Wednesday, December 21, 2011

a general shout-out to cycler and chris of Massachusetts bicycling fame

First off hey, thanks for reading and commenting.  Attentive people will notice that I have exactly four followers.  I'm not blogger of the year or the month or the minute so I'm honored when anyone (who bicycles) stops by and reads and comments. 

Second off, this is Chafe City not Love City and I am a bad tempered bicyclist not one of those kind and compassionate people who alternates yoga with bicycling.  I have to keep things calm at work but here I'm rude and abrasive.  The Californians are working at my personality but I foresee another seven to ten years of bad attitude.   In sum, not only am I not blogger of the month but I'm not trying to improve.  You've been warned.

A recap of what caught your attention:

Massachusetts Acquaintance non-bicyclist says, and I quote:

"I cannot conceive of where it would be safer for a bike, a slower and less protected vehicle, to make a left turn than a car.  We have bike lanes in Cambridge, but people in cars drive in them all the time. "

Which made me mad.  Did he not appreciate my nice icon?  Was he really so benighted that he could think of no place where a bicycle could make a left hand turn and a car could not?  Did Massachusetts drivers put their fat worthless asses in bicycle lanes all the time???

The guy represents a single data point.  With my extensive research in to car behavior patterns I think we can re-write the quote as follows:

"I cannot conceive of doing any bicycling myself.  We have bike lanes in Cambridge and I drive in them all the time. "

Has the ring of truth, eh?  This would account for you feeling fine about your bicycle lanes as it is unlikely that your path would have crossed with this other individual's path.

But I still have to put my cards on the table.  I lived and bicycled in Massachusetts for decades.  I felt fine about it.   I commuted by bicycle in Cambridge, Somerville, Northampton, Amherst, South Hadley, Pocasset, Falmouth, Arlington, and Belmont.  I  biked to work and biked to school and biked from Cambridge to Cape Cod on an ancient Raleigh road bike with only three working gears just because.  I really love bicycling and when I lived in Massachusetts I thought bicyling there was aok.  I bicycled in rain and snow and sleet and smirked at the people who were too weak to get out the door when the weather was not sunny.  Try this after the next big snowstorm.  Find an outdoor tennis court with the net still up.  Bike hard at the net and at the last moment jump off your bicycle and over the net and land in the soft snow.  It's epic. 

Then work took me to California and bicycling became worlds more wonderful.  That's probably hard to tell from reading here as I am so bad tempered.  I got here and my first thought was "the houses are so fucking ugly!" and the second thought was "and expensive!" and some time after that I met the Contraption Captain and went bicycling in California and I realized I would have to buy one of those goddamned expensive ugly houses because the bicycling here was so good I could never survive anywhere else. 

I assume if I moved to Portland, OR the bicycling would be even better.  I assume if I moved to Tampa the bicycling would be much worse, (cue angry Tampa bicyclists).  I'm half-Dutch and I have bicycled Holland.  Despite the wind and rain it is better than any place in the US for bicycling.  The Contraption Captain has biked LA.  It's tough there.   I just read that Dallas has exactly zero bicycle lanes.  The Dallas bicyclists are working their tiny brave muscular asses off to change that.  Judging by cycle's blog the lines are getting painted in Massachusetts even as I type, which is fabulous.

In my infinitesimal corner of the world, however, the lines are already painted.  I am not even close to the Dallas cutting edge.  I'm coasting on the work of other bicyclists and I am grateful.  

Bicycling will get better on both coasts, and everywhere in between, as long as people continue to bicycle, and continue to care.  

So.  To you.  To bicyclists everywhere making a difference.  To people everywhere making a change for the better I offer you a quote from The Lorax.

The Once-ler: And all that the Lorax left here in this mess was a small pile of rocks with one word.
Boy: [reading it] "Unless?"
The Once-ler: Yes. "Unless."
Boy: What's an unless?
The Once-ler: Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing's going to get better. It's not.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

these are two of my favorite things

I'm lucky (or cursed) in that cold weather appears to have less impact on me than it does on other people.  Starting in late September the Californians begin bicycling in snow parkas while I am still in shorts and a tee-shirt.  On one occasion a car pulled up next to me and a guy said "Aren't you COLD?"  I said that I was raised in Massachusetts and that of course explained everything.

Yes I have known cold weather.  The kind of cold weather that chews up the tips of your ears and leaves them red and painful.  The weather that freezes the snot in your nose, a truly disgusting experience that I do not recommend.  But even New England cold weather (I've biked ME, NH, and MA) has never bothered me as much as the next person---although it's payback time when the weather is hot and humid as I seem to be more than usually sensitive to that particular combination. 

By my standards California is warm.  I could probably bike California all year in just my bathing suit if it were not for twenty things and the names of those twenty things are:  Fingers And Toes.

My fingers and my toes get cold.  My toes are pretty much "meh" - I can forget about them.  I think it's because relatively speaking they are far away from my brain.  My toes send up a distress signal (we're dying down here) and my brain, which is busy wondering whether that car reversing out of the driveway is going to back over us considers for a zillionth of a second before putting the toes into a queue with a low priority.  The toes continue to complain but they lack leverage since I effectively staple them to my SPD pedals each day.

My hands do not put up with this kind of bullshit from my brain.  The fingers are the prima donnas of my extremities.  They say "cold!" and if they do not get immediate attention they "forget" how to work the brakes and "can't recall" how to change the gears. 

So I need gloves for my commute when the weather is cold.  I should buy some.

A problem is that I lack the shopping gene that the rest of American women seem to possess to excess.  This has saved me a great deal of money over the years at the cost of my walking around looking like an un-made bed.  I don't like to shop I don't like to buy things I don't give a damn that people think I'd look better in something that actually fit and usually this is all fine but when you actually really fucking need something like gloves to bicycle in because the temperature has dropped, well, I am crippled. 

The first pair I bought were on clearance (which I liked) but did not fit (which was bad) and did not keep my hands warm (which was worse).  I dutifully wore them anyway until my older daughter kindly took them off my hands (haha) to wear while tree climbing. 

The second pair I bought I was not fucking around.  I try them on.  I pay way the hell too much.  They seem great.  I am very excited.  I get on my bicycle the next frigid morning and all is well until I try and reach my brakes at which time I realize that the gloves fit only when I am not on a bicycle.  I force myself to wear these as well but after a few near death experiences where I can't stop (and a lifetime conviction that I will never be a brake-free fixie rider) I give up.

I decide to punish myself by wearing no gloves at all.  I will ignore the pain.  This works for about three miles.  Then I give up and put one of my hands in my mouth.  Mmmm.  Warm.  Then I switch hands.  Now I have a wet saliva covered hand in the freezing cold.  Damnit.  Also ewwwww!

Then it happened.  I was saved at an REI.  There was a sale bin.  Expecting nothing but heartache I start picking through the items thrown in on clearance.  I consider an odd pair of gloves that look suitable for a War of the Worlds alien.  They have a place for the thumb and a place for two fingers and another place for another two fingers.  Three pronged gloves.  Gloves for a tripod?  I hear a choir of angels singing softly in my ear.  I slip them on.  They fit.  I walk over to a road bike and experimentally try the brakes.  I can reach them. 

Contraption Captain walks over and his eyes widen.  "Those are great!  I've been looking for a pair!"  We gazed at my find in rapt wonder for a moment longer before digging through the bin of un-wanted colors and flavors.  Imagine our shock and awe when we find a second pair suitable for him.  O frabjous day!  Caloo!  Calay!

I've had these gloves for two winters now.  They are made by Novaro.  I love these gloves.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Bicycle Safety Edition

Here I address good bicycling habits that keep you safe.

Blah blah blah signal, blah helmet, blah blah blah two lights, blah blah blah.


I'm exhausted by the number of articles about how bicyclists should follow x,y and z behaviors to avoid being turned into creamed corn by a passing car.  Bicycles don't kill bicyclists.  Cars kill bicyclists.  If you're still interested in covering bicycle safety I refer you here.   I think it's as good as many and better than most.  Their material on the right and left hook was useful to me. 

So why call this The Bicycle Safety Edition?  Patience.  I'm getting there.

Back in 1990 or so there was a proliferation of books with titles like 50 Simple Things To Do To Save The Earth and these books were filled with helpful suggestions about using less toilet paper and recycling water bottles.  A better title might be How To Feel Fine About Doing Nothing.  A friend of mine told me about a (much less popular) book called 50 Difficult Things To Do To Save The Earth.

1.  Bury your car.

I still find this pretty amusing and in that spirit I offer my Bicycle Safety Edition. 

