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.

nothing but bicycles

Despite my genteel restraint in my regular life (and as I write this, I acknowledge that the idea of me showing restraint is unlikely) most people who spend any time with me are aware that I dig bicycling and bicyclists.  If these people spend even more time with me they come to an uncomfortable truth whose name is:  I am not just a bicyclist, I do not like cars.  If these people are bright enough to think outside of the automotive box then they finally figure out that they themselves, lovely persons that they are, deserving of everything wonderful and all sorts of special regard....these special people find themselves behind the wheel of a car?  I do not like them.  It's pretty personal and when you consider the love affair that people have with their cars (not to be confused with their hatred for traffic) you can see that someone might end up with hurt feelings.

I don't discriminate at all, I don't like people in cars with the possible exception of ambulance drivers taking critically injured people to the hospital.  I...disapprove of cars.

And this disapproval...grates...and is ... annoying because in the grand scheme of cliques and jobs and social status?  I'm nothing special.  The thought that a podunk little network engineer (network!  not software!) would be disapproving of their driving behaviors is frankly abhorrent.  I don't make a big deal of any of this when I am away from the blog but there you go, I'm the Bartleby of bicycling in that no matter what car situation you find yourself in... I disapprove.  I find myself in car situations at times and know what?  I disapprove of that as well.  Driving?  I prefer not to.

Cars are done.  Cars are dirty.  I don't like cars.  The reasons are endless but start somewhere with a paved planet full of flat black ugly parking lots and continues right through a steady stream of crushed animals with staring eyes and past flat birds with bloodied feathers and goes right up to children being backed over by SUVs and engineers killed by road rage-a-holics.

So it came to be that I was bicycling to work last week and thinking about a post someone had pointed me at where a woman driving an SUV wrote about harassing a bicyclist who she had seen run a stop sign.  She cursed him out and he spat on her shiny car and then she tried to kill him or scare him at least to show him how bad he was and she reveled in the terror she inspired.  I am so tired by her actions, by her car, by this driver's immutability... I'm tired of all of it.

It is about a year since the software engineer Steve Lacey was killed by a road raged car.  And it it many years longer since family friend and future physicist Thomas was killed as he bicycled to his high school.  It is I don't know how many year's since my friend A's brother died in an intersection, dead of a collision between two cars.  There was the mom who died in the minivan with her twin babies.

I thought about this and more as I bicycled to work hoping that no one would get angry with me or just not see me and in a few moments end my life.

As I thought the soundtrack in my head rolled over to a new song.  It played in my head only, since I can't listen to headphones when I bicycle as I might not notice something important.  As the song played I imagined all of these accidents one after the other except just before the moment of impact, instead of impact, a beautiful and perfect CTRL-Z instead.  A suspend.  And in the moment of suspension instead of a car and a bicycle colliding, instead of two cars destroying their occupants, instead of a semi rolling over Lauren Ward instead of any of these terrible moments the cars are replaced by bicycles and two people collide largely harmlessly and fall off and roll over and pick themselves up and maybe argue or maybe laugh because they aren't dead.  It probably sounds stupid to read that as I thought about this hopeless idea of bicycle collisions instead of car collisions I cried, and I cry as I type it out now because life is not a shell session and there is no such suspend.  The cars collided, the bicycles were rolled over, and all of those people are gone.

Friday, August 10, 2012

an invitation

I've been trying to write about this for weeks and now here it is, do or die time.  I have much I want to complain about but I have to get this idea of an invitation off my plate before I can move back to kicking the tires of passing cars and hurting my long-suffering feet.

Awhile back I read an article in Salon with the dubious title of Are urban bicyclists just elite snobs?  I died a little inside when I saw the title.  I'm so tired out by the sentiment there, the shrill postulating about snobs and "bicycle entitlement."  For the record: Yes.  I feel entitled.  I feel entitled to bicycle to work or the shops or a soccer game without being mauled by a behemoth SUV.  Sue me if you think that makes me a snob.

