I was riding home for dinner the other evening, still struggling with the reality that it now gets dark just a couple minutes after noon, and approached the reviled roundabout not far from my house.
As I approached the traffic-calming device from hell, I was surprised to see, to my right, an 18ish-wheeler on the roll.
This is a quiet residential neighborhood, far from any commercial properties, so the semi seemed more than halfway out of place, but there has been a bit of construction in the area, so I guess it made some sense.
Anyway, I made it to the roundabout with the big truck still a couple of blocks away, so there was no conflict, but I didn’t wonder just how he’d manage to navigate the blasted thing.
As I pondered — and it takes great concentration on my part to ponder and pedal simultaneously — I gazed truck-ward and thought it was steaming ahead rather quickly. Coupled with the darkness, an aggressive silhouette and what seemed to be an excessive amount of running lights, the semi suddenly seemed sinister.
Just like that, my steel-trap of a mind churned and groaned and wheezed under an uncharacteristic workload, and I had an epiphany. Suddenly, I found myself living out “Duel,” a dandy television movie almost as old as me.
I stumbled upon “Duel” several years ago, late at night, as I recall. The premise of “Dual (The Driving Force is Fear)” is that a business man traveling through the California desert encounters a slow-moving big rig. The man — actor Dennis Weaver, and his glorious mustache — passes the truck, apparently infuriating the psychotic truck driver and setting off 90 minutes of awesome in which the two play cat-and-mouse at highway speeds. It’s actually quite good and quite suspenseful.
A decade or so later, I learned “Duel” was the movie-length directorial debut of a fella by the name of Steven Spielberg, who was something like 5 at the time (1971), used a tiny budget of $27.50 and shot the whole thing in 13 days. (In the interest of accuracy, I’ll admit here IMDb informs me Spielberg was actually 24 at the time and the budget actually $450,000, but the 13-days thing … true).
So with that connection made in my sick brain, I picked up the pace while glancing furtively over my shoulder to keep an eye on the deathmobile that, somehow, had successfully navigated the roundabout and WAS COMING RIGHT FOR ME!
I pedaled faster; Truck O’ Death kept coming.
I took a quick left; the rig — as in the movie, I never actually saw the driver — went left, too.
Hoping to offset my pedestrian pace with superior maneuverability, I zig-zagged and was relieved to see said sinister semi continue on … but a block later, I saw the wily psycho had simply taken a parallel course and was seemingly matching my pace.
The preternatural Peterbilt stood between me and my house, so I sped up, quickly jumped on the brakes, then cut a sharp right, passing just behind it as I sprinted for the safety of home.
I rolled to a stop in my garage and listened for what I was sure to come: the unmistakable growl of a diesel engine, maybe the eerie howl of an air horn, perhaps the destructive pavement-pounding force of Jake Brakes, but all I heard was the accelerated beating of my heart.
I know he’s still out there.
So if anyone knows of a nearby cliff where I can stage my final, climactic scene, please let me know.
I read with dread the other day the news that the city was contemplating putting in another infernal traffic-calming device.
Commissioners were considering a roundabout at the intersection of Ninth and New Hampshire streets, despite the fact roundabouts seem to be almost universally despised by anyone who has ever encountered one anywhere. Give or take.
First, a disclaimer. I understand how roundabouts are supposed to work. And I understand how to navigate one. It’s not hard, really. Yield to traffic already in the roundabout. That’s it.
Trouble is, not everybody knows or chooses to follow that simple rule, so making it through a roundabout can be dicey.
And that’s when all the people involved are squirreled away in metal cages.
When folks try to get through roundabouts on two wheels or even — gasp! — on foot, things get a little more treacherous.
All things being equal, there seem to be some drivers who are loath to yield to a person on a bike. I’ve been bullied by motor-vehicle operators before. Outweighed by a couple thousand pounds (man and equipment combined, rest assured), I usually yield to such folks. I don’t especially like it, but I do rather enjoy breathing.
Then again, I frequently encounter drivers who go to the other extreme and, despite being in the roundabout already, insist on motioning me ahead of them. Sometimes I protest. Sometimes I don’t. No matter how well-intentioned they might be, these folks nevertheless foul the flow of traffic — contrary to the purpose of the roundabout. As the traffic backs up, I can feel the eyes burning into me and can’t help but feel every driver so inconvenienced must assume the cyclist is to blame.