1.  When you are driving a car, do not exceed the speed limit. 

I'll pause for you to get your jaw off the ground.  Yes I really just suggested that you follow the speed limit.  Seriously.  Yes.  Yes, I mean those numbers in white boxes with a black rim that you frequently see beside the road.  No I do not give a rat's ass if you are a Formula 1 driver.  No those white signs with the black numbers are not "suggestions." Drive the goddamned speed limit.  Thanks.

2.  When you are driving your car, do not talk on your phone, send text messages, listen to headphones, or snort heroin. 

I don't care if President Barack Obama awarded you the Congressional Medal of Honor for Distinguished Multi-tasking.  When you're driving your car, pay attention to the goddamned road.

There.  All done.  Wasn't that easy?  Two easy rules for bicycle safety.  Both of them are directed at cars because it is cars that hit bicyclists and not the reverse.  Attentive readers will notice that obeying the above rules also brings you into compliance with US law.  Like speed limits, US laws are not suggestions, they are hard and fast rules. 

I also have a suggestion for an improved road experience.  Each car will have mounted on front and side those diamond/triangle shaped plates that you see on tractor-trailers that indicate when a truck carries hazardous cargo.  You can flip the plates up and down to reflect an accurate picture of the truck's condition.  The car signs can be modified so that they can display the following messages:

1.  I'm Lost.  I May Do Anything.  Watch out!
2.  I'm Drunk.  You Should Pull Me Over.
3.  I Just Got Laid Off.  I'm Self-Destructive.
4.  Hormones = Raging!!
5.  Have Not Been Laid In ~18 months.
6.  My Dog Ate My Honor Student.

grandma, u so awesome!

grandma, u so awesome!

El Camino and Sandhill has been voted "intersection where Chafe City is most likely to have a temper tantrum."  There are multiple problems here and I keep meaning to get a few photos because the idiocy is 100% reliable, I never go through there without seeing something ridiculous.

Friday evening I was still morose over seeing the black squirrel get crushed.  I pulled up at El Camino with the Contraption Captain.  An older woman, a young-looking grandmother with a halo of dandelion-like hair around her non-helmeted head pulled up behind me.  My heart sank a little.  My experience of the grandma-types is they examine my (empty, but this is not obvious) kid-wagon and they Disapprove.  It's a long light.  They have several minutes to air their disapproval. 

Grandma:  Is that your little one?
Me:  No, we just use this to take her to school.
Grandma nods.

I brace for a pithy lecture on how I should be careful with my very precious cargo but no lecture comes.  I most definitely do not lecture her about not wearing a helmet. 

The light turns green for us bicyclists and pedestrians and (number one reason I get upset at this intersection) the cars continue to force their way across, ignoring their red light and filling up the intersection as there isn't sufficient room during rush hour for them on the other side of the box. 

Contraption Captain and I grimly force our way out, engaging in the somewhat dangerous business of weaving in and out of the cars that we know are looking for an opening to get out of the intersection.  This is when it happens.  Grandma, who is behind me, yells:


Yes.  We are.  Thanks for reminding me Awesome-Grandma-Person.

Friday, December 16, 2011

a light hand on the trigger

Many bay area traffic lights are designed to trigger (turn green, maybe after a delay) only when there is a car or bicycle waiting to cross.  Occasionally, these lights lose their mind.

Contraption Captain and I were pedaling hard towards El Camino Real, a busy thorough fare especially during rush hour.  Regrettably the light turned red before we could cross and so we settled down in the bicycle lane to talk and wait for our turn to come around. 

To our left was one lane of cars waiting to cross the street.  To our right was a short length of lane for cars turning right.  Behind us was a single car lane.   C and I are talking when he suddenly says, "hey, did the light skip us?"  I remind him that we just missed the light and that's why the wait is so long. 

We go back to talking and I watch the traffic cycle from cars turning to cars straight and then oncoming traffic plus turning cars and then...  no green light for our direction.  We *are* being skipped. 

I look behind us.  A long row of cars has already piled up.  Some of them are trying to turn around but they don't have enough room.  Others have pulled into the skinny bike lane in a vain attempt to drive up on the side and make a right hand turn.  It's vain because there is no way that those Ford F150s and Range Rovers and Pilots and Tahoes are ever going to be able to crush themselves into a bicycle lane that can accomodate two bicycles if they're both a little careful.   Still, the SUVs sit there, or at least as much of themselves as they can get into the bike lane.  I'm suddenly reminded of sick or senile cats who start pooping next to the litter box instead of inside it.  They just can't seem to help themselves.

I look forward again at the unyielding red light.  To my left is a car that is about one car length back from the white line.  It is possible (but odd) that he is too far back to trigger the green light.  We look at the driver hopefully and gesture that he could pull forward.

The driver is not enjoying being at the red light either.  He does not pull over though.  He gestures back at us, pointing urgently.  It takes us a moment but then light dawns.  The walk signal!  To the walk signal!!  Contaption Captain hops off his bike and puts the kickstand down.  The cars watch mutely but hopefully as he gets on the sidewalk and then punches the walk button.  He rejoins me.  The light turns green.  We head on to work. 

ps.  to those cars.  you're welcome. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This is where the party ends.

This is where the party ends
I can't stand here listening to you
And your racist friend
I know politics bore you
But I feel like a hypocrite talking to you
And your racist friend
          - They Might Be Giants

I had a charming and witty (in my opinion) post prepared in my head but the ride in to work today crushed the charm right out of me.  First a story from my childhood though.  I knew this guy in high school, Peter, and one day he told me the following story.  He was riding a bus on the way home from work.  The bus abruptly swerved to the left and right.  Then there was a bad smell, a skunk had been hit and killed.  The driver winked at Peter and said "I almost missed it!"  I still remember the ugly smile on Peter's face as he shared this story.  Mostly I remember that my only response was to nod.  I didn't laugh, and I was not amused, but I did not call him out for an asshole either.  I was a coward then but I've changed.  I'll say what I think.  So hey, Peter?  You're an cretinous stunted individual and your sense of humor makes my gorge rise. 

Today started off in the usual way.  Breakfast for the kids, make lunches, read a book, Sparkle Pony walks to school and then load up Rapunzel for her Burley wagon ride in to school.  We dropped her off and we all hugged good-bye and then we turned our bicycles towards work.  The road here is very pleasant for a bicyclist.  Part of it is blocked off.  It is heavily residential and many children walk to school on this route.  I am pedaling along talking to Contraption Captain.  I automatically take note of the red (color of old blood) SUV that pulls out of a driveway and turns onto the road.  I watch as it accelerates.  I watch a small black squirrel that had started across the road before the SUV arrived run forward, run back, run in terror.  I watch the squirrel dodge the front tires of the SUV and I watch it helplessly draw it's tail close to it's body just before the back wheels of the SUV crush it's spine. 

I started screaming before the squirrel was killed and I continued to scream as the SUV drove away.  I pedaled up to where it turned right.  I shook my fist in it's direction and roared my unhappiness, a long low howl of hatred.  Then I turned left and pedaled away but I had to stop at the side of the road to sob my ugly desperate hopeless sobs.  Between sobs I told Contraption Captain "I hate them."

Maybe you think one squirrel doesn't matter.  Lots of squirrels, right?  I've heard squirrels referred to as "tree rats."  I've heard pigeons referred to as "flying rats" and I guess actual rats are just  ... rats.  Humans don't like pigeons, rats, and squirrels.  Is it because they're not beautiful?  They are beautiful.  The bay area squirrels are a deep midnight color.  They build homes and raise families.  They have soft feathery tails.  Pigeons?  Pigeons have iridescent necks.  Pigeons are far more monogamous than humans and when their mate dies they mourn for at least thirty days.  Rats are intelligent community minded mammals.  If a mother rat dies and her children are left vulnerable, another mother will take over raising them.  But these creatures are all vermin to the average human, apparently because these creatures are relatively common.

Newsflash.  There are seven billion people these days.  We are vermin.  The roads I bicycle are streaked with rainbows of gasoline from our incontinent vehicles.  We spoil the oceans and the forests and we pollute the air we breathe.  Rabbits do not have large brains but they have learned what humans do not learn:  rabbits never shit in their own homes. 

I get in to work and make it to my morning meeting.  Before it began I said to my manager that I was upset, I had seen a squirrel killed by a car.  He was sympathetic (he's a great guy) and then his eyes widened as something occurred to him.  "You were on your bicycle, that makes it so much worse.  In a car you're kindof insulated from it."

Yes.  A car insulates you from your trail of damage.  I hate that about cars.  I hate the way they wall themselves off from the horrors they wreak as they drive two miles to get a mocha grande skinny from Starbucks.  I hate them and if you're in a car?  I hate you too. 

