Monday, November 18, 2013

my suffer face

In the last year or so I have made use of one particular social platform in a low key way.  I use it to surround myself with bicyclists.  They're like a warm rug you can pull around yourself.  I don't contribute a lot, I just like to see the photos they put up - generally stuff like "me, on my bicycle" "my bicycle" and "me commuting on my bicycle."  I have a strong bias towards bicycle commuters.  I ride a road bike and I like being fast but for me, it's a commuting thing first and a love of bicycling thing second and everything else is mostly not there at all.  The cyclecross racers, and the roadie racers post pictures of their "suffer face."  It is a picture of them frowning mightily as they struggle bravely forward.  I get it, I used to have something similar when  ran road races and I was trying so hard to finish fast.  But commuting is different, I may work hard up hill or be fast but I don't suffer, or at least I don't suffer in that physical way.

I suffer in other ways.

Louis CK ran this great piece about not giving his kids cell phones because he thought it disconnected them from reality.  He goes on to talk about his experience being in his car and hearing a song and feeling terribly lonely and afraid and he wants to text everyone he knows but instead he feels the grief and cries and then feels better.  He's very funny and in my opinion spot on so if you have not seen the bit check it out.

In the morning I am very busy, I have to work with my husband to get the girls up.  I read to them.  The Contraption Captain makes breakfast and I pack lunches. Hair is braided and the day is discussed and I tidy up clutter and start laundry and clean the cat box.  At work I go to meetings, fix broken hardware, find problems, write documentation and...other stuff.  My mind is occupied at all times and when it is not occupied it wants something mindless to do because mindless-ness pushes back things I'd rather not think about.  Like my friend E.

I've known E for nearly twenty years, and we've shared many Thanksgivings.  She took care of my oldest when I was delivering my youngest and my oldest had never been away from home for the night but she had a fantastic time.  E and her husband D stayed friends with me when I split from my partner.  More importantly they stayed close to my kids who loved them.  About this time last year I got email that E had a brain tumor.  I Googled for it right away of course and it didn't take a rocket scientist to see that basically no one survived this kind of tumor at that stage in the game.  I hoped for different but I did not get different, and as I write this she is dying at her home surrounded by her husband and daughters and many friends.

I don't think about E when I am clearing up the dinner plates or when I am paying the bills I push the thoughts away of how I feel about her being afraid, of how frightened I am by the idea that her brain is swelling and her head hurts her.  I push the thoughts away up until I am riding my bicycle along some quiet stretch and then the thoughts come to me that E is dying, that I am far away, that there is nothing i can fix and little comfort I can provide.  The sorrow I feel is tempered by the steady up and down of my feet as I pedal and pedal and pedal.  It is as if my body assures me that something always goes on, even when something else is stopping.  I am alone as bicyclists are alone, not really seen by the world around them and the sorrow I feel about E touches the deeper sorrow of knowing that everyone I know will one day die, that my children are not immortal, that there is a great deal of pain in the world.  The corners of my mouth pull down and it probably looks pretty comical on a middle-aged lady biking as fast as she can, her eyes welling up.  My suffer face.

After awhile I start to feel better.  Nothing has changed but somehow you feel better able to accept what is happening, the things you cannot control, the sadness that exists, the wrongs you have done.  I keep pedaling and my mind is mostly emptied out and I watch for the cars at intersections and I am quiet.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

a life without walls

I see a lot of the same people each day on my commute and there is definitely a favorite.  I think I prefer this bicyclist because he has a generous and ready smile.  We are always traveling in opposite directions.  We have never stopped to talk.  As we pass each other we wave or yell "good evening" or "nice weather" or "so windy!"  He noticed when I no longer pulled a kid wagon "WHERE IS THE WAGON?" and I noticed when his kids also had gone off to kindergarten "GROWING UP SO FAST" and then it was just him on the way to (I presume) his office.

A few weeks back the Contraption Captain was pedaling with me into the office and we saw this bicyclist and as we passed each other I called out "THIS IS MY HUSBAND" and he smiled and waved.

I saw the bicyclist again as I went in to work yesterday and as we passed each other he said "I ENJOYED MEETING YOUR HUSBAND!"

I was delighted and amused the rest of the way home and then today I was reminded of that moment as I read this article.  Cars do not do a good job of seeing bicycles and bicyclists are prevented from seeing much of what is in the car but almost everything else is seen, and considered, and on a lucky day, also understood.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

dial 1-800 when I want your opinion I'll give it to you Mr. and MRs. SUV

This year Rapunzel started 4th grade, which means she starts at a new school.  Pele' started her freshman year in High School, so two new schools and two new commutes.

Rapunzel has been planning her commute for the last year.  She now walks to school and walks home afterwards unaccompanied by doting parents.  She informed us months ago, politely, that she would prefer to walk by herself and so we accompany her to the end of the driveway and hug and kiss her and then she sets out alone.

My father can't entirely get past this.

Father:  "does she run all the way to school?"
Me:  "I'm not there so I don't know."
Father:  "does she meet up with friends?"
Me:  "Well, I'm not sure actually, maybe sometimes?"

This solo behavior is in contrast to Pele' who liked the company of a parent even when she was not feeling very talkative and was always walked to school and was usually holding hands damn the torpedoes or any sneering teenagers.  Pele' has zero patience for sneering teenagers, demonstrating that at least one of my "you can go fuck yourself" genes will stay in the gene pool after I am gone.

I asked Rapunzel at one point about why she wanted to be alone (probably because I had paranoid thoughts that she did not want her peers to realize that the two weirdos in the area were her parents)  and she said, in a very civilized way, that being along gave a person a different perspective, one she enjoyed from time to time.  Maybe she is embarrassed by her two weirdo parents in which case I think it is extra classy that she considered our feelings so nicely in her response.  Rapunzel, if you ever see this and you were embarrassed?  Totally ok.  I embarrass myself some days.

So Rapunzel walks to school.  Check.  Cue Pele'.

Pele's high school is about four miles away and she is taking an extra elective which means she has to be there at the ass-crack of dawn.  We confer and after much hemming and hawing during which I consider the route (mostly ok for the US but not separated from cars beyond an occasional bicycle lane and including two nasty-ass intersections) and the hour (see ass-crack comment) we decide on her talking the city bus which stops conveniently near to our home.  Tada.  Contraption Captain works out the schedule and on day one of school she marches out to get the bus to school.  What could be more normal?

Yeah well this is the US where our city buses run on a best effort basis.   She sits out there and waits and nothing happens. She waits.  Nothing.  She waits.  Did I mention that Pele' is mildly obsessed with punctuality?  Pele' is mildly obsessed with punctuality.  Possibly a lot obsessed.  She and Contraption come running home totally breathless and if you think she gets in the car you are mistaken.  They get on their bicycles and she is escorted off to school and just makes it, go team.

The next day we tried and struck out on the bus again and by day 4 were were pretty well trained to bicycle.  If Contraption Captain is not available to ride her home she rides in to school on the back of his bicycle (recall it is giant and recumbent and comfortable for riding) and takes the (over-crowded) bus home and if he is available to assist (most days) she rides her bicycle in and rides her bicycle home with him again.

This raises the obvious question of "why does she need anyone to ride with her at all?"  The easy answer is "she prefers the company and feels safer with company."  The less easy answer is that I'm scared for her to ride by herself.  I'm scared some asshole will kill my daughter with their SUV.

Some people think this is silly of me.  I was at a soccer game a few weeks ago and this mother who has a kid at the same school asked how Pele' got to school.  I said we had tried the bus but it had been unreliable etc. etc. and so we were bicycling but that was nerve-wreacking also yet Contraption was accompanying her.  She didn't understand why I was worried about the route and repeated that we lived very close.  She said "you can bicycle of course, it is easy for you, for us it is too far."  I said that I was worried about the car traffic at El Camino and she looked blank.  She explained, more severely this time, "For us it is too far of course but for you, a very easy ride."

I smiled politely and said nothing else.

What I wanted to say was "I wish everyone who was driving their kid in to school but thought my kid should bicycle and who had no idea why that might make me nervous would park their SUV on a steep hill, release the parking brake, and then run in front and lie down so their own car could roll slowly over them."  Because fuck you lady.  Fuck you lady because I have biked past your house many times, it's hardly too far and your kid doesn't even have an early class, she's just a lazy fuck and so are you.  Fuck all of you who do jack shit but enjoy telling me that what I do is easy or not enough or too protective or whatever the fuck your problem is.

I feel better now, thanks.    