In my mind, though, the worst roundabout ruffians are the nimrods who, in the interest of shaving a full three-tenths of a second off their commute, will cut the corner on a roundabout. Rather than go all the way around a roundabout to make what would amount to a left turn, if the way appears clear, they’ll go left immediately, driving, if only for a moment, the wrong way in the roundabout.
If the way indeed is clear, no worries.
But if there is, say, a guy on a bike legally navigating the roundabout, he’s bound to become a hood ornament.
And this isn’t purely hypothetical.
There’s a traffic circle, with a lovely view-impeding garden at is center, near my home I ride through just about every day. There’s not a lot of traffic. I’d guess I’ve encountered another vehicle in the circle maybe 50 times over the years. Twice in that span I’ve had to take emergency evasive action to avoid a wrong-way roundabouter. And I’m not talking a gentle squeeze of the brakes; both times it was more like a panicked dive to the curb as I tried to avoid a grille all up in my grill.
If my guesstimate is correct, I’ve had a potentially dangerous encounter at that intersection 4 percent of the time I’ve encountered another vehicle there. Those aren’t good odds.
I read a couple of reports that claim car-cycle accidents can be two to three times more common in roundabouts than at other controlled intersections. But the good news is that traffic tends to be slower.
The takeaway: Cyclists are more likely to get hit, but the collision won't hurt quite as much.
I take that as slight consolation.
As I rode to work the other day, I had a handful of near-death run-ins with squirrels.
The glorified tree rats seem more abundant than usual this year as they scurry about readying for winter. They also seem more ample — big boned? — than usual, like they’ve had more time and favorable conditions to stuff their stupid, reckless cheeks and plump up for the upcoming snowpocalypse. Unfortunately for the city’s cyclists, this glut of tubby nutmongers makes for some dicey commutes.
Already stupid, the unusually fat and plentiful bushy-tailed beasties seem to enjoy playing chicken with passing cyclists. I just know one of these days I’m going tail end over tea kettle because some moronic fuzzball forgets to yield to the plodding cyclist who, despite his pedestrian pace, still manages to win the momentum race by virtue of a far greater mass.
On the way home, I heard a rustling not far off my port side that I assumed to be squirrel activity. Determined not to give the little jerks the satisfaction of paying them any attention, I pedaled on before a flash of white caught my eye, and I realized it was not a squirrel squad but a small fleet of deer high-tailing it, wide-eyed, on a path parallel to and awfully close to mine. It was, in fact, a small herd I’d heard, and as much as I’d prefer to avoid squashing a squirrel, I’m even more cognizant of trying to steer clear of deer.
I’ve had close calls with unruly ungulates before, but in this instance I actually envisioned a scenario in which they spooked and trampled right over me.
They didn’t, but they totally could have.
Also on that same commute, I was cruising along when an unexpected wind gust — weather.com called for them up to 40 mph — caught a wheel and pushed me uncomfortably close to a curb.
All these brushes with death, or at least dismemberment or perhaps simply discomfort, made me realize autumn likely is the most treacherous season for cycling.
Mercurial weather conditions; a blinding setting sun that coincides with a 6-6:30ish commute home; foliage that is so beautiful when attached but camouflage to roadside hazards when fallen; and, of course, the hooved and clawed menaces of hungry-but-sluggish squirrels and horny deer all conspire to make fall a tricky time to get around by pedal power.
But as I dodged these dangers, I thought back to a conversation I recently had with my kids.
The weather had turned legitimately cool, and we were discussing our favorite seasons. The three of us each picked different ones, but we all agreed that each — season, not person — had something to offer and that we were glad to live somewhere we could enjoy four of them.
Then it dawned on me that the reason I had such a difficult time picking a favorite was that, in my mind, the best season isn’t spring, summer, fall or winter but … the next season.
When I’m mired in a numbing winter, spring — with its promise of life, pastels and time outdoors — looms as the best season of the year.
But after a week or two of allergies and rainstorms, I long for the summer and its long days, tall cotton and family vacations.
Before long, though, the swelter gets old and I can’t wait for fall to tumble in, with its refreshing crispness and lovely backdrop.
A few weeks of that crunching underfoot, that maddening span of AC by day/heater by night and pumpkin-flavored everything around every commercial corner, however, and I yearn for sweater season and snowball fights and hot cocoa before I get tired of the constant chill and nonstop, nagging cough before my thoughts turn to spring … and the cycle starts all over again.
