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. 


  1. "People who cut you off are a dime a dozen and it's a short-lived bicyclist who is not always vigilant."

    I'll say that again.

    Nice post Chafed!

  2. It's a very nice post, Chafed. It's an excellent reminder of the point (which I recent made here: ) that we can't jump to conclusions about anybody based on the tiny amounts of information we get when we encounter them on a public road. There are motorists who care about cyclists (not enough, but some) and we need to be wary of assuming that all the ones we encounter are callous.

    I hope your daughter's last day at school was good. Mine will shortly be marking their last days at their respective schools as they prepare to move to New York.