I told you about Rapunzel in an effort to show that my anxiety has a single focus:  death by automobile.  My 9 year old walks to school solo and I am cool and not obsessing.  I know it's a decent neighborhood.  I know she can look after herself.  I know she can stay out of the road.  There is risk to all things but the risk created by Rapunzel walking to and from school is not far from the risk of getting out of bed on a cold day.

The risk to people on bicycles is real.  Redwood City Girl died last year on a "safe" route and was even held at fault for dying.  An experienced bicyclist was just killed by a delivery truck who turned left into her in an area where bicyclists love to swarm and train.  The conclusion from that death was "maybe we should ban bicyclists from Skyline."  As a friend said "How come the answer is never to ban the cars?"

As long as this country continues to take such a lackadaisical  attitude towards the safety of our children on their way to school (and their parents and other relatives on their way to work or the store or wherever) I have to be the one who does the due diligence.  Maybe I can sort a route I feel ok about.  I hope so.  But right now I have her bicycling and I have a set of experienced adult eyes watching for her and that's what I need to feel ok about this.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


I've seen three rabbits so far on the part of my commute that is new and car-free.  They are quite tall and have giant ears that stick up over the tall grass.  They ignore me entirely until I stop my bicycle and stare at them at which point they look over at me, stop chewing, and say "wtf are you staring at?"  Then they either freeze "if I don't move, no one can see me" or they run off "I am the wind!!"

Here is a picture with a rabbit in the middle.  Really.

It's still pretty new and exciting for me to see animals that run around as opposed to the flat kind I generally see on my regular commute.

Here's a close-up of the bunny ears.

His friend had already taken off when I got the Contraption Captain to take this picture.  Hopefully they don't put a picture of me pointing and staring with flecks of drool at the corner's of my mouth up onto their Facebook.

And here is a copyrighted picture in which you can actually see what a California jack rabbit looks like.  Big.  Long ears.  Sensitive whiskers.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

the lonely sea and the sky

I asked the Contraption Captain to take a picture of the new pretty part of my commute when we were riding together yesterday.  He thought maybe I should wait for a more classically beautiful California sky but I like this quiet pigeon-colored grey.  You can see the faring of his recumbent in the lower right corner.

Monday, September 16, 2013

a legend in your own self-important mind

Last week I was waiting at a traffic light and as is usual for me I check out the cars to my right and left to see who is listening to music with headphones, who is texting, who is just sitting there staring straight ahead (pretty much no one) and who is frothing at the mouth because in any crowd at a red light at least one driver generally seems to be on the verge of a psychotic break.

To my right is your garden variety huge huge huge SUV.  It is driven by a sour looking woman with white earbuds who is arduously typing a text into her phone.  Her lips are all squeezy and pursed out and her brow is furrowed and she has these weirdly tiny hands and I am suddenly reminded of what a Tyrannosaurus Rex would look like using a calculator.

Her car is a Ford Expedition.  I smirk.  The Expedition is billed as providing [please use a deep voice when reading the next three words] "Confidence and Comfort."  The propaganda shows it with a backdrop of a lovely forest, a backdrop of a lovely ocean, and towing a giant boat.  Yes.  This is the car that you take to travel to distant unspoiled wilderness where you drop your powerboat into the water of a clear lake and then pollute the bejesus out of the area with your noise and fumes.   Except the most strenuous trip this spotless dingless SUV has ever made was to the Pottery Barn at the Stanford Mall. Then I see her license plate and it is a play on the word...


I laugh out loud.  There is something so incredibly sad and pathetic (but funny!) about a person sitting in a metal box and awkwardly tapping at a phone who self-identifies as "legend."  Fortunately since bicycles are pretty much invisible she doesn't see me laughing.

But the best view turns out to be to my left.  Here a crabby looking guy on a shitty motorcycle (my co-workers have fancy motorcycles so I know a cheap craptastic one when I see it)  is glowering at the world.  He has a basic model motorcycle helmet on his head and the helmet has a carefully lettered slogan and the slogan is:


And all this time I've been blaming our two cats!

Seriously.  Seriously?  "I am the shit that happens?"  What the fuck does that even mean?  All it means to me is a long curving brown growing pile of stank.  My brain starts helpfully suggesting different images of shit happening and it's about as disgusting as you might expect but it is also really funny so I stand there laughing so hard that I have to unclip on both sides.  I laugh until the light turns green and then I weakly wobble off towards home.

There is nothing so filled with potential for humor as a totally humorless automobile.

Friday, September 13, 2013

hanging up my spurs. a little.

A few months back I am heading in to work and the ride has been pretty pleasant but I am coming to one of the dangerous ugly noisy pieces, a highway overpass, and I see a cat at the side of the road stretched out and still and I can see that it was flung there after being hit and it is silent and dead.  And my morning falls apart a little and I continue bicycling but I start crying in a hopeless desperate way.

I'm a pretty private person so maybe it seems odd that I'd cry openly as I head down the overpass going straight with cars cutting back and forth across my path but crying while I am bicycling is a not so bad way to calm myself.  There is the patient activity of the heart, the steady movement of the pedals, and the tears get taken away by the wind.  I don't have to worry about privacy because of course people in cars mostly do not see bicyclists.  They have a difficult time perceiving us as people who might be scared if they pass fast or close and so they definitely have a hard time seeing or caring if we are in emotional pain.

So I cried in relative peace.  That week I would also see a small black squirrel run out and try and turn around and then get killed.  I passed a snake that had been flattened in the middle before dying.  The cat was of course there every day.  My right hip has been bothering me, nagging at me, and it slows me down and at times it feels that what I am seeing is also slowing me down.  Somewhere in this week, no fewer than three cars in one day tried to squeeze around me for the tiny distance that I wanted to take a lane and I had this flat grey ugly thought.  One day it's you that will be hit.  And you can't stop it.   The grey thought stays stuck in my head like a piece of fruit furred over with mold.  

The same afternoon that I have this bad grey thought I see this guy who works for the same company as mine and in the same building.   He's told me that he often sees me bicycling when he drops off his kids at school.  Sometimes he sees me bicycling as he drives home from work, I know because he usually calls some kind of a greeting.  I asked him once if he ever bicycled into the office and he said "sometimes" ad I asked if his kids ever rode into school (they have a very good route for it) and he said "often."  Today I notice that he has an old bicycle and a helmet.  I brighten a little because I am glad that he is doing some riding.

He heads for the door  at the end of the day and he stops to tell me that he has been bicycling to work three times a week.  He said that my example had been part of the inspiration because he noticed that with traffic, I was getting to his house about as fast as he was getting to his house in a car.  I made appreciative noises.  Then he told me that since he started bicycling regularly his diabetes had been under far better control, which I find unsurprising but also very cool.  Then he asked me about my route and I told him and he mentioned his route which wasn't a familiar one to me.  Then he invited me to ride with him and I found myself saying "yes" which is totally unusual for me and he said he wasn't very fast and I said that was fine.

We exit the office building area by a back driveway and instead of hitting the regular road we noodle onto a maintenance road that goes behind a golf course.  That went along for a bit, awkwardly over an unpaved area and then easily along a straight path and then we were dumped out beside a nature preserve.  It was incredibly quiet.  I could hear myself pedal.  The wind pushed me around and I could hear the wind.  I could hear the sounds made by the ground squirrels as they lay around nibbling and talking to each other.  When birds took flight, and there were a lot of birds I could hear the sound of their wings.

After awhile we went through a gate and down under a road and then through another gate and then a few minutes later I was at my original route, but with all the worst intersections cleared away.  I was totally calm and happy.  I didn't really recognize myself, actually.

This is my new route.  Yesterday I saw three feral kittens lead by their feral mom cat.  I've seen snowy egrets standing silently in the shadow cast by the road overpass.  I saw two jack rabbits with big tall near transparent ears.  I've seen those birds with the long poky beaks for digging in mud.  The best part is that none of the animals and birds I see are flattened rotting corpses.  They're alive and they look cautiously back at me as I pedal in to work or home from work.

I see other people too, although not a lot.  Bicyclists heading somewhere or bicyclists training for something.  I carefully skirt people standing in the middle of the path studying birds through binoculars.  I slow down and give room to mothers pushing strollers and joggers running side by side.  It turns out that when I'm not threatened, I'm not mad.  I'm quiet.  And because I have spent time on roads I know (I think) a lot about how to pass those who are smaller or not as fast.  You give them some room.  You slow down a little.  You murmur  "g'evening" and you continue on your way.

Like Persephone this pleasant interlude cannot continue indefinitely.  The gateway to this route goes underwater in the California winter and the access to Elysium will close down.  I will again be shunted back onto the difficult roads and indifferent cars.  But for now I am not thinking about anything other than my two trips a day through peace and quiet.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Wide Stance

I love to race where "race" means that I never stray off my commute and I don't run red lights (you can if you want but I'm way too chickenshit for that stuff at my age) and mostly I just try and pass and "win" on the long straight-aways.