So as I slalom among squirrels and dodge their up-sized distant cousins and squint into the sun and lean into the wind and wear three or four different outfits a day to deal with the temperamental temperatures, I take solace in the fact that, before long, we’ll be deep in the throes of winter, and I’ll have a whole new set of challenges to pedal around.
But at least I won’t have to worry about those infernal squirrels.
I’ve had all manner of weird encounters during my bike commutes.
Something about the intersection (see what I did there?) of motorist and cyclist tends to bring out the odd in some folks. From insults and even the occasional compliment to batteries and beverages, I’ve had all sorts of things thrown my way, but one encounter in particular stands out.
I was riding home. A little over a mile from my house, I turned onto a somewhat busy residential side street that’s a popular alternative to Sixth Street for students traveling to and from Free State High.
Not long after making the turn, I was quickly overtaken by a half dozen or so cars that, judging by the type and volume of music wafting from the windows and the baby-faced visages peering over the steering wheels, I assumed to be piloted by the first wave of teens fleeing the end of the school day.
All of the cars passed me unremarkably. Perhaps a few were a hair inside the lawful three-feet-to-pass margin, and maybe a couple were flirting with the high end of the speed limit, but I didn’t really notice anything terribly untoward.
Another car, however, poked along behind me, and its driver made no move to pass.
After trailing me for a couple of blocks, it pulled alongside, and I commenced to fretting. The passenger window went down, and the driver – a woman I estimated to be a few years older than I – leaned over the seat and gestured in my direction. She also attempted to say something, but a combination of road noise and Doppler Effect made it unintelligible.
I gave a little half wave and pedaled along until a car approaching us from up ahead forced the driver to slow and pull in behind me again.
Once the way cleared, she again pulled alongside and continued her gesturing and unintelligible garbling. Again I half waved. She returned the gesture and accelerated.
Much to my surprise, however, she abruptly slowed, then jammed on the brakes as she angled her car toward the curb, essentially forcing me to stop or steer around her.
Wary of a confrontation but eager to see the encounter end, I rolled to a stop and glanced about for a friendly face or at least a witness who would be able to describe my soon-to-be-assailant to the proper authorities.
Seeing none, I quickly devised an exit strategy, leaned over to make eye contact with the driver and braced myself for what I was sure was to be a screed about nuisance cyclists.
“That was pretty dangerous, don’t you think?” the agitated woman asked.
“Dangerous? I’m not sure what you mean.”
“I mean, that was quite dangerous, don’t you think?” she asked again, getting even more worked up. "Back there."
“I don’t know about dangerous, I … “
“Well, I thought it looked awfully dangerous,” said the woman, the one with her car angled against the curb, blocking the lane so she could vent to a hapless cyclist. In the middle of the road.
I was gearing up to assert my right to use the road and suggest perhaps we all could share the roadway peaceably, when the driver surprised me.
“I mean, they were driving too fast. They came so close to you. And their music was sooooo loud! That’s so dangerous …”
Finally, because the only thing slower than me on a bike is a thought in my head, I realized this woman wasn’t ranting about me but about those infernal kids and their rock ’n’ roll music.
“Well,” I said, “they were going a little fast, but … ”
I didn’t get a chance to finish.
The window went up, and just as abruptly as she used her car as a rolling road block, the woman popped a quick three-point turn and drove away, still – as far as I could tell – ranting.
The whole encounter made me a bit uncomfortable. I can’t imagine how I would have felt if her wrath had been directed at me.
The city’s streets usually provide the most mundane vistas.
With limited exception, they stretch horizon to horizon in monotonous monotone, ranging from uninspiring blacktop to insipid gray concrete, with only an occasional pothole or — if the road user is lucky — maybe a fresh bit of roadkill to break up the boredom.
And that’s a good thing. There’s nothing more distracting than a roadside circus.
But every now and then, I’ll encounter a bit of side-of-the-road detritus that alleviates the tedium and brings a smile to my face.
I was reminded of this over the weekend when I participated with my kids in the Color Run downtown. At four points over the 5K course, volunteers squirt colored cornstarch on participants. By run’s end, everybody was motley and a bit blinded and emphysemic, blinking and hacking and congratulating themselves on a run well done.
