I was riding to work Sunday, when, just a couple of houses away from home, I felt a sharp pain in my right ankle.
At my age, pain is a common enough occurrence, but this was unusual: It really stinking hurt.
I glanced down and saw a wasp waspishly going to town on my leg.
I’ve had unwanted passengers before: mosquitos, spiders, moths, inebriated coeds. The proper response in all cases is to check first for oncoming traffic. Generally it’s a bad idea to freak out, veer into an oncoming semi and get creamed because some creepy crawly landed on your arm. Once you’re sure the road ahead is clear, calmly brush away the offending hitchhiker (except in the case of the inebriated coed; they tend to be ... clingy).
But my calm dismissal in this case was thwarted by my bike choice. Because I was riding my fixed-gear bike — the pedals and back wheel are direct-drive; if the bike’s rolling, the pedals are turning — I couldn’t merely coast and flick off the insect. Instead, I had to wait ... until Waspzilla ... reached the top of the pedal stroke ... whereupon I’d try to convince it ... to get the heck off my flesh.
Which, eventually, I finally did, and I rolled to a stop, hopped off the bike, bawled like a 5-year-old girl (and I have nothing against 5-year-old girls; I had one once), sniffled a couple of times, brushed away the tears and propped my foot up on the curb to survey the damage.
I remembered reading something about bee stings. Bees die after they sting somebody, because their stingers are barbed. The stingers enter flesh, catch on it, then rip out the bees’ guts as they pull away. The poor honey-maker’s innards are left behind, and the poison sac keeps pumping away.
Thus, it’s recommended that bee stingees remove said stinger/stomach/poison sac ASAP, either by tweezer or credit card.
I didn’t have my tweezers handy — though I keep a pair in my desk at work in case I have an eyebrow emergency that calls for immediate tweezing — and I prefer cash to credit, but then I remembered I’d been violated by a wasp, not a bee.
I’m no entomologist, but I recalled wasps kept their wits — and guts — about them after stinging, leaving themselves free to sting again. And again.
So I gave myself a quick once-over, verified there was no sac, poison or otherwise, dangling from my gams, and pedaled away.
I considered turning around and driving. I figured if I were going to go into anaphylactic shock, I didn’t want just to keel over on the bike and instead wanted to be behind the wheel of my big, honkin’ SUV so I could take out a big swath of Lawrence with me. But since I already had gone, oh, half a block or so, I figured I could soldier on.
All the rest of the way — as I maintained a vigil on my airway lest it constrict and fantasized about rolling up to the hospital E.R. and proclaiming, "DOA"-like, that I wanted to report a poisoning: mine — I thought about the birds and the bees. Or at least the wasps and the bees.
I was about halfway to work, breezing downhill in excess of 25 mph, when I was stricken by a nightmarish thought. What if the wasp had built a nest in my bike and I had a speeding, winged deathtrap between my legs?
Every tickle or touch became another poised stinger.
Curiously — perhaps it was the venom coursing through my veins — I thought back to my childhood.
My brother and I frequently were given outdoor chores, like mowing and working in the garden, that put us in winged-harm’s way. My dad was not amused when we failed to pick the beans because we were frightened off by some insect hellion.
Back then, I thought my dad was 10-feet tall and bulletproof, but I’ve since come to see just how wrong I was. He’s only 6-2.
He’d work outside barefooted, and he crawled inside the tiny heads of the creepy crawlies to see what made them tick. He came to understand their motivations, which he shared with his children.
Bees, he explained, were territorial, but reluctant to sting unless the hive was threatened. I guess the whole certain-death-if-it-stings thing provided some deterrent. Wasps, he said, could do some real damage, but only attacked if provoked. But bumblebees ... they were dangerous like wasps, he said, but also were just mean. They’d stick you just for the fun of it.
So my dad would go all proactive on bumblebees. Whenever he saw one, he’d swat it from the sky and step on it — bare feet and all.
Like I said, bulletproof.
He and his dad at one time were beekeepers. How cool is that? My dad was a beekeeper. My claim to fame is, I once went grocery shopping on a Friday instead of the usual Saturday morning.
Now, his dad had something of a different outlook on winged stingers. After my brother and I would happen upon some flying menace, he’d take a look, announce, “Looks like he’s got fire in his tail. I wouldn’t make him mad if I were you,” then go back to whatever manly man-of-the-earth task he had interrupted to deal with his sniveling grandsons.
Anyway, back to my brush with long, slow, agonizing death.