So what do I want?  To that worthless sack of shit who drove that car too fast this morning and killed that squirrel.  Stop your car.  Get out.  Kneel down by the side of the road.  Press your cheek to the rough wet pavement.  Watch that squirrel slowly gasp out it's life, it's feathery tail ruffling gently as it's broken back twitches.  Watch the fear in it's eyes.  Wonder if it had a family.  Wonder if it's mate will wait long for her dead partner.  Wonder why you could not drive a little more slowly on this very quiet residential road.  Wonder what it means that you just killed an animal.  Think and watch and wonder and beg forgiveness for your disgusting crime.

And one more thing.  I'm not a native Californian and I'm not all that compassionate.  I think of you as vermin.  Also, I am very good with numbers.  How good?  Good enough to recite the ASN for thirty major networks.  Good enough to remember the loopback addresses and host names for over two hundred routers.  Definitely good enough to remember your license number and where you park your car.  As a friend of mine used to say, "put that up your pipe and smoke it."


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

don't curse the darkness. also woops.

The last set of lights are out in the world as of Monday evening.  The Contraption Captain and I had just cleared the big intersection of the Alameda and Sand Hill when we noticed a bicyclist in our respective rear view mirrors.  Captain leaned towards me and said softly "does he have lights?"  I squint and whisper back "I don't think so."  C Captain then faded back to check out the other unsuspecting bicyclist more closely.  Next I hear---

Captain:  Hey, want some lights?
Dark Bicyclist (heavy accent):  Umm, no.
Captain: [wheedling a little]: They're freeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
Dark Bicyclist (very surprised):  Really?  Uh, yes, yes I would!

We all pull over and drag our bicycles onto the sidewalk to avoid surprising the cars.  Contraption Captain digs through his high-end water-proof bike bag and pulls out the last set of lights and unwraps the front white one.  He demonstrates how to wrap it around and secure it and then gets out the red light.  Briefly, I see the look on the Dark Bicyclists face when the lights turn on.  He looks surprised and delighted.  He looks so happy and in that moment I am happy.  He thanks us and then pedals his now-blinking bicycle away into the darkness of Sand Hill Road.

Contraption Captain and I ride the last short leg home.  We're going to buy some more lights to give away, we decide. 

We get home to the usual turmoil of happy kids and departing nanny.  C. Captain takes off his bike shoes and goes to put on his around-the-house-and-office shoes.  They are not in his bike bag.  He considers.  Where could the shoes be??

1.  He left them at the office.
2.  He left them at the side of the road when he went fishing for the bike lights.

He tells me something a little unintelligible and hurries back down the stairs.  I hear the garage door open.  He pedals away and returns a few minutes later with the shoes that were sitting neatly on the sidewalk at the corner where we stopped.  Woops.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

You "cannot conceive." Yes. Alas.

I have for several years kept an on-line journal.  Entries are protected and get shared with a group of friends and acquaintances.  A not inconsiderable number of the entries were about bicycling until I decided I needed a blog as none of my readers were bicyclists and I wanted to see if I could connect with other passionate bicycle commuters.  Failing that I wanted to say what was on my mind because with the delicate feelings of my driver readership at stake I was inclined to sugar the pill.

The specific precipitating incident that brought about chafecity was a comment I got over an icon I uploaded to the journal to associate with bicycle-related entries.  You can see this same icon in my blogger profile, it's a "No Left Turn" sign with "EXCEPT BICYCLES" appended.  I see this sign every day on my way in to the office. 

Here's what I wrote when I uploaded the icon:

I don't usually bother to write a post for an icon, or even bother explaining an icon, but this picture is special to me. I asked Contraption Captain to stop and snap a picture of this sign that we see every day on our commute to work. At this spot, there is a left turn lane that is just wide enough for a bicycle. Cars must continue on Alma street and take a far less convenient left further along. One reason that biking in this part of California is so wonderful is that bicycles are valued, mostly with nice broad bike-only lanes but also with these kinds of signs and accommodations which serve as indications that what is correct and acceptable for a bicyclist may not be appropriate for a car.  In this case a bicyclist may make a left turn but a car may not.

Most of the people reading the journal are people I met and knew when I lived in Massachusetts.  One of them commented.

(Massachusetts driver)   I cannot conceive of where it would be safer for a bike, a slower and less protected vehicle, to make a left turn than a car.  We have bike lanes in Cambridge, but people in cars drive in them all the time.

This in a nutshell is why I find bicycling in Massachusetts so loathsome.  This perception that bicycles (slow and less protected) do not belong anywhere.  Not even on roads with bike lanes because hey, people in cars drive in them all the time, right? 

California has it's short-comings but at least in the corner of the state that I bike, the bike lanes are used by bicycles.  Sometimes a car parks there and I get annoyed, sometimes a car drives in the bike lane and I get super-annoyed but I take it for granted that the lanes are there and mostly available.  And I take it for granted that I belong, as do the giant majority of people around me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Life Death and Jenna Morrison

Jenna Morrison, mother to a five year old and pregnant with her second was killed as she pedaled to pick her son up at school.  A truck crushed her to death under it's wheels.  The driver (wait for it) did not see her.  She is missed by her friends and her son and she is missed by her husband who adored her. 

When I first began bicycling in California, people would ask me if I wasn't afraid of being killed by a car.  I said that I was afraid of being killed.  I have had no car love affair like the rest of American.  Yes I can drive.  Yes I can drive a standard.  No I do not like cars.  I like horses.  Also bicycles.  When I started towing a wagon and carrying my kid home from preschool the same people asked again, "Wasn't I afraid of being killed?  What if something happened to Rapunzel."  Yes I worried.  Superstitiously I never wrote about it because I didn't want to make it happen but now she's in 2nd grade so I can say "yes, I worried that someone would kill us on Middlefield Road."  Amusingly enough a second class of people would ask a lot about the Burley bicycle wagon I used.  "Was I afraid it would tip over?  Had it rolled over?"  I said, honestly, that my only fear was that a car would hit us and crush us both.  Awkward silence would follow this pronouncement.

So why bicycle?

Know that joke about masturbation?  The boy gets told that if he continues to wank off he's going to go blind.  He asks "Can I do it until I need glasses?"

If you told me today with total accuracy that I'd die on my bicycle I would ask if I could bike until I needed glasses.  I love bicycling.  Today was grey and cool with the taste of rain in the air.  My tires made their soft steady noise of rubber and pavement.  As I rode towards Mountain View a sudden breeze caused a flurry of bright yellow leaves to swirl down around me.  Where in our solar system but on Earth can you have such a short perfect experience? 

Like most parents I want to live long enough to enjoy the love of my husband and see my children safely to adulthood.  If I am killed on my bicycle I will fail on this count.  But there are many ways to die and in my family, it is not cars that have killed us it is coronary disease.  My maternal grandfather was dead before my mother graduated High School.  My mother had quadruple bypass surgery before she was fifty. 

Go back four years and the Contraption Captain requires open heart surgery to repair a congenital defect to his mitral valve.  Despite the various confused dietitians who stopped by a problematic mitral valve has nothing to do with what you eat and everything to do with the heart you were born with.  Contraption Captain is tall, slim, and athletic.  Amusingly (sortof) enough the person in for surgery immediately before him also needed a mitral valve repair.  This guy was also slim and athletic.  Every other person on the ward was neither slim nor athletic.  They were huge panting miserable people in terrible pain.

I repeat.  Terrible pain.  Open heart surgery hurts like a motherfucker.  They saw open your rib cage to get at your heart.  You wake up in the ICU with a tube disappearing into your chest.   Guess what you do immediately after surgery?  Get out of bed and walk.  You have to walk to recover.  You have to move or fluid accumulates in your chest and you get sicker until perhaps you die from the complications. 

Guess who was up and walking around within twelve hours of this surgery?  The two guys who needed mitral valve repairs.  I would walk around and around with the Contraption Captain as he wheeled his iv and tried to move without hurting his damaged body.  We walked by room after room of giant pale people who were damp with pain and far too weak to get out of bed despite the fluids building up in their bodies that needed to be circulated away.

What I am getting at is, not bicycling can kill you also.  It is slower and less dramatic but it is a terrible death just the same.  Could I die of a heart attack?  Sure, yes, of course.  If you test my blood is there any indication of inflammation?  No.  There isn't.  I don't have any of the signals of heart problems that turn up in other members of my family, most of whom are on statins. 

I don't want to be killed by a car.  I don't want to die in agony on a hospital bed, either. 

Friday night is alright for lighting

Friday I biked home for the second time in two days with a co-worker.  We both bike a lot but generally he has taken a different route.  I notice that one of the many small perks of being a bicyclist is that when you decide to ride home with a bicyclist (as opposed to a car person) the bicyclist does not have to leave their vehicle at work.  The other good thing is that you can ride together exactly as long as is convenient and then split up whereas if you are both in the same car one person has to drive you to your house before they can drive home. 

