Wednesday, September 12, 2012

you don't have to live this way

If you were following the 24 hour news cycle about two years back you might have seen a small story about a neighbourhood in San Bruno, California.  It blew up.  The fire was so bad that everyone assumed a plane had crashed.  Paint melted off cars.  The wind-shields on the firetrucks cracked from the heat.  Six people died.  In the end no plane was found and people put together enough pieces to understand that there had been a gas pipe explosion.

Fast forward to the present and PG&E has been on it's best behaviour seeing as even in the US, exploding a town can be considered bad for business.  Numerous repair projects and refurbish projects have come off back burners and are stopping traffic all over the bay area --- including up the road from where I live and along the section of Middlefield that I take to get to work.  When they need to replace those big pipes there's nothing for it but to halt traffic and rip up the road.  What does this mean for bicycles?  Not a lot really.  We skate along in our mostly empty skinny little lane and squeak around the cars on those occasions that our little bit of real estate gets torn up.

Two weeks or so back I saw the worst traffic ever, bar none, on Sand Hill Road.  It was backed up from the 280 all the way to El Camino.  Possibly further.  It wasn't just slow but for much of the time the cars were not moving, a parking lot.  Contraption Captain and I are hurrying home and we wonder what the deal is, so much traffic.  Odd.  Then we spot a broken down car being pushed.  That must be the problem, we think.  But no.  It turns out that this car just lost it's mind in an agony of slowness.  It's being pushed by two humans who are in an agony of back-pain but traffic is so slow that the dead car is not changing the profile around itself.

So what is it?  PG&E working on their repairs.  It was quite a snarl.  It was such a snarl that I saw two helicopters hovering around ostensibly there to airlift the despairing Lamborghinis and Maseratis to safety.  Porsches and Ferraris can go screw of course, those guys are a dime a dozen.  Cars everywhere were sobbing quietly as they wondered where the open empty roads of their relevant car commercials were, who had sold them this bill of goods.  They had thought themselves alone in the world!  And yet here they were on roads that were positively infested with other cars.

I lol'd.  It was so much traffic that at a certain point it just became amusing.  My commute was (of course) the same as it ever was with two mild course corrections.

Course Correction 1:  Cars in parking lot traffic will wedge a wheel into the bicycle lane even if the right turn they are making is four miles further up the road.  This is annoying.

Course Correction 2:  Cars stuck in this kind of traffic get really upset.  They go through all the stages of grief.  Denial "This isn't happening to me!" followed by Rage "This shouldn't be happening to me!" followed by Acceptance "Kill me now."  And then, when the traffic finally clears, they reach a point that grief victims try and avoid:  Retaliation as in "Those fucking bicycles are for it now.  Zooming past me when I was stuck like that..."

So, be careful out there my friends.  And if you are in a car stuck in traffic?  Those bicyclists aren't mocking you, they're showing you the exit.

a now a song snippet for you, with apologies to Gotye:

Now and then I think of all the time I spent in gridlock
Always believing that a car was the only choice
But I don't want to live that way
Stuck in traffic every goddamned day
Now I leave, my car at home
I ride my bicycle, lost ten pounds plus I'm free to roam


  1. In such a situation, I pass the cars on the left. It makes all the difference in the world as to my attitude towards any that edge right. Why thank you for leaving some extra room!

  2. Chafe,

    What a nice post. The problem with cars, as you point out and as I pointed out in a blogpost a little while ago (, is that people regard it as a purely private act to use one. But it's an intensely social activity to share a road full of fast-moving (or stalled) traffic with large numbers of other people. The disconnect between the two - and you're right to point out that the car commercials are full, essentially, of lies about how cars are used - is one of the great delusions of our time.


    1. And normally, of course, we expect commercials to reflect accurate real-world portrayals of the object in use.

      This story reminds me of the time there was a gas leak on 5th Ave. in Manhattan. No one was killed, but for some hours I could see a 20ft jet of flame coming out of a hole in the street from my office window.