Two or three nights back I am bicycling through downtown Palo Alto heading towards a red traffic light and passing a parking garage where the cars storm out of the chute like wild cattle on steroids. I develop a dim awareness that something is coming up behind me. It's shape is unusually amorphous. Then I am at the red light and the shape reveals itself to be a big SUV driven by a surly woman with a lot of hair. As usual, I've taken a center-ish spot in the lane so that the cars (not that they deserve it or anything) can take a right without waiting for a green light.
The SUV cannot go right because there is a grouchy looking pedestrian clumping along in the sidewalk. He mouths something in our general direction and I am immediately on the defensive. Is pedestrian talking to me? Wtf is his problem? I'm just sitting here waiting for the light! I deserve this spot, I'm going straight damnit. Woops! I realize that grouchy pedestrian is saying is "YOUR LIGHTS ARE NOT ON" and in fact he is talking to the SUV driver not to me because the reason I couldn't see her is that she is driving at night with no lights. Let this be a lesson to self-conscious crabby biyclists everywhere: it's not always about you.
I consider the SUV driver who is staring straight ahead. No lights. I smile expectantly, sure she will turn them on because it's night and hey, driving with your lights on is the law and cars are very very law-abiding. The driver persists in staring sullenly forward. "Aha!" I think to myself. Her SUV must have chewed up a little of the old frontal lobe. She does not understand that she has negelected to put on her lights. So I say "Hey, your lights are not on." She looks at me. Her look says "It is a shame that we have come to a place in this country where the little people feel they can say whatever the fuck they want to the important people like myself." My look says "What part of 'turn your lights on' don't you understand??"
I smile although it's now a little forced. I try again. "Your lights are not on." She rolls her eyes at me because bicyclists are so goddamned annoying. I squint. I then embrace my inner Californian (yes, she exists although my inner Bostonian sometimes ties her up and rides her bike over her) and back up enough to tap lightly on the SUV window. Driver rolls it down. I say in my sunniest most helpful voice: "Your lights are not on." Did I mention it is after 6 and dark as Cuil's servers on this road? The SUV driver says "Thanks" in that voice people use when somone tells them something really meaningless. Her voice says "I love driving with my lights off. I will drive however the fuck I want to drive. Suck it, bicyclist."
We go back to sitting there. Her lights are off. Mine are blinkety-blinking. The traffic light turns green and she drives away, dark but not at all mysterious. I bicycle away looking like a Christmas tree that is in danger of shorting out.
What I still don't get. Why would anyone want to drive with their lights off? Contraption Captain suggests that the driver did not know how to turn her lights on but was too shy to admit to this. He suggested that I should have offered to help. I think that's a pretty funny idea "Would you like me to turn your lights on for you?" but I suspect that if I had reached through her window to do it she might have lopped off my arm and I need both of those graspy little guys to get through the day.