Monday, December 31, 2012

what I am hoping for in the new year

1.  That I not be run over by a car.
2.  That my bicycle not be stolen.
3.  That my husband and kids do not get run over by a car.

...everything else is pretty much cake.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

say something nice

It's a bit of a truism  that the people who drive BMW cars are assholes, or at least display traditional asshole behaviors when they are on the road.  I've seen some dissent from this position but usually the folks who beg to differ are driving BMW cars themselves and so they can be assumed to have a certain measure of bias.  I've also considered that with the distinctive logo and the sizeable price-tag maybe the BMW simply suffers from a combination of sticker-price jealousy and easy ability to recognize - but that doesn't explain why the general public appears to be mostly fine with the Mercedes Benz (except for my mother who calls them Nazi mobiles) and the Porsches and Ferraris and the whatever else is the newest hotness.

If pushed for a preference (mostly I dislike everyone equally) I prefer a BMW sedan over a Lincoln Navigator because I have an easier time making eye contact with drivers who are seated in the chair position of a sedan as opposed to the I-Am-Your-Overlord chair position of an SUV.  Of course the BMW SUVs seem to be exceptionally aggressive coupled with the usual BMW cluelessness which is why I wasn't surprised today when it was a BMW SUV who drove up the wrong lane behind four tense roadies and then cut off a car when he realized that he wanted to take a right, not a left because right and left are so similar that it can be difficult to tell them apart.


Last week I realized there is something consistently awesome about BMWs and I want to call them out and thank them before I forget and go back to complaining.  I was at a traffic light waiting for a green left turn arrow.  I was a little nervous, there were a bunch of twitchy cars behind me and it's a short light.  Sometimes cars zzz out at traffic lights (which is weird considering how excitable they are about getting to red lights, why fall asleep when it turns green?) and the light turns green and they go on zoning while I make honking noises.

The car:  zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Me:  (helpfully) Beep.  Beep-beep.

Then the car wakes up.

The car:  >snort< Wha? Hmph?

Then the car panics.

The car:  omigod green!  green!  omigod!  wtf!  I've been tricked!  Fuck you traffic light, fuck you!

Then they do that zero to 90 thing.


Me:  pedalpedalpedalpedal.

The cars behind me:  omigod green!  green!  omigod!

The cars behind me:   rRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRROOO [there is a little obstacle in front of me but I think I can hurdle it] OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOARRRRRRR!

Yeah, so.  I have a vested interest in the car in front of me staying on the ball and accelerating gently and confidently as the cars in front of it start moving through the green light.  If they move forward at a steady rate of acceleration I can actually pace them and the cars behind me don't go into Thoroughbred "with a running start I can clear that bicyclist, I can clear three bicyclists" mode.

And this is why BMWs are kindof ok at times.  They never snooze at traffic lights.  At a red light the BMW will sit there revving it's engine like a kid crossing his legs and dancing from side to side but insisting that he "does not need to go."  Then the light turns green.  If the car in front of the BMW snoozes the BMW will wake him up, possibly with a light thump on the rear bumper, none of this horn bullshit.  When the car in front is travelling through the intersection the BMW will be so close on it's tail that I think the BMW drivers sometimes accidentally impregnate the driver of the car in front of them.  

And me?  I can follow through at a nice sturdy pace and no one feels compelled to force their way around me or ride over me.  Which I appreciate.  So to all of you BMWs who careened through intersections doing 90 when I was safely behind you where I didn't have to worry about dying?  Thanks!  Stay awesome!  

Friday, December 28, 2012


Yesterday I am on my bicycle,  I am waiting at a red light.  The light turns green and a bicyclist-roadie who had timed his approach better, swoops past me on my right.  That's ok.  He gives me plenty of room and it's a good-sized bicycle lane.

The bicyclist is just a few lengths in front of me and I am sizing up his potential for speed when I see him put out his left hand, palm outwards.  I arch an eyebrow.  As I watch, he inserts his hand (with the delicacy of a veterinarian turning a calf that is still in the cow) into the wheel well of the car travelling immediately to his right and takes a (presumably) firm hold of the car and stops pedaling and starts coasting at what I calculate to be ~30 mph.

The car continues up the road apparently unaware that it is being felt up by a bicyclist.  I discover that my jaw has dropped and I snap it shut.  I also find my eyelids up around my hairline and move them back into place.  I have no chance of catching them but I pedal hard and keep the newlyweds in sight long enough to see the bicyclist get to the top of a hill, run a red light, dodge through a construction zone, and disappear from my view.

1.  No, he wasn't wearing a helmet.
2.  It's like having a technicolor giraffe park in your garage and put it's head through your window so that it can eat your breakfast.
3.  No, I am pretty sure the car had no idea that the speedy bicyclist on his left had his hand up the car's wheel well.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

go in peace

Christmas Eve I like to bicycle downtown and do my last minute shopping.  I don't generally find much of anything and this year I overdid it on candy but I enjoy the bicycle ride and the walking around and if I am totally honest with myself I enjoy snickering at the frantic SUVs as they stutter up and down the road looking for a place to set their sorry nine foot wide rumps down for a spell.

This year Contraption Captain and Rapunzel bicycled with me and I took along our cheap but serviceable cargo wagon.  The air cleared my head.  I pedaled.  I was happy in the reliable way bicycle makes me happy, barring the times when some car makes me scream like a little girl but life isn't all roses for anyone, yes?  Once downtown we were locking up when I saw a person on a bicycle behaving like a real dick.  I wish I wasn't someone who noticed stuff like this but I am a noticer and what I see doesn't always fill me with good cheer.

The guy rode down the crowded sidewalk and then into the crosswalk where he literally scattered pedestrians who stared after him, mostly hurt and confused but one a little angry.  And then he quickly looped back for another pass, re-scattering the pedestrians who had just started to regroup.  We stared after him unhappily.  I thought he looked a little mentally ill.

What I would like to ask of those pedestrians is to go home and say to their dog or their cat or their postal service person:   "Wow, I nearly got creamed by this total asshole downtown.  What a prick."  What I would like the pedestrian not to say would be: "Bicyclists are such asshats"  because...please.  This was a rude jerk who happened to be riding a bicycle.  Yes there are creeps out there and sometimes they ride bicycles but the bicycle does not create the creep.  On the bright side, this particular dick was on a wasted old department store bicycle and not a Jeep Rambler which is why you still have a mouth to complain with.

With this minor glitch behind us we shopped, upgraded the home liquor cabinet, and after a bit retrieved our bicycles and happily pointed them towards home.  As we pedaled along, I noticed an interesting bicycle cargo wagon on the other side of the road.  Guess what it was!  No really, guess!  Did you guess that it was a UPS guy making deliveries with A BICYCLE?  Did you?  Because that is what we saw!  I said to Contraption Captain "omg!  omg!  take a picture!"  Unfortunately UPS guy was already pedaling away (omg pedaling!) and as an ex-New Englander I value people's privacy enough not to chase them down and snap a pic when they are working on Christmas Eve.  But.  Guess what.

I think 2013 is going to be a great year.

Love and Bicycles,

Chafe City

Saturday, December 22, 2012

your set-point wants adjusting

The weather:  pleasantly cool and damp
The time of day:  evening
The setting:  an intersection in a residential neighborhood, the traffic light is red.

The Contraption Captain and I are first in a line of cars.  Across from us is a large SUV ostensibly planning to go straight, aka the SUV has the right of way and I guarantee you I know all about not crossing the path of an SUV who knows itself to have first pass at an intersection.  The Contraption Captain and I are talking and periodically one or the other of us helpfully sticks a left hand out as a general signal that we plan to turn left when it is legal for us to do so.

I see the light for the other direction turn yellow and then red.  My body tenses.  The light in my direction is a short one and I need to be ready or the cars behind me will go right over me.  The light turns green.  Sometimes an oncoming car sees bicyclists and waits for them to cross, other times the car asserts it's right to go first.  Both are okay with me.  I pick up one foot and roll gently forward about 18 inches.  I do this to signal to the cars behind me that I see the green light, that I am indeed going to make a left turn.  The SUV accelerates and I put my still un-clipped foot back on the ground as I wait for him to pass.

As the SUV drives by he shouts out of his open window "WHERE THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE GOING?!?"

Now that the single oncoming car has (noisily) gone past, Contraption Captain and I pedal through the intersection, turning left, and then completing a second left onto the street that we live on.

To that SUV, in a conversational tone of voice:  "I'm going the fuck home.   And where the fuck are you going?"