I’m still digging colors out of crevices — my left ear, for instance, is a never-ending fount of forest green; my right continues to stain cotton swab after cotton swab a vibrant pink — which makes me awfully glad it’s not the Naked Color Run. It is, after all, a family-friendly event, and I’m convinced, though I admit I’m a fan overall of the human form, that it’s not meant to be viewed, naked, in all its flouncing, running glory.
But I digress …
Predictably, the end result of all that hue-flinging Saturday was a lovely, albeit temporary, paint job on a handful of near-downtown streets Sunday. It’ll be gone before long, but it was striking the day after.
It reminds me of another favorite road-sight I’m familiar with this time of year: the aftermath of the Free State High homecoming parade. For the next couple of weeks, a short stretch of Wakarusa will be stained by the Skittles and Starbursts and Smarties and various other candies thrown from the parade participants as they float past.
Part of me is bothered by the accompanying trash, but the rainbow of man-approximated and -synthesized fruit flavors warms my soul.
Every now and then, I’ll happen upon a spray-painted sign.
Some are intended for road crews: marks to show where the pavement needs fixing, for instance, or signs where future crews are to place road signs. I was so proud of myself to decipher that “RCA” marks the future spot of a “Road Construction Ahead” sign.
Simple minds, I know.
And then there are the spray-painted signs for organized rides and foot races in which I participate or at least with which I am familiar. A recent tour of Civil War sites went not far from my home, and a spray sign pointed the way, with a short note promising it to be the last hill of that day’s ride.
Big downtown events, too, tend to bring out the best — and worst — in roadside distractions. Big celebrations result in broken glass (bad), condom wrappers (really?), human vomit (at least I assume it’s human; you can’t really dust for vomit) and all sorts of stains, pools and puddles that tickle the imagination and offend the senses.
Final Four parties are the best (and worst).
By far, however, there is one downtown event that stands out.
I always rue the first day or two after the annual Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade.
The human onlookers are a generally clean lot, but the main attractions — the horses — tend to leave little presents behind. Though the poop patrol does its best to clean up afterward, and traffic does most of the rest, little pockets of road apples get pushed outside the tire track, right where the responsible as-far-to-the-right-as-practicable cyclist tends to pedal.
I’d rather dodge potholes than horse poop any day … but they both stink.
Recently, I was sitting with the family at our favorite downtown coffee haunt, and my wife nodded over toward my daughter.
“Doesn’t she look cute?” my beaming spouse asked. “She looks so scene.”
My wife tends to speak in italics when she’s using a term either so hip or polysyllabic that there’s no chance in heck I’ll have a clue what she’s talking about. In this case, it was the former.
Regardless, I looked my daughter up and down, and, since her outfit wasn’t that other S-word (you know, the one that ends with L-U-T-T-Y), I nodded sagely in agreement.
“Yes,” I agreed. “Very scene indeed.”
Furtively, I clumsily tapped out a quick Google search on my cellphone under the table and learned “scene” was a fashion trend that … aw, who am I fooling? I stopped reading after “trend.” Or maybe “fashion.”
In the back of my suddenly disinterested mind, however, I seemed to recall stumbling upon an article about another fashion trend that didn’t make my eyes roll back in my head.
And the more I thought about it, the more I recalled other articles and blogs and, especially, PR releases — and what’s not to believe about any of those founts of knowledge? — touting the coming of a full-on avalanche of stylish cycling apparel.
Most bike-specific clothing is not particularly appealing.
It tends to fall in two categories: skinny jeans and flannel shirts for the hipster fixed-gear crowd, or sleek and motley — think garish, multi-hued jerseys and second-skin shorts that make it easy to tell the wearer’s sex and give a hint about his religion — for the racer/wanna-be types.
I generally steer clear of both, though each has its place. Except the skinny jeans.
Anyhoo, if the hype is to be believed, there suddenly are all sorts of options for fashion-conscious cyclists who want appropriate clothes that don’t scream, “YEAH, I RODE MY BIKE HERE!”
I’ve seen pants that look like “normal” jeans but stretch (like those super-hot Pajama Jeans, I guess, for daylight hours) and khakis with roll-up pant legs that feature reflective bits inside the cuffs.
Levis has jumped on the bikewagon with its (curiously named) Commuter line — “Form. Function. Cycling.”
