the women.

Q:  I'm a lesbian who does not plan to ever be partnered to a man.  I do not want to wear a helmet.  Can I be exempt?

A:  No, you cannot.  Just because you do not partner with men does not mean you might not get beat up by a man.  We want you to be safe.

Q:  I am an African-American living in Mississippi.  There are quite a few racists living here as well.  Should I go out with white shoe polish covering my skin?

A:  Absolutely.

In summary, I am grateful to the fine politicians of NYC for raising the important issue of automobile safety.  Hitting a bicyclist can have a negative impact on one's overall commute time, a result that can only be improved by hitting a bicyclist who is wearing a helmet.

Don't tread on me.

Monday I stayed home sick, it was a day two of a migraine thing where a sizeable part of the problem is that I'm just so so tired out from illing.  After slumping around for much of the morning and improving a little I got lonely and decided to bicycle out to meet the Contraption Captain for lunch.  Was he available?  Yes.  Check.  Good.  I'm on my way.

Bicycle lanes in my area generally run nonchalantly along on the right side of the road.  There are a few exceptions.  In some cases, a bicycle lane will turn to a dashed line as it encourages you over to the other side of the road where the lane continues.  Weird but true.  More commonly the bicycle lane will disappear into a right turn lane and reappear in the middle of the road as a bicycle lane for people going straight.  All of these situations have a common point:  the bicyclist must traverse the car lane to return to the bicycle lane.  We do this (surprise) by signalling and then crossing over to our lane when it is safe.

You would not think this would be such a big deal.  The bicyclist is not travelling in the car lane, they are just moving from a bicycle lane that is disappearing to the replacement bicycle lane in the middle part of the road.  We don't stop traffic so much as request a short yield.  And mostly it is not a big deal.  Frequent car commuters know these bicycle crossing spots as well as the bicyclists themselves, they slow down almost without thinking and the bicyclist hurries in front of them and then the car continues on it's way.  VoilĂ .  Easy. 

Mostly easy.

So Monday my bicycle is portaging me, my migraine headache, and my medications for the migraine (that I ate so these are inside me making me a little jittery) up the bicycle lane.  There is little traffic.  I am remembering a book of Greek myths where Gaia is described as falling in love with the sky and I am thinking it would be easy to fall in love with the California sky, that perhaps I am already a little in love with it's soulful blue expanse. 

The California sky has the quality of a lover because it is always beautiful, and because it may look the same to someone else who is not in love but to you, who love the sky, it is full of endless and miraculous variation.  In other words, I am minding my own business and hurting no one.

Also I am watching the traffic.  I need to cross from the bike lane on the far right to the bicycle lane in the middle, as I am going straight and the bike lane vanishes into a right hand turn.  Ahead the light is red so no one is in a rush.  I stick out my arm and signal that I wish to cross the car lane.  Behind me there is a shiny black BMW SUV.  I watch it attentively.  It is not precisely slowing down but it is not speeding up either.  I can't be sure that it is really going to let me cross.  It is big and black and imposing and I am just a bicyclist hoping to meet her husband for lunch and so I hesitate because it is not obvious that it sees me and I love life and want it to continue without inconveniences like a broken back or fractured skull. 

I am just deciding it would be safe to go when the BMW SUV loses patience and steps on the gas and passes me close so that I can feel the tiny wind from it's side view mirror.  I have time to see the angry words coming from the angry slit of a mouth on the past-her-prime woman driver as she mutters evil words at the bicyclist who was too afraid to jump immediately in front of her giant chrome grill. 

"That's my secret, Captain.  I'm always angry."  - Hulk to Captain America in The Avengers

I look at that ugly mean face staring at me and I give it the middle finger.  Now the BMW SUV is stuck at the red light that she was in such a hurry to get to.  I'm in no special hurry at all so instead of going straight I fall in behind her.  She looks in her rear view mirror.  I jab my middle finger at her some more and mouth FUUUUUUCK YOUUUUUUUUUU.  My entire body trembles faintly.  The light turns green and I follow the SUV easily and almost immediately she is at another red light, waiting to turn in to Stanford Mall.  Yes.  This old hag couldn't pause to let me cross in front of her because she was making an extreme Neiman-Marcus run.  I'm sitting behind her and she looks like she might be having second thoughts.  She's slightly slumped in her seat.  My voice carries nicely through her open window when I yell "YOUR PROBLEM IS THAT YOU NEED MORE PLASTIC SURGERY."

BMW SUV decides that they will not turn into the mall here after all, they will continue on straight.  No problem.  This is the joy of being an almost roadie with a bad attitude.  I can pace that car easily as it circumnavigates the goddamned Stanford Mall.  I follow the BMW to the next turn-off where I helpfully yell "Jabba the Hutt called!  His wife is missing!"  She hops back out of the left turn into the mall for the 2nd time and I follow her to the next turn-off at which point I lose interest and when she goes straight again I wait for the turn signal and get back on course for a nice lunch out. 