I made it to work and realized my right ankle had swollen considerably. My usually prominent, bony — OK, I’ll say it: sexy — ankle bone had disappeared and been replaced by a slightly discolored cankle.
I showed it off to the wife, who thought it gross, and my son, who promptly jabbed it and asked if it hurt.
It wasn’t until the ride back to work at night that I had a truly gruesome thought.
My brother and I were especially fearful of cicada killers, which I consider to be the mack daddy of insectuous danger. They’re supposedly uninterested in humans. Instead, they sting cicadas, paralyzing them, then drag them back to their lairs. They lay their eggs in the snoozing — but still-alive — cicada. The eggs hatch, and the babies crawl out to dine on the unlucky locust. Fresh meat!
What if I wasn’t victimized by a wasp? What if a myopic cicada killer shanked me with his fiery tail and, sensing I was too heavy to drag back to his lair, laid his eggs in my cankle? Come to think of it, by the time I made it to work, I was unusually sleepy.
Now I’m afraid 12 days hence, I’m going to wake up, look down and see ankle-biter cicada killers chowing on my leg.
Talk about a nightmare.
It’s hard to get fired up over a statute, but I have to admit I’m quite tickled by half of a bill that should make travel by bike just a bit better in the state.
On Friday, the Kansas House and Senate approved HB2192. In addition to the provision that would allow for a speed limit of 75 mph on divided, four-lane highways in the state were two bicycle provisions that didn’t seem to get much pub.
One is the three-foot passing provision, and the second the “dead red” bill. The whole shebang needs only the guv’na’s John Hancock to become law. If he signs, the law would go into effect on July 1.
To the first bike law, I say (or rather, blog) meh. To the second, yipee!
In short, the provision would mandate a three-foot cushion between bicycle and passing car and allow a cyclist — or motorcyclist — the right to proceed through a red light after a “reasonable time” if the light fails to change.
Pardon me if I’m not too excited about the former.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m as big a fan of cushions as any sofa fetishist, and I’ve had many a passenger-side mirror come awfully close. (Caution: Objects such as mirrors can appear closer than they are). And though I’m happy our fair state soon could join the ranks of those mandating a safe passing distance, I can’t help but think it’s something of a step back.
See, though there might have been no official law about a safe passing distance, the Kansas driver’s manual strongly suggests a driver “use extreme caution and pass four feet to the left of the bicyclist.”
Now, I’m a little fuzzy on the whole “strong suggestion” versus “state law” thing, but I tend to follow most of the official state driver’s license handbook “suggestions.” So the state law in a sense is a bit of a retreat.
Then again, I’ve never known anyone to be ticketed for a suggestion.
The “dead red” provision is nearly as cool as its name.
It’s not some twisted call to arms against communism and instead allows bi- and motorcyclists the right to proceed through red lights they can’t trigger.
Traffic sensors are triggered by metal mass. Trouble is, bikes and motorcycles are considerably less metal-massive than autos. And many bikes — like, all of mine — are made of nonferrous materials like aluminum or carbon fiber.
Many a morning I’ve rolled up to one light in particular — at Second Street and McDonald Drive, by the Holidome — and found my bike too feeble to trip the light. Imagine: It’s 1:30 a.m., not a car in sight, yet I’m so honor-bound to honor the red, I stop. And wait. And wait.
Once I spent 14 hours at that infernal intersection before a car came along to trigger the light and allow me to cross. Fourteen hours!
Critics complain it will allow scofflaw cyclists simply to roll reds at will, but that’s not the intent. If there are other cars at the intersection, they’ll trigger the lights. If there’s nobody around, I don’t see the harm — after a “reasonable time” — in allowing bi- and motorcyclists to proceed with caution.
After all, 14 hours is a long time to wait for a stupid light.
I was riding home from racquetball the other day, and slid out going around a corner in a huge drift of sand.
I dodged an usually large amount of car debris — chunks of body molding, shards of red tail-light plastic, head-light glass — and spied several dead birds.
I pulled into my driveway and looked around at a barren apocalyptic landscape, as if all the life — and color — had been sucked out of this world. All the trees looked sickly and my lawn looked like it didn’t need to be watered so much as washed.
Lord, this town needs a bath.
I know how this works. Fall kills, then winter rolls in, and things really take a turn for the drab.
It just seems things are especially filthy this year — my yard, my bikes, trees, the air. I was riding to work by the hospital the other day and noticed the street was stained, like a ring around the bathtub.
I’ve seen street sweepers out and about and think they do an admirable job.
In fact, I’d love to be a street sweeper in my next life. Where else can you drive as fast as possible and as slow as you want — at the same time? In what other job can you go home and say you made the world a better (-looking) place — every single day?