I've never found the words to really describe how much I love this, this pedaling as fast as I can, this being a middle-aged lady on an off-rack bicycle flying down the road swooping past the other commuters until I encounter a like-minded racer and we fight for the front place, sometimes one of us drafting behind the other.  On a good day we worker bees, we ordinary people form a pace line of sorts, skimming along the road like lithe little swallows on their way to Capistrano.

I love that stuff.  I won't say it makes life worth living (my family would be that bit) but it makes life so incredibly rewarding on a daily basis, this racing, this beating heart, these well-powered lungs.

What is one teensy tiny annoying fly in the ointment?

The wide stance.

Please guys.  Please.  Stamp out The Wide Stance.

I guarantee you women are nodding their heads right about now, at least any woman who has been on a bus or subway.  The Wide Stance is a guy who sits like this:


See?  See how the guy is taking up two seats and has his legs all spread out?  I mean we get it, we get that your testicles are the size of bowling balls and that they need adequate room for breathing and ventilation but we (the rest of the non bowling ball world) would really like to sit down sometimes and when you allocate a seat to each testicle it makes it that much harder for the rest of us to find a place to sit down and rest our weary dogs.  

What does this have to do with bicycling and racing home on my commute?  A lot, it turns out.

Ever seen those teeny tiny hard roadie seats?  Mmm-hmmm.  Here's how it goes.  You and me are at a red light.  It turns green.  You take off in front of me and that's cool, I like a good fast pace.  But then you do it.  You slow down.  And you move way out to the left until you are within about two feet of the double yellow.  You can do this because we are riding on Bicycle Boulevard, and because of that we should be having a great time tearing up the road as we hurtle our respective work laptops home to rest for the evening but not you.  You slow way the hell down and then sprawl your bicycle across the entire lane.  

You totally know I'm there.  I mean you were behind me at a red light ten seconds ago, remember?  I try and pass and you move further to the left.  I think about the right side (although I am a big believer in the right side) and you move over there and so I head back to the left and you are there.  

Cmon, man!  Cmon.  You're inching along now at a bare 12 mph and I'm dying to make a run for it but you are all over this road who ever guessed a skinny bicycle could take up that much room!  And so I finally risk life and limb to pass way the hell over in the oncoming traffic lane and I do get away from you and your giant testicles, one for each side of the road and I continue on and totally drop you know why?  The real commuter racer types don't win because they block off anyone from passing, they win because they ride faster then the next person.  See how that works?  

I got my whinges with girl bicyclists but I'm trying hard and I can't think of them ever trying to actively block someone from getting around them the way you do with your extra wide stance.  

Rapunzel, to me, "Can I see that picture?"
Me: "Sure.  It's not that exciting."  [I scroll up] "Just a guy taking up two seats."
Rapunzel shakes her head "Wow.  And he could easily fit in one.  Some people."  [shakes head]

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

good news bad news

I went to New Mexico to visit family a few weeks back.  When I visit family I generally end up getting on an airplane and this makes me feel guilty because I do believe in climate change (clap your hands if you believe) and flying around to make visits is part of the general level of pollution.

I know know know I could bicycle to New Mexico.  Or Massachusetts.  In fact I would really like to do either of these rides.  Unfortunately I'd have to first quit my job and second strap my nine year old to the hood of my bicycle after mile ten followed by strapping my 14 year old to the rear fender of my bicycle after mile twenty or so and that really slows me down and the paternal unit in Massachusetts and the two in-law units in New Mexico are not getting any younger.

So at the moment I am in Massachusetts doing a lot of swimming and before this I was in New Mexico and this short story made inexplicably longer, by me, is about New Mexico.

First I saw exactly one bicycle in the four days I was there.  Second I spent more time than before with my very intelligent brother-in-law who happens to be a neurosurgeon and I finally got to ask him all of my questions about brain surgery which was great although I still think that if someone has a tumor it would be worthwhile to look into a cerebro-spino fluid replacement because the cancerous cells are there and if we could swap that fluid out with healthy fluid that would be good right?  Apparently this is totally out of left field and no, it is definitely not correct but whatever.

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law do not bicycle, a subject I skirt very carefully.  They scuba dive, and they ride horses, but ixnay on the icycle-bay.  We were talking about vacations and in the manner of making pleasant lightweight talk I mentioned that I would love to see Costa Rica and maybe ride one of the famous Costa Rican zip lines through the jungle.

My brother-in-law said "oh, absolutely not."  I was surprised.  I asked why.  He said patiently that he was a neurosurgeon, and he worked trauma, and he saw a lot of people badly messed up by vacation adventures along the lines of zip-lining through jungles.

I took a breath and I said "so, do you see, uhh, a lot of bicyclists?  In the ER?"

He didn't hesitate.  "Oh yes.  I see a lot of bicyclists."

I asked carefully, "The bicyclists, did they get hurt because they were umm, running red lights?  Behaving dangerously?"

He looked totally surprised as if he had thought I was smarter than this.  He said "What?  No, never.  They're just going along and some car hits them.  Often the driver of the car is drunk."  He looked pensive as if he was searching backwards in time to give a totally complete answer.  "Once there was an occasion where they said the bicyclist had fallen inexplicably, turned into the path of the passing car so maybe on that one occasion it was the bicyclist but hard to know for sure."

Me:  "Did the bicyclist make it?"

Him:  "What?  Oh no.  He didn't."

So there it is.  As every bicyclist I have ever met suspects, it is not the way we ride that gets us killed.  It is the way the drivers drive, that gets the bicyclist killed.

I still hope to ride a zip-line in Costa Rica one day.  But I'd like to bike down there, not fly.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Five Easy Pieces. Flight.

A week or so back I was about a mile in to my trip home and I saw a green light ahead and stepped up the pace to a sprint.  Since there is no bicycle lane (but five car lanes, go figure) I was in the middle of a lane but travelling with the cars.

I got through the light and was feeling very very decent and immediately after there is another light and it is also green and I start trying to get this one also and this amazing thing happened.  I all of a sudden was pedaling crazy faster.  In a short miracle-esque moment, for reasons I don't get at all, my middle-aged body found something much younger in itself and my sprint doubled and although I am now heading up hill I am passing all the cars to my left and by the time I was pedaling through the (still green) light I felt like I was flying, or maybe even gliding because I felt as if it was all easy, I felt as if I could have gone as fast as I wanted.

Then it ended, as suddenly as it had arrived, like a thief disappearing in the night and I was back to me and breathing really hard  and the cars were again passing me as if I were just an ordinary bicyclist.  But for a minute or two, I was not an ordinary bicyclist.  And that minute or two was incredibly delicious.

Bob Dylan has this song I love, it's called "Let Me Die In My Footsteps."  My favorite version is on disc one of the three disc bootleg series.  He wrote it after seeing people digging massive underground bomb shelters for shelter in the event of a nuclear war.  Lately I have been thinking of this song when people tell me that bicycling is too dangerous, or when I see another article of a person being killed or badly injured by a car while the driver walks away without consequences.  

I want to take my chances out here, on my bicycle, because everything that matters to me is out here.  The air that flows around me and smells of hot sun and white oleander and tall drying grasses.  The little ground squirrels that I ride by camped out by the side of the road nibbling tender green shoots.  The shadows that flicker through the trees.  The big white egret that flies overhead and the circling hawks that scan for long legged rabbits.  I love to see the same people pass me each day and they wave and smile and then go on to their own jobs or take the dog out for a walk.

Moments of flight are daily reminders that I cannot bear to lock myself away in a metal box from everything that matters to me, even if it is marginally safer in there.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Five Easy Pieces. Roadwork.

You know how in Orwell's 1984 we have always been at war with Oceania?  Well on my commute we've always had the road construction.  It's has no start and it has no end, just like that war with Eurasia we got going somewhere awhile back.  The road is being ripped up or pipe is being put down or an office building is being torn out and replaced by a bigger glassier office building.  Me I'm just on my increasingly grubby bicycle trying to get to work or trying to get home from work or (for variety) trying to get to the food store.  

Road construction is not my friend.  It starts with a gigantic sign that says ROAD WORK which is always perfectly centered in the middle of the skinny little sorry-ass excuse for bicycle infrastructure lane that I ride in and that I fantasize gives me some little delusional protection from the cars.  So that's right out, the bicycle lane.

Next you see a sign saying "Lane Closed" and all the cars bunch up like cows lining up for a slaughter house and the more desperate ones go to the front of the line and moo in low anxious voices while the more patient cars stay in a fixed lane with a centimeter of space between bumpers so that the cows (I mean cars) that are queue jumping have to stand to the side.

