Thursday, January 31, 2013

how many ants does it take to scare an anteater?

You know how they say that if a dog eats a chicken he gets a taste for chicken and then has to be killed?

I give you bicyclists with a taste for motorist.  Hope no one ends up getting put down.  

No this was not me.  I'm far too anti-social to go riding with those giant groups of roadies.  Okay and also too slow.  Fine.  Too incompetent as well.  This means that if some car gets pissed at me and threatens to repeatedly punch me in the face and smash my phone I will not be safely ensconced in a group of forty-nine other bicyclists ready to jump to my assistance. 

So I have developed The Plan. 

The Plan is that if an angry driver comes after me with his car I will quickly jump off my beloved bicycle (her name is Chrysanthemum because she is a special flower) and throw my bicycle under the vehicle.  Then I will collapse to the ground moaning and crying and discreetly noting down the license plate number and calling the police.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

some people and places that won't appear in my next blog

What do you think about horns on bicycles?  Good, bad indifferent?  I tentatively encourage anyone who sees this and digs bicycles to briefly eyeball a particular campaign that has some merit.  I have no connection to the people running this kickstarter other than our household having pledged to buy two ...smorns**..... if they end up being made.

I don't have a horn on my bicycle having always preferred to make use of the high volume fast on the trigger horn that is my voice.  If you scare me with your car I start screaming within nanoseconds.  For loud and totally terrified I can give it up as well as any B actress in a trashy horror movie.

This one time in Palo Alto I was sitting at a red light, University and Bryant Street.  There was a car waiting in front of me.  There was a car behind me.  I had my darling Rapunzel safely loaded into her Burley wagon and I could totally taste home which was just three miles or so further to go.  This was when the car in front of me saw a parking space or a squirrel or a good deal on a camisole or who fucking knows what really and starts to back up.  If you've ever towed a kid wagon with your bicycle you know it is not all that easy to back up.

Pinned between cars in a narrowing gap, my darling Rapunzel threatened I screamed a magnificent scream.  I screamed deeply and loudly and the windows rattled on store fronts and a passing SUV had kittens.  The car in front jerked to a halt.  What was that bad noise?  He tentatively inched back, a retry.  I screamed again, louder if that's possible.  Then the car finally understood that this bad noise, this  screaming, was somehow, connected to himself.  I don't know if he got it at this point but he stopped attempting to back up and waited for the light to turn green instead.

I don't promise to give up on screaming because I am not sure I can give up on screaming but if this smorn thing gets funded I'm going to at minimum supplement my screaming with an even louder racket that is conveniently coupled to a light and a howitzer.  Ok not a howitzer.  Maybe in version 2 if we're very lucky.

Here is a different but still fun horn to get you "in the mood"

**not my favorite name, no.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Turtles all the way down.

I have yet another thing to write about that I can't write about because I'm too depressed over it.  I mention just because I want to write a "happy fun gee whiz bicycles are awesome post" but these ...hits...keep coming and it does something to me.

Instead of that incredible grief-stricken post about how cars suck and I hate them and hope they die in a fire.... instead I would like to talk about turtles.

Do you like turtles?  I like turtles.  It turns out that their numbers are slowly declining.  As a girl I was lucky enough to catch a few beautiful box turtles on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.  They did not eat for me so I kept them for hours, not days, and then released them.    I liked their slow and steady movements.  I like their bright orange eyes.  I liked the way their shells sealed up for them when they ducked inside.  I liked their coloring.  I saw a dead box turtle once as a kid and it made an impression.  It was on a road, on Cape Cod, in an area that had water on both sides of the road.  It's shell was crushed and it's head was extended all the way, it's mouth grotesquely open.  It was gone in the way that the people and animals and reptiles and avians that are killed by cars are gone.  Completely.  Painfully.  Sadly.  Wastefully. 

It was on a list frequented by road bicyclists and bicycle commuters that this article was circulated.  None of us had much to say but the general feeling was that it is hard to share the road with people who aim for box turtles with their car with the intent of killing them.  I want to stop those people and interview them because I find driving with the intent to kill unfathomable.  I want to understand.  I am not sure it is a matter that can be understood.  Box turtles are slowly disappearing from everywhere because it is dangerous for them to cross the road and sometimes the danger is because people intentionally run over them. 