I was genuinely surprised at the guy's anger.  I've watched cars at intersections since and they mimic my behavior.  The light turns green, they roll forward to be in a good position to complete their left hand turn.  Life goes on.  Lather rinse repeat etc. etc.

I guess the SUV driver was afraid that I wanted to commit suicide against his grill or driver side door to which I can only say, "If I get pasted to your grill it won't be intentional on my part."  Maybe he thought I was one of those entitled bicyclists the cars are always whining about and that I had been assuming that I would get to go first because of my pure awesomeness and my response there is "Experienced bicyclists assume nothing."

What was getting screamed at like for me?  Kindof ok actually.  I was surprised but it wasn't a scary experience.  I had a wall of cars lined up behind me which was going to make me hard to hit.  I didn't feel particularly threatened.

I know all about going nuts and screaming.  If some car veers towards me I am reliably terrified and occasionally shriek obscenities.  The weird thing about cars is that they do their screaming when they are in no greater danger than the slim possibility that someone might go through a light before they do.

Monday, December 17, 2012

I want what she's having.

We live on a quiet cul-de-sac that is just off a fairly busy road.  The busy-ness could be worse, the road has a nice wide bicycle lane at least on the segments in the vicinity of our house.  It has a traffic light up the road from us and another traffic light downstream from us both of which serve to "calm" the cars or "outrage" the cars depending on who you are talking to.  Taking a right on this road is no problem:  You come around the corner of our street and start pedalling up the decent sized bicycle lane.  Turning left is harder, you have a stop sign and you need to wait for the cars to clear so that you can (this is legal, really cars!) ride across the road and complete your left by heading down the bicycle lane on the far side. 

This is mostly fine as in, no worse than most parts of the US and quite a bit better than many.  When it's just me, or the Contraption Captain, we wait at the stop sign and when the going is good we hurry across the two lanes and head downhill. 

Rapunzel, now eight years almost nine, complicates matters slightly.  Her school is to our left so we have to get across the road.  Rapunzel is not a hurrier. 

Rapunzel is a nice steady bicyclist but a powerful start is not her forte.  She prefers to roll gently forward, getting her wing flaps lined up, tuning her ailerons and only then beginning to pedal.  Meanwhile, up the road, the light turns green for the cars and they charge towards us.  They see an eight year old but they laugh at eight year olds, haha!  Or maybe they don't see an eight year old because the sun is in their eye or they had a bad day at the office or who knows what the fuck goes through their heads really.  In any case they do not slow down and each time we are in this spot I feel a little stressed as we hurry across and they barrel towards us. 

Have you read Mouse Stories by Arnold Lobel?  It doesn't have a bicycle in it but it's really fantastic, recommend.  In one story this mouse decides to visit his grandmother.  He gets in his car and drives and drives until the car falls apart.  Fortunately, at the side of the road, there is a many selling sneakers.  So he puts on the sneakers and runs and runs until the sneakers fall apart.  Fortunately at the side of the road there is a person selling boots.  He buys a pair of boots and tromps and tromps and tromps until his boots fall apart.  So he takes off the boots and starts walking.  He walks and walks and walks until his feet fall apart.  Fortunately, by the side of the road, there is a person selling feet.  He takes off his old feet and puts on the new ones and runs the rest of the way to his grandmother's house.  She is so happy to see him!  She says "How good of you to come and visit, my darling.  And what nice new feet you have."

So there we are at the side of the road, with a need to go left, and with a legal right (haha) to go left but we are unable to make a secure crossing.  Fortunately, just a little bit down the road from us, there is a person by the side of the road selling crosswalks.  So we buy a crosswalk and ...  no not really, no crosswalk-seller but there is a mild somewhat unobtrusive crosswalk that we could use (somewhat inanely considering we are bicyclsits not pedestrians but any port in a storm) if only we could get to it.  We can't get to it because it is down the wrong side of the bicycle lane and it's somewhat far to walk. 

What do we end up doing every morning?  We bicycle down the wrong side of the bicycle lane (yes) which is fortunately wide so we squeeze to one side if we see any bicyclists heading towards us.**  When we get this short distance covered and are at the crosswalk we quickly get off our bicycles and the moment our feet are on the ground on the same side of the bicycle (can't have one foot to either side of the bicycle and expect to be seen) we become visible to the cars.  Everyone who ignored us a quarter of a block up the road when we waited hopefully to cross is now wondering if they can get away with ignoring three peds in a crosswalk.  Contraption Captain usually takes the lead and a trifle grimly walks us out.  Cars stop.  If one car does not stop the other cars take it to task.  They wait (a little unhappily) as we walk our bicycles across the road.  Then we get back on and immediately disappear again.

Try this experiment at home.

With one foot on either side of your bicycle stand waiting for an opportunity to cross.
Now stand with the bicycle beside you like a friendly Labrador Retriever.
Now repeat both the above experiments with small children.  If you don't have your own small child borrow one. 
Try the entire thing at an intersection of two roads and then at a crosswalk. 
Publish results.

**We've only seen a few bicyclists during this narrow window and none ahve complained.  I almost think they look a little sympathetic. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

spent day at home throwing up. then I really got something to be sorry about.

Ob.bicycle moment:  despite throwing up all afternoon I biked the one mile to Pele's school to pick up her math homework as Pele is out sick also.  And.  Math teacher forgot to leave it out for her.  Thanks for not rocking my world Mrs. C.

My head hurts and I can't eat I barf up anything I swallow.  I pick up my tablet for a diversion and read that there has been a shooting.  I figure it is a re-hash of the last shooting in Oregon but as I peer through tired eyes I see that this is totally fresh material!  It is a shooting at a school and twenty kids are dead.  That's forty destroyed parents out there and I don't know how many siblings and grandparents and friends.  It is a situation entirely without merit, without redemption, without a silver lining.  If this were a changelist I'd roll back the changes and fire the person who wrote the code and the person who did the review.  If this were a car I'd slash the tires.

My favorite favorite book is Black Swan Green.  This is the book I read when I can't face the world and the book I read when I lose sight of what is important.  This is the book I read when I am forgetting what I came from and what I am trying to become.  This is the book I read when someone walks into a school and kills twenty-seven people immediately ending all of their hopes and all the hopes everyone had for them.  When I see a bicyclist do something stupid and a car veer at them and curse and shout there is one line from this book that I think about.   I consider this line to be an endless and essential truth.

Not hurting people is ten bloody thousand times more bloody important than being right.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

When I am not annoyed or threatened with death I am sometimes amused.

Two or three nights back I am bicycling through downtown Palo Alto heading towards a red traffic light and passing a parking garage where the cars storm out of the chute like wild cattle on steroids.  I develop a dim awareness that something is coming up behind me.  It's shape is unusually amorphous.  Then I am at the red light and the shape reveals itself to be a big SUV driven by a surly woman with a lot of hair.  As usual, I've taken a center-ish spot in the lane so that the cars (not that they deserve it or anything) can take a right without waiting for a green light. 

The SUV cannot go right because there is a grouchy looking pedestrian clumping along in the sidewalk.  He mouths something in our general direction and I am immediately on the defensive.  Is pedestrian talking to me?  Wtf is his problem?  I'm just sitting here waiting for the light!  I deserve this spot, I'm going straight damnit.  Woops!  I realize that grouchy pedestrian is saying is "YOUR LIGHTS ARE NOT ON" and in fact he is talking to the SUV driver not to me because the reason I couldn't see her is that she is driving at night with no lights.  Let this be a lesson to self-conscious crabby biyclists everywhere:  it's not always about you. 

I consider the SUV driver who is staring straight ahead.  No lights.  I smile expectantly, sure she will turn them on because it's night and hey, driving with your lights on is the law and cars are very very law-abiding.  The driver persists in staring sullenly forward.  "Aha!" I think to myself.  Her SUV must have chewed up a little of the old frontal lobe.  She does not understand that she has negelected to put on her lights.  So I say "Hey, your lights are not on."  She looks at me.  Her look says "It is a shame that we have come to a place in this country where the little people feel they can say whatever the fuck they want to the important people like myself."  My look says "What part of 'turn your lights on' don't you understand??" 

I smile although it's now a little forced.  I try again.  "Your lights are not on."  She rolls her eyes at me because bicyclists are so goddamned annoying.  I squint.  I then embrace my inner Californian (yes, she exists although my inner Bostonian sometimes ties her up and rides her bike over her) and back up enough to tap lightly on the SUV window.  Driver rolls it down.  I say in my sunniest most helpful voice:  "Your lights are not on."  Did I mention it is after 6 and dark as Cuil's servers on this road?  The SUV driver says "Thanks" in that voice people use when somone tells them something really meaningless.  Her voice says "I love driving with my lights off.  I will drive however the fuck I want to drive.  Suck it, bicyclist." 