It was a pretty uneventful ride.  But pleasant.  I spotted a guy with a bicycle and wagon and no lights and offered him some. 

me:  want some bicycle lights?
him:  No.
me:  you sure?
him:  Positive.  I live right here.
me:  ok!

...and so we went along to about Palo Alto where I met up with the Contraption Captain.  We all had a cheerful bicycle meet at the side of the road before co-worker rode away.  Not to go on too much but.. how often do three cars meet up on their travels and lean over and slap each other on the back and wish each other well?  Not often.  Bicyclists may not all be in a community, and we certainly don't all know each other, but we meet up and become acquainted at least some of the time.  Cars never meet up unless they are colliding with each other and having a big metal on metal accident.

At El Camino and Sand Hill the Contraption Captain and I pulled up at a red light.  We were joined by a group of about five young bicyclists.  I eyed them surreptitiously.  Few lights.  I hesitated.  The one in the lead had a white light fixed awkwardly to his glasses.  As I watched it fell off.  I looked at Contraption Captain and he made a "why not?" face.  I got out my lights and said something like "hey, here are some lights for you."  The pretty young woman looked delighted, "Thank-you!" and then they started considering the best way to deploy the lights in their group for maximum visibility.  The light turned for me and I pedaled off, a little awkwardly, as I had not shown them how to put the lights on or collected the small cases that keep the lights from going off in my backpack. 

But I think it was ok just the same. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

we're not smug. we're happy. says that smug is contentedly confident of one's ability, superiority, or correctness; complacent.

I think the emphasis can be safely placed on "superiority." When I think of "smug" I tend to think of money, like a person who made a fortune with the bubble and invested sensibly and now has several fabulous expensive houses. "Smug" means "I have it and you do not, in fact, what I have you will never have."

Smug is also about possessions more than attributes. We don't describe a brilliant athlete as "smug" because we know they acquired their strength and grace because of a lot of hard work. Smug translates to taking credit for something that is more about what you own than what you are.

A smug bicyclist might be one who owns a fabulously expensive bicycle that another person cannot afford.  A smug bicyclist might own a fabulously trendy ride that they feel makes them superior to the next bicyclist.  But here's the thing:  once the person is on the bicycle, it all evens out.  The race is won just by riding and bicycling is a club anyone can join. 

So last night we had a 7 year old friend (who I will call Don't-Bug-Me for the slogan on her tee-shirt) stay over and we wanted to bring her in to school with Rapunzel this morning.  We always bike Rapunzel in and she usually rides in a wagon and reads a book on the short trip.  The wagon only fits one kid.  We have  often carried Sparkle Pony on the back of the Contraption Captain's bicycle.  He's made covers to protect feet from the wheels and we put a pillow on the rack so that it's comfortable.  After clearing the matter with Don't-Bug-Me's mother and getting buy-in from Don-'t-Bug-Me herself, the four of us rode to school in style, under our own power. 

It felt awesome. We were all so happy!  Not smug though.  Smug would be if this club were exclusive, but it is not.  Anyone can join this club and have the same fantastic time.  You need a bicycle.  That's it.  You're in. they are by the way.  I've artfully blurred their faces to preserve anonymity but they were both smiling.  Really. 

hope for the flowers

Yesterday evening was dark and cool and I was excited to be on my way home and I was looking forward to a nice night with my family and a couple of friends.  I was pedaling on Charleston coming up to where I need to take a left onto Rengstorff when it happened.  The light ahead was green for those going straight and I didn't want to cross in front of cars heading towards a green light --- not just because I do not want to die but because, hey, it's a green light.  I don't really like someone crossing in front of me when I'm trying to clear an intersection.  So I am considering my rear view mirror and also looking over my shoulder to gauge when and if the traffic might thin so that I could cross two lanes and get into a third for left turners and this thing happened whose name is:

The Cars See Me Looking Over My Shoulder and Slow Down.

It sounds small, maybe, but really this slowing down is so huge!   Those drivers were able to turn their desperate eyes away from that green traffic light long enough to see me, and to think that maybe I needed to get over, and to then silently offer to give me room.  I waited until there were fewer cars and then I signalled and made my way across.

It doesn't always happen, this slowing down, this taking notice of me, but it happens more than once a week.  In the end it is almost the sum total of what I am asking for from the cars, what I am shouting for, or pleading for or begging for.  Look for me, a little.  Notice me a tiny bit.  See me there on the side of the road and very occasionally, make a space for me.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

the best revenge is living well

Monday I'm bicycling in to work after a week out sick.  I still can't really talk.  I know people will think I'm nuts for not driving but..  bicycling feels great.  My legs don't stop working when I have a runny nose.  Life's too short to waste it in a car.

I'm on Middlefield coming up to where I need to take a left onto Charleston.  The light is red.  No one is going very far.  I signal that I need to get over and the first car immediately yields and I move out of the bike lane and in front of them.  I signal that I need to cross the next lane.  I watch in my mirror as a black SUV steps on the gas rather then let me cross in front of him.  Fine.  Whatever.  I cross the lane after him and then settle at the red light, immediately behind black SUV, at a red light.  He's in front so I guess he wins or something.

Light turns green.  Black SUV goes through the intersection and turns left and I follow him.  And something funny happens.  There's road construction ahead and traffic for the cars is backed up all the way to the intersection.  I slide into the slim bicycle lane and pass the black SUV.  I continue passing cars all the way to the next intersection where a construction worker calls me "chica" and waves me through.

I never see the black SUV again.  I suppose he got to wherever he was going.  Eventually.

Monday, December 5, 2011

I love you bicycle. Let's not spend any more time apart.

Last week Thursday I vowed to get back on my bicycle.  I hadn't run a fever in twelve hours.  More importantly my back and hips were threatening total annihilation.  The great thing about bicycling (lots of different kinds of exercise) is that it keeps your body young and happy.  I'm 43 but people either think I am much younger or are so afraid of me that they pretend they think I'm much younger.  The bad thing is that if you stop exercising and lie in bed (like if you have a 103 fever day after day) you do not start aging where you left off, you accelerate and zoom past 43 within a few hours.  By nightfall you may be feeling like you're 90. 

So it's Thursday.  I'm somewhat better.  I need to take Rapunzel to school.  My back and hips are crying for some movement.  And here's the next thing:  taking Rapunzel to school by car is like being torn apart by rabid squirrels.  You're fighting about two hundred other mothers for one of ten parking spaces or you are swirling into the line that doubles as an entryway to hell.  Biking her in is a pleasant ~1.5 mile jaunt.  Driving her in is an exercise in self-torture. 

I'm going to bike, damnit.

I head down the stairs to the garage and find my bicycle.  It nods politely in my direction from it's place leaned up against a work table.  I ask if it minds if I join it.  It shakes it's front tire "no" and I prop myself up next to it and rest for awhile.  And so with frequent pauses for good behavior I get the bicycle to the driveway with the wagon hitched up behind it and then get Rapunzel buckled in and reading a book.  We set off.  I love bicycling!  It's so easy!  Turning the pedals is no effort at all!  Then I remember I'm pedaling downhill. 

I pedal along and except for not being able to breathe I feel pretty good.  My hips and back feel exceptionally good.  In fact if they could talk you would have heard them yelling "FUCK, YES!" as we rolled down the street.  We get to the school in one piece.  I hug and kiss Rapunzel and then rest awhile before attempting the arduous 1.5 mile ride home. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I am super sick and it's really unpleasant.

I was kindof not quite right on and off but the day after Thanksgiving things took a turn for the worse and after that things took a long walk off a short cliff.  Fever, sore throat, vomiting... all of it really.  I have an important tip to share:  if you have a critically sore throat do not eat a small orange.  It's like tossing battery acid on an already bad situation.

My bicycle is down in the garage.  Un-ridden.  I just about cried the last time I saw it.  So if you do not have a non-stop fever and you do not have raw bleeding patches on your throat go out and ride your bicycle for me, go for a proxy ride or something.

I'm too sick to drive (some would say that most of the American population is too sick to drive) but I have been a passenger in a car, notably on the trip to the doctor where I got the wise and ultimately useless suggestion to rest and take ibuprofen.  Really?  Ibuprofen?  If I were a house on fire he would have suggested a damp washcloth.

We were returning from school where we had just collected Rapunzel --- a job I usually handle via bicycle >sob< --- Contraption Captain slammed on the brakes.  I watched, blankly, as a bicyclist pedaled across the street in front of me, in a crosswalk.  He looked right at me and the thought bubble over his head was "you cars are disgusting."

