Wednesday, September 25, 2013

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

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

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

My father can't entirely get past this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I smiled politely and said nothing else.

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

I feel better now, thanks.    

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

the lonely sea and the sky

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

Monday, September 16, 2013

a legend in your own self-important mind

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Friday, September 13, 2013

hanging up my spurs. a little.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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