Story time.  We had friends who visited Cape Cod most summers.  One visit they told us, very proudly, about driving on the narrow highway (four lanes, two directions, water on both sides) and seeing something ahead in the road.  Something big.  They slowed down and pulled over.  The something was a gigantic snapping turtle.  Snapping turtles are very very old and not well loved.  Their bite is quite dangerous.  They eat cute fuzzy ducklings.  They are not colorful and pretty like box turtles.  Still there it was, painfully making it's way across the highway and our friends considered the creature and then the patriarch of the family got a chunk of wood and brought it to the middle of the road.  He thrust it at the turtle who bit down on the wood, hard.  With great effort he then hoisted the pissed off turtle into the air and carried it to the far side of the road and watched it scuttle down to the shore and disappear into the water. 

I thought about all of this as I read yet another article.  It was about Kemp's ridley sea turtles (a very endangered turtle) being caut in a cold snap in South Carolina.  Apparently the turtles come in to shore to eat and feast and the older clueful turtles head out to sea but the not as bright younger turtles stay too long and if there is a cold snap their reptilian natures leave them stranded and dying.  So teams of people watch the temperature and if it drops they march out to search the shore, they wear waders to splash through frigid waters, and they count the dead turtles and rescue the living ones. 

What does this have to do with bicycling?  We are out there.  Turtles.  Some of us are not so bright.  We go along though in our turtly bicycle way and mostly we are ok except for those scary instances when someone decides (why?) to aim for us.  It is a very hard thing to share the road knowing that some people intentionally run over box turtles.  It is a good reminder that when someone does intentionally strike us, it is not anything we have done.  Box turtles are very very inoffensive, box turtles are even beautiful.

In the myth about Pandora, Pandora's box is opened (she is curious) and evil (greed, cruelty, anger, envy) escapes into the world.  She is so panicked that she shuts the door on one last creature.  That creature is Hope.  She is persuaded to open the box again and this time Hope escapes into the world to temper the dark impulses we see in people.  And so it is that there are people out there who appear to delight in pointing their cars at box turtles and there are people getting up at 5am to wade in frigid waters and try and save endangered turtles.  Hope keeps us going, hope that somehow the people who want to avoid the bicyclists with their not all that useful shells on their heads will out-number the ones who delight in knocking over someone and not worrying if that person is injured or dies.

I think, in the end, the question is:  Which person do you want to be?  The one who crushes another living creature with your car because you can or the one who gets up early and heads out to save someone who is drowning.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

When the evening is spread out against the sky.

I used to tow Rapunzel (now 9 and riding her own bicycle to school thanks very much) home from her Mountain View preschool.  It was a long tiring ride for me but a pretty pleasant excurion for her, or at least that seems to be how she remembers the experience.  For transport I relied on a two-kid Burley wagon.  I put snacks and drinks in one pocket and books toys and magazines in another pocket and there was a flash-light for picture books on dark evenings plus a soft blanket to snuggle under if she was snoozy.  There was even a small portable music player so she could chill to her favorite tunes.

Heading up the street we made quite the pair:  Rapunzel lounging and snacking and flicking through the pages of a book and me sweating and struggling forward but mostly enjoying the bicycling.  Generally people, cars, and bicyclists ignored us.  Sometimes people were really mean.  Every now and then we met someone friendly who would ride with us for a bit and this was extra nice because I would get tired and company helped pass the time. 

The guy (never got his name) who I remember most fondly rode a dark upright bicycle, was dressed in a manner I'd call old world, was a little bit elegant, and after saying hello to me asked Rapunzel if she was having a pleasant evening.  People often noticed our wagon and sometimes noticed the luxury accommodations, but rarely had the courtesy to speak to Rapunzel directly so I warmed up quickly.

Somehow the guy and I ended up riding along on Bryant Street.  He was on his way to a local cafĂ© for a coffee which he planned to follow up with a visit to the book-store.  He told me he was retired.  I think I talked about the wagon and the evening and then it came out that I was a California transplant and he asked me how I liked it here and I said that I loved the weather because I really love the weather.  We pedalled along and he said "People who think the seasons do not change are not bicyclists."

I remember when I still lived in New England and the subject of moving to California came up people would often say "I could never live somewhere where the seasons do not change."  The seasons do change here, but it's more subtle than weeks of rain or a blizzard.  You need to be out in it, preferably for more than a few minutes at a time, to understand what the weather is doing and to hear it's different messages.  For instance right now we are in winter and there was a cold snap for a bit and in the morning I would see some frost.  Before that it was rainier and everything got really green, including the thorny Coast Live Oak trees that get to looking like old ladies preparing for a party when the pale green comes out on their crowns.  And for weeks now, as I roll along feeling stormy because of recent bicycle accidents and assorted violence, for weeks on top of all the dark thoughts there have been spectacular skies.  Deep pure blues.  Long streaks of peach intermingled with azure.  I'll be waiting for the light at the intersection of Oregon and Bryant and at my level is a tangle of sharp metal edges and black exhaust but above me the sky is fluidly changing from one shade of blue to the next with the steady silhouettes of redwood trees in front. 