Couple of things.  Sure cars are disgusting but is it worth dying over?  If we had not been able to stop in time you, the bicyclist, would have been badly hurt whereas we, the car, would have been out a whopping $42.  Maybe.

I am all about bicyclists.  I really am.  I hope to be one again as soon as my body stops running this fever of 102.  But crosswalks are not great for bicycling.  A bicyclist is just too fast for a car to notice and reliably stop.

Finally though, I don't care if the bicyclist has zero lights and is coming right at you in a crosswalk with a Rottweiler.  There is never an excuse for hurting one and I am crazy glad Contraption Captain saw him in time and was able to stop the car.

So thats that for now.  I am surrounded by damp tissues.  To the person who said they were going to give a set of bicycle lights away, thank-you.  That really cheered me up.  We bicyclists should take care of each other.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

more dumb stuff people stick to their cars and a proposed solution

Wednesday I was bicycling to work alone as my Contraption Captain was at home with a bad cold.  Sand Hill Road, never smooth flowing (for cars) at the best of times has slowed down tremendously because of construction at Stanford University.  Cars stuck in traffic who peer forward and see a green light they do not have a prayer in Hell of making go a little nuts.

And so it came to be that as I carefully pedaled up the bicycle lane towards work, ever vigilant for cars that might abruptly turn right and run me over that I became aware that I had company. It was a car, awkwardly forcing it's way up the bicycle lane behind me.  The other cars were grudgingly making room for it and soon it was immediately on my tail.  I considered the driver.  His headphones.  The vapid expression on his face.  I was reminded of just how law-abiding automobiles are and how they were absolutely right to be frustrated with bicyclists who do things like slow down and not stop at stop signs.

But you know what really stuck in my throat?  When he finally got by I saw a sticker slapped on to the back of his ugly worthless car:

I'm a vegetarian.  One of my least favorite tee-shirts (yes, it does bother me) is the one with the slogan saying:  "I Love Animals.  They Are Delicious."

The world does not know how many noses I have refrained from breaking upon seeing that stupid tee-shirt. So I saw this guy on the road, behaving like a jerk, behaving in a way that no bicyclist in any circumstances should behave and then I saw that sticker and I thought, "What, you eat them?"

My friends, I think the time to retaliate is upon us.  I submit the following for your perusal.  Tidy small stickers kept in some convenient location so that we can re-align these cars with their true purpose.





Wednesday, November 23, 2011

go free, little lights!

Yesterday I left work after dark with a fresh set of lights.  I was 100% ready to hog-tie yet another dark-invisible bicyclist, brand him or her with some lighting, and then release him/her to peacefully rejoin the herd. 

I have discovered a few things:

1.  I do not like the idea of stopping a young bicyclist.  I'm afraid they'll call the police.

2.  I am resentful that these Palo Alto parents (who I promise you are awash in money) do not outfit their children's expensive bicycles with lights.

3.  There are not a lot of female bicyclists.

4.  I bicycle against the general flow of 2-wheel traffic, ie when I head towards Mountain View others are heading towards Menlo Park and vice versa.

On Bryant I finally gave up on finding a light-less bicyclist that I could catch up to and instead called to a bicyclist heading in the opposite direction.  I got his attention and then I stopped and got off my own bicycle.  This is bicycle-speak for  "help, help!"

The bicyclist stopped and hesitantly came over.

me (briskly) "you have no lights."
him (German accent) "ummmm."
me (getting out lights) "ok, this one goes on the front" (then I demonstrate how to rubber band it around)
him "ummmm, ok" (puts light on)
me "and this one on the back"
him "I think one is enough?"
me "absolutely not.  you don't know American drivers."
him "but I'm not American"
me (patiently) "I'm an American.  That's how I know you need two lights."
him "well, thank-you.  how much do I owe you?"
me (chummily now that I have what I want) "oh no charge.  It's a gift."

....and then I rode away.

Seriously, if you haven't tried this giving away lights thing, you should.  It's crazy fun. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

in which I (1) give away some lights and then (2) get harassed by a bicyclist

tl;dr Gave some lights away. Later, a different person tells me my light is no good (a lie) and congratulates himself for his public-mindedness.

My first night out with a set of lights to give away I struck out.  It was rainy and there were not many bicyclists and I was hoping that somehow I'd see that homeless guy again who had asked how much lights would cost. 

Night #2 was a different story.  The evening was clear and there were plenty of bicyclists.  I spotted two heading across Charleston and turning left onto Rengstorff.  One of them was riding a crappy/mid-grade mountain bicycle with zero lighting.  The traffic was crowded and he was pretty invisible.  I caught up to him at a red light.  I'm basically pretty shy so it took some effort but I squeaked out "hai!  bicyclist..."  The guy turned.  He looked to be late twenties.  I offered helpfully, "you don't have any lights."  The bicyclist smiled awkwardly and braced for middle-aged mom to lecture him.  I added "Want some?"

His face completely changed in that moment.  He could not believe his ears.  He stammered "Really?  Yeah, sure, that would be great!"  His friend could not believe his ears and said (somewhat jealously) "this is your lucky day, man!"  I got out the lights.  I handed them over.  I did not say "now you go get some lights and give them away" because you know something?  A gift is a gift.  Real gifts do not have strings.

So the light turned to green and he rode away holding the lights in his hand.  I obviously wanted to see them on the bike but I think he'll snap them on (they are the rubber band type) at the next good moment.

Now the second part of the trip home or, "What was super fucking annoying but also funny all things considered. "

The lights are long gone and I have met up with my Contraption Captain and now I am towing the bicycle wagon (sans child) the last leg of the way home.  Contraption Captain is feeling ill and we are catching up on our day and getting frustrated by the frigging ridiculous politics of Sparkle Pony's soccer league when a bicyclist slows down to tell me "you should change the battery in your back light.  It's dim."  Nodding smugly to himself he pedals off.  I say nothing and I am really proud of that.  Unfortunately I freak out to the Contraption Captain which was probably not so pleasant for the poor guy. 

Time to talk about my own lighting.  I have a headlight on my helmet so that when I turn my head at cross-streets I can be seen.  I have a headlight mounted on the front of my bicycle.  I have a nice strong red light on the back of my bike.  I have another red light on the back of the wagon.  At home I confirm what I already know, the wagon tail light looks aok.  It is fixed to a loop of fabric on
the wagon and is not perfectly straight but it is undeniably a bright red flashing light.

So why the fuck did that guy feel it was worth the breath to bother me?

1.  I admit I was bicycling side by side (in a bike lane) with my husband.  I think he had to slow down to go around us and it pissed him off.
2.  He is a pathological liar.
3.  The sperm in his nuts (from not getting any) has backed up into his brain and put pressure on his optical nerve.

Monday, November 21, 2011

but first, a word from our sponsors!!

I earn my keep as a network engineer.  I am not a LAN engineer (your work/home machine's connection to other devices in it's immediate vicinity...and I'm sorry to say that I'm a snob about this) instead I work on a large WAN that is international in scope and pushes more traffic than I am allowed to disclose.  The specialized machines that make routing decisions are called (duh) routers. 

Stay with me, do not allow your eyes to glaze over, I'm getting to the bicycle part. 

Take your average decent workhorse selected-by-engineers-not-management router with a kernel based on FreeBSD and you come away with a Juniper 960.  Configure it with IS-IS and BGP routing protocols and land a few OC-192 on it and give it a home on the global internet.  Isn't that pretty?

This router has a RIB, a Routing Information base.  This is a table that lists routes to destinations and contains some topology information.  It does not contain routes that are so incredibly bogus (literally) that they have been discarded immediately.   This router also has a FIB, a Forwarding Information Base.  The routing protocol process installs active routes from the RIB into the FIB where the information can be used to forward the route out of the best (fastest) interface. 

Translated for bicycling purposes we have:

1.  The RIB.  These are the rules that are law.  What everyone agrees we should do for instance obey posted speed limits, come to a full and complete stop at a stop sign.
2.  The FIB.  These are the rules that actually get followed, what everyone actually does and includes but is not limited to driving 10 or more mph over the posted speed limit, slowing down at a stop sign and if no one else is approaching continuing right on through, taking a right on red even if the posted sign says "no right on red" and resolutely not sharing the road despite a metric butt-ton of those infuriating "share the road" signs.
3.  The bogons.  These are the routes with an as-path that shows a loop.  These behaviors are so bad, we all agree they are worth a ticket for instance driving at 300mph through a school zone.  Interestingly enough, by it's very nature the bicycle just isn't capable of many of these behaviors and the ones we are capable of (bicycling drunk) don't cause trouble for anyone but ourselves.

Have you figured out where I am going with all of this darling non-readers?