I wrote this on Tuesday and here it is Thursday.  I didn't post it because I guess I am not entirely proud of myself.  I'm not entirely sorry either.  I thought about what pushed me over the edge.  Lots of cars buzz and scare me and I don't react.  I think it was the way she gave me those couple of seconds to cross, watching my arm stuck out hopefully, and then forced her way around me and then the straw was the angry words directed at me for my timidness, as if to say, "How dare you be cautious of your life when I have a push-up bra to purchase at Nordstrom's."   

Thursday, June 14, 2012

It's Primer Time: 30 things non-bicyclists can do for people who commute by bicycle

1.  Stop telling all the bicyclists you know how much you admire them but you're too scared to ride anywhere yourself.  We're (mostly) polite outwardly but we translate this comment as "I love running bicyclists over and can't wait to have a go at you so watch out."

2.  Stop telling us about the bicycle accidents you just read about and we'll stop telling you about the car accidents we just read about.

3.  Don't tell bicyclists to "Be safe."  Instead say "I resolve not to kill anyone with my car" or go with "I know I suck.  Hope you stay awesome."

4.  Don't tell us about that bicyclist you saw run a red light and how blah blah blah.  The crappiest bicyclist is not using a millionth of the resources that the best car driver is and guess what, you're not the best car driver.

5.  Ah you think you're the best driver?  For crissakes drive the speed limit already.  Fucking Mario Andretti.

6.  We don't care about your Prius.  Or your Volt.  Or your Tesla. 

7.  When you see us on the road, don't speed up.  Slow down.  Pass gently and respectfully.

8.  If you see a family bicycling together, expect that the parents will escort their children through intersections en masse.  This is because you suck and can't be trusted. 

9.  Make eye contact.  We might have the right of way but we're so used to your bullshit we can't trust you worth a damn.

10.  If you see two bicyclists riding side by side, shut the fuck up about it.  Thanks.

11.  If you see a little kid wobbling shyly along on their little kid bicycle slow down and give them plenty of room. 

12.  Newsflash:  Sharing the road means there are times when it is not your turn.  Those are the times you have to slow down or wait.  If you have forgotten how to share, return to kindergarten for a refresher course.

13.  We don't care why you don't bicycle. 

14.  We don't care why you live so far away from the office.

15.  We don't care if you are driving to the Farmer's Market, 50 miles away, because you like to "buy local."

16.  We don't care about what kind of bicycle you have at home.

17.  Kindly black out the "Denali" logo on your SUV.  It's offensive.  Replace it with something more appropriate like "Oily Polluter."

18.  If you run a bicyclist over, you should stop.  Duh.

19.  Don't tell your bicycling friends (and enemies) that they should wear a helmet.  It's none of your business.

20.  In fact refrain from all worthless advice.  If you aren't on a bicycle, you don't know what you're talking about.  Really. 

21.  Learn to apologize.  If you almost hit someone, roll down your window and say in your most sincere voice "I'm sorry.  I'll be more careful."  You might get yelled at.  Deal with it.  People get upset when you nearly kill them.

22.  Give extra room to drunk bicyclists.  Think about how excellent it would be if everyone bicycled when they were drunk instead of drove their car. 

23.  Look carefully before opening the door of your car.

24.  We don't care about that time, once, when you were much younger, and you bicycled somewhere. 

25.  We aren't your priest.  Don't confess your petroleum sins to us.

26.  Don't tell us about how you drive a zillion miles and love to fly over the equator but it's ok really because you're going to put up a solar panel.  It's just annoying.

27.  If you need help finding a safe route to work, definitely ask.

28.  If you see a bicycle being stolen drive your car over the thief, but please don't wreck up the bicycle.

29.  Come to a complete stop at stop signs.

30.  Never forget that your car is a weapon, and that with great mass comes great responsibility. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I might like to collect you.

Do you know how birdwatchers keep a life book of all the birds they have seen?  Yeah they have a book and they write down the name, the date, and the bird and they do this for every new kind of bird they spot.  I am starting a life book of all the expensive cars I have passed stuck in traffic.

So far I have collected:

Corvette (need to figure out where to draw the line, Corvettes are kindof cheesy but they make so much damned noise they are hard to ignore)
Porsche Carerra, Boxster, whatever  (barely qualifies in this company but with Corvette making the list had to stick it in)
Tesla (I actually kindof like these)
Ferrari (exceptionally loud)
Antique anything (exceptionally smelly)
Fisker (a very giggly name)

I am hoping to spot the elusive Maybach.  Maybach is one of the most expensive cars in the world but it looks like an over-sized Ford Escort which makes it hard to pick out of the pack. 