I got the Contraption Captain to snap this pic shortly after we met up in Palo Alto.  This is just after the super annoying intersection of El Camino and Sand Hill where the cars are especially frantic about getting home and especially flagrant about breaking the law.  Red light?  Fuck it, I'm going.  No Turn On Red?  Must mean someone else.  The cars are super agro here.  If you make it across in one piece you can take a bicycle lane along Sand Hill or you can opt for a slower quieter trip on the multi-use path that runs part of the way beside Sand Hill.  This is a picture of the beginning of the mult-use path.  For added interest, I made sure to have the Contraption Captain include the Fourth Bay Area Hellion's Gate, visible to the naked eye in the lower left corner of the photograph.  This stairway represents one of a total of seven possible entrances to Hell and is located across from the Stanford Mall so it sees a lot of use.  Bicyclists need to be extra wary when bypassing the Fourth Gate or the Palo Alto demons may reach out and pull you into it's fiery maw.

But the sky, as you can see I think, is very very pretty. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

better than a poke in the eye

Two days ago, one of my co-workers was beat up on the way into the office.  Yes, really.  He was punched repeatedly in the face and his phone** was smashed.  The police were called and did nothing pretty much.  He came in and told us.  Here is a generalized version of our responses, which I found kindof interesting.

1.  What exactly were you doing at the time?  Ok you were bicycling in a cross-walk?  You should probably have yielded.
2.  You should have had a camera.
3.  Omg wtf wtf wtf!  You must press charges!  He hit you?  In the face?  OMG.

My favourite response to the people who told the bicyclist what he should have done instead was this one:



  * Don't wear a skirt above the knee.
  * Use a buddy system.

Oh, wait, wrong thread, same blaming the victim mentality.

That person apologized which I thought was sad because I think she is spot on, this blaming the person who gets punched in the face is a real problem. 

For myself I genuinely did not understand how this could be acceptable.  The bicyclist was riding across a road in a raised crosswalk.  Yes, we concluded, he probably did not have the right of way.  But there was no accident and he continued.  The driver stopped the car and shouted at the bicyclist.  The bicyclist shouted back.  The driver came over and punched the bicyclist repeatedly and broke the phone.  Later, the police were called and took pictures and talked to both parties. 

I didn't understand why it could be possible for the bicyclist to be hit in the face and there not to be any consequences to the person doing the hitter.  I still kindof don't but I was sent this helpful comic which you might enjoy:

What I remind myself about:  There are a certain number of raging psychopaths out there.  They do not have identifying marks on their license plates.  Be careful and be warned that if you get into it - you will not have much help from the law if someone beats you up. 

**  Which to us is like having your security blanket torn to pieces.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

someone like you.

It's lame just to have left the comic and the comments here but the thing provoked a flame war on the bicycle list I'm on and I wanted to think about my take-aways after considering the comic and the comments.

First, why read comments and upset myself.  Not sure.  Possibly dumb.  I think I am looking for the pulse of non bicycle riders, why they think as they do, why they behave the way they do.

What shocked me?  The person whose brother was killed by a car and saw the car as blameless.  I don't get this at all.  To me if you hit a person, you were going too fast, you were behaving dangerously.

What surprised me?  I'm sure I have noticed this before and not really thought about it but...I'm surprised by the way bicyclists are generalized into bicyclists who compete in road races.    I bicycle every day and I see tons of bicyclists and the number of people who are actual racing bicyclists is about the number of people who both run and are national champions - it's very small.  The bicyclists I see are generally commuter schlubs like myself.  Often they are kids too young to drive.  Some of them are retired people.  Many people like a road bicycle for the same reasons I do - it is fun and fast, but we are not racers and we are aware that we are not racers. 

What was the flame war about?  Some of the bicyclists blame other bicyclists for riding in a way that provokes the cars.  They feel that these bicyclists cause problems for all of us with their riding. 

What do I suggest?  I think it's time for a PSA about who rides bicycles.  It is your neighbours, your friends, your nieces, and your nephews.  Bicyclists are teachers at your kid's school.  They are accountants and checkout clerks and mid-level management.  Bicyclists are a lot like you, and if you looked at them like this maybe it would feel strange to make a point of forcing [them] to the shoulder whenever [you could.]

Selected comments seen below the above comic:

1. This is why I refuse to “share the road” and make a point of forcing those Lance Armstrong wannabes to the shoulder whenever I can.