There are shirts — short sleeve, long sleeve, dress, business casual, pearl-button cowboy hipster — that appear to be made of run-of-the-mill cotton but feature reflective threads that light up in the glare of oncoming headlights.
And don’t get me started on the shoes. Bike kicks used to be purpose-built rachet-and-Velcro numbers that, thanks to cleats bolted to the sole, clacked like tap shoes on hard surfaces. Now it’s possible to find killer Italian leather brogues with cleat-compatible carbon-fiber soles.
One company even makes a helmet that looks like a hat! (From what I’ve seen, it’s a rather ugly, unflattering hat, but a hat —and a helmet! In one fabulous headcovering! — nonetheless).
It would appear I could outfit myself head to toe with attractive, stylish apparel that miraculously functions like the finest technical sportswear on the bike.
So though I’ll never make the scene scene, maybe there’s garment hope for me yet.
A couple of months ago, I was asked a cycling-related question that, to my surprise, left me stumped.
I’m all the time fielding questions about which bike to buy or which cold-weather gloves to recommend or whether I prefer wet lube or dry, though I’m certainly no expert. I’ll freely give my opinion, even if, often, that opinion is to get thee to a bike shop and ask somebody who really knows what he/she is talking about.
But a couple of months ago, in response to a blog I wrote about the cycling nirvana of Seattle, a regular reader asked, “What are the top three things you think Lawrence should do to become more bicyclist friendly in reality? No magic wands are available, so your suggestions have to be realistic given economic realities.”
I promised a considered response and have thought about it since.
I’ll admit, I haven’t been a great advocate for cycling. A proponent, yes, but advocate? Hardly.
See, I figure cycling is a lot like a finding a cool, unknown restaurant or band. You dig it and enjoy it and, as much as you want to share it with the world, you fear if you do, it just won’t be the same.
And I realize cycling isn’t for everybody. I’m as opposed to telling people to ride their bikes as I am having people tell me I can’t ride mine.
So that shift in mind-set, from passive proponent to active advocate, was a bit of a challenge, though not at all alliteratively.
That said, I thought of a couple of real-world things that would make the city more bicyclist-friendly.
First, I think we need to get ’em when they’re young.
When I was a kid (and, yes, the wheel had been invented), I loved to ride my bike to school. Now, I’m a bit saddened to see the mostly empty bike racks outside schools of all levels.
More recently, for years I rode to and from elementary school with my son. I felt it necessary to ride with him because of the distance — a little over two miles each way — and the risk. We crossed Sixth Street and rode past feeder streets for Free State High, sometimes during the to-school rush. There was maybe a two-block stretch of bike lane the entire route, and it ended in a traffic circle, which confound even the most savvy road-users.
And then there’s the school zone itself. We had more close calls with traffic in the couple of blocks closest to the school than any other portion of the route. A small minority of harried parents seemed to harbor little concern for the little ones outside their vehicles, and it shouldn’t be that way. It was amazing the vitriol I saw spewed at the crossing guard on several occasions when he admonished speeding drivers to slow down.
The roads and walkways leading to our schools should be the safest in town, though I’m not sure the best way to make that the case. “Walking/Riding School Buses,” overseen by responsible adults shepherding young charges, is a start. I’d also like to see greater enforcement of existing statutes. Instead of relying on volunteers wielding stop signs to try to tame traffic, park the po-po down the block from school armed with hefty citations for violations. Ding enough people and I'd bet compliance with that flashing yellow light would go way up.
And separated bike lanes — not merely painted lines, which don’t do a thing to stop encroaching cars — would be nice, too, though I’m not sure how that fits into the stipulated economic realities.
Speaking of getting ’em young, I’d like to see more programs similar to the track or marathon clubs.
Don’t misunderstand: I think track club is a great idea. I participated in and volunteered to assist with track club for my daughter and son for years. They’re great for getting kids outside and moving a couple of times a week.
But it’s disconcerting to see the same little darlings being dropped off in cars to participate in track club. They’d benefit far more being taught the benefits of and encouraged to participate in walking or riding as transportation. The same grants that are used to fund some marathon clubs could go to rewarding kids for walking/riding to school. Instead of a T-shirt for running a marathon a mile at a time, a couple of times a week, give ’em a T-shirt for self-propelling themselves to class for the same 26.2 miles. Maybe they’ll grow up recognizing it’s OK to ride a bike or walk as a means of transport, not just fitness.