Where does this leave the bicycles?

Not in very good shape thanks.  We sometimes get a helpful nudge in the shape of  BICYCLE LANE CLOSED.  Sometimes the cars are actually shunted into our lane because their own is being made smooth and lovely and so they use our broken sorry ass lane during the repairs.  Mostly we just fend for ourselves, sticking our arms out as we signal that we want to move away from the backhoe beeping along in our direction.

Yesterday I was pointed towards the sidewalk by a guy in a yellow vest.  Oh yay.  O Frabjous Day.  I ride onto the sidewalk and pedal uneasily up the broken bit that's actually for pedestrians and I am dodging angry strollers and throwing apologetic looks at the other bicyclists limping along in the other direction.  We get moved onto the sidewalk but somehow the cars never get moved onto a teeter-totter to get to work.  So unfair.

Once I saw a sign that said "Walk Your Bike" and I thought to myself "I'll walk my bicycle when you get out and push your goddamned car you dumb sow."

Some days there is a long line of cones with cars to the left and no road construction to the right.  I mean eventually they plan to do a little bit of a something but why bother taking down all the cones just for lunch break?  When this happens I ride on the construction side of the cones and I watch out for yawning holes and snicker at the cars the way the cat thumbs her nose at the dog when he's on a leash.

It's a special hoot when they shut down Bicycle Boulevard because unlike the cars who can detour around using another road, we only have this one street.  The result is that the construction workers put up barriers and we pause and then flow around them, like ants at a picnic.  Each day they make the bicycle deterrents a little more stout but each day we find our way around anyways, weaving around piles of gravel and crap and on and off sidewalks until the road returns to something like normal.

And then there was yesterday.  I'm hurrying along Charleston when I see that the entire road is blocked off and there are police everywhere.  The cars are detouring around.  I stop and ask "could I go along here?  On the sidewalk maybe?"  The cop explains that there is a gas leak and I will have to go around.  So I set out completing an extra circle that involves me heading up San Antonio in a tangle of angry detoured cars ad then having to take the left lane and getting beeped at and harassed.  Two other bicyclists arrived and huddled in my shadow.  We talked before the light turned green and agreed that we wished we could have just taken our chances with the gas leak.

Five Easy Pieces. The Crazy

I'm bicycling home from work and I'm thinking about a problem I failed to solve and my legs are going along in their mindless way and I am keeping an eye on my rear view mirror but I am riding on "Bicycle Boulevard" and feeling relatively safe about my situation.  The road is sadly narrow and it is is made far more narrow by cars parked on either side because even the so-called Mini --- the late model Mini that they sell in the US is as fat as any other car.  Compact.  Mini.  Hahahahaha.  If these parked cars were people they'd be dozy old senior citizens whose soft bellies flowed over thei elastic waistband of their pants.

Slim little bicycles pass easily in both directions, cars not so much.  I tell you that bicycling mothers and fathers can be spotted herding small shoals of children on little bicycles or in trailers as they make their respective ways home from summer camp or the playground so that you can understand that the road we are talking about here is not the Indianapolis 500 speedway although some of the cars going by make it feel that way.

I watch in my rear view mirror as a car comes up behind me very quickly.  I look ahead and see a second car heading towards me in the mindless way that cars travel when the next traffic light is not on the horizon.  The car coming up behind me is going very fast and I pull closer than is safe to the doors of the parked cars on my right.  The speeding car passes me way too close and way too fast and still accelerating and I am startled and unhappy but not nearly as unhappy as the oncoming car who sees the windshield of an approaching automobile and pees a little and has no where to swerve and so just bleats a whiny little tiny Volkswagen bug bleat.  Weah!  Weah!

I watch Fast Car ignore the bleating and progress up the street at speed and then pummel a 4-way stop with nary a pause and then repeat at the next 4-way stop.

I arch an eyebrow.  I pick up speed.  I consider giving this driver some verbal abuse because he is driving like a bag of dicks***.  It's easy to come up behind Fast Car at the next red light because even a Fast Car can only make so much progress on a tiny residential street dotted with stop signs and traffic lights and parked cars and strollers and bicycles.

Fast Car is now Stopped car.  He wants to take a right at this intersection but the road is narrow and his way (it is a he) is blocked by a car in front that is going straight and waiting for a green.  He honks angrily at the car that is blocking his way.  That car ignores him because he cannot believe that a someone would honk at a someone else for waiting at a red light seeing that it is after all the law.

I am quite close now.  As I watch, Stopped Car (nee Fast Car) gets out of his car (!!!) and strides angrily over (holy fucking shit!!!) to Waiting Car and starts shouting at Waiting Car.  Waiting Car becomes Terrified Car and hunches back in his seat and stares up at the driver of Stopped Car (who I now christen 'Nutsy Fucker') and does not roll down the window.  Smart boy.  The light blessedly turns green and Waiting Car hurries off and Nutsy Fucker runs back to get into their car and tear away doing 40 in a 20 zone.

Holy shit!  So so glad I didn't say anything to Nutsy Fucker when I had the chance.  What did Nutsy Fucker look like?  Old white guy with a straight across mouth in a tight thin line.  Normal other than the froth dotting his chin.  My my.  Someone needs to have their meds adjusted.

Moral of the story?  Don't stick your bicycle in the crazy.  Not worth it my friends.  Stay safe out there.



***special thanks to the Australian engineer who taught me this wonderful term, you rock my insult-world TW

Friday, July 26, 2013

Five Easy Pieces. The cell phone.

I am bicycling home with the Contraption Captain.  We are on Sand Hill Road and there is a lot of traffic, not stalled, but not moving fast either.  We pass them on the right from our place of relative safety, the bicycle lane.  They pass us on the left when the traffic lights go their way.

Ahead of us a woman is live parked in the bicycle lane.  She's pulled over in a sloppy way or we might have had room to squeeze by her on the left, squeeze by her while we hope she doesn't decide to abruptly open her car door to pour out some old coffee.  There is no room to squeeze by however because she is entirely blocking our path and so we, the Contraption Captain and I, stick out our hands to say that we want to merge with the car traffic.

The cars are underwhelmed by our desire to continue on our way despite the roadblock one of their own has erected.  Contraption Captain is in front of me and he goes first into the breach, the abyss, and he gets a spot but an angry car slams their hand down on their horn.  Maybe they are honking at him because he pulled out.  Maybe they are honking at me warning me not to try and do the same, that their patience is thin from their 20 mph trek.

I stop my bicycle and then roll up to the driver side window of the car blocking my entire lane, the car who has stopped and shut down my only avenue of travel on this road.  It is a pretty young woman talking on a cell phone.  She senses me and looks up.

I'm glad she is not driving and talking on her cell phone.  I'm glad she is not texting and driving her car at the same time.  Doing that is dangerous to all of us.  I have to ask though, is the answer to not driving and talking on the phone parking in the one bicycle lane?  Would it be impossible to ask the person to stop somewhere that is not my only road?

I knock on her window.  She mouthes "Oh, I'm sorry."  I knock again.  Resigned she rolls down her window.  I say "if you had pulled over just a little more, I could have gotten by you."  She says "I'm sorry."  I try to think what it is I want to say and then gesture towards the bumper to bumper car and truck traffic streaming by within touching distance.  I say "does that look like a nice place to ride?"  She hesitates and then shakes her head.  She apologizes.  I nod and thank her for that and then I squeeze by her parked car and continue on my way home.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

admit that the waters around you have grown

In Denmark they are building additional bicycle infrastructure so that people further out from the cities can bicycle in to work on bicycle "super-highways."  According to the Danish**, this is going to have the result of reducing pollution and reducing health costs because the Danes will be more driving less and be more attractive and fit than ever before.  More Americans are riding their bicycles also, but since our infra sucks ass, any health costs we recover from healthier bicycling Americans will be balanced by the health costs incurred when the SUVs and pick-up trucks and whatever drive over the bicyclists.  Usually I'm just happy for whatever state or country gets good bicycling infastructure but this is so good that I admit to a certain amount of unattractive jealousy.

How serious are Americans about their bicycles?  Not very serious.  Do they take their cars seriously?  Hell yes.  Just ask Florida where driving on the beach is a cherished tradition.  Of course the rules state that you can't drive any faster on the beach than 10mph but this hasn't stopped the police from driving over people sleeping on the beach.  I guess she fell asleep in the middle of the road?  I mean beach?  Not sure what happened here but where I come from, swimming and then sleeping on the beach (for 20 minutes!  o the humanity!) is not a reason to be run over.