2. in Ohio, the cyclists have the same rights as the motorists, and are bound by the same laws. They have the same rights, but even though you have the same rights, does it make any sense to be riding a flimsy piece of metal in 45 MPH traffic during rush hour traffic in the dark? Any conflict between a steel object and human flesh can only have one result. Ask my poor dead 11 year brother. It was NOT the motorist’s fault, but he’s still not with us. Cyclists, use some common sense!!! That’s what the bike trails are for!!! Same thing for joggers who like to run in the roads.

3. cyclists are really annoying when they won’t use the sidewalk, but use the middle of the street, thinking they are winning the tour de france. even if the city spends money to make bike path lanes, they don’t use them.

4. Cyclists in my area usually ride 2, 3 even 4 across in a lane, instead of single file to the right like the law says. What a great way to build up good will, by being a-holes and blocking traffic. Plus the look so gay in their gaily colored, body tight spandex.

Monday, January 14, 2013

how I stopped hating and learned to love other bicyclists. no, really!

My bicycling accomplishment of 2012 was not bicycling to work, I've done that for years now.  My achievement was not bicycling on rainy days as I don't mind getting wet and it was not bicycling on the cold --- I like cold weather.  My achievement was not bicycling in the heat because I like hot weather also or bicycling with the girls, cause the kids are alright! 

My accomplishment was to end (I hope) getting annoyed with other bicyclists.

Why do I think this matters?  It doesn't matter a lot, admittedly, but I think it matters a little.  I want the road to be friendly to bicyclists (I am a bicyclist) and  many annoying riders are young or inexperienced and me scowling at them doesn't encourage them to continue to ride.  I want them to continue to ride.  I object generally to bicyclists on pedestrians or bicyclists on bicyclists.  We non-car people are not a threat to each other and we should keep our focus on getting cars safer, not fighting over the little road scraps that the cars choose to throw our way. 

I started my program of "all bicyclists are as ok as I am, possibly even more ok than I am" by root causing my annoyance.  I found it had a few basic components and some were very unflattering.

1.  I didn't like bicyclists who were faster than me.  Like a horse who flattens her ears back at another horse that tries to get to the trough first, I got annoyed with anyone who passed me.  Woops.

2.  I didn't like bicyclists who surprised me in unpleasant ways.  I'd come around a corner and nearly collide with a salmon.  I'd get scared and then get angry.  This one has been hardest to handle but I mostly deal with it by keeping in mind that my two collisions with bicyclists (one with an inexperienced bicyclist, the other a bicyclist running a stop) came to nothing.  We dusted ourselves off and moved on.

3.  I didn't like slow bicyclists who blocked my way.  This one is uncomfortably close to how the cars treat me.  Woops again :/  Now I wait my turn and enjoy feeling speedy when the way is again clear.

4.  I didn't like bicyclists who behaved in what I considered to be a rude manner.  If you ran a red light or a stop or jumped up on the sidewalk I got a bee in my bonnet.  Sure there was no one on the sidewalk at the time but sheesh, ride in the street right?  Right?  Fixing this required getting in touch with my inner jealousy (I used to ride that way and kindof miss it some days) and also acknowledging that there were enough gray areas to how I ride (if there is no one at the stop sign when I arrive, I tend to just slow down and go through) that I should probably keep my yap shut. 

What have I gained at the end of my program of tolerance? 

My rides are happier.  I'm off my high horse and less judgmental.  I work on the assumption that people have a reason for what they are doing (I usually do) or they are just very inexperienced in which case they need to be encouraged to continue riding.  When I see something that frustrates me I've coached myself to silently thank the other person for being on their bicycle as I really believe that the more of us there are the more likely the cars are to take notice and behave a bit better.  You can even make a case that the weirder bicyclists keep the cars on their toes, more reason to thank them.
(Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)  A man parks his bicycle in a crowded lot near Central Station in Amsterdam on Oct. 31.

Friday, January 11, 2013

umm, hey. yeah. looks like you stepped in something there....might want to check that out..

Something about those new Mustangs is extra humorous assuming you are not a bicyclist being run over by one, that situation is of course never very funny.  First off these things are total accident magnets.  I've witnessed one get plowed into by a distracted driver and another plow into someone else who had had the temerity to pull out in front of him.  As long as no one gets hurt but the car (I can be a softy) I always find these collisions pretty funny.  Nature's way of saying "you are driving way the fuck too fast!"  Second that is funny:  The Mustang is the car that shouts "I could not afford a BMW or a Porsche like the other engineers but I am damned if I don't get my chance to let the world know that I am not well hung and am not getting any, so there!  I got this Mustang!" 

