Thursday, October 11, 2012

off the wagon and rolling downhill very fast

The seasons are exerting their delicate change here in the bay area which means that some mornings are overcast and occasionally my hands get cold if I do not wear gloves.  Soon the time change will come and plunge my commute home into darkness.  I think I'll hand out more lights this year cause it's better to light a candle etc. etc.

I am currently exiting a particularly egregious phase of personal aggression against cars, something I liken to an alcholic having a drink and then going on a binge of pissed-offed-ness.  I know I should be calm and mannerly and I know that if I antagonize the wrong car it might go nuts and tear my leg off but I can't seem to always get a lid on the instinct to let dangerous drivers know that I am unhappy with them. 

So here, for your amusement, my latest instances of going berserk.  Terrible language is ahead (I love bad language and can curse like a sailor) so if you're the easily offended type best be heading over to one of the blogs about how to bicycle and look pretty at the same time.

I'm on my way to work, thinking about a particular problem I am trying to solve and watching the road and the cars.  I am in a bicycle lane.  Ahead is a red light.  I need to make a left turn at that light and so I must cross two lanes and settle myself into the left turn only lane.  I stick out my arm and signal my desire to go left.  I look in my mirror and over my shoulder and a car yields to me and I move over one lane.  I signal more and look more and move over the next lane, at which point an angry minivan stomps on the gas and speeds by me on my right gesturing rudely at me out their open window.  The driver's face says "bicyclists are so dangerous, it's shocking how they act all surprised when cars hit and kill them."  I see the man's arm waving around and I stab in his general direction with my middle-finger because as far as I am concerned he can fuck his bad attiude with a rusted coat hanger if he thinks I don't deserve to make a safe and lawful left hand turn as I commute to work. 

Now we are of course all sitting at the red light that he wanted to get to first.

I'm mad.

I take a deep breath and use my powerful lungs to bellow "I WAS TURNING LEFT, YOU FLACCID DICKED ASSHOLE." 

The parked cars around me all inhale sharply and I realize that the majority of people commuting to work are men.  Their faces convey anxiety.  "Who is this woman and how does she know my dick is limp?"  One gentleman in a yellow convertible has gotten extra of my voice and looks particularly worried. 

I sigh and attempt to clarify, this time shouting "I AM TALKING TO THE HONDA ODYSSEY IN THE RIGHT LANE, NOT THE YELLOW SPORTS CAR."  Everyone turns and stares in the direction of the Honda Odyssey.  I watch, smugly, as he quickly rolls up his window.  Corvette guy spots the Odyssey and then points at it and starts laughing. 

Ok that was bad but also incredibly fun for me.  It totally turned around the feeling of having some disapproving guy with thinning hair chastising me as he revved the engine and passed me way the fuck too close. 

All is quiet for a few days until I am not so much cut off as forced off the road (towards oncoming traffic for those p by an SUV driver speeding towards yet another red light.  I arrive at the red light a few moment later and stare gloomily into her rear view mirror.  She did not so much cut me off as never see me at all.  She's busy with her cell phone.  I frown.  I study the back of her shiny Merceded SUV.  It has one of those family groups on the back:  Daddy in a tie.  Mommy in an apron.  Cute girl with big bow.  Cute boy in shorts.  Dog with tongue hanging out.  "Fuck you and fuck your family" I think to myself.  "Talking on your fucking cell phone when you should be watching out for other people ont he road."  I peer closer at the car.  The family people are not stickers.

They are magnets. 

I brighten.  I lean forward and abruptly pick the Mommy sticker off the back of the SUV and tuck it in my backpack.  The light turns and I pedal away.  Two intersections on I put the Mommy magnet onto the back of a blue Porsche Boxster driven by a doughy man who is busy texting his accountant.  I smile fondly at my handiwork as he guns the engine and drives away.  So yeah, from one Mommy to another?  Fuck you and your thoughtless driving. 

And since we are on the subject, a nod to my active fantasy life...

One day, if all goes well, I will be waiting behind one of those cars with "truck nuts" hanging off the back.  And I will lean forward with my wire cutters and snip-snip.  And then I'll take a picture.  And then I'll toss those balls into the recycling.


  1. Chafe,

    I feel your anger - albeit I steer clear of swearing in my dialogues with drivers. I simply turn up the volume if they don't surrender quickly - which, given how loud I can shout, is a fearsome thing.

    I had a particularly satisfying interaction the other day. I was cycling through Tribeca in Manhattan, trying to get round some stopped cars that were blocking the amusingly-named "cycle lane" when a taxi lurched to its left without looking, into my path. I shouted "watch!", the vehicle fortunately stopped and I made my way round it.