But the article was nothing like the title and I loved what I read which was thoughtful and articulate and which ultimately answered the question asked in the the way I'd want it to be answered: "No.  Not elite snobs.  Just trying to get somewhere in one piece, same as you."

The article has stayed on my mind, at times distractingly so, for one particular bit:

Like many of today’s bicyclists, I started riding when my city striped a bike lane near my apartment. It was the Prospect Park West bike lane, which became ground zero in New York’s bike wars. The lane was what made me first realize that biking to work was an option — I didn’t feel forced, but I did feel nudged, as if the city was suggesting that maybe I’d like to give this a whirl. I think this is the true power of bicycle infrastructure: It’s an implicit message that bikes are real transportation, and an advertisement for biking that runs right through the city in bright green paint.

I keep thinking about the above because I had never realized the truth of it before.  Bicycle lanes act as an invitation to people, they are an explicit statement to everyone that here is a place where a person could be bicycling.  It is not just the bicycle lanes that create the implicit message though because if those lanes never had any bicyclists in them they would eventually become just another invisible piece of road art, kindof like those stupid Share The Road signs that every car sees and no car pays attention to.  Build bicycle lanes and the bicycles will come, when the bicyclists start showing up they draw other bicyclists and this is the way commuting to work changes from a dirty dangerous race to something that can be sublime and beautiful and at the last which doesn't leave flat animals in it's path.

The bicyclists is the invitation.  If you are on a bicycle, you are an invitation.  The lunatic bit is that even a middle-aged mother with a bad attitude can be an invitation to the people around her to get a bicycle and try and bicycle in to work.  This is because people respond to people they can relate to and some of the people out there relate to a surly failed roadie like myself because all invitations are needed and it is impossible to tell what particular invitation will work on a person.  Mothers and father, young studs and pretty fashionistas, little kids and old ladies, recumbents and tricycles and road bicycles.  All the bicyclists need to be represented out there because every bicyclist has a car-driving doppelganger waiting to be inspired.

Bicyclists are so accustomed to feeling invisible (unpleasantly so) that it is easy to forget that to a certain population we are incredibly visible --- the people who are thinking about bicycling see us and study us and imagine themselves on a bicycle riding along.  They wonder if they could do it.  They wonder if we have a magic pill that protects us from the SUVs.  They wonder if they'd get sweaty and if their co-workers would make fun of them.  They wonder where to buy a nice bicycle and if they can afford a nice bicycle.  They wonder if they would finally lose that 15 pounds they put on after college or after the baby or whatever.  When they see us, it starts them wondering.

A woman up the street told me that she sees the Contraption Captain and I every day as she drives to work and we pedal to work.  At the intersection of the Alameda and Sand Hill she sees us leaning our heads close together as we talk and laugh and kiss each other.  She told me:  I see you and I think "I should be bicycling with my husband, that would be good."  She tells me this and I agree "You should!  Why not ride in with him and then run some errands?"  I watch her as she thinks about the idea.

Guy across the street is a fabulous runner.  I asked him if he biked to work and she shook his head saying that he did not.  His bicycle doesn't really fit quite right and it seems like effort and and and.  I told him "it will improve your times, it's easy, and for crissakes get yourself a bicycle that fits."  Then one day there he was, in my rear view mirror, scanning the traffic at an intersection and looking ten years younger for some reason and when he caught up to me he smiled and offered "This is pretty good, isn't it.  I like this."

On the way home from work I stop at a stop sign and then turn left and bicycle past a long line of cars waiting to get onto the 101 which is so backed up that they can't even get on the highway without waiting.  Every single driver, I kid you not, turns and looks at me as I bicycle away in the other direction.  Some are thinking "I'd hit that" and some are thinking "She's not hot" and some are thinking "What a crap day I had" and some are thinking "bicycle helmets are so dorky" but one or two of them, maybe more are thinking "How far is it into the office?  I could do that.  I should do that.  One of these days, I'm going to do that.  I'll be the one outside in the California sun pedaling past the cars that are stuck in traffic."