Finally, I think there’s a tremendous opportunity out there for the sharrows I see cropping up all over town.
Sharrows are the shared-use arrows painted on roadways, a combination of a bike and chevrons. They’re painted on roads that can’t accommodate bike lanes and are meant to reiterate that the roads are supposed to be shared by cars and bikes alike.
I measured one the other day and found it’s just over three feet wide.
Many people are still unaware that last summer a law was enacted requiring drivers to give cyclists at least three feet of clearance when passing.
Discomfort around moving vehicles is considered one of the greatest obstacles keeping people off bikes.
If every driver gave every cyclist the mandated three feet — and, of course, that’ll never happen — it’d go a long way toward making cyclists, especially new ones, more comfortable on the road.
But I know I have a hard time judging three feet on the fly; I had to measure a sharrow to find its actual width.
A simple addition to the standard sharrow marking — a ruler, say, with “3 feet to pass” — would call attention to state law and give a tangible, visual guide to what three feet looks like. Slap it on every fourth sharrow and maybe drivers will be more likely to give the full three feet.
So there you have it.
None of those ideas will make Lawrence like Seattle overnight, but I reckon anything that gets a few more folks on two wheels and makes them feel a little safer while they’re there is a step in the right direction.
The other day I was riding to work and was surprised to hear, awfully close, the clattering of another bike’s gears.
Since I’m remarkably unfast on two wheels, it’s not terribly surprising to have been overtaken by another cyclist. However, the proximity was a bit startling.
Assuming I was about to be passed, I slowed (as much as possible, without the danger of toppling) and … nothing.
I pedaled on.
A few blocks farther, again I heard the clattering of gears, glanced back and saw the same cyclist, right behind me. I slowed again and … nothing.
Finally, because the only place I’m slower than on a bike is in the intellectual arena, it dawned on me that I had encountered the dreaded wheel sucker.
Cyclists can conserve energy — or ride faster with the same expenditure — by riding in the draft of another. Wheel suckers like to nestle in the draft of another cyclist (or cyclists) without taking a turn in the front.
It doesn’t make the rider in front work any harder, but it’s somewhat annoying to pull without reaping the benefit of being pulled.
I figured, if the guy was so desperate he needed to suck my wheel, well, may the lord have mercy on his cycling soul.
So I rode on, with Sir Sucksalot in tepid pursuit.
Though drafting can be an integral part of racing or even just riding in a group, there’s a strict code of conduct that goes along with it that, in certain circles, can be enforced rather ruthlessly. There are rules about how close and how long and which direction to “pull off” and rotation through the paceline (or echelon) and how to clear the nasal passages and what direction to flatulate and, in truth, they’re all designed with safety in mind. Except maybe the flatulence one.
The trouble with wheel suckers is, they suck because they don’t give a rip about the etiquette. I don’t mind if somebody wants to ride in my draft, because it probably means I’m a stronger rider, but I don’t want some wobbly newbie to crash us both because he can’t hold a line.
The fella following me the other day overlapped wheels on my right side, then gave a little snort of disapproval when I slid over toward the curb. He yelled when I slid left to avoid a pothole, then bellowed “Watch out!” after I signaled a left turn and had the nerve to … turn left.
If I were riding with somebody, I would have the decency to point out obstacles like potholes and road kill, but I don’t feel obligated to look out for the wheel suckers.
It’s like tailgating in a car: If you don’t like how/how fast I’m driving, pass.
It has been said that inexperienced cyclists are bothered more by wheel suckers than experienced ones, but I think it depends on the situation, and this was one annoying sucker.
The other long-standing bit of advice for dealing with wheel suckers is simply to ride them off your wheel, which is what I eventually did, kicking it up a notch and leaving the wheel sucker sucking wind.
Maybe next time he’ll pick a slower wheel to suck.
If he can find one.
I was riding to work the other day when I encountered a banana peel dead ahead.
I probably could have maneuvered around it, despite my proximity to the curb and the car passing to my left, but I decided just to ride over it.
In one terrible split-second before contact with said fruit wrapper, I had an awful thought.
Well, actually, I had a couple.