We go back to sitting there.  Her lights are off.  Mine are blinkety-blinking.  The traffic light turns green and she drives away, dark but not at all mysterious.  I bicycle away looking like a Christmas tree that is in danger of shorting out. 

What I still don't get.  Why would anyone want to drive with their lights off?  Contraption Captain suggests that the driver did not know how to turn her lights on but was too shy to admit to this.  He suggested that I should have offered to help.  I think that's a pretty funny idea "Would you like me to turn your lights on for you?" but I suspect that if I had reached through her window to do it she might have lopped off my arm and I need both of those graspy little guys to get through the day. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ode to Ellen Fletcher

I wrote the below journal entry on March 22, 2009.


I bike to work over the same route every day. Much of my trip is on Bryant Street aka "The Ellen Fletcher Bicycle Boulevard." The Contraption Captain has met Ellen. She's a little old lady on a Breezer bike and yes, she campaigned tirelessly while on the city council for the creation of this thoroughfare from Menlo Park-ish to Mountain View-ish. Cars use this road also, but they have to get off of it frequently as it is blocked off at multiple cross streets. There are a lot of 2-way stops where those on Bryant have the right of way and the x-street traffic waits. I love Bryant Street. The houses are all kinds, humble to crazy fancy, older with shake roofs to modern with metal roofs and solar panels. When I get on Bryant Street I stop worrying someone will run me over and I enjoy the company of a huge number of other bicyclists who also use it as their main thoroughfare.

Yesterday evening I was on my way home and just coming up on Embarcadero when I saw someone with a very charming diy reflector arrangement. I complimented her as I went by. Then the wheels started to turn, slowly. Old lady? Check. Breezer? Check. Handmade bumper sticker saying "Bikes: a quiet voice against oil wars"? Check. I circle back.

Me:  Are you Ellen Fletcher?

EF: [politely] Why yes, I am. How did you know?

Me: My boyfriend met you once and said you had a blue Breezer with a milk carton strapped to the back. 

Me: I wanted to tell you that I come this way every day, twice a day, and it's my favorite part of my ride. It's beautiful and wide and I never feel worried about being hit here. Thank-you so much for making this boulevard a reality. So many people love it, kids and commuters and racers and walkers and runners and roller-bladers, it's such a special road.

EF: [speaks carefully, pausing between words] "You're too kind."

She goes on to tell me that she is so glad to be back on her bike. That a few weeks past she had surgery for lung cancer. I inhale sharply and say something dumb like "I am so sorry." She says in the same calm voice "I'm 80 years old and I have had a very good life." Her tone is so gentle and peaceful but the import of what she was saying made my eyes well up with tears and I don't speak for a moment because I didn't know what to say, what is there to say?

She tells me that she wants to bike to El Camino hospital for her cancer treatment  but is not sure she can make it and also she is supposed to arrive very rested and can't be breathing hard. We talk about the bike route Mt View to El Camino, the Stevens Creek Parkway. It's not nearly as awesome as Bryant St but does the job, I ride it to get Rapunzel at preschool. We come to where she is turning off (medical office) and she tells me how nice it was to meet me and to please say hello to my boyfriend. I tell her that it was a great honour to meet her and I wish her good riding and I am pretty sure she looks pleased.


Fast forward to November 7 2012 and Ellen Fletcher is gone from Bryant Street and from Palo Alto and from California and from this world.  She is gone and I know I am not the only bicyclist who will notice her absence.  I feel (and I hope it is not out of line to say this) that Ellen Fletcher believed in us and believed in bicycling long before it was fashionable --- and maybe it still is not fashionable.  I think that she believed there was something important about getting to where you were going without a car and that she thought we deserved to travel on our bicycles without being afraid or intimidated by automobiles and trucks. 

When someone dies, I often read that the "person's spirit lives on."  I don't believe that.  The memory of the people we knew, who are gone, lives with us but their spirit disappears when they disappear.  Ellen Fletcher defies this a little in that she is gone but this thing she created, this idea she believed in is still here and I rode it in to work this morning and will ride it home, along with many others, this evening. 

A bicycle boulevard like Bryant Street makes me think of Pele playing goalie in soccer.  The saves she makes are fleeting and sometimes not even noticed.  It is when one gets by her that people take note and then they disapprove.  It is impossible to say how many children are alive today because they had a safe way to ride to school, impossible to say how many grown-up arteries are safe from heart attack and stroke because adults were able to get cardio exercise on their way into the office --- but I challenge anyone to argue that that number is zero which means the creation of Bryant Street has saved lives.

Some lucky few of us save lives in our lifetimes.  Ellen Fletcher's creation will save lives even after she is gone.  How many of us can say that about the mark we will leave on the world?

So, Ellen Fletcher.  Good-bye.  So long.  Thank-you for every beautiful ride.  I wish you well.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Please slow the fuck down.

I don't know how many times I have yelled "slow down" to some asshole or another gunning the motor as I make my way through an intersection, someone who speeds past me on the right because they want to get to the traffic light first, someone who buzzes me because it is killing them to wait while I cross into the bicycle lane.

A person driving the speed limit has a lot more time to see a child or a friend or a bicyclist  then the person doing 50 in a 35mph zone.  A mother opened a car door in my face a week or so back.  I had room to not be hit but really, slow down, look before you break open that SUV or you might hurt someone, maybe even someone you know.  I guarantee that the person you hurt will be a daughter or son or wife or mother or father or boyfriend...the person will be special to someone else, and you'll be there having hurt them.

The Contraption Captain was walking home after dropping Pele off at school when he saw a car clip a child on a bicycle.  Bicycle and child were tossed to the ground. 

I'll take Q&A.

Q:  Was child running a red light?
A:  No

Q:  Was child bicycling on the highway?
A:  No.  Child was on a quiet residential road packed with people driving their spawn to school. 

Q:  Was child on drugs and on his way back from a visit to the local brothel?
A:  No.  Child was on his way to the local Elementary school.

Q:  Was child doing wheelies up the center line?
A:  No.  Child was as far to the right as was possible without being whacked by the curb.

What did the driver do? 

Contraption Captain says that she was "pretty hysterical" and asked the bicyclist over and over "are you all right?"

Translation for "are you all right" here is = "Can we pretend this never happened?  Please?"

The bicyclist responded "Give me a minute."

Translation for "give me a minute" here is = I was just hit by a car.  I'm still taking inventory to see what might be missing.

The driver explained to the very unsympathetic Contraption Captain that she saw the car in front of her swerve (to go around the cyclist) but "had no idea why!" which is basically a creative use of SMDSY.

Back at the ranch the Contraption Captain penned a polite but unhappy note to the school principal who I am glad to say responded pronto.  It turned out that Contraption Captain is the only known witness so we may be able to ensure that this doesn't become a "dangerous teenager on two wheels gets what he has coming" type of case.  As of today they have positioned a crossing guard in yellow presumably to throw rocks at the cars that mow down the students.

So here it is again.  If you drive.  Slow down.  You might hit your neighbor, or someone's kid or someone's pet.  Slow down.  Nothing is worth this.  Drive carefully.  And in honor of this sentiment I have penned a short series of verses meant to be read in the same tone as the best-selling Go The Fuck to Sleep, a bedtime story for Grownups.

Slow The Fuck Down:  a cautionary tale for grown-up children

A little girl pedals her trike on the sidewalk
Our newsboy delivers the paper around town 
You’re cozy and warm in your car, my dear.
Please slow the fuck down

The mommy meets her child after school
The family dog plays the clown
You don't need to hurry, my dear cream-puff
Please slow the fuck down.

The husband prepares for a night out with friends
The wife puts on her sparkliest gown
Don't rush the time in your faux leather interior
Please slow the fuck down

The girl up the street loves a boy on the next block
The neighbor's teen son has a permanent frown
There's no cause for road rage or anger
Please slow the fuck down. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

It's raining, let's party!

A month or so back a Person I Know(tm) posted a picture of a delicious pastry with the slogan:  I'm Fat.  Let's Party. 