    The driver however thought it was appropriate at this point to drive after me, honking his horn and waving at me as if his effort to knock me off had been a huge joke. We inevitably met at some lights and exchanged a few thoughts on the interaction, which were largely unproductive. At that point, I acted as I'd suggested in a blogpost ( one should do and turned my attention to his passengers - his customers. I knocked on the window, they wound it down and I said, "This driver is driving dangerously. Please don't give him a tip. He needs to learn a lesson". They looked like elderly, out-of-town tourists who were a bit scared. I have no idea if they refused to tip him. But I hope it had him worried.

    I thought of starting a campaign recommending to taxi passengers that they withhold tips from dangerous drivers. Do you think it would catch on?

    That said, two mornings ago, as I rode down a one-lane-only stretch of W54 street in the rain, a limousine driver started leaning on his horn to get past me. Getting mildly concerned, I moved slightly to the side, whereupon he squeezed past me with inches to spare. At the lights, he suggested I didn't own the road (I hadn't realized I'd been noised up by the Roadway-Owning Baron of Manhattan, but there we are). I suggested he could have killed me. "I still can," he said, with the charm for which New York's public service drivers are known. I took pictures of him - but, in my frustration, seem not to have put the camera back in my pannier bag. So I lost my temper and my camera.

    All of which proves - what? - drivers are often dangerous and they can make one angry.

    I suppose the second one also proves that we ultimately have more to lose than they in most interactions, since we're not shrouded in a big metal cage.

    Don't let the idiots depress you - and I would like your thoughts on my taxi campaign.


    1. I love:

      > the amusingly-named "cycle lane"
      > exchanged a few thoughts on the interaction, which were largely unproductive.

      Although I love the idea of no tip for the agro cab driver, maybe there would be more uptake if cab drivers who drove thoughtfully got a larger tip??

      In related news to the white pick-up truck saying on the side that nearly squished me when it decided to turn left from it's straight-only lane? I will never buy your tiles, never! never! Based on your website I am pretty sure it was Paul Hopkins who was yakking on his cell phone as he made the illegal turn that gave me a small bald spot.

    2. Their tiles probably suck, Chafe (although if sucking makes them stick firmly to the wall, that's not a bad thing). I was going to mention in the campaign that courteous taxi drivers should get extra-big tips. I was just going on the principle that I might as well say unicorns and flying pigs should get generous tips too, since they're about as likely as a courteous taxi driver to show up to transport someone around lower Manhattan...

    3. NYC is pretty much legendary for it's aggression. I've biked Boston, Wash DC, and the bay area. I'm not sure I have what it takes to ride NYC.

  2. I don't have to deal with anything like the traffic situations that you face. There is only one spot on my otherwise tranquill route to and from work (about 5 miles)where there is a choke point in the road and no cycle lane to protect me. You would think that with 99% of my rides being peaceful pedalling, I would have a more zen-like response to the occassional blip, but alas my mental programming remains give like for like :( When, yesterday, a car resented my taking the lane to prevent dangerous passing along this 50m stretch and gave me a blast of his horn as he finally sped past, I flipped him the bird and swore loudly. I felt terrible for the next hour, not because of him so much, but because I couldn't be more "adult" and blow him a kiss, or better yet, ignore him. Someday, maybe, I will have a revelation and acheive a Ghandi-like attitude, but until then...Nolite te bastardes carborundorum ;)

    1. I have after about six years attained (mostly) zen-like calm to random bicycle behaviors. I think with cars it is way harder because the trigger is we are briefly terrified we are about to die and there is a giant surge of adrenaline and panic and then we segue very quickly from terror to anger.

      And when I'm really angry I am really really angry it turns out :/

  3. I love that the family icons are magnets, it makes me want to buy spare adult figures, and have Mrs. Cellphone explaining to the other SUV owners why her car has one Daddy and two Mommies (NTTAWWT). Go Big Love!

    1. Bicyclists are commonly treated as frail and un-protected, which has some truth. But the giant shell of a car provides certain opportunities that I think we could all be utilizing more fully. We could get totally random for instance:

      driver: [shakes head] I don't know. Car looked ok when I left but by the time I got to work the rear bumper had been entirely "beadazzled"

  4. Chafed, You're my bike commuting heroine! I love these posts. But be careful out there. I'd like to keep reading them.

    1. It has been great for me to connect a little with other bicyclists, I am definitely less frustrated now that I have more communication with other commuters.

      I would like to keep riding also.