People driving cars have a RIB installed and a FIB.  They actually follow the FIB (which means they slow down for stop signs but do not necessarily stop and they drive at whatever the fuck speed they feel like) but they are extremely comfortable with turning around and demanding that bicycles follow the RIB (at a stop sign you rock back on your tires, signal before you turn...) and they tell us that they will not "respect" us until we start obeying these rules that they themselves do not pay any attention to.

Possible solutions: 

1.  Let's make the rules of the FIB match the rules of the RIB.  That would mean an immediate automatic adjustment of all speed limits going up 5-10mph.  At which point the automobiles would all accelerate accordingly.  So I guess we can't do that.

2.  How about the bicycles get their own set of rules?  Charming but time-consuming and unlikely.  I'll put it out there on the wish-list however.

3.  Cars stop expecting bicycles to follow rules that they don't bother with?  A very good start.  Yes.  How about it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

having a thrill 4 ways

One of the great (often unappreciated) pleasures for a bicyclist is the intersection of two streets with a stop sign facing in each direction, aka the 4-way stop.  There is much moaning and grinding of teeth about the 4-way stop from bicyclists (waste of impetus!) and cars (waste of gas!  bicyclists suck!) alike.  But...what I want to address is just a small facet of the 4-way that can be a very enjoyable experience for the bicyclist.

Try this.

Find a 4-way stop in your area that gets a non-trivial amount of traffic.  Approach it at a relatively busy time of day.  There will be cars lining up in all four directions.  Some are going straight, some are turning.  For the most part* they approach the intersection, stop, wait their turn, and then go.

What you do:  Fall in to place behind one of the cars waiting in line.  Go forward as they go forward until you reach the front of the line.  Now my friend it is your turn to travel through the intersection.  Commence pedaling.  Clip in calmly---not that usual frantic desperate clipping in because the light is too short for bicyclists.  Now pedal sedately and law-abidingly through the intersection while watched by at least four desperate sets of automobile eyes.    Savor.  Think about it, how many opportunities in bicycling do you have to pedal gently through an intersection while four cars sit and watch?  Savor.  Enjoy.  Pedal.

*of course there is always the car driven by that same kid you knew in kindergarten who stuffed extra cookies into his mouth when the bowl got passed around.  The kid who in middle school went to the front of the line and stepped on your foot, hard, if you complained.  The kid who in high school knocked your lunch tray onto the ground.  Watch out for that kid.  Some things never change.

Friday, November 18, 2011

why am I soft in the middle when the rest of my life is so hard?

There's this big intersection not far from where I live, the intersection of Sand Hill and the Alameda and Alpine. Yes, three streets.  When you cross Sand Hill it becomes Alpine.  At this intersection there are lanes for going straight, lanes for turning, traffic lights if you want to turn.. a lot of traffic, a lot of cars and a lot of accidents.

Contraption Captain and I often see broken glass and smashed lights spread out across the road.  I remember C. Captain considering a recent spew of glass and plastic license plate frame and smashed something or another.  Although there are signs posted in all directions forbidding cars from making a right hand turn on red, they can't really seem to help themselves.  Visibility is poor.  The cars make a right turn on red and get creamed by someone running a yellow coming from the opposite direction.  So it goes.

Contraption Captain:  "well, it probably wasn't a bicyclist."
Me:  "How can you tell?"
Contraption Captain:  "there would be less debris because bicyclists are so soft."

on the way home I paused to talk

I was going to title this "damnit" but that seemed overly rough.  Yesterday, on my way home from work,  I was at a traffic light when a guy who looked like he might be homeless and was walking a modest old bicycle and wearing a top hat (!) approached me.  This guy diffidently asked how much my bicycle lights had set me back.  I said that a nice set could be purchased for under $20, less even.  I wanted to say "meet me here at this time in a week and I'll give you some" but that seemed weak and unlikely.  When I got home the lights I ordered had arrived, they look great and have a nice brightness.  I would have loved to give that guy a set to light his way.  Tonight though, I'm ready.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

the Light Not Heat Campaign for happy bicycling

I am writing to announce (to all four of my readers, thanks people, I love you) the Light Not Heat campaign.

The history:  as a young and ignorant female I was on my way to a theater rehearsal at my local high school.  I was riding my bicycle.  It was late in the evening and winter.  I was hurtling down a steep hill.  At the bottom was a green light.  I arrived at the intersection just in time to be struck by a car making a right turn, the classic right hook.  I should not have been passing cars on my left like that, I should definitely have had some lights on my bicycle as it was well after sundown.  I was thrown off my bicycle and briefly knocked out.  The car drove away.  A person stopped and helped me out of the road and brought me my newly arranged bicycle.  I walked the rest of the way.  Someone I knew twisted my bicycle back together and I rode home after the rehearsal. 

More history:  Sometime after college I worked out that I needed bicycle lights.  These reflector things were...insufficient.  I went to a bicycle store and looked at the prices for the lights.  I found that I could afford one light.  I bought one red tail light.

Fast forward to the present:  Night has fallen on us, my friends, and there are many bicyclists out there with no lights.  Maybe they're too poor to have lights.  Maybe they're too stupid.  Maybe they almost never ride at night and so they did not think it was worth buying one.  Maybe their batteries are dead and they keep forgetting to get new batteries. 

What you do:  buy a set of bicycle lights.  If you drive a car buy two sets of lights and put one set in your glove compartment.  When you see a bicyclist without lights in the dark, catch up to them and say "o hai!  I noticed you have no lights and I happen to have a set I would like to give to you."  Fish the lights out and hand them over.  Do not be critical.  Do not use bad language or be superior or unkind in any way.  Appreciate the bicyclist for being out on the road and making your life fractionally better by reminding the cars that they need to watch for us.  

What you do NOT do:  Do not steal the lights off the bicycle of the cute girl/boy at work and then chase the person home and say "hey, I have some lights for you, also can I get your number?"  That's stalking.

What not to say:  "Bicyclists like you fuck things up for the rest of us!"  Remember, it's cars that screw things up, not other bicyclists, even hapless ones who do not have lights and ride on the wrong side of the street. 

Which lights do I suggest?  Get something a little nice that is fast and easy to install.  The entire exchange should be very quick.  The bicyclist stops and a minute later they are on their way with nice lighting.  Don't buy something crappy.  You can do better.  When you give a set away consider buying another to replace it.

I chose these.  Affordable and attractive, imo.  Near instant install.

Why "Light Not Heat" - because I am sick of gutless jackholes who yell "I can't see you" at bicyclists.  That's mindless heat.  Let's light the night for bicyclists, not curse them out.

don't wave at me. I do not forgive you.

Something which makes me mad no matter how hard I try and meditate and be compassionate is people who are willing to run me down so that they can get to a red light a little bit faster than the other guy.  It really really hurts my feelings.  I'm worth that little to you?  Really?  I got kids, man.  I got a family.  I got a job and I'm trying to get home to eat the fabulous dinner my husband is going to make this evening.

And once my feelings are hurt of course I start to get mad.  I'M WORTH THAT LITTLE TO YOU?  O RLY.

Before you accuse me of showing constant bad behavior I beg you to consider that I ride over a hundred miles every week in all weather and yet I have only yelled "you disgusting worthless cock-sucker I hope you get cancer!" ...once.

Of course arguably, when my behavior gets bad it gets very bad to which I have to say it gets way way way worse in my fantasy life.  In my fantasy life I have a sling-shot that fires rocks at cars when they treat me with contempt.  In my fantasy life when that jerk runs the red light and the girl walking her bicycle shrinks back I shoot a gun at the offending car that unfurls a giant banner across their windshield that reads "YOU SUCK.  WE ALL HATE YOU."

So a few days back I am sitting at a red light.  I'm a tiny bit nervous.  The light will trigger for me but I know from previous experience that it won't give me quite enough time to actually get across the intersection.   The light turns green, it's a green left arrow.  I am going left.  I start hustling across the wide intersection that is immediately before an overpass spanning the 101.  Cars getting off the highway are stopped at their own light which

The first car sizes me up and takes a right on red.  I am now halfway across.  The second car considers me and thinks "I'll do it too.  She's just a bicyclist, right?  I heard the fine for smushing one of those little weasels is a mere $42.  I sneeze $42."  The light is yellow.  I can't stop here in the middle of the wide dangerous intersection.  Her car rolls forward, hesitates, and then she steps on the gas and I summon my voice and bellow "STOPPPPPPPPPPPPP  IT!" *  And she stops.

I am now almost entirely across the intersection.  The woman behind the wheel waves her fingertips at me.  Drivers do this to say "hey, I almost killed you, I gave you a bad scare, but no hard feelings, right?"