I loved it immediately.  I loved it so much I told everyone about it, including many people who were working and clearly wished I would devote my time and mouth to something else.  I couldn't entirely figure out why this was the best slogan ever but I knew that it was and so I was over the moon when the same Person I Know(tm) came in wearing a tee-shirt saying the same thing:  I'm Fat.  Let's Party.  Mildly important to understanding why this is cool - the guy is not fat.  Also important:  even if he were fat it would still be an excellent slogan.  Why do I love it?  Because it is totally and crazily subversive. 

Let me explain.

Turn on any daytime channel and wait a minute and you will see some weak excuse for a plastic fa├žade of a person going on about the horrors of fat people.  Flip through a magazine and there is more of the same, if you're fat then obviously you are sitting at home eating Doritos and hoping uselessly that one day you could look ok and join the rest of the slender frolicking people.  

Summary fat people do not party.  They eat pathetic lonely meals and demonstrate every day that they have no self-control....and none of this happens to be true.  If there is a candidate for not being a partier it would be a skinny person because they are probably not drinking (calories) eating birthday cake (more calories) or experimenting with making their own creme brulee (fattening.)  

I'm not going to argue the merits of partying or not partying or thin versus fat other than to say if there is a fat person and a thin person despite what the tv wants you to think it's going to be the fat person who is partying down and having a good time.  If the skinny person is partying hard they're probably smoking crystal on the side and should be avoided.

Pop quiz:

Q:  What do kids do when it rains? 
A:  Go outside and stomple puddles, run in small circles until they fall down and rescue drowning earthworms. 

Q:  What do (American) grown-ups do when it rains?
A:  Behave as if battery acid is falling from the sky.  Open umbrellas and rush to their cars.  Curse the other people in cars and ridicule their driving ability as inferior to their own.

Historically, Rapunzel has been transported to school via bike wagon on rainy days but this year she said (not unreasonably) that she was too grown-up for that and that she was ready to bicycle in the rain.  This launched a push for rain-proofing the Rapunzel.  Getting soaked is not a big deal and may even have some charm but spending an entire school day in cold wet clothes is not all that pleasant.  We bought her some warm weather-prooof boots.  We fished out some rain pants.  We took a big breath and bought her an expensive top of the line Pearl Izumi flourescent rain shell.  

How has Rapunzel responded?  She bicycles in the rain.  She's biked every non-sick school day this year without exception.  When the weather looks bad I offer alternatives.  In what I hope is a non judgmental way, I say "heya darling, it looks wet out.  Do you feel up for the bicycle trip or is it a good day for the car."  In varying ways she responds with "Are you kidding?  Bicycle!" and so, we bicycle.

Last week was the Rubicon of rainy bicycling.  We look outside and it is coming down in sheets of water.  Water is good, this is a dry state and we need water but I wonder if Rapunzel bicycling to school amounts to abuse on my part.  I wonder if she feels like she has to do this to earn my respect.  She has my respect.  I ask if she wants a ride and she looks amazed, as if I had said "chocoalte or kale tonight?"  Her reply to me amounts to:  "Duh.  Yes I want to bicycle."  

And so we bicycle, in giant sheets of rain.  We bicycle past the heavy traffic caused by everyone who does not bicycle.  We bicycle through deep puddles and water spraying up to the sides.  Contraption Captain is in front and I am in the back and in the middle, Rapunzel is so happy that she's laughing.  She laughs and smiles and is puffed up with the fun of being outside when everyone else is inside and with the satisfaction that comes of going out into the elements and coming out on top.  She laughs because she is pure awesome.

So I guess I'm saying, don't buy into the stories that water hurts and rain is to be avoided.  Rain can be a party.  Rain can be out in the world experiencing it first hand instead of seeing life go by through a window.  Rain is battling through something a little more complicated with wet brakes and heavy clouds and getting there anyway.  Rain is on your skin and droplets catching in your eyelashes and being the only bicycle in the lot and knowing that everyone may think you are crazier but possibly the real answer is you know something that they have forgotten. 


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

the night belongs to lovers

Sometimes I get so exercised about lighting and terrain and cooler weather and increased risk of accident that I forget a critical key fact about bicycling at night:  It's fantastic and I love it. 

My commute home, after dark, effectively has two parts. 

The first has all the excitement of surfing on two thousand wild buffalo during a stampede.  Christmas is coming and gigantic herds of Californians are making their awkward way to Costco and Bed Bath & Beyond, they low and bray unhappily as they struggle to make a left turn into the Sea of Parkedasses.  The otherwise ordinary guy driving the dented Subaru Outback makes an abrupt right turn without signalling as he finds the inspiration for an extreme REI run. 

Despite having more lights than a Hanukkah display I periodically hit rocks and bits of broken car in the road that I'd otherwise be able to steer around and this throws me from one side of the lane to the other and because bicycling at night gets me all excited anyway these bumps are punctuated with me shouting nonsensical stuff like "yee-haw!" and "suck it, Brocade routers, suck it!" 

The air is cool and invites excess and the dark wraps around you like a mantle and for the 50 minutes it takes me to get home in traffic the ride can feel like a non-stop party complete with drunk bouncers and a hot guy to meet up with.

Part the two of my ride is far quieter because the cars have been pruned away by Bryant St.  The ride goes from a 24/7 party where some of the people are on acid and have guns to sweet and soft and majestic and sleek as a penguin diving beneath the ice. 

I notice the sound of my bicycle more once the cars are out of the picture, especially the soft and satisfying trill of the chain rolling across the gears.  In the evening, the wind drops off and this contributes to the (mostly false) feeling that I am going supremely fast, the cool air sliding affectionately around me as I pedal towards home.  If before you were surfing maddened buffalo now you are racing along in the company of silent and sympathetic grey wolves.  You are the night and the night is you, everything but a bit of metal frame stripped away and your body the engine that drives the perfect machine. 

The second part of my ride ends when I meet up with the Contraption Captain and we circle each other happily and talk and then  pedal the last leg home together, going over the happenings of the day and pointing out the funniest of the car antics and planning our evening.

People ride their bicycles for many different reasons, all of them equally legitimate.  One reason I like to ride is the sense of possibility that comes from bicycling, from being fast, from the act of setting yourself free. 

Every ride home is good.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

never a dull moment

Tuesday the Contraption Captain and I are in the local emergency room, soaking up that special emergency room aroma of pain and worry.  Although we both rode our bicycles to the hospital (possibly because we are nuts) it was not a bicycle accident that brought us in and for the record, we are both fine, in fact as time passed we became increasingly fine while sitting there, him in the hospital bed and me on one of those hard plastic chairs and the finer I got the more I had time to look around our small curtained area.  I got a little bored.

First I sanitized my hands several times with the automatic Purel foam dispensor.  Then I sanitized the Contraption Captain's hands.  Next I very carefully (no touching) went through the cabinets behind the bed and checked out the various tanks (oxygen or oxygen?  We'll take oxygen ...) and computers.  There were no sharps in the sharp dispenser and no trash in the trash can.  They had one of those test your reflex hammers but I've played around with those things a lot and the thrill has kindof gone.  I resisted experimenting with the nifty check-your-ear tool although I was definitely curious.  Then I sat in the plastic chair for a few minutes, momentarily non-plussed.

Two beds away and across the room someone, a woman from the voice, was behind a curtain having a time that was less fun.  This person had been in an accident of some kind, they had cuts and abrasions some of which were deep enough to require stitches and cleaning.  I first thought the person was an old woman who had taken a fall.  A man with ridiculously colored hair was pacing around making phone calls.  I thought that the injured person was his mother.  The person in the bed was not old though, they were more middle-aged and the guy was the person's worried and unhappy husband.

I totally get "not my business" so I returned to playing with the adjustable bed until I distinctly heard someone say that the person had been hurt by a car door.  My ears went up.  I mouthed "car door" at the Contraption Captain.  "Do you think it was a bicycle accident" I whispered.  "Well not too many pedestrians get injured by car doors" he returned.

 The woman had bicycled to school with her two children, had dropped them off, and had been bicycling back to her house when someone had opened a car door in her face and knocked her down.  She had been cut up in the fall, her knee and face and arm all had needed stitches.  Her collar bone had been broken in the fall, an injury that the nurse said generally did not require medical attention, they heal on their own, but her collar bone had been broken in such a way as to require surgery and so they were going to ship her over to Stanford for the repair.

As the medical team got ready to move the woman one of the nurses aid "well I hope that the person who hit you will be more careful in the future."  The woman's husband said grimly "We know who hit her" and then he added "It's one of her friends.  She's going to feel awful when she finds out about this."