Ok so a woman carelessly fell asleep on the beach but we don't have any fatalities so everything is ok.  Except it's not.  Two small children were killed in the space of four months on one beach alone.  Umm, wow.  It's the sort of thing that might make the Danes reconsider their car infra but the locals are unsympathetic.  “The parents should have been watching him,” said Ms. Fletcher, the mother of a 6-year-old. “It was high tide; the beach was packed. It’s like crossing the street.”

Meanwhile, over at Georgia Tech, the brainy people are looking at the soaring rate of bicycle accidents and investigating if it might be possible to lower bicycle deaths.  Note the damn Danes, who I am starting to hate, are well past lowering bicycle deaths.  They're on to how to get bicyclists to work in ever faster and ever sexier style.  Here we're still wondering about how to reduce (not eliminate, one must be reasonable) bicyclist deaths.  How do bicyclists die?  Hmmm.  Hmmm.  Pro-tip:  bicyclists are killed by cars.  Put the cars where they can't smear the bicyclists and you'll reduce bicycle death.  There.  Fixed that for you.  

Which brings me to my wandering point.  Over in San Francisco they are looking at the level of congestion and pollution and planning additional cycling lanes to encourage bicyclists and commuter taxes to discourage cars commuting into the city.  Cambridge, MA was recently rated a gold level bicycling community despite protestations from Margie that there was no room for bicyclists on Massachusetts roads.  Meanwhile there is rioting in the streets of NYC because of the sheer gall demonstrated by the installation of city bicycle racks on various strategic corners.  This one continues to surprise me because the complaining is fresh and unusual.  Instead of hating on the CitiBikes because bicyclists are a threat to old people and children, instead of hating on bicycles because people "bow right through those red lights" instead of any of that the source of the hate is...the racks are not attractive.  The lovely city of New York has been defiled by these blue bicycles and their racks.  I don't mean to harsh unfairly but in a city where the homeless people poop on the sidewalks and in the parks it's difficult to see how a blue bicycle could be an eyesore.

Wow.  I still didn't get to the point.  Sorry.  Long week and all that.

The point is that the number of people and cars has grown and grown.  My father's parents did not have a car.  At all.  Ever.  My mother's mother did not know how to drive.  Now my father owns two cars (one a pick-up and one a sedan and he drives one with each foot) and last I checked my mother owns three.  One for her one for her second husband and one for a back-up.  The amount of cars on the roads is following Moore's Law, the numbers are doubling every two years.  Ok maybe not that exactly but the number of cars is steadily increasing and the roads are filling up fast.  The level of the water is rising all around us and the problem is not the bicyclists.  The problem is not that the bicycle lanes are causing congestion by slowing down the cars (yes I have seen this suggested) and the problem is not that bicycles do a shabby job of obeying traffic lights (whether this is true or not).  The problem is that there are way too many cars and new ones are being born all the time.  The problem is that we have a steadily increasing zerg rush of cars.

To the people who say that the reality is that there are too many cars and that it cannot be safe to have a bicyclist on the road?  You better pray that you're wrong.

Start biycling or you'll sink like a stone.

The bicyclists are not the problem.

The bicyclists are the solution.

**The people of the Scandinavian country.  Not the sugary breakfast treat.

Friday, June 21, 2013

bicyclists of a feather. a tiny hopefully heartwarming story.

Today I am home sick with a cold and so after drinking a bunch of cups of tea I end up here with a yearning to update the bicycling world with an experience that while tiny, still made me very happy.

Two days back I had the same cold but was not sick enough to stay out of work.  The end of the day comes and I get my bicycle from where it is propped up outside of an area cubicle farm, I head down three floors via the elevator, and I go through two locked doors and into the California evening.  It's windy but pretty out.  I get on my bicycle and start pedaling.

Biking when you have a cold may sound dumb (and I dunno, maybe it is dumb) but for me if I am congested in some way, the act of bicycling seems to clear my lungs and at least for an hour or so I get a well deserved reprieve from the sniffling and stuffiness.

Still, I'm a little low energy and the wind slows me further.  I cross the 101 and pass the big box stores and head towards one of the nastier parts of my ride, the segment where I attempt to take the middle lane to go straight but people force themselves past me on the right and the left anyways.  The under the weather feeling I have makes me sag even more as I head towards this piece of road that smells so much like ass.

Ahead of me, two bicyclists pull out of a side street and turn right onto the road I am travelling on.  If I were a dog my ears would have pricked forward but as a human with inadequate ears I just study them carefully.  It's a long red and the two bicyclists slip into place behind several waiting cars.  I come up behind them and hesitate and look at the red light and then instead of waiting behind the car in front of me I slither up between two rows of waiting cars and thunk solidly into place behind the two bicyclists.

One, a guy, is riding a big cargo bike.  He turns and smiles.  The other is a woman, she seems to know the guy, and she is on an upright.  She does not turn around and smile.  Something about her seems nervous.  The guy looks at me.  I look back and attempt a friendly smile which means I probably leer like a sociopath.  He says something I don't catch to his friend.  Then he turns back to me and says, "do you want to get in front of us?"  The horror!  He thinks I'm a shoaler!  I shake my head and mutter "I just don't like this part of the road."

Light dawns and the guy bicyclist laughs and agrees and says "I know!  This part is awful!  With the people on the right and the" at this point the light finally turns green and the three of us draw together to  face the coming battle together.  We start up and fall into a line with the guy in front and his friend behind him and me behind her.  A minivan starts to muscle it's way forward on the left and I hunch over unhappily but cargo bicycle guy moves to the left to block minivan's progression and he gestures (not rudely) with his arm that the minivan needs to wait before it can pass.  The minivan hesitates, almost surprised, and then seems to come to a decision and it backs off and falls back into its place behind me.

We make it to the next intersection where we can peel off into the bicycle lane (what is it with bicycle lanes that start and stop?  what exactly do the civil engineers think we're going to do for those three blocks where we have nothing to ride in?) and the minivan passes us and cargo-bicycle guy waves good-bye to it in a nice way, not all rude and snarky like I would have been.  At the next road cargo-bike and friend turn off and we all wish each other a nice evening and I continue on and I think again that it is so much better to be three of a kind than one of a kind.

The roads are not entirely rife with metal box enemies.  You can make a few friends out there.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

There are things I dislike.

The road leading up to my office is Not My Favorite.  It does not have a bicycle lane.  It's suface is pretty craptastic with lots of loose gravel.  Although there is room, the cars pass me too close because they are determined to get to the parking lot first this despite there being no competition with me for a parking space because I bring my delicate flower of a bicycle into the building in which I work for safe-keeping.

For them it is a pretty anonymous experience, buzzing some old lady on a bicycle and then haw-hawing the rest of the way up the hill but between you me and the internet I memorize license plate make and model (also loopback addresses, but I digress) faster than a goathead gives you a flat.  I see the same cars and I notice that the ones who are a jerk one day will probably be a jerk the next day.  The reddish Prius with license plate frame "Proud Dad To [redacted]"?  That guy is such a wanker.  He should hope that if his kid is ever on a bicycle she encounters drivers who are less proud and more responsible.

That was the situation up until recently.  A two direction road with no bicycle lanes and some agro cars.  Nothing new, nothing to see here, just steady-state for a bicycle commuter.  Then the road got ripped up.  One side got this long deep ditch thing dug into it.  Fine.  Detours.  Maybe a slight delay but hardly   anything to get your panties in a bunch over.  I went around and waited for road workers to cross and the day arrived when the work was complete.  Tada.

Did you guess that they put in a bicycle lane with a barrier to keep cars from crossing over into it?  Ho-ho-ho.  You must be new here.  No bicycle lane was added.

Instead of a bicycle lane, instead even of re-paving the road with something smooth and fun to ride on, instead of even restoring the road to it's previous uninspired but vaguely functional state they created a bicycle trap along almost the entire ride side of the road.

Where the bicycles ride (the shoulder, essentially) there is a shallow long skinny ditch cut into the road and dotted with loose gravel.  It is maybe 36" across and is where a bicycle would try and ride to be out of the way of the speeding cars.  At places it is flush with the road.  At other places it has a lip on either side that can be as high as 4 inches.  Riding in it or next to it feels awful.  I ride next to it because I am sadly panty-waisted when it comes to my skinny tires and uneven pavement.  The cars find this aggravating.  Sure they can still get past me but they have to think about it a little if they don't want to be slowed down by a screaming greasy torn up mother of two.