I had hard feelings that day.  I'd already been cut off on a few occasions.  I did not feel like accepting this weak-fingered wavelet that was not actually an apology.  I noted that the moon roof on her car was tilted up.  I bellowed once more, "FUCK YOUUUUU" and then fell into the bicycle lane and continued on to work.  I saw her at the next light, as an aside.  She nearly ran me down for..nothing.

*I've been considering the addition of "it" to my yelling.  I realize that what I was yelling at, what was in my heart, was a scream to all cars everywhere.  Stop it.  Leave me alone.  Let me cross the intersection with my green light un-harassed.  Just.  Stop.  It.

cool dark evenings. little wind. good times.

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep."

Substitute roads for woods and you have bicycle commuters amidst the opening chords of winter.   The weather will vary but no matter where you live, be it Minnesota or Ottawa or Vermont or California the days will get shorter, the dark will get longer.  The onset of daylight savings accelerates the process and instead of leaving work in early twilight you leave work in the deepness of the night.

The night is not a friend to bicyclists who share roads with automobiles.  We push back the threat with our lights but our ability to materialize on a distracted driver's radar, never very good in the best of times, is made worse by a dark sky and the flash of high beams.

Last year as I was riding home on the first truly dark night I felt…discouraged as I threaded my way through the maze of headlights.  That feeling continued until I turned onto Bryant Street, the road on which I can unwind as it is bicycle focused.  I looked forward and on the right side of the road was a long string of twinkling and solid red lights, tiny and twinkly.  On the left side of the road was a second line of twinkly lights, this time white.  

It was the other bicyclists, people like me who were finding their way home in the dark and my mood lifted immeasurably.  

This year has been better.  The cool nights have arrived and brought fast riding with little wind.  What was good:  two days ago a bicyclist caught up to me at a red light and asked about my route.  After that he asked me how often I biked and then told me he had started bicycle commuting in May and loved it.  He asked for suggestions on bicycling to work when the weather is rainy.  We parted ways before Portola Valley but I know he is out there riding every day just like on good days I believe that more people will bicycle and more cars will treat bicyclists with respect.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

that happy good mood from the morning is still hovering in the air

What happens in the first mile:  my various middle-aged pains sort themselves out and I start to feel pretty fantastic.   I'm free.  I feel fast and agile.

What happens in the next few miles:  I see that the sky is exceptionally beautiful.  There are huge pillows of cloud in all shades of grey and silver piled onto each other.  I watch for cars and bicycles and pedestrians but I also watch the shifting clouds as they move across the wide sky above.

And in the next mile or so:  There are leafy trees on either side of the road, tall with branches that arch over the road.  It's autumn in California which means it is really spring in California.  The air is cooler and there is rain and the plants and trees are ecstatically getting their moisture fix whenever they can and replying back with an exultation of new leaves and flowers.  Some of the leaves are tugged loose by the wind, they filter down, spots of pale green light against a darkening sky.

In the next mile the clouds darken subtly:  Mixed in with the occasional drifting leaf is a silver thread of rainwater.  I shift my focus out and back and can see the drops as they fall.  Within a minute I smell the change in the non-paved areas around me, the air is suddenly a thousand times more complicated with scents of leaves and dirt and water.

I pedal faster.  The cool air brushing over me makes me feel alert and ready.  Pedaling seems effortless.  The pavement gets wet and I go even faster.  I ride fast in the bicycle lane and faster and then the bike lane disappears and I fall in with the cars and ride with them.  We stop at a red light and head forward when the light changes to green and I'm amazed that I can accelerate as they accelerate and I ride with them easily, peeling off only when the bicycle lane re-materializes. 

And then I am at work, putting my bike away and going to my desk.

All of this (and more) can be yours for the price of a bicycle.   It is otherworldly but it is also not otherworldly because all of this incredible color and life is entirely real and entirely of this our world. 

Slow down. Get out of your car. See us.

It is not sufficient to say that you did not see us

I would also like to add that if a bicyclist had hit not just one fourteen year old girl, but had instead somehow managed to collide with two fourteen year old girls (two!) then I fucking guarantee you that one child would not be brain dead and the other in critical condition.  So stop putting us in the same box with your huge metal death-dealing behemoths, we do not belong there.   

Sunday, November 6, 2011

on screaming loudly

Yesterday I was driving Rapunzel to her weekend gymnastics class.  Some families have a first kid to go to college but in our family we lean more towards over-educated than first to school.  However.  Rapunzel is the first in her family to do a split.  The rest of us have not been inspired to flex our bodies into a capital T but we enjoy watching her do her thing.

So I am driving along and ahead there is a red light.  I stop.  This particular road is a lovely bike ride with a very nice bike lane so it is always covered in a generous layer of weekend bicyclists.  I like these folks.  I think on weekdays they are the car drivers who are more likely to give me a decent amount of room when they pass.  So I am sitting at a red light and there are a few bicyclists waiting also and life is pretty calm.

I am looking around.  In the other direction cars are of course stopped also and as I watch a bicyclist hauls ass up to the light, his face twisted into a skewed mask of rage.  He pulls up next to a minivan.  I arch an eyebrow.  I can tell this will be interesting.  Inside the minivan I see a soccer mom (Sparkle Pony plays soccer, I know a soccer mom when I see one) tuned out mindlessly eating a slice of pizza (jesus christ lady, pizza?  It's barely 11am) and then I see Outraged Bicyclist pound on her window while screaming the immortal words:

What the fuck did you think you were doing?  WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU THINK YOU WERE DOING!  W H A T    T H E   F U C K !

"I was right" I think to myself smugly.  "He's mad."

I can see the woman in the minivan.  She glances at the light which resolutely refuses to change.  She glances at the bicyclist who is still screaming.  I can see the froth bubbling up at the corners of his mouth and the flecks of foam that are starting to dot the glass of her car window.  Woman gives bicyclist a blank cow-like look.  It is obvious to me that she has no idea why this psychopath is attacking her.  She has never seen this guy before in her life.

Which is of course the problem.  She did not look and so she did not see the bicyclist a mile or so back.  Because of this not seeing she nearly ran him over.  In that moment the bicyclist was terrified that he would spend the rest of his life as a quadriplegic being fed Cream of Wheat by his doting but no longer faithful girlfriend.    Soccer Mom drove away mildly wondering if there was any more pizza in the box and if eating a last slice would make her fat and meanwhile Bicyclist came after her with his terror converting rapidly into mindless rage.

Now before you car drivers congratulate yourself on never losing your temper Google "road rage" and shut the fuck up.  Ok with that done, let's consider losing our tempers, pros and cons.  Attentive non-readers may have observed that I came after a big-haired buffoon who came near to taking out my dear husband a week or so back.  I am not above using the immense power of my bicycling-enhanced lungs to attempt public humiliation of the automobile class.

Good things about losing your temper and shrieking at the top of your lungs:

1.  you go away with the pleasant feeling that you have inflicted a little of the panic/terror that was just recently visited on you.
2.  you remind the person in the car that bicyclists are operated by humans with feelings who may take down a license plate numbers if they feel personally threatened.
3.  there is a slim chance that the car-driver will wonder why an otherwise ordinary middle-aged mother bicyclist hates him/her and is indicating that she wishes you were dead and cremated.

Bad things about losing your temper and shrieking at the top of your lungs:

1.  The driver may get angry and come after you and kill you =(
2.  The driver will be confirmed in their opinion that bicyclists are maniacs.
3.  The driver will not ever be swayed in their opinion that only cars (who have actual important business to conduct) should be on the road and so the bicyclist just wasted their breath.

What do to do if you are a car being screamed at.  Slow down.  Say "I am sorry."  Say the words with absolute sincerity.  Feel free to add "I was lost" or "I should have been more careful" or "I'll do better."  This will have an amazingly calming effect on the bicyclist who just had a near death experience.  Only if it's true, say something like "I just found out I have cancer and I was distracted."  In those instances, the bicyclist will actually apologize to you.

What to do if you are a bicyclist wanting to scream.  Remind yourself that you are one of the lucky few, a bicyclist.  Cars are to be pitied.  Remind yourself that it is pretty common for the drivers of cars to use their vehicles as a weapon.  If the driver decides to fire their car at you, a bicyclist, your chances of survival are on par with a person who holds a wooden shield up to a hydrogen bomb.

So in sum, to defuse yourself:

1.  be glad you are still alive.
2.  feel pity for the jackass who is (a) in a car and (b)a crappy driver who will undoubtedly have many expensive accidents.
3.  consider that if the driver gets really angry they may kill you for real this go around.

..and if you must go on the offense?

1.  be creative and please please project your voice so that everyone can hear you.  move away from classic insults and reach for a personal touch.  "Choke on your lipstick you disgusting walrus!" "No wonder your parents put you up for adoption you miserable pinhead!" and "your car is as fucking ugly as you are you worthless whore!"