So hey yes, if you are driving a car think before you open the door on the street side.  The bicyclist you hit might be someone you know.  To update an old phrase, "open your car door in haste, repent in leisure."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Carob and Sorrows. I mean Sharrows.

"If you think of carob as itself and not as a chocolate substitute, you'll appreciate these lovely brownies even more than you would anyway."  ---The Moosewood Cookbook

Over twenty years ago I suggested to my parents that I would like to be a vegetarian.  My mother said that to be a vegetarian, you had to eat lots and lots of fish.  This made sense to me at the time because I was raised to believe that if there is something that you really want it comes with a price that is in direct proportion to your desire.  I hated eating fish so it was logical that this would be the price exacted of me if I wanted to be a vegetarian.  This is probably at least part of why I have persistent fears of being dismembered by an automobile when I am out riding my bicycle.  I desperately love riding my bicycle and I am trained to believe that a cost of equal intensity will be exacted from me if I continue to ride.  Slowly I piece together that there are vegetarians who do not eat fish and so I suggest to my father that I will become a vegetarian who does not eat fish.  My father tells me that there is "meat in everything."  I go off and consider my favorite treat, the Snickers bar.  I read the ingredients.  No meat!  I become a Snickers-tarian, subsisting on Snickers bars and the occasional piece of fruit and let me tell you it is one hundred percent true, a Snickers really does satisfy.  Parents, let this be a lesson to you:  lying to your kids can have unpleasant and unexpected repercussions.

Fast forward six months or a year and I am pretty burned out on candy bars no matter how filling and sugary.  This is before internet access for me and so I visit a vegetarian restaraunt and buy a cookbook that happens to be the Moosewood Cookbook.  And in that cookbook (I'm getting to the point here) is a recipe for (wait for it) Sharrows!  Just kidding.  It's a recipe for Carob Fudge Brownies.  Yummy!  Carob!  Kidding again!  No one gets very excited about carob.  To paraphrase Sandra Boynton, both chocolate and carob are brown but then again same thing can be said of dirt.  Carob is arguably not tasty but it is definitely and unquestionably not chocolate which brings me directly to so-called "sharrows."

I've been chunking through my "I hate sharrows" post for awhile.  The problem is, when I am bicycling in one (they have arrived in my local downtown) the hatred is not some pure and unforgiving fire.  It's not even hate.  Sharrows are the guy you date when you are lonely but you should really wait for someone slightly better, you know, like a guy who is not a total asshole and who has a job.   If I say "I hate sharrows" then obviously I want them gone but I find that I am not sorry they are there.  So, what's the deal?  The deal is that sharrows are what you get instead of Mr. Right or even Mr. Employed and Not An Ass.

Sharrows do not make cars share because cars do not share, it's not in their nature.  There are decades of signs posted alongside roads that say silly hopeful stuff like "Share The Road" and those signs are ignored all the time by everyone except the bicyclist being forced up against the curb who points at them just before getting side-swiped.  Cars.  Don't.  Share.  Cars can have three lanes and they'll still balk at moving out of the way for a bicycle because the poor long-suffering driver of the car is working very hard with their hands and feet to keep that big heavy machine moving forward and if they were to move over one lane it might kill them.  Asking a car to share is like asking a semi-conductor to give a lecture on higher mathematics.  You can ask but there won't be a ton of response. 

Back to chocolate and carob:  Sharrows are carob when I am expecting chocolate.  What I want is a bicycle lane.  What I want for my kids and their friends and enemeies is a separate network of bicycle roads a la Holland.  What I want is a place to ride where I feel safe and confident and for me that is a bicycle lane and in some places that is a path where there are no cars.  At no time do I feel safe and secure in a sharrow because sharrows are filled with cars and cars kill bicyclists.  But if I stop trying to make carob into chocolate, or stop asking the sharrow to be a bicycle lane, I find that I like certain aspects of it.

What I like:
  1. Sharrows look a little like bicycle lanes and so serve the purpose of hinting to the attentive cars that they can reasonably expect to see a bicycle.
  2. I tend to ride too close to parked cars and their doors because I am less afraid of being doored then I am of being run over.  Sharrows persuade me further away from the car doors.
  3. For those brief moments when I am bicycling on top of the sharrow paint I think the cars have a slightly harder time bullying me.  They seem to wait to force their way around until I am no longer on the white chevrons.  It's not perfect but every little bit helps.

What I do not like:
  1. We are not getting cars who reliably watch out for bicyclists.  Depending on what study you read, cars may actually be incapable of watching for bicyclists.  I want to ride my bicycle with the same risk of death as a pedestrian walking to the corner store.  I want for kids everywhere to be able to enjoy the independence of bicycling to school and team practices or just the home of a friend without being run over and killed by  some seventeen year old listening to Emo music and angsting over his C- in Photography.  
  2. Sharrows feel like a cheap sop to the masses.  Like asking for a living wage and getting a $2 coupon to Subway.

I'm always going to choose chocolate desserts over carob desserts but in the end if someone throws something down in front of you and says "here it is" there are occasions when you should probably suck it up and eat.  For me, sharrows are one such occasion.

Monday, November 19, 2012

well that was humbling

A week ago Monday I realize that when my meeting gets out, at 5pm, I could bicycle to Rapunzel's gymnastics class, put my bicycle in the trunk of the car and ride home with Contraption Captain and Rapunzel.  I consider the location of the gym and see it is about five miles away.  Then I see that I can take the lovely Stevens Creek trail, yay!  I will zip along and see no cars and have a beautiful ride and then meet up with my family, life is excellent!

5pm comes and goes.  The meeting drags on.  Outside it gets dark.  I feel a faint uneasiness.  I haven't been on this bike trail in over three years but I remember that it is not lit and that the "off-ramps" are marked in only the sketchiest of ways.  I start to wonder if I will be able to find the exit off the trail to the street I need to take to the gym. 

I reassure myself that I have a new bright light and that if I miss my turn-off I can always bicycle back for it because hey, missing a turn-off on a bicycle is not a big deal, right? 

At 5:30 the meeting grudgingly comes to an end and I beat it out of there.  It is very dark.  I turn on all my lights.  Now that the meeting is almost over I have a bare fifteen minutes to get to the gym but I'm a fast bicyclist so that should be fine.

Note to self:  when you hear that small nagging voice in your head, you should listen.  You really really should listen. 

I hurtle down the entire length of the trail and arrive at an expressway.  There is no gym in sight.  I have no clue where I am.  I ask someone for the street I am looking for.  She has no idea where I am either.  She suggests I go back onto the trail and "turn at the large garbage can."

I barrel back onto the trail and do a few tight circles around a large dumpster.  It is super dark and if there is a way off the trail here I can't see it.  I take another turn and find myself way up in the sky crossing over a highway.  This would be fabulously interesting if I were not totally lost and late and starting to freak out. 

I ask myself how a road bicyclist could find herself lost in the forest.  I dig through my backpack and discover that my cell phone has a sliver of life.  I call the Contraption Captain and sounding angry (because I am really mad at myself for being such a jackass as to get lost in the woods) I tell him that I am lost and he should head home with Rapunzel. 

Not unreasonably he asks where I am, he wants to help.  I basically shout "In the woods with all these trees!  I have no idea where I am!  Arg!"  I end up circling around some more following directions from helpful passersby that go exactly nowhere.  The directions that is, the people passing by are all too smart to get lost in the woods. 

Finally I just exit the trail altogether and start pedalling up a sidewalk on the wrong side of the road.  Yes.  I became one of those people.  I wanted to at least be on the correct side of the road but couldn't figure out how to get across the seven lanes of traffic without dying.  Then my hand was forced by the sidewalk ending and so I made my way across the road averting death. 

Ultimately, the Contraption Captain found me by the side of the road standing with my bicycle, demoralized and disconsolate.  Rapunzel silently offers me some of her Halloween candy. 

It's been a week and now I can admit that yes, it was pretty funny.  Not at the time but in retrospect at least.  The frantic biking up and down the trail and over the highways.  The joggers dressed entirely in black who would appear and disappear like ninjas.  The dying cell phone. 

Contraption Captain told me that the place I was supposed to get off the trail was basically a parking lot behind an apartment building and he is not surprised that I didn't see it.  Probably he is just being nice but it still cheered me up. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What part of "no" don't you understand?

I've been on very good behavior for over a week after letting someone have it in such an angry way that I had to sit myself down later for a talking.