The first wasn’t so terrible. I flashed back to a story I’d read about vandals painting Mario Kart symbols on a bike lane in Portland. I recalled there were power-ups and a mushroom and a star and … a banana. I have to admit that though I’m not normally a proponent of defacing public property, I found the paintings quite clever.
My second thought was, What if I hit this peel and — cue the crazy sound effects — go tailend over teakettle, just like in the cartoons?
I didn’t, of course, but I think it speaks volumes that my first thoughts when confronted with discarded fruit were of a video game and a cartoon.
I’m so mature.
Once I passed the Chaquita land mine, I started wondering about other unusual potential roadside threats.
Potholes and roadkill are common.
In keeping with the cartoon thread, I’ve seen a few telltale signs of roadside oil slicks. Normally, there’s a huge puddle, followed by a gradual tapering-off that makes me cringe as I think about the catastrophic fallout of an engine running dry.
Then my poor little brain flashed back to a rash of similar — but markedly different — stains I encountered a few years ago. They were dark like oil and started with a dramatic splat.
But they were noticeably more brown and, if I may be so bold, more delicious-looking.
I saw several over a few weeks before I realized the true makeup of the slick. Sitting in the middle of one particular mess was a smashed, empty Hershey’s chocolate syrup bottle.
It made a perfect, innocuous booby trap. Trailing the initial splat were distinct tire tracks that gradually faded away after half a block or so.
I saw so many chocolate slicks, I assumed there was some sort of serial chocolate bomber around (not to be confused with Chocolate Bombs cereal).
So far, I’ve only recently encountered the one banana peel, so I doubt there’s a serial banana bomber about, too.
If there is, however, perhaps he should get with the chocolate bomber, hook up with an ice cream guy, sprinkle on some nuts and open a roadside banana split stand.
I saw a near-dustup the other day, and while I’ve encountered several such traffic-related, road-ragey altercations (no doubt a result of the weather/economy/whatever is ailing us as a nation these days), this one stuck with me and rattled around a bit in the void between my ears.
I was approaching a downtown Mass. Street intersection and noticed a couple — at least, I assumed they were a couple based on their proximity; perhaps they were brother/sister, or maybe he was interested in her, but she was coming off a tough break-up; or maybe … oh, never mind — scurrying, on the sidewalk running perpendicular to my path, toward the intersection. I assumed they were hurrying to make it to the intersection before the light turned.
Trouble was, traveling along the same path but on Mass. Street was a car, the driver of which also was hurrying to make the light. Its driver was turning right, across the pedestrians’ path.
I wasn’t close enough or alert enough to get the sequence perfectly, but the male pedestrian and the turning car reached the corner about the same time. The man stepped just into the crosswalk and stopped short as the car breezed past. I’m not sure if he didn’t see or didn’t care about the car or, perhaps, just wanted to make a show of what a near-miss it was, but he threw his arms in the air and … flipped the bird.
The light changed almost immediately. The pedestrians continued across the street — against the light, though there was no traffic other than me on my bike — as the car slowed to a stop in the middle of the street. The driver opened his door, and I knew what was coming.
The fella never left his seat, as far as I could tell, but he turned toward the birdman and bellowed what, in a more medical setting, could have been considered a plea for the digit-flipper to perform a cautionary proctological self-exam. However, his message was considerably more concise and vulgar — and he obviously was proud enough of it to repeat it a couple of times.
Mr. Middle Finger chuckled and glared. The driver huffed and puffed.
I’m not sure what came of it — probably just a bunch of antler rattling — because I’d lost interest, but it made me ponder bird-flipping etiquette.
I’ll admit, I’ve been known to fly the finger a time or two. It’s more a startle reflex than anything. (As an aside, how funny would that be if a baby’s startle reflex really were to give ol’ mom a double-barreled bird?)
I’m trying to keep the bird in his cage and just shrug off traffic injustices, whether I’m on two wheels or four.
But morally, I feel if somebody comes close to harming my person, I reserve the right to give ’em half a peace sign. It only seems fair.
And if I cut somebody off or commit some perceived injustice, I expect to have a bird flipped my way. I might return it if I disagree or I might give a little wave of apology, but I’m not about to let it escalate into a middle-of-a-downtown-street brouhaha.
It’s just business. It’s not personal.
If someone were intentionally trying to run me down, that’s a different story, but I doubt a single, outstretched digit would be an appropriate response.
For all the less serious, unintentional injustices, I say flip and let flip.