2.  Shout what you would say in person.  If they pull over because they couldn't hear you correctly say "I said "You are a disgusting dripping douchebag."

3.  be ready to get on the sidewalk if things get hairy.

Friday, November 4, 2011

ok ok one more thing and then I'll be done for the moment

Dear bicyclists who are riding along carrying your bike helmet slung over your handlebar.

What the fuck is your plan?  When the car heads towards you to have an accident you're going to put the helmet on your head and close the clasp and then collide with that SUV?  Really?

What the fuck?  Did Mom tell you to wear your helmet so you brought it along and took it off the moment you were out of her sight? 

Well here's a newsflash you goddamned Einstein.  Your Mom (we talk all the time) doesn't want to spend the rest of her life spooning baby food into your drooling mouth.  She made that scene once with you thanks very much and once was fucking enough. 

So.  Either grow some and say "No, Mom.  I won't wear a helmet.  It makes me look dumb and I'm scared I won't get laid."  Or just suck it up and wear the fucking helmet.



but I didn't WANT a giant bridge with matching roadblocks

Rapunzel is now in 2nd grade, but when she was in preschool I would bike the two or three miles to her preschool, settle her in to my double-wide Burley wagon, bike ten miles home and collapse face down in the driveway.  The trip from work to the preschool was mostly nice, I rode on this cute multi-use bike path (the Stevens Creek Trail) and it was just about a straight shot.

The non straight shot piece involved crossing a busy road.  No problem though, there was a light.  You pull up, press the button, wait, and then go across the busy road in safety and relative comfort.  All was well until the city of Mountain View thought "damn, it's a hassle having to stop for those goddamned bicyclists whenever they push that fucking button" and the city of Mountain View thought "wtf do we do with all this extra money we have?  give it to the area schools?  lame!  No way!  what was it that was so annoying, yeah, stopping at that red light was annoying.."

What did the city of Mountain View decide to do?  Build a bridge over the highway for bicyclists and pedestrians.  I should be overjoyed, right?  Yeah well I was not.  Overjoyed.  I was annoyed.  Here's why:

1.  We did not have a problem.  We had a spot where we whoa'd up and pushed a button and then continued on.

2.  The city of Mountain View spent a metric butt ton of money on something I ended up hating.  Instead of stopping and pushing a button I had to weave through their bicycle-slower-downer with my big wagon and then pedal up a steep hill and then scream down a hill on the far side and hit the brakes so as not to be trapped in the 2nd bicycle-catcher.  It sucked.

3.  What did I want?  Some paint.  There are multiple locations in Mountain View (for me the critical area is in front of the new PJCC on Charleston) where the bicycle lane abruptly ends for about a block and bicyclists become open game for passing automobiles.

What's the moral of the story?  Stamp out giant infrastructure projects that drive bicyclists onto tall skinny walkways with gates on either end.  Give us our place on the road and stick some paint on it to make it official.  It's not the 1800s and we aren't your schizophrenic first wife so stop locking us up in the goddamned attic and forgetting to feed us.

What you give us:

What we want:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

because they're beautiful. and you are not.

Today I was on my bike waiting for a red light to turn green so that I could continue on towards work.  I checked over the cars around me to see if any of the drivers looked drunk or mentally ill --- usually people on their morning commute are merely hungover but it's always good to be careful.  Immediately to my left (I am in a bicycle lane) is a large shiny reddish-brown SUV.  It's driver is an artificial appearing blond woman who is earnestly talking on her phone and looking about as self-important as people do when they are ensconced in a giant machine and so busy and in demand that they have to talk even while driving.  I notice that the car is a Toyota Sequoia.  Sequoia trees are monumentally beautiful. 

Nearly twenty years ago I knew this person, Jenny (not her name) who had a lot of problems.  She was mentally ill, her diagnosis being schizo-affective which operated then as a bit of a catchall.  She was on a huge number of medications.  She was tremendously overweight.  Her skin was an unhealthy greyish pink.  She shuffled along very slowly because her legs were so fat and swollen and despite being relatively young she often needed a walker.  She lived with a nominal boyfriend who the social workers agreed was abusive but it was better than the alternative which was a group home except there were no available spots in the area group homes so really the alternative was homelessness.  Every now and then Jenny would have these spooky moments of lucidity and attempt suicide.  Not the "cry for help" stuff, the "jump off a tall building" stuff. 

Jenny's one great passion and pleasure in life was cats, specifically kittens.  Cute fuzzy little kittens.  She wore this pale pink sweatshirt, very stained, with the print of a soft pretty sleeping kitten on it.  Just mentioning the word "cat" would make her squee with delight.  So Jenny was squeeing over a picture of a cat one day and I said idly, "What is it about Jenny and cats?"  And a co-worker heard me and said "Kittens are little and cute.  And she [Jenny] is not."

Back to cars.  You can't be alive and not have noticed the naming structure for SUVs. 

Tahoe:  a beautiful lake and forest in California. 

Yukon:  a majestic wilderness in Canada. 

Acadia:  a spectacular national forest in Maine.

So what does any of this have to do with poor Jenny?  Jenny loved kittens because they were soft and beautiful and loveable and she was huge and mentally ill...and no one loved her.  The Sequoia is one of the most beautiful trees on this planet.  They can live for hundreds and even thousands of years.  When a Sequoia is struck by lightning it's children rise again in a circle, growing from the parent root system.  To stand in a grove of Coastal Redwood trees is to experience a natural cathedral, to experience something timeless and powerful and precious.

Those SUVs get the names that they do because it is a vain grasp towards being beautiful, to being part of something grand and meaningful.  The reality of the situation is that no name can change the Toyota Sequioa I saw today (and it's trying too hard faux blond driver) from being just another big ugly SUV that threatens other people on the road and compromises the very tree it is named for.  But that doesn't stop the driver from hopelessly wishing that she was a little more.  Jenny would understand. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hell froze over.

I have a favorite intersection, don't you?  I encounter my favorite intersection on the way home from work, the same route in reverse is not so pleasant.  Some intersections are like that:  ok one way and the suck in the other.  So on the way home I am travelling on Charleston.  There are four lanes of cars with a bike lane on the far right.  The two lanes on the left side are for people going left.  I go left so that is where I want to be.

What I love:  getting in my lane and waiting for the light with cars in front and behind.  The light turns and the cars start rolling forward.  I am right with them.  They accelerate.  I accelerate!  We're all hoping to make it to that green left arrow before it turns amber and red.  I can pace cars travelling like this, I've hit that intersection at 26mph with cars fore and aft.  I love it.  I feel fast then, and as if I have a place in the pack.  It is love.  And the cars which try and cut me off can't do it because I am sandwiched between a Toyota 4Runner and a something or another Tundra.  Haha on them!

Here's the annoying thing.  The other bicyclists spot the red light and then ride in the bike lane to the very front.  Then they waddle their bicycles over and put themselves in the left turn lane in front of everyone else.  Then the light turns and they slowly waddle through the intersection fucking things up for the rest of us.

But here's what happened yesterday!  I was waiting in line and a bicyclist approached.  Instead of cutting everyone off and going to the front he fell in beside me as if it was the most normal thing ever.  I goggled.  I said "It's pretty cool you took a place in line.  Most bicyclists push their way to the front."

The bicyclist looked over at me with an expression that said "I hope you are not a sociopath."  He must have decided that I was ok because he smiled and said pleasantly (with a slight accent) "But that would be cheating."

I beamed.

We went on to discuss how if you lane split to the front, you find yourself on the far right which is the lane for people getting on the highway, how it is far better to be in the 2nd from the left lane and in line because then you are in the lane for people going straight which of course is what we want because the on the far right is the on-ramp for interstate 101, the 101 being notoriously unfriendly to bicyclists and the cars getting on the 101 being notoriously unfriendly to bicycles crossing in front.

I don't often meet a kindred spirit on the road!

We both cleared the intersection when the light turned green!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

actually. just a nice day.

I woke up this am feeling super rough, probably ate too much candy last night or something - yesterday being Halloween.

How do bicyclists do Halloween?  They get together a bunch of little kids and load them into a giant tricycle illuminated with individually programmable LED lights, woo-hoo!  In Black Rock City a giant tricycle covered in lights is not all that unusual a sight, but in California proper it still has a little bit of cachet.    We pedaled that big pretty thing down to the area party street and then parked it and trick-or-treated until we were ready to fall over.

This morning it was back to our more regular rides but the weather was beautiful and my mood was more than usually calm and no one made an overt attempt to run me over.  I love the reminders that the giant vehicles bring of just how much fun pedaling can be, that it is not just a way to get from town to town but a way to experience life.