After work, the Contraption Captain and I bicycle towards each other and when we meet (usually in Palo Alto) he turns around and we often pull over for a minute or two.   When he comes up beside me we signal and then pull into a parking space to avoid blocking bicycle or car traffic.  We get off our bicycles and are hugging when I am briefly and unpleasantly startled to see that there is a white car wedging itself in behind us.  I say "wedging" because we are in a single parking spot and the car has it's ass in the road and it's nose in the piece of the parking place that we are not using.

The person in the white car rolls down their window and yells "Can you move forward?"

Forward is the driveway to a parking garage.  I don't want to be in the driveway for the parking garage.  I want to be in the parking space, where I am already parked, and I want to be left alone.  Also, I'm mad.  Really mad.  I say in a very unfriendly voice "No.  I can't."  To me the matter has been settled and I begin the important business of handing my laptop bag over to the Contraption Captain.  He has panniers and I do not and I am happy to give my back a break.

The person in the white car tries again "How about you move forward about three feet?"

So here I am in a parking space that happens to be a loading/unloading zone where people can park for twenty minutes.  We have our bicycles in the spot.  We have hugged.  We are loading and unloading.  The entire operation is going to take about three minutes and yet before thirty seconds is up someone wants me to move?  I take a deep breath and bellow "Jesus Christ!!  What is your problem???  WAIT YOUR FUCKING TURN!  What part of "NO" don't you understand you dumb broad?"

I'm really really angry.  Usually when I'm angry it is because someone has done something that makes me think I am about to die.  That wasn't it this time, this was new.  I was angry because no matter how tiny a piece of real estate I command as a bicyclist, there always seems to be someone who is telling me that it is way way too much and I should give it all back to their very deserving 4-door sedan.

The cars honk and shout if the bicyclists ride side by side and try and talk to each other.  The skinny little bicycle lanes of Toronto take up too much room and need to be torn out.  When I try and make my way across the road, signalling that I want to take a left someone may shout at me that I am in the way.  When I am pedaling to a red light a Dodge Charger roars by in the passing lane and then slams to a stop in front of me upset that I slowed them down however briefly.  If bicyclists stand out too much we are behaving dangerously but if we blend in too much we get run over.  And finally, if we move our bicycles into a parking space, away from the busy road and away from the crowded sidewalk there is still going to be someone standing behind us insisting that we should move forward.

Once I understood why I was mad it mostly went away.  I'm still bicycling, still enjoying the beautiful evening air.  I have a new helmet and some new lights and a new rear-view mirror.  I know that many regard my tiny piece of real estate to be way too huge but I am not giving it up.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Part 2. There is probably some truth to that "it's not if, it's when" stuff

First off I had no intention of leaving a cliffhanger.  Two things happened:  one was that I was so totally demoralized I couldn't really write.  The other is that I re-read my previous post and all the typoes made me wonder if a nine year old had taken possession of my hands.  I hope not because a nine year old running my hands would have serious repercussions for my work performance.

It's true about how bad news travels fast and that's how one day you find yourself getting a message from one co-worker that there has been an accident and another co-worker, who happens to be an avid motorcyclist, has been hurt.

I get this bad news and I'm really really upset.  I've known this co-worker since before moving to California and he's a good guy with a family and now I am sitting there worrying that he is out on the road or at an ER maimed or paralyzed or worse and despite my having a supremely bad attitude about anything motorized I actually can't stand to see anyone suffer an injury greater than a little humiliation at the hands of an angry middle-aged bicyclist.

But I am more than just upset that someone has been hurt and to get why you have to understand that this co-worker takes motorcycle safety to the nth degree.  He wears state of the art protective gear.  He trains on a track with a coach.  He's been riding for something like twenty years without incident.  He really really loves to ride his motorcycle and at the same time he comes across as rock solid clear on the dangers of it and so he hedges his bets as best he can with good practices and good gear and training.  What he does to protect himself, those are his walls.

I have my walls against death and dismemberment as well.  My bicycle walls against the world are careful practices, good lights, a safe-ish route, a helmet, a reflective jacket, a loud voice, an understanding of car behavior (maybe) and an absence of headphones.  

Back to my co-worker.  We find out that his head and back are okay.  We find out that his hand and foot are quite injured.  One toe will be amputated.  Several fingers will be wired back into place.  He's at the ER, surgery will follow.

My response to this is relief (he's not dead) and then a creepy progression towards minimizing.  One toe?  Well, there are still nine others, right?  One toe doesn't sound all that grievous.  I manage to hold on to this very comforting position up until I am treated to a picture of his foot sans big toe and needing a skin graft.  Hint:  it looks like it hurts.  A lot.

It's been weeks now and I haven't been able to write about this and as an aside he has not been able to return to work much either.  I wanted to write about how my co-worker loves to ride his motorcycle, as I love to bicycle, and he tried to keep back the wall of larger vehicles but ultimately one got through.  He was hit by a car in an intersection; he was going straight, they turned into him.  It's a classic bicycle accident, the hook, I can't help but notice.

So I am thinking about what I want to say, about bicycling and tricking ourselves into thinking we'll be ok and cars and I am in a bicycle lane and I see a squirrel dart into the street and I just have time to yell when the next car hits it and I see it's body half crushed and as I bicycle by it's shuddering in this sickening death twitch.  I stop my bicycle and then continue on and although I hate being this way I cry because I feel so awful about this squirrel and I think about the blank expression on the driver's face as she rolled over an animal and went on without hesitation.   The Contraption Captain is always very nice when I unhinge in this manner so at the next traffic light I cry and he pats my back and I slowly stop seeing that awful moment of impact.

A shiny Mercedes pulls up.  A window rolls down.  Really.  Because when I'm upset there is nothing I enjoy more than a driver telling me that I'm doing it wrong.  An over-coiffed man informs me in what he thinks is a nice way that he's a doctor and perhaps he can help because obviously I am on a bicycle and having a nervous breakdown and he has his MD and is in a shiny car.

I collect myself and say in a reasonable voice that I saw a squirrel get run over and I'm upset.  The MD says in what he thinks is a helpful way that when the squirrel gets hit it cannot process what has happened to it, the vastness of the trauma.

I don't know what to say to this.  The Contraption Captain uses the word "fuck" which is totally unlike him.  I don't say that it is my understanding that when massive trauma gets inflicted on a human shock gives them some protection from what is happening.  It doesn't provide me any comfort at all that if I get squished into the grill of a Toyota Tundra I won't fully be able to appreciate the extent of my injuries.

So here's the deal.  When they came for the squirrels no one said anything because hey, squirrels, who cares, right?  When they came for the opossums and the raccoons no one said anything then either because who cares.  Then they came for our cats and our dogs and we were kindof bummed out.  And they've come for our children and they say "we didn't see him|her" and we go along with that for some misbegotten reason.  They have come for the motorcyclists.  They've come for the bicyclists, they have definitely come for the bicyclists and they say that we ran that light or we were not wearing a helmet or we had it coming or we "took our chances."

They are the cars on the road and at this point, they've come for everyone.  For each other even.  I don't have a plan here other than if they come for me and you find out?  Don't paint a bicycle white.  Don't send flowers.  Rise up.  Take back your roads.  Slash tires and set fires.  Tear down signs and stop traffic.  Blockade highways.  Because some day, some where, we must end the way they come for us and kill us and continue on up the road.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Walls Around Us: a tragedy in two parts

Part 1.

I was bicycling home by myself.  I was on the long straight piece where I can see up the road ahead and, in my rear view mirror, the road behind.  I have a bike lane.  The cars travel fast here but I don't feel unsafe as they have their two or three lanes and I have my skinny little ghetto filled with flat animals and broken glass.

Anyone who bicycles in traffic develops a strong sense of when something is wrong (sociopath at 2 o'clock, evasive maneuvers, cap'n!)  and I am no exception which is how I came to be simultaneously pedaling and trying to figure out what was happening behind me about a half mile back.

It was...a motorcycle.  In the bicycle lane.  Travelling at speed.  It was not a motorcycle darting in and out of the bicycle lane with a warm disregard for anyone's safety, it was a full on "this is the best way to go" motorcycle heading up the bicycle lane scattering bicyclists of all kinds to either side.  The pretties staggered onto the sidewalk, heaving their teal cruisers after themselves.  The roadies forced themselves into traffic.  The elderly Mary Poppin bicyclists stopped and huddled by the curb.  The hipsters stopped and waited for the storm to pass.

Meanwhile the motorcycle accelerated past all the cars on it's left and up the bicycle lane and now it was my turn to make a decision.  I ended up with a sick rabbit thing where I kept pedaling but huddled against the curb, my skinny tires bouncing along the gravel and assorted road junk until the motorcyclist blew by and I got myself back on the steady.