What do the cars say?  They say "get over into that bicycle lane!"  Yeah but here is the thing, cars.  THAT IS NOT A A BICYCLE LANE.  IT IS A GUTTER.  I know, shocking.  The cars have modest simple minds and when they see some differentiation to the pavement on the right side of the road, no matter how skinny or torn up, their brain screams "bicycle lane" and follows up immediately with "why is there bicycle still in front of me?  Why he no get into that thing on side of the road?"

Because., Thag, that thing is not a bicycle lane.  It is a gutter.  Pro-tip:  if there is no white paint shaped like a bicycle, it's a gutter.  If it's a gutter with a steep edge and tons of broken glass and gravel the bicycle may not want to ride in it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

PG&E Pipeline Work. The gift that keeps on giving!!

I've made previous mention of the extensive work underway that attempts to ensure that no more California towns explode in a fireball.  There was absolutely nothing funny about the 2010 San Bruno gas explosion and if you stop to think about it, there is nothing funny about how much work is underway that is ostensibly required to prevent another explosion.

The traffic resulting from the road work however is very very funny.  Like laugh out loud funny.  And believe me I do laugh.

The road will be a parking lot.  People wait and wait for a green light only to see it turn yellow and red with no opportunity to get across the road.  What they do is drive their cars into the middle of the intersection.  THEN when the light turns red and they are stuck there, traffic in the opposing direction goes absolutely apeshit.  I kid you not.  Grown men and women just sitting there honking their horns over and over while sitting in their cars.  I nearly fell off my bicycle I was laughing so hard as one car driver gestured furiously at another car driver and honked his horn and turned red and none of them were going anywhere.  The place was a parking lot.  Just two fat middle-aged babies shouting at each other.  Extra bonus is when they enact this drama from their positions in cars worth upwards of $100,000.00 USD.

Which part is a little dangerous for me but still pretty damn funny?

I'll be bicycling up the bike lane.  The bike lane is bike-sized, meaning, you can't fit a Fiat into it and you extra can't fit a Bored Shovinator into it.    The cars are literally going nowhere.  They just sit there with their engines humming.  Some of them get so incredibly freaked out at their static experience that they inch over until they can get a tire into the bicycle lane.  Just a tire but it appears to make them feel better to put a toe over onto our side of the fence.

What happens when the bicycle lane widens out enough to fit a car into?

Free lane!  They start crowding into the bicycle lane and driving up.  After all it's basically a turn lane, correct?  You can drive up the bicycle lane if you are important (and of course you are important) and if you plan to turn right at some point?  Turn out the answer to that one is a big "no."  What was waiting at the top of the road?  A police car issuing tickets to all the cars driving up the bicycle lane.  So they spent 45 minutes in traffic that they could have biked in 15 minutes and just before turning off and finally going home they get a $200 ticket.  If I were nicer I would feel bad for them but I'm not nice and I don't feel bad.

What is funny but possibly stupid?

Taking their picture.  But we did it anyways!  Behold!  A zillion people who would prefer to sit in traffic going nowhere than bicycle and be awesome.  You can't see their glum frowny faces but I guarantee you, they are there.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What's the ugliest thing about you?

What's the ugliest part of her body?
Margery Eagen says there is "no more road to share."  Apparently Boston's streets are just not wide enough for cars and bicycles alone and we know what that means, it means we must ban bicycling in the city because Boston is totally full.  No room at the inn.  Joseph and Mary can go find another city because this one is FULL baby.

Some say it's her nose!
According to herself, poor the old Margery has been driving "forever."  Forever I tell you!  She got out of her car just long enough to breed and divorce.  The rest of the time has been spent in her Toyota.  Margery finishes her short, boring and self-important troll bait by saying "this is not about disliking bicyclists or disliking bikes. This is about ever more bicyclists trying to “share” roads with cars when there’s no room to share....This is about denying reality."  I really appreciate her clarifying that for us.  It must be very peaceful to live in Margie's reality where the highest levels of C02 in millenia and melting glaciers and disappearing polar bears and Maldive Islands don't exist.  She doesn't mention motorcycles, is there room for motorcycles?  She doesn't mention sidewalks - time to axe those as well?  How about homeless people?  

I mean really, what does Boston not have room for these days?  
(a) Aging Catholic biddies with long yellow teeth (curious, did she get one of those dispensations from the Pope for annulling the marriage?  Did it say she was a virgin?)
(b) Toyota Sienna Minivans
(c) Bicycles

I picked (a) and (b) myself and poof.  Turns out we don't need Marge or her car to have a great city.

You do need bicyclists to have a great city.  Bicyclists create community.  They spare the air.  They talk amongst themselves.  They don't need much parking.  They take up way less room than Margie's minivan.  They make the city a better place for people other than themselves.  

Some say it's her toes....
Reality is a funny thing.  There is the reality of a boring old white woman who writes hack pieces for a dying old media rag and has been driving "forever."  During that time she has dumped her carbon crap all over Massachusetts a state that has some very attractive features.  She has lived way the fuck out in Fall River but commuted to wherever she felt like, oblivious to the impact of her behemoth metal ass on the people who live where she pollutes.  Her reality is that the streets are narrow in Boston and there is only room for Large Marge and her car.  That's the reality that says "if it's good for me, it's reality.   If you're a bicyclist well, go eat some cake?"

What's the ugliest part of her body?  I think it's her mind.

Monday, May 20, 2013

because the night belongs to lovers

Sometimes, not often, I have to come in to the office really early, like at 5am.  This week it was Thursday and I had to be in at 5:30.  Actually it would have been better if I'd been here at 5:15 but the calendar entry said 5:30 and that is when I arrived.  Oops.

Gettings up at 4:00 is not a great pleasure to me.  My days of unhappy infants are done with and also I am well over the hill and extra appreciate a decent night sleep.  I miss my family something awful when I do not see them in the morning, I don't mind at first but when I see that they would be getting up and I am not there to greet them I feel a bit low.  But we're talking a few times a year here, people, and I can handle the missed morning a few times a year, plus there is one thing which is totally wonderful about bicycling in to the office at 4:30 in the morning and the name of that thing is...

....pretty much zero traffic.

I love bicycling at night.  I love the way the air flows around you.  I'm reminded of those car commercials that show a car in a wind tunnel with the air flowing smoothly around it except instead of being an ugly old car I am a bicyclist, small and quiet and fast.  Something about bicycling at night reinforces the truth of air being composed of atoms of nitrogen and oxygen.  It is not emptiness, it is not a vacumn, it is a sea that parts around us as we fly along.

Traffic lights trigger immediately or are in a default state of flashing yellow or flashing red.  The occasional cars are calm and sober and easy to side-step.  The drunk cars are long gone home by 4:30am and the few remaining cars do not need to jostle for space and be aggressive horrorshows.

The lighting is not good in the bicycle lane on Sand Hill so I skip it and bicycle in one of the two empty car lanes.  Here the lighting is much better and the pavement is nice and smooth and finished and there is almost no broken glass.  Bicycling in such a huge clean lane makes me feel posh and expensive.

Friday, May 17, 2013

my bicycle stepped in something and the results were unpleasant

Yesterday (actually now several days go alas) I finish my work day and get my bicycle and roll it down the hall and into an elevator and down a bunch of floors and then out the door into a pretty California evening.  So far so good.  The lucky thing about being me is that I can park my bicycle in a secure situation that is also indoors, ensuring that when I retrieve my bicycle it still has the same parts that it had when I left it to go earn money with the added bonus that it is not sprinkled in bird poop and caterpillars.  Personally, I think every bicyclist deserves to return to their bicycle at the end of the day with this kind of confidence but many companies treat our slender theftable vehicles as if they were something dirty that should be hidden out of sight.  If it costs 4k per space to build a parking lot, wouldn't it be better to pay the bicyclists 2k for our trouble and let us put our delicate flowers into a hothouse where they can grow and flourish un-molested?*

Now outside I get on my bicycle and start pedaling and it is the same perfect experience as it is every day.**  I think this must be what a bird feels like when it takes flight.  Suddenly you are no longer clodding along on your two*** legs totally gravity bound.  You glide.  You're effortlessly fast.  You feel free.  If you do any amount of bicycling at all you barely notice the work of your legs you are just suddenly skimming through the air albeit fairly close to the ground.

So yes, that.  And then I see a bus round a corner and I touch my brakes and I hear the most incredibly bad sound ever, so bad that I briefly think somewhere someone is tearing a cat apart inch by inch and we know I really like cats.  The very awful noise turns out to be me.  The bad noise is my bicycle, specifically my front brake.  I stop and stare at it, concerned.  I try the front brake.  It open and closes but reluctantly on that second.  I eyeball it wondering if I have worn the brake pads down to the metal.  I wonder if using my brake will injure my rim.  I stare at my rim.  Arg, I want to go home!  Damnit!