And I don’t imagine street sweepers take their jobs home with them. I figure they don’t wake up in a cold sweat, worried they didn’t do a good enough job at that intersection of Ninth and Mass, for instance.
But with all apologies to the city’s street sweepers, what this filmy town really needs is a good old thunderstorm or two, a biblical gullywasher to polish the streets and scrub the foliage and launder the ecru pallor from our fair city.
After all, it really does clean up pretty nicely.
I was sitting in church the other day when I had an epiphany, which is a far better place to have an epiphany than, say, a synagogue or mosque or temple.
My mind wandered a bit — don’t fret for my soul; it wasn’t during one of those all-important everlasting-life parts of the service, but during something more mundane, like the offering — and I realized that for all the hundreds of times we’d attended that church, we’d sat more or less in the same spot.
We perch along the right side, about a third of the way from the front.
Sometimes we have to move up or back a row or two, but we’re always drawn to the same few pews, and judging from the regulars in our corner of pewdom, we’re not the only ones. I tried to project myself sitting with the freaks on the far left, or the folks unable to pick a side who stick to the center, but it just seemed … wrong.
I reckon handedness doesn’t have anything to do with it: My wife’s a freak of nature, er, I mean, a lefty; I’m a righty, yet we both seem comfortable on the right side (though we are careful how we sit at restaurants, lest we bump elbows).
My churchly observation coincided nicely with a similar experiment in sidedness.
Awhile back, the keycard that grants me entry to my workplace broke off my neck lanyard, where it has resided for years. A few times, I rode with the card and my ID badge around my neck, but riding bent over my handlebars sometimes caused my badges to dig into my sunken chest.
So, whenever I rode, I instead slipped the badges in a front pants pocket. That worked out OK, but occasionally I’d be pedaling along, the badges would ride up a bit, and a sharp corner would dig into one of my doughy thighs. I’d sit up, pedaling furiously, and try to fish the shards out of my flesh.
When the keycard broke, however, I decided to put it in my wallet, and it was nothing short of a — pardon the religious term again — revelation. No longer did I need to remember the triumvirate of wallet-keycard-cell phone. More than once I remembered two of the three, but found myself lingering outside or pestering the folks inside over the intercom to grant me admittance.
I felt free. Unencumbered, even.
But there was a problem.
As soon as I got to work, I rolled in the front door as I usually do, bike in my right hand, opening the door with the left. We (my bike and me) wedged ourselves in the vestibule … and I found myself all mixed up.
Still bundled up in coat, hat, helmet and gloves, I tried criss-cross-applesaucing myself, holding the bike with my left hand as I tried to fish my wallet out of my back-right pocket with my right hand, but that didn’t work. I tried hooking the wallet out with my left hand behind the back, but no go.
Though a bit of gymnastics I managed to retrieve the wallet, swipe it across the entry pad, pivot, swivel and roll myself in the building.
Between that ride to work and the next, I spent an unusually (for me) large amount of time checking out boy booty to see where other fellas lugged their wallets. Unscientifically, I found most men preferred the right-rear pocket, like me. I saw a few lefties, too. Don’t know about all the guys in their skinny jeans; maybe they just slip their hipster wallets in their hipster man purses.
No biggie, right?
I decided to forego the contortions and carry my wallet in the left-rear during the next ride, thereby ensuring a breeze through the breezeway.
Trouble is, that simple switch threw my poor little pea brain into apoplexy. Granted, my wallet’s manly — big, thick, full of … uh, stuff — and sure to wreak all sort of havoc on my spine down the road, but who knew turning the other cheek would cause such a mindmelt?
I found myself catching my booty on the saddle every time I stood to pedal. The bifold felt like a stone every time I sat. I squirmed. I fidgeted. Good lord, what an awful ride.
Of course, at any of the many intersections at which I stopped, I could have reverted to my right-cheek form, but I didn’t want to concede defeat and tried to let mind triumph over caboose.
I switched pockets and vowed never to try that exercise in cycling masochism again.
I have, however, found myself looking longingly at the pews on the left side.
I’ve discovered the joy of flashing.
No, not in the mardi gras sense, and not like that creepy, rotund, pasty old guy down the street who insists on mowing every time shirtless and wearing those too-short shorts.
The flashing I’m talking about here involves the light on my bicycle handlebars. See, most bike lights have steady and flash settings, and for the bulk of my bike-commuting life, I’ve been a slow and steady kinda guy, both in terms of my pedaling prowess and my lights.