I'm always surprised at what the cars can hit and apparently not notice.  Co-worker (daily long distance bicycle commuter so show some respect) was telling me about a neighbour pulling over (from his car, natch, honk-honk and guess what) to say that the neighbor's brother had been hit by a car and was in the ICU and might not make it.

Wow but I hate it when people in cars tell me about cars running over bicyclists.  At least please get out of your car and let all the air out of it's tires before relaying the bad news, show some respect already. Anyways in this instance the person ran over the bicyclist, did not stop, got home, and had some regrets and turned herself in.  Do you give that an A for effort?  Me neither.  I give it a D- and I consider that generous.

When I run over stuff with my bicycle I feel it everywhere pretty immediately (the night is bad for me on this score as I roll over rocks and bits of broken cars and am totally surprised and sometimes nearly fall off) but cars seem oblivious to even the fairly large stuff they go over like people and bicycles.

So if you see a black Porsche Cayenne driving around with a mountain bicycle in it's grill, please contact Garret Gibson, he wants his bicycle back.  Also he wants justice for his injuries which I think is noble but pretty optimistic of him.  In related news, if this is the new modus operandi for bicycle thieves in the bay area I have much to be concerned about.

And finally.  Ever seen someone strolling along, perhaps in high heels even, trailing a long piece of toilet paper?  You have?  The car version of "I am trailing four meters of dirty toilet paper and have not noticed" looks like this Mustang (see how I brought us back to Mustangs?) and was snapped just this weekend past.  Thanks to Contraption Captain for his photo enhancements.  I love you darling!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

"The landscape changes the perspective" -Emily Dowdy

My previous post about what I wanted in the New Year apparently struck some as negative which was not my intention.  For me it was a kind of prioritisation, a la Chafed admittedly, but not intentionally negative.  Put another way, if I have my health, and the health of my family, I have what I need especially if no one steals my bicycle.  Other stuff - promotions, upgrades, fun vacations --- really are just the frosting.  When I am sitting at home with my two kids and my third kid that I borrow whenever I can and my guy who loves me and puts up with me and has a show-stopper of a bicycle I am truly happy.  Don't look so skeptical, even the Grinch had a heart that was capable of growth.

It was New Year's Day and all of us (two kids, borrowed daughter, husband, me) are in the car on the way to see a movie.  It would have been cool if we were all bicycling, we all love to bicycle, but the distance and the schedule had made this not possible and so we had crammed into the car and were going anyways and feeling very happy.

I was not driving and so I think I noticed first and my thoughts were in this order "oh my god" and then "on my god it's a child's bicycle."  I made Contraption Captain take a picture.  Here it is. 


I went home and easily found the story which is of a 14 year old girl on her way to school.  She was making a right hand turn onto the street that has her school on it at the same time as a pick-up truck.  "Somehow" she was hit and she died before getting to the hospital.

This has caused me a lot of pain.  Nothing like the pain of the parents of the girl or of her friends but pain that is real.  I read and re-read the accounts of her death.  It is described as a "mystery." 

And, quite separate from the pain behind my heart, I am deeply and angrily and profoundly frustrated.

At work we have a motto of "launch early and iterate."  The core of this, for me, is "create and improve and create and improve.  Always be improving."  I am frustrated that a 14 year old is gone and we are making no attempt to improve.  You will see here that I at no time call this an "accident."  I refuse to call it an accident.  If a problem happens again and again it is not an accident, it is homicide.

The girl was making a right turn when she was hit.  The intersection this happened at is a busy one with a traffic light.  Cars making a right turn at this intersection peel off just before the light in a smooth on-ramp.  They do not slow down.  They may accelerate as they try and beat the traffic coming from the other direction.  These "right turn ramps" are bad for bicyclists because the car is looking towards oncoming traffic and the car does not have to even pretend to slow down.  We should get rid of this turn option that happens immediately before a high school.  We should extra get rid of it now that someone has died there.

There are improvements to be made here.  The deaths show this.  We all know this.  

I don't want to be negative (I know, funny) but this is on my mind since seeing that small white bicycle and those flowers.  I have a 14 year old.  I'm out there.  I think all of us deserve more from these accidents tragedies then hand-waving "so sad" or "my prayers are with you."  Twenty-five years ago a family friend died on his way to a Palo Alto high school.  Did we learn anything?  Did we learn enough?  How many white bicycles before we make safe routes to school and to work and to, well, anywhere. 

Edit:  Yes.  She was wearing a helmet. 
Edit2:  Sigh.