I pedal some more and experimentally brake and each time the noise is worse, if that's possible.  The noise is a high pitched screaming.  The noise is nails on blackboards times ten or styrofoam rubbing manically against styrofoam.  The noise is ten excited toddlers trying to eat ten balloons.  The noise is very very bad.

I limp along until I reach the Contraption Captain in Palo Alto and he of course offers to look into the problem but I say that we should get home first.  We get home.  He swaps out my front brake pads (I love this man) and they are worn but the screaming problem is elsewhere.  My wheel, the metal part above the tire, the rim, the part where the brake pads clamp down on when I want to stop is...sticky.  Like I rolled through something clear and very very tactile with my front wheel but not my back wheel.  As if I had spent my day not working but putting duct tape down on my front wheel and peeling it off.  #wat???

The Contraption Captain is able to clean my wheel with alcohol and the next morning me and Delphinium (my little flower of a road bicycle) are back in relatively noiseless business.  Yay team!

This post should conclude with a post-mortem and a root cause for the failure but really?  I have no idea.  How did I get something all over my wheel but not on the tire?  I still don't get it at all.

Update:  Contraption Captain says to tell you that the sticky stuff was black, not clear.  I remember the black streaks now that he mentions it.  Still not sure why the front wheel got gummed up and not the back.  There was some road work on the way in to the office though, could account for it.  Thankfully no recurrences.

*Yes.  This metaphor has gone on too long and I can't figure out what I'm talking about anymore.  Yes I'm a total amateur.

**Yes.  It is a perfect experience every day.  Rain or shine.  I really really like riding my bicycle.  My only imperfect experiences are cars.  I really really dislike cars.

***Yes. If you are lucky.  If you are unlucky you are hopping along.  If you are more unlucky you have no legs and are in a wheelchair.  Interestingly enough I have seen fast bicyclists with one prosthetic leg.  I have seen very fast bicyclists with no legs at all, pedaling with their arms.  THis is because bicycling is the badass sport of all time.

Monday, May 13, 2013

in which the cars scale new heights of ickiness. there will not be pictures. you may thank me now.

It is this Friday past and I am bicycling home from work.  I am not in a one hundred percent awesome mood because of having read that C02 is at it's highest level in millions of years and reading reports like this make me uneasy no less when I am surrounded by hot cars breathing hot exhaust on a hot day.  

I look around a lot when I bicycle.  I look around a lot almost all the time, bicycling or not, because I am a tiny bit paranoid and I want to make sure no one is thinking about killing me and I also look around because the world is very interesting.  It is due in part to this looking around that my trips are never boring to me but sometimes I see things I would rather not have seen and then I have a few regrets.  Friday was such a day.

We started off innocuously enough.  A car pushed up next to me and stopped at a red light.  I look over in time to see the driver pick up a ballpoint pen and start digging around in his ear.  He extracts a clump of something.  He examines it pensively.  He wipes the pen on something I can't see, either his pants or his car seat.  He re-inserts the pen in his ear and returns to excavating.  I avert my eyes and remind myself that although bicycling with blinders on would save me from situations like this one, bicycling blinders would come with its own risk factor.  And the day can only get better, right?

At San Antonio I am in the middle lane.  In the right turn lane is one of the new Tesla sedans.  As promised, it is a very quiet car.  I dislike Tesla cars a little less than I dislike cars that are not electric.  Since I am just sitting there, and the car is right next to me, I have time to admire the way the car door handles are totally flush with the car door.  I wonder a little about how that might work.  My gaze travels up to the driver.  Mistake.  He's smiling faintly and he has his finger deep inside one of his nostrils.  He gouges around in there and withdraws some material which he gazes at affectionately and then puts in his mouth and eats.  

It's really easy to see the extent to which people in cars become divorced from their surroundings at moments like this.  Despite sitting in a box smaller than their bedroom and surrounded by windows on all sides these car drivers are totally comfortable with picking boogers out of their respective noses at eating the product.  Yuck, car drivers, yuck!!   

The light turns green and I pedal off, assuring myself that it is Friday and I should be happy and that the law of averages suggests I will be spared the sight of any other car people excavating their orifices and although this last turns out to be true the events of the evening are also not entirely complete.  

It begins in the usual way.  I am desperately trying to hold onto a lane (I don't take a lane when bicycling so much as grab onto it  by my fingertips while someone pounds my hands with a hammer) because there is no bicycle lane and to my right there is a right turn only lane and I am going straight.  Two lanes for people going straight.  Mine will actually vanish at the next rapidly approaching traffic light but the cars want to be in my soon to be gone lane because if they use the actual lane for people going straight they might get stuck behind some cruel monster who slows to take a left at the intersection.  

So there I am, in my soon to be gone lane, pedaling desperately towards a red traffic light when a large SUV "passes" me on my left.  Since I'm in the middle of the lane and since it is very wide and also since after "passing" me it has to immediately slam on it's brakes (remember, the light is red) it's kindof an unpleasant experience.  I don't die but I do scream a little girlish screen and then we are sitting there at the light and  I eyeball the license plate frame.  It says University of Arizona.  I think "I hate you Arizona bleach blonde asshole driver.  Go the fuck home and bake in a desert you ugly stupid fuck."

The SUV has a dog in it.  The dog begins to bark furiously at me, almost as if it has read my mind and does not approve.  That's cool, bark on.  I'm only afraid of cars and trucks, dogs not at all.  I pull my bicycle a little closer to that fat bumper and stare at the dog.  It barks louder.  I smile hopefully, imagining how loud a barking dog would be in an enclosed space like an SUV.  

The light turns green and the SUV tears off and I pedal off and then, tada, we are all at the next goddamned light because almost killing me is so damned worth it on a road with a traffic light every tenth of a mile.  The SUV wedges itself into the space between the curb and the car in front of it effectively preventing me from taking a right turn.  It puts on it's turn signal.  I pull up behind it.  Does the dog remember me?  

It does!  It barks with renewed frenzy and I arch my eyebrow at it and make a small growly noise for it's benefit.  It goes totally nuts.  Just as the barking seems on the verge of crescendoing the dog whirls around and I see a splash of yellow on the window in front of me.  Holy dog testicles!  The dog is peeing on me!  Yeah well this is why dogs are incredibly stupid.  If you want to pee on the bicyclist waiting in traffic behind you for all that is holy, roll the window down first, right?  Otherwise you know, you're peeing all over yourself and your owner's car you damned idiot.  

Light turns green.  Car drives away.  I try and pedal away but I am laughing so hard I can barely see staight.  My bicycle and I stagger up the road with me nearly falling off once or twice because I'm laughing so hard and then, and then...yes!  It is...another light!  Now I am waiting to turn left onto East Meadow and SUV is waiting to go straight!  Does Arizona realize that her idiotic dog has pissed all over the backseat of her car?  I'm laughing so hard people are looking over, wondering what the deal is.  Arizona looks over also.  She looks confused and suspicious, like a driver who is pretty distracted but starting to wonder what that bad smell might be.  

I turn off and get onto Bryant and I can't stop laughing.  I laugh until my legs are weak.  I stop laughing and then remember that stream of yellow dog pee and I start laughing all over again.  After I stop laughing, mostly because I'm exhausted, I still have a giant wide grin on my face which has the unintended result of causing every other bicyclist that passes me to wave joyfully in my direction because apparently I look so friendly.  

So today I wondered if this whole disgusting thing was a trend and if a whale would throw up in the road on my way to work but apparently last Friday was a one off and I got in to the office with nothing more worthy of comment then a purely blue sky.  

Monday, April 29, 2013

what is best in life, bicyclist?

Thursday was Take Your Child to Work Day at some companies and in some parts of the US.  As is now usual, Pele had too much of her own work to take time off and see her mother at work but Rapunzel starts looking forward to TYCTWD in, ummm, January.... so I knew she'd be going.

Rapunzel's mother (that would be me) commutes to work by bicycle, a trip of about nine miles through sometimes heavy traffic.  Rapunzel gets to work (okay school) by bicycle also, a trip of about one mile through sometimes heavy traffic.

Rapunzel announces her intention to bicycle to work with her mother.

I smile the smile of an animal that is dead by the side of the road, one of those smiles that is made less genuine by the way the lips are pulled back courtesy of rigor mortis and not happiness.

Ok not really as bad as all that.  I'm proud of Rapunzel's bicycling and I know she is getting stronger.  Last year she biked half the distance despite cold drizzly weather and then rode the rest of the way in our Burley wagon.  In years before this, both kids rode on the back of our Extracycle because I am a total work horse hear my roar!  Or neigh.  Bicycling is how our family likes to get around and the more I thought about Rapunzel (who makes the trip to the Farmer's Market without turning an eyelash) the more I was pretty sure Rapunzel could handle the trip.  I was less sure about whether the cars around us could handle Rapunzel with the respect she deserves.

