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I've seen the light(ning)!
The other night, I was working away in the office when things took a turn for the slow.
I thought I caught a flash out of the corner of my eye, so I fired up a Web browser (I’m pretty sure I’m the first person, ever, to surf at work; I hope it doesn’t catch on, or productivity nationwide could plummet) and surfed on over to weather.com, where I was confronted with the apocalypse. A nasty red amoeba had swallowed western Kansas and was flagellating its way toward Topeka.
Hours earlier, when I checked the forecast, there was no suggestion of thunderstorms until well after my shift, so I rode my bike to work. But the forecast suggested I was going to get hammered on my ride home.
So I explained to my co-workers that I was going to take advantage of the break in the, um, action and ride home to get the car, then high-tailed it out of here.
Lightning streaked the sky as I pedaled home at record pace, though by the age-old count-the-seconds trick between lightning and thunder, I knew the storm still was a long way off.
I got within a block of my house when a particularly spectacular spiderweb of lightning exploded in front of me, a purple-plasma, air-to-air bomb that stretched beyond my field of vision and looked like someone had taken a hammer to the snow globe of my life.
Awed, I was struck not by a bolt but an epiphany (or at least some other kind of revelation my thesaurus has yet to puke up): One of the many reasons I prefer riding to driving is the relatively unobstructed vision permitted on the bike.
On the bike, I can look down and see the road, my feet, my pasty legs. Or, better still, I can look up and see bats and owls and lightning and thunderheads.
In the car, I can look down and see, beyond my pasty legs, all the wrappers, rocks and all the other crap I’m collecting on the floormat, or I can look up and see … the headliner. Woo hoo.
If my geometry serves, the view afforded in my car is constrained to a relatively narrow cone limited by the height of my windshield and windows. The awesome lightning display would have been severely cropped.
Thanks to this ability to look up on the bike, I’ve seen the aurora borealis, shooting stars, awesome sunrises and beautiful sunsets — in all their horizon-to-horizon glory.
I know it’s possible to get similar views from certain cars.
My boss drives a convertible, and, bless his heart, he pops the top more than anybody I know. Most people seem to think ragtop season lasts for a couple of weeks in the spring and a couple in the fall, but for my boss it’s pretty much year-round.
I’ve never had a convertible (the company rented me one once, in Hawaii; it was a free upgrade, I swear!), but I recall my parents had a Dodge Ramcharger when I was young. That banana-yellow beast of a pre-SUV had a removable top. Considering it had no rollbar or safety device of any kind except for seatbelts, I reckon it was a rolling death trap, but my dad’s reason for not removing the lip was that he feared it would leak.
I seem to recall we did peel its cap once, a massive undertaking that involved a pulley and blocks and tackle (it was, after all, a steel roof), but I don’t recall much about the resulting ride.
I also owned for a while a Dodge Daytona Z, an honest-to-gosh, turbo-charged sports car with T-tops. T-tops are like a poor-man’s ragtop, good for rockin’ that lip caterpillar and projecting your “Smokey and the Bandits” Complex.
The trouble with T-tops is that you must store them somewhere (usually, they rattled around in my trunk) and, not to sound too much like my dad here, but they leaked. I think I actually stayed drier with the tops removed than when they were in during downpours.
And then there are sunroofs and moonroofs, one of which I have on my current ride. I don’t think I’ve ever been more pleased to have a sunroof than the day I bought it. It’s probably been opened less than a dozen times in the decade I’ve owned the car. Now it serves as little more than a portal to check to see the Christmas tree I’ve lashed to the roof hasn’t fallen off on the ride home.
So there are some close auto equivalents to the world-in-3D visibility I’m permitted on my bike, but nothing quite like the view from my saddle.
Of course, if the sky had opened up that night, I likely would have traded the view for the shelter of a roof in a flash.