Then of course we are all at a red light together as that's the way this game always goes.  Some asshole nearly kills a bunch of people and we all meet at the next red light.  I notice that the motorcyclist has Colorado license plates.  I memorize the number because I'm good at stupid pet tricks that involve remembering strings of letters and numbers.

Me:  Hey.  You.
Motorcyclist:  [turns towards me]
Me:  Go back to Colorado.

The motorcyclist takes off when the light turns green, moving in front of the other cars until he encounters traffic and then going to his fallback position of travelling in the bicycle lane.  I think about how much I dislike motorcycles.  I think about how loud they are.  I think about how it scares me when they force their way past and I think about how being hit by a motorcyclist would be a lot like being hit by a car.  I think about how I hate it when people equate bicycles and motorcycles as if they were basically the same animal - they're not.

After awhile I think also about how it is always the worst of a tribe that draw attention.  The average motorcyclist doesn't come onto a person's radar like the guy who rides his ugly pig of a machine up the bicycle lane.  The only memorable bicyclist is the one who goes through a red light while a bevy of fat SUVs watch in frustration.  I finish by thinking that vehicles that speed are scary and that if cars pretty much always speed that goes about quadruple for motorcycles.

At least a week goes by during which I am sure that there is no common ground for me between bicycles and motorcycles.  Then I get a message about an accident and I am forced to see things differently.

Friday, October 12, 2012

One day "I didn't see you" will not be an acceptable legal defense.

My youngest (eight years) rides her bicycle to school every day.  This has the usual effect of making me very happy and very terrified at the same time. 

Happy:  so proud! look at my darling daughter!  she loves to bicycle! 
Terrified:  so afraid!  what happens if an SUV comes to close and hurts her!

Through a mixture of my love of bicycling (I really love riding my bicycle) and various strategic defensive practices I  summon enthusiasm for the endeavour and try and minimize danger.  The non-bicyclist responds here with "why do it at all?  don't you have a car?"  Well, we do "it" for a lot of reasons.   We bicycle because if you don't exercise your kids they develop odd nervous behaviours.  We do it because bicycling is a lot more fun than sitting in the backseat of a car and our kids enjoy riding.  We do it because we think it's more right to bicycle a short distance than drive a short distance.  We do it because we think that overall the route is pretty safe.  We do it because we want our kids to learn safe bicycling habits while they are still young enough to respect our opinions.  We do it because we think we can minimize the risk.

How do we (attempt to) minimize risk?

1.  We all wear helmets.  Lately I have been really hating on my helmet so this is a big deal.  I hate the way my helmet blocks some of the sky.  I hate the way it sometimes makes my head itchy.  I wear it anyways.  Some studies show that cars give more room to women with long hair who do not wear helmets but I can't take the risk that I get hit without a helmet and then have to deal with headlines saying "drunk driver hits bicyclist who did not wear a helmet so we know she had it coming, right?  RIGHT?"  I want the headline to read "drunk driver hits bicyclist who was wearing a helmet and no one understands why she was injured anyways."

2.  We ride with the Contraption Captain in front, Rapunzel in the middle, and me in the back.  I stay just to the left of Rapunzel and watch approaching cars carefully.  Fun Fact about being a parent.  You aren't just willing to throw your bike and your body in between your child and a dangerous car, you are GRATEFUL for the chance to be crushed so that your kid can live to adulthood and your only worry is that your death may cause her emotional trauma. 

3.  We are relatively slow.  Even when we have a green light we approach pretty slowly because of the risk that some asshat wanting to take a right at that light will say "hey, I let that big red bicycle go but two more bicyclists is way the hell too many to wait for.  The blonde kid on the 8-gear is going to have to be toast."  Note to that guy?  If you ever touch a hair on her head I will find you and tear your kneecaps out without benefit of anaesthesia.  No, really.  I will. 

4.  We are very law abiding.  This means that yes we stop at stop signs and slow down when we see a yellow light.  Just like those law abiding cars do.  Hahaha!  Just kidding.  The car has not been made that slows down for a yellow light when it is hurling itself towards an extreme mani-pedicure.

5.  ...and I ride somewhat unpredictably.

This last one is kindof new for me.  I've always ridden the "be predictable" horse really hard.  I apply it to crosswalks where I call out bicyclists who ride on the sidewalk and then bounce down into the crosswalk at speed as being a problem.  Google "bicycle predictable" and you get the following front page hits:

Seattle Bicycle Club - Responsible Cyclists Are Predictable

Be Predictable - Being predictable means doing what drivers expect you to do, and not surprising them.

Nice Ride MN - Safety Be predictable. Drivers and walkers need to be able to anticipate your movements.  

Haha and just for contrast you also get this one:

twin city sidewalks: Another Predictable Bicycle Tragedy

So yes.  Talk to bicyclists and they will tell you to be predictable, to do what drivers expect you to do and for crissakes don't surprise the cars or they may turn on you like an angry drunk and crush you into the curb. 

So here's the thing.  I'll be bicycling in the bike lane behind Rapunzel.  I'll notice a car approaching way too fast.  I notice that the car has a wheel in the bike lane and as I watch it swerves in a little closer.  I respond by feigning a small epileptic seizure, I make my bicycle shudder from the left to the right.  I do not leave the bicycle lane but I come up the the line, twitch spasmodically, and then stagger in the direction of the curb.  And while riding my bicycle as if I had centipedes in my helmet (ewww!) I watch the cars in my mirror and guess what:  They get the hell out of the way.  They veer back out of the bicycle lane and turn towards the center of the road.  How come?  Unpredictable bicyclists are weird and scary and it's best to give them extra room because who knows that kind of random bullshit they might get up to.  Unpredictable bicyclists are like the homeless drunk guy who is wandering around in the park unzipping his fly --- you give him some room unless you relish being peed on. 

So all I am saying is, sure, I guess, be predictable.  Don't throw yourself under the wheels of an approaching bus.  But don't be too predictable either.  Every time there is a fresh car to bicycle accident or car to motorcycle or car to pedestrian accident I hear the same old tired refrain.  "I didn't see them."  And then everyone nods understandingly.  "A tragedy.  The car did not see the bicyclist.  Very sad but understandable really."  They do not see because they do not look, so be open to the idea that there will be times when you do not want to be predictable, when you must make them look.  Try this experiment:  when you see a car that is too close in your mirror (you have a mirror, right?) lean towards them, twitch towards them.... and watch what happens, does the car move away?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

off the wagon and rolling downhill very fast

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

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

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

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

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

I'm mad.

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

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

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

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

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

They are magnets. 

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

you don't have to live this way

If you were following the 24 hour news cycle about two years back you might have seen a small story about a neighbourhood in San Bruno, California.  It blew up.  The fire was so bad that everyone assumed a plane had crashed.  Paint melted off cars.  The wind-shields on the firetrucks cracked from the heat.  Six people died.  In the end no plane was found and people put together enough pieces to understand that there had been a gas pipe explosion.

Fast forward to the present and PG&E has been on it's best behaviour seeing as even in the US, exploding a town can be considered bad for business.  Numerous repair projects and refurbish projects have come off back burners and are stopping traffic all over the bay area --- including up the road from where I live and along the section of Middlefield that I take to get to work.  When they need to replace those big pipes there's nothing for it but to halt traffic and rip up the road.  What does this mean for bicycles?  Not a lot really.  We skate along in our mostly empty skinny little lane and squeak around the cars on those occasions that our little bit of real estate gets torn up.

Two weeks or so back I saw the worst traffic ever, bar none, on Sand Hill Road.  It was backed up from the 280 all the way to El Camino.  Possibly further.  It wasn't just slow but for much of the time the cars were not moving, a parking lot.  Contraption Captain and I are hurrying home and we wonder what the deal is, so much traffic.  Odd.  Then we spot a broken down car being pushed.  That must be the problem, we think.  But no.  It turns out that this car just lost it's mind in an agony of slowness.  It's being pushed by two humans who are in an agony of back-pain but traffic is so slow that the dead car is not changing the profile around itself.

So what is it?  PG&E working on their repairs.  It was quite a snarl.  It was such a snarl that I saw two helicopters hovering around ostensibly there to airlift the despairing Lamborghinis and Maseratis to safety.  Porsches and Ferraris can go screw of course, those guys are a dime a dozen.  Cars everywhere were sobbing quietly as they wondered where the open empty roads of their relevant car commercials were, who had sold them this bill of goods.  They had thought themselves alone in the world!  And yet here they were on roads that were positively infested with other cars.