After careful thought I beg Contraption Captain to ride with us even though I know it will make him a little late for his own job and he says "yes" and I am about a hundred times less worried.  I feel tons better when we "fly in formation" as I like to think of it.  Captain leads, scouting for people making unexpected right turns and car doors and utilizing his admirable rear-mirror-fu to watch for cars and trucks driving up the bicycle lane.  Rapunzel rides in the middle, paying attention to the leads of her more experienced parents which means she moves to whatever side Captain steers her towards, she's a good attentive bicyclist.  I ride in back, always somewhat to the left of Rapunzel so that the cars cannot pass her too close.  Also, in the manner of a mother, I like to be in back so that if someone plows into us I can break up some of the impact of the collision with my body and bicycle, possibly sparing Rapunzel.  Yes, I do think like that.  Aren't you ashamed, American drivers, that it's come to this?  That I ride hoping that my body will be a softening pillow between my daughter and your Ford Explorer?

...but all went well.  We had a safe and peaceful ride in to the office even if the sky was not it's usual cerulean blue.  Once at the office we went to focus groups on network and software engineering, had a nice lunch, and did some work together.  When asked what her mother did for a living Rapunzel said that I work with computers and "open bugs."  Hearing this a project manager said gloomily, "That's certainly true."

Mongol General:  Chafe!  What is best in life?
Chafe City:  To bicycle with the wind on your face, to ride un-trammelled in the company of your people, to hear the lamentations of the cars stuck in self-imposed traffic jams.
Mongol General:  That is good!  That is good.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

fun things you can do with stuff you probably have lying around your bicycle route

Party fun game the number one:

Equipment needed to play this game:

a bicycle, preferably not a stolen one.
a stretch of bicycle route with a bike lane, straight works best, the kind that runs on the side of the road not down the middle.
a rear view mirror mounted to your helmet or bicycle

Begin the game by pedaling in the bicycle lane on the side furthest away from the cars.   Get comfortable watching the cars coming up behind you and hopefully passing you and not running over you.  The majority of them should be driving in the car lane, with no tire rubber in the bicycle lane.  If the majority of the cars are in the bicycle lane abort game and save yourself.

You notice a car driving close to the bicycle lane.  Watch attentively.   Move over so you are bicycling on the side closest to the cars.  If the car corrects away from you, move back to the curb side.  Otherwise start bicycling on the white line and then abruptly correct back hard to the curb side.  Watch to see if the car moves away from you.  If you play this game carefully you can move the cars around the road at your leisure.

Variation on this game:  Stay perfectly and entirely in the bicycle lane but ride as if you were being chased by a swarm of hornets, weaving back and forth and madly swatting at yourself.  Watch in rear view mirror to see how far away from you the cars will move to avoid coming down with whatever contagion you contracted.

Party fun game the number two:

Equipment needed to play this game:


a bicycle, preferably not a stolen one.
a narrow quiet residential road lined with houses and parked cars on both sides.  road must be dotted with 4-way stops at each block for this game to be fun.
there should be no bicycle lane

This game is very easy, you have probably played it already if your route has a quiet residential street with many parked cars and travelling cars going in both directions.  Start by pedaling far enough away from the parked cars so that if one of them unexpectedly flings the door open you will not be killed.  Are you there?  Good.  You're probably about 25% of the way into the car lane.  Any car passing you is going to have to cross the center lane.  Bring up the speed until you are hauling along at a respectable 17mph or more.  Wait for a car.  Car will approach and want to pass you despite the fast approaching stop sign.  Car will step hard on the gas (for a residential neighborhood) and launch itself into the oncoming traffic lane to go around you.  Take your bicycling speed up a notch if you have it.  Now both of you come to the 4-way stop.  You will be there in the lane.  The car will be in the lane for opposing traffic.  Cars travelling in the opposite direction will honk in a frustrated way.   Smile benignly and come to a complete stop.  Un-clip if you ride with clips.  Then continue through the intersection with the confidence of the righteous.  

Monday, April 22, 2013

in which I discover the bicyclist version of navel gazing

Some months back the Contraption Captain won a prize at work (because he is the best engineer in the known universe) and the name of that prize was... a GoPro camera.  This weekend past he got around to mounting it to the front of my bicycle.  I know my chances of seeing another bicyclist stick his hand up a car's wheel well are slim, but I still feel like there is a lot of potential for fun in filming cars behave like cars meaning, film cars break every rule in the books and thumb their noses at the rest of the world.  Monday I took it out for it's first ride to the office.  Captain, Rapunzel, and I all bicycled to Rapunzel's school and then Contraption Captain and I bicycled to his work and then I continued on solo to my own place of earning the money to pay the bills.  

...and  Monday afternoon I had my first recorded freaking out at a car. I'd been doing pretty well at not frothing at the mouth at cars so I was mildly disappointed in myself but on the other hand it was (as is pretty usual) an undeniable good time.  The freaking out followed what I have come to see as a relatively common pattern that has well-defined stages of freakitude.

Stage 1.  

I see something that really pisses me off or I am threatened by a car but manage to keep a lid on things.  This time I was waiting at a left turn arrow, with one car in front of me and more behind.  To my left, waiting on the sidewalk for a walk signal, was a young boy with a bicycle.  The walk signal came on and he hesitantly walked into the street/crosswalk but was driven back almost immediately by a car turning right and ignoring him.  As I watched (and filmed it turns out) I saw car after car go by, not pausing to let him cross the street.  By the time he gets out to the road the walk signal is over and he retreats back onto the sidewalk and pushes the walk button again.  I am quite upset.  I want to help but I am in the middle of the road.  I should have probably found my way across the road to help him but when his light went red mine turned green and the cars wait for middle-aged moms even less commonly then little boys.  I pedal forward and we enter Stage 2.

Stage 2.  

I am threatened personally and scarily.  I am pedaling after car1 and a car from the opposing direction wants to turn right.  They elect to use the bicycle lane as a merge lane which is a shame as that is where I am heading.  Meanwhile behind me the car is facing this right turner and all of a sudden there is a huge honking as the two cars threaten and posture each other and now I am trying to get out of the car lane but the bicycle lane is full of car and I panic a little and scream my Conan the warrior scream and one car tears off and I can finally get into the bicycle lane.  I stop to collect myself.  

Stage 3.

The car2 stops also.  But it is not to apologize.  I'm in the bicycle lane, she's in the car lane.  She looks at me as if I were something she'd stepped in which in fact almost came true.  She says nothing.  I say something like "What the fuck is your problem, you drive like fuckall, get the fuck out of here, I want you in front where I can see what the fuck you're doing."  She blinks at me in a reptilian way.  I notice the white ear strings of her headphones.  One in each ear.  All of a sudden, I am incensed which means I am really really really mad.  I say "get those things out of your ears.  That's not legal in California."  She still hasn't driven off, maybe wondering what new tricks I have.  But she finally opens her mouth to say 

"These?  These have nothing to do with this."  

Stage 4.

I go from incensed to action.  I lunge through the open window of her car (yes, really) aiming for the headphones, I don't have the reach for it though and I connect with only air.  She is very very surprised and jerks back and I am happy to see that her "what me worry" expression has been erased.  She says "Don't you assault me! You're crazy" and I slap her car door really hard and say "You're a fuckup get out of here."

Stage 5.

She drives away.  I realize I filmed the entire thing.  I wonder if Contraption Captain will still love me if he sees me attempt to poach and stamp on someone else's iPod.  I turn off the camera. 

What happens much later?

I watch the video.  The first part I watch is the trip in to the office.  It is just me bicycling along but I have this weird experience, I adore it.  Look at that bicycle go!  Look at me pedal!  See that car cut into the bicycle lane?  I almost made that light!  It was probably the most boring movie ever and yet I loved it.  

And then we get to the trip home.  There is the traffic light. There is the boy trying to cross and then...  there is Alvin and the Chipmunks totally going nuts on someone.  It turns out that the GoPro doesn't have great sound pick-up and that goes extra when the camera is mounted on the bicycle handlebars.  So there is this very tiny high-pitched voice saying "fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck yooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooou......" 

Anyways.  If I can learn to edit a little, I will post short lovingly captioned video clips here for your edification.  But I'm going to spare you the 50 minute "day in the commuting life" complete with the long pause during which my bicycle sits around waiting for me to kiss Rapunzel good-bye and also the obscenity laden rant punctuated by my attempt to put my hand on someone else's headphones.