Maybe it’s a reflection on my personality. I’m not flashy and prefer not to call too much attention to myself. I’m steady and kinda dim, and my bike lights reflect that. The steady part, at least.
Once a couple of years ago, I was racing a thunderstorm home and, about two miles from home, the wind picked up, and the temperature dropped, and just as I was steeling myself for what I was sure to be a wet rest of the ride home, my light strobed — the signal it was about to run out of juice. To conserve power, I switched it over to flash mode and rode the rest of the way blinkin’.
And I didn’t feel too good.
Something about the flash pattern seemed to upset my stomach, and I rode somewhat queasily home. I beat the storm by seconds; once I switched off the blinky light, my tummy stopped turning, and all was good.
So I pretty much vowed not to ride with my light on the flashing setting again.
That changed a couple of weeks ago when, riding my backup ride with the less-powerful backup light, I had a series of close calls with cars. The drivers of said cars seemed not to see me — not like they don’t see me during the daylight, but like they REALLY don’t see me — and I blamed my weak beams.
I switched over to flash and — what do you know? — no near misses. It’s anecdotal, sure, but just watching the swiveling heads of drivers and pedestrians alike has convinced me there’s something to this blinky-light thing.
I spared no expense in buying either of my bike lights, and they’re both big and bad, but there’s something about the flicker that just seems brighter. I know the eye is drawn to movement and all, but I’m tickled to see highly reflective signs blocks away light up when hit by my candlepower.
And that’s the thing: My lights on steady-high attract attention in my direction; my lights on blink seem to get attention first away from me, as folks see signs down the street lighting up, then back to me as they try to figure out just where from where that flash is coming.
So blink it is. I reckon I’d rather be the guy with a turning tummy than the guy with a grille embedded in his femur.
Last school year, one of my daughter’s first assignments was to create a word cloud.
I don’t recall all the details, but she and her classmates were required to write an introductory paragraph or two, with their likes and dislikes and hobbies and such, then enter their submissions into a website that creates word clouds — visual pictures of the text that weights the most common words by making them appear bigger than words used less frequently.
At back-to-school night, my wife and I admired her word cloud. There, we saw things we thought appropriate to her tween sensibilities: references to her favorite musicians du jour, maybe a TV show or two, her hobbies, etc. Simultaneously, however, our eyes alighted on a rather large word toward the lower right: husband. Say what?
Since we’re neither from Arkansas nor the 1800s — where, and when, I understand preteens wed frequently — we couldn’t figure why on earth our lovely daughter would espouse a spouse in the story of her life.
After meeting with her teacher, who was similarly stumped, we confronted our daughter. As it turns out, she merely included a bit of trivia in her paragraph: that my wife knew the husband of my daughter’s teacher. As in, “My mom knows your husband.”
Because the introductory submissions were so short, there were few words from which to choose, so “husband” was among the biggest words purely by chance.
I bring that up not because I want to assure the slobbering junior-high masses her hand is still available (back off, fellas), but because my blog just hit a milestone.
My last entry was my 200th, and ever since I saw my daughter’s word cloud, I knew I wanted to mark the milestone with a Rolling Along word cloud.
See, every now and then I’ll pen (keyboard?) a blog wherein I’ll grouse about the road or weather conditions or a wayward rodent or, oh, yeah, some gem of a human who tries to kill me, and, somebody will post a comment about what a negative fellow I am. Inevitably, the rant is something like, “If riding your bike is so awful, why do you do it?”
I resist the urge to reply, because I figure aforementioned trolls skip over the blogs in which I wax poetic about rainbows and shooting stars and unicorns and moonbeams, and, because they’re such magnets for negativity, are drawn to the blogs that include a bit of conflict.
Or maybe I am overwhelmingly negative.
If so, I don’t mean to be. Obviously, I consider the positives of cycling outweigh the negatives, or I wouldn’t do it.
Hence, the word cloud.
Rather than re-read all 200 of my blogs (even I couldn’t do that), I simply copy-pasted a whole bunch of ’em — like, 50 or so, which I had close to hand — into the wordle.net website to create a word cloud.
Much to my relief, the biggest, boldest words weren’t curses or near-curses or overtly negative words. Sure, what precedes or follows, say, “drivers” or “kids” or even “wife” determines whether the overall phrase is good, bad or indifferent.
But I was thrilled to see only one word that triggers a negative thought — bad — and it was awfully small.
The two biggest — and, therefore, most common — words in all those blogs? “Bike,” by far, followed by “like.”
So, there you have it. Bike like. I think that pretty much sums it up.