I lol'd.  It was so much traffic that at a certain point it just became amusing.  My commute was (of course) the same as it ever was with two mild course corrections.

Course Correction 1:  Cars in parking lot traffic will wedge a wheel into the bicycle lane even if the right turn they are making is four miles further up the road.  This is annoying.

Course Correction 2:  Cars stuck in this kind of traffic get really upset.  They go through all the stages of grief.  Denial "This isn't happening to me!" followed by Rage "This shouldn't be happening to me!" followed by Acceptance "Kill me now."  And then, when the traffic finally clears, they reach a point that grief victims try and avoid:  Retaliation as in "Those fucking bicycles are for it now.  Zooming past me when I was stuck like that..."

So, be careful out there my friends.  And if you are in a car stuck in traffic?  Those bicyclists aren't mocking you, they're showing you the exit.

a now a song snippet for you, with apologies to Gotye:

Now and then I think of all the time I spent in gridlock
Always believing that a car was the only choice
But I don't want to live that way
Stuck in traffic every goddamned day
Now I leave, my car at home
I ride my bicycle, lost ten pounds plus I'm free to roam

Saturday, September 8, 2012

didn't we almost have it all?

My week at work was absolutely horrible (send me an NDA if you want the disgusting and also boring details) but the bicycling was actually quite nice.  It makes me notice, or re-notice, a few things.  One is that most days no one comes close to killing me, that despite a media representation of bicycling being a mode of transportation best suited to people yearning for a (sometimes fast and sometimes slow but always painful) death... mostly it is pretty calm and uneventful.  I pedal, I signal, I turn, I get back into the bicycle lane, I pedal some more, I stop, I continue I meet up with my husband I bicycle home lather rinse repeat.

The other item I notice is that there is a steady backdrop to my bicycling life that like almost anything you see every day is hard to notice.  This backdrop is formed by my route.  It is the changing houses, the 'for sale' signs that come and go, the work that is started and completed, the lights and decorations that get put up and then put away and it is shaped by the people I see and sometimes ride with.  An almost never discussed (that I notice) quality of bicycling over the same route twice a day five days a week is that you get to know the people.  Here are some of mine:
  • The network/software engineering guy whose company (you have not heard of it) was just acquired by vmware so his route has changed and we see each other only in passing.  He is now fabulously wealthy.  I noticed that he has not bought a new bicycle yet.  Wonder if he will get around to that?
  • Cheerful Guy who looks a little like Richard Gere, in fact Palo Alto being Palo Alto he might actually *be* Richard Gere.  We have been waving fondly and calling "good morning!" to each other for some five years now.  During that time we have never been bicycling in the same direction.  We have seen each other carry kids on riders, trail-a-longs, and in wagons.  In a weird very minor way, our kids have grown up together, they are all on their own bicycles now.  Cheerful Guy is always happy, always smiling, in stark contrast to my often sullen self.  I look forward to our high speed minuscule exchange of pleasantries.
  • Sullen woman.  Twice a day every day I see Sullen Woman.  She rides a vintage something or another that I am pretty sure she bought when it was new.  She never wears a helmet because helmets are for pussies, or maybe helmets are for the little people, donno.  We do not acknowledge each other's existence but I'd definitely stop and trash the car that disturbed one thread of her Talbot's clothing.  
  • Guy who lives on Bryant and has a greyhound that he walks every day.  At some point he had seen me ride my bicycle past his house often enough that he noticed me and now we wave to each other every day.  His smile says "I never worry about bicyclists running over my dogs."  My smile says, "It's cool that people still walk places."
  • Big broad-assed woman (actually there are two of these) who wears too tight lycra shorts.  Rides a road bicycle.  Doesn't stop at the 4-way stops.  Finally met up with her on a long straight away with no traffic lights and she trounced me anyways.  Damnit.  
I'll spare you the rest of this for the time being although I don't promise not to return to the subject.  Do you have favorite peeps you see a lot of on your commute?

One of the pleasures of a big company (this week I'm thinking it is possibly the only pleasure of a big company but like I said, rough week) is having co-workers in other countries who like to bicycle.  This is how I came to have staying with me, a few months back, a Dubliner who is a steady bicycle commuter when at home and "has never cared for cars all that much."  

He picked up a temporary bicycle when he got to the US and pedaled home with me (nine miles or so) that night despite his having spent the entire day in what must have been tiring transatlantic travel.  This is also how I know that UK area bicyclists shoal to the left --- not that surprising when you work through which side of the road they drive on but quite a surprise in the US where we shoal to the right.

The next day, after a nice breakfast, my Dubliner friend and the Contraption Captain and Rapunzel and I all set out on bicycle for our respective destinations, which involved pedaling Rapunzel to school first and then the rest of us to our respective offices.  We rode pleasantly along and Dubliner said thoughtfully "Just like on the telly, really."  When I asked him what he meant he explained that on television, American children are always portrayed bicycling or walking to school.


In the US, it is a minority of children who walk or bicycle to school.  In some places it verges on illegal for a kid to bicycle to school.  Unless of course they have a police escort and even then they may be sent home.

But European television is not entirely current (last time I visited) with American television which is why (last time I checked) the Europeans I talk to are also surprised that I am not blonde and that the family does not have a drawer full of guns in case we need to shoot someone.

But once it was true.  Not the guns, but the bicycling.  Once our kids walked and bicycled to school.  We didn't even need special lanes for them.  Schools were closer and cars were fewer.  If at that time we had gone the Dutch route and started building bicycling infrastructure instead of the American route, add tons more cars and faster roads we might today really have it all.  Instead we're fighting to take hold of just a few feet.

One more thought if you're still around.  I'm subbed to a mailing list of area road bicyclists.  Some part of the talk is area rides and another part is bicycle maintenance but a not insignificant piece is surviving the road so a person can live to ride another day.  In such a discussion someone referred to the "bike lane" and then referred to times they find they must ride in the "car lane."  A second person corrected them saying that there was no "car lane" there were public roads.  Before cars there were public roads and people walked on them and biked on them and rode their horses or drove a coach and four or whatever.  It was a road.  You used it to get from point A to point B.  And now?  We have car lanes.

We almost had it all but then we threw it all away.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Then would you read a Sustaining Book, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness?

[I know, pics or it didn't happen.  I apologize, I really should have a picture of this but for a lot of boring reasons I do not so you will have to take my word that this happened]

Lunchtime in my area is busy.  There are a lot of companies in the area and a lot of employees and everyone has a different idea of where to go find something nice to eat.  For me it's a chance to go for a little bicycle ride down one quiet street and then across a somewhat busier road and then around a few buildings to my favorite cafe.

I'm bicycling down road one when I see the traffic backed up in both directions on road two.  I'm surprised. Road 2 is busy but not traffic jam busy.  The cars are not moving either, it's a parking lot about two blocks from my office door.

I look to my left and see it when "it" is a giant 18-wheeler truck at an impossible angle.  It had been driving without incident along road 1.  It came to road 2 where it wanted to cross and turn left.  It got the first part done ok, it spanned four lanes, and it kindof got the 2nd part done, it's cab was turned at a ninety degree angle parallel to road 2 and perpendicular to road one but here on step three, straighten out and keep going, it had come a cropper.

It was entirely dead in the water or I guess, dead on the tarmac.  It had died in the perfect position to block four lanes of traffic in two directions.  Cars being cars more arrived with each passing moment making it impossible for the already trapped cars to extricate themselves.  This being California no one honked or said anything, they just sat there in eerie unhappy silence.

Ever read Winnie the Pooh?  Remember the part where he goes to visit Rabbit and eats up all of rabbit's honey and gets so fat he can't fit out the door to leave?

Yeah that.  But remember the part beforehand when Rabbit figures out that Pooh is stuck in his doorway and will probably be stuck there for weeks?  That's the part where he shrugs and makes the best of it and uses Pooh's feet for towel-hangers.

Like Rabbit, the bicyclists made the best of it.  Unlike the cars we are quite little and so when we got within range of the truck we slowed, considered, and then wormed our way through the parked cars, onto and off the sidewalk, around the police who had arrived but had nowhere to direct the traffic to and then back onto the road with the giant ungainly odd obstruction behind us.

When I was done being reminded of Winnie the Pooh I started thinking of The Empire Strikes Back where Luke takes down the AT-AT.  Giant trucks are pretty scary when they're hurdling towards you at speed but once they get wedged in a spot of great tightness they look quite a bit less intimidating.