Also I want to get some additional granularity by tracking car model.  I don't like cars so mostly they all look the same to me but if I can learn to spot the car's model I can annotate my car-stopped-in-traffic book with:  "June 9, 2012, corner of Sand Hill and El Camino:  one BMW L7, one BMW LUSR" instead of simply "two BMWs."

There should be a notes field, of course, for interesting items like "listening to an ipod" or "texting his mistress" or even "rolling right through a stop sign."   You know, all that illegal stuff that people who drive cars pretend only bicyclists take part in.

I'll try and get some pictures because that would be fun.  Snap a picture while some lard-ass preens and smirks at me and then I post it to a bicycling blog with HAW HAW HAW for the caption.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Rose for Emily

This Friday past was the last day of school for my kids.  I took the day off.  There is not a "last day of work" unless you die or get fired and no one celebrates those so I wanted to muscle in on their good time and any attendant shenanigans.    Pele walks home from school but Rapunzel is a bicycle commuter and so at the appropriate time I get on my bicycle and head out to meet her.  The weather is like a series of fireworks in that each moment is beautiful and you're sure it can't get better but then there is that next burst of chrysanthemum colors and wow, it did get better.  The weather was that good.  I was pretty glad. 

Car traffic on certain days of school is bad where by bad I mean "abysmal" and "horripilating" and "hernia-inducing".  On the last day of school it islike this times a thousand as every mommy with a driver's license (and a few without) head over to the school to collect their little darling and the streets morph from "whatever" into "Hanoi when the Americans pulled out." 

I however am relatively safe in my beautiful bicycle lane, pedalling serenely past the long lines of backed-up automobiles.  I am smiling in anticipation of seeing my own well-adored darling and unlocking her little 8-speed bike and pedalling home with her to a nice lunch and perhaps out again an later for an ice-cream cone 'cause hey, last day of school, summer. 

I am smiling but vigilant.  Trapped cars are restless cars and may give no warning before abruptly breaking free and pulling an illegal U-turn on the busy Alameda.  Or perhaps suddenly turning right onto a side street in a mis-guided attempt to go around.  I watch very carefully, and I pass the slowed and stopped cars to my left with great caution. 

And so it came to be that I was heading downhill and watching a Honda Odyssey.  The Odyssey was not crawling up the ass-bumper of the car in front of it which in my experience means it is browsing for an unexpected right hook that it will not telegraph with anything so weak-kneed as a right-hand turn signal.  Ahead of me is a small side-street and here there is a car, with a stop sign, waiting to turn left on the main road.  I watch this car as well.  His window is down and he sees me and makes eye contact.  He looks happy.  He smiles.  He looks like a lawyer or a real estate agent I decide.  His face says "It is ok bicyclist, I am not going to pull out in front of you.  I like bicyclists.  Some days, I am a bicyclist myself.  Go free little bicyclist, go on your way unimpeded, travel in happiness."

I let my attention slide away from the happy guy in the sedan.  I sense that the Odyssey, which I am parallel with, is about to make it's move and indeed at that moment it launches itself in front of me, lunging towards the side-street.  I hit the brakes and my bicycle bounces a little and I know I will stop in time and not be killed and that makes me happy.  Ahead I see the passenger in the sedan.  His happy face has changed to an alarmed face.  A horrified face.  The face of someone who thinks he is about to see a bad accident.  To my surprise, I hear the man shouting at the Odyssey.  He shouts, "STOP STOP STOP" and he shouts "YOU ARE GOING TO KILL THAT BICYCLIST!!!" 

I'm totally serious.  One car was yelling at another car for making a thoughtless right hand turn.

The  Odyssey stops, surprised.  Now they are neatly blocking the bicycle lane, their front half on the side street and their back half sticking out on the main road.  They roll down their window.  Why is that man yelling at them?  I see the man in the car gesture at them.  He is saying "You almost hit that bicyclist!"  The van driver turns awkwardly in her seat.  She sees me sitting there, sandwiched between the curb and her car.  She turns back to the car.  I imagine her saying, "Yeeeesssss?  Your point?" 

The man in the car looks past her somewhat helplessly.  I smile at him.  I really like this guy.  He gives me the apologetic look of a responsible dog owner whose neighbor has bought a herd of polo ponies and allowed them to roam the neighborhood, pooping everywhere un-fettered. 

The van driver shrugs and drives on.  I bicycle past the car driver and I say all I can think of to say which is....  "Thank-you." 

People who cut you off are a dime a dozen and it's a short-lived bicyclist who is not always vigilant.  A car going to bat for a bicyclist, yelling stop and giving a damn?  That's so rare.  Something to remember.