Okay, so you may be asking yourself why I–on this blog–would have an image promoting the American Automobile Association (AAA). Well, to answer that I have to tell you a brief story. If you’ve been to this blog before you likely know that last year I voluntarily gave up car ownership. Not a big deal; I’m not the only one doing this. Anyhow, I let my membership to AAA lapse. Why, I thought, would I need this, and it would save me the membership fee each year. Well, a few months ago–about a month after my membership ended–I received my phone bill in the mail and noticed it was $12 higher than usual. After cursing to myself like a cranky old man about the cost of things and how prices keep going up, I called the phone provider. It turns out (and I vaguely remember hearing this at sign up) that I get a discount on my phone bill each month if I’m a AAA member…$12 to be exact; the AAA membership is $57 annually, less than half the amount of my annual discount from my phone provider. I’ve also been traveling frequently to NYC for classes this past year; it turns out that each way on Amtrak I save $6 if a AAA member. In short, it’s as if I am being paid to be a member. After realizing this I of course paid my membership. Normally I wouldn’t blog about something like this, but this is from a company that promotes automobiles…well not exclusively. Check out this 30 second video that I just came across today. Pretty cool. Anyhow, just a thought to all my car-free/car-lite brothers and sisters in the blogosphere…it may actually be worth your while to be a member of an automobile club and still not drive. I’m jus’ sayin’…
Ok, firstly…none of the above photos are from the small city in which I live (nor am I speaking of the video game with the same title as this post)…but we still have our share of traffic jams. I’ve been thinking about the amount of cars on the road a lot lately. Actually for recent years, but specifically in the last few months. There are so many angry drivers on the road and I can’t help but think it is simply because there are way too many cars in use. Think about it (if you are of a certain age)…when I was a kid families had a car…one single car. Some didn’t own any. My parents didn’t get a car until they were in their forties, when I was a mere lad of 12. We lived in the city and walked or took public transport. But today every person in a household who is above driving age seems to “need” their own car. How often, for example, do you see cars that are carrying more than the driver (and maybe one passenger)…not very often. I don’t anyway. Anyhow, this is what I was thinking about as I was on a bike at a busy intersection tonight watching all the cars pass by with only the driver in them, and then one of them honked at me to get off the road. But the best part was that it was raining lightly and I was content to straddle my bike in the drizzle and wait for the light to change (it has not rained in so long that it felt really good)…and then I was honked at. Sorry for the brief rant; I’ll get off my little soapbox now. If you find this topic interesting you may be interested in these articles: here, here, or here.
I came across this graphic here. I find it really interesting because while I sit at this keyboard and type away talking about being nice I also take it really personal when someone yells something to me from their car window while I’m on a bike…it immediately sends my blood pressure through the roof. It is so difficult being human sometimes (most times, I think); I need to try harder. Anyhow, this is an interesting graphic. It made me think.
First off, I don’t necessarily agree with everything the dad in this cartoon says–at least not to the extreme–because I still own a gas-powered vehicle, but I don’t use it that often. Tonight was the first time I used my truck in more than two weeks (emergency school supply run for my teenage son). I thought we could just zip to the store and be back in time to prepare dinner (about 5 miles / 8km each way). What a mistake. We went during rush hour and traffic was heavy to begin with but then we got stuck in a stand-still because of road work. My blood pressure immediately sky rocketed; I was not a happy camper…it’s amazing how miserable that makes a person (it does to me) feel. All I kept thinking was I wished I were on a bike. Anyhow, and at the very least, I thought this cartoon was funny.
Before I begin I have to state a few things in the event you’ve not read this before on this blog. Firstly, while I am a bicycle advocate I am by no means car-free but I am car-lite; sometimes more lite than others…and during the summer months I am nearly car-free. Today in fact is the first time I used my car (pickup truck actually) in more than two weeks; it was raining and I had to pick up my son. I am nearly 50 and have been a bicycle advocate for most of my adult life. This said you can image my reaction to what happened to me earlier this evening. But let me also point out that while I generally do not use curse words on this blog there are plenty of them ahead, thus if you find them offensive please read no further.
I was in my truck with my son nearing the intersection of Elmwood and Summer Streets. We were at a near standstill and I started to creep the truck right a bit to turn into a pizzeria (I’d been cooking all day and wanted someone else to cook for me). In my side mirror I saw a few guys on bikes traveling at breakneck speed in our direction. Elmwood Avenue does not have a bicycle lane and is pretty narrow, but still many cyclists traverse it daily; it is actually one of my favorite routes because often the traffic is so heavy that you can move faster on a bike than in a car. Two of the bicyclists fly past the truck (there were four in all) and as they do they pound on the truck and yell “Share the road asshole!”
Wha?…did this just happen? I spend much of my time telling people the virtues of bicycling (in person or via this blog) and also that in order for cyclists to be taken seriously we have to follow the same rules of the road as cars. And these guys are not only yelling at me to share the road…but they called me an asshole too. My blood pressure instantly went through the roof.
I saw that they had stopped at the intersection about twenty or thirty feet ahead so I pulled up next to them. They couldn’t cross the intersection because of traffic. I got out of the truck and started to walk up to them just as the light changed. I wanted to talk to them…to tell them that I was on their side. OK, I might have lectured them a bit too, but I never got the chance. I started to say that I own a lot of bikes and was an advocate myself when one of the guys turns to me and simply says, “Fuck you.” Another guy gives me the finger and they take off. I was livid. I was so shocked and taken aback all I could muster in response was, “Fuck you too” (what, am I in high school).
I hop back in the truck and begin to follow them…I really wanted to catch them at the next red-light. Now I definitely wanted to lecture them. They were two cars in front of me and now they pulled out into the middle of the street abreast each other, blocking traffic completely. To my luck a car turned in front of them, causing them to pull over. I went around the cars (and them) and sped up two full blocks and got out of my truck and faced them as they approached. I held up my hand and displayed the peace sign as they approached and yelled out I wanted to talk. They sped up and one guy–as he passed me–actually punched my shoulder; another shouted, “Fuck you, asshole,” which seemed to be his personal mantra. But this time it brought out a side of me that even I don’t like. They had stopped at a light again and I started walking towards them letting out a litany of cursings that embarrasses me still (mostly because I acted like this in front of my son). “Fuck me,” I questioned? “Fuck you, you piece of shit. It’s assholes like you that give bicyclists a bad reputation. Why won’t you talk to me? Are you afraid? You’re not worthy to be on those bikes…assholes.” And with that the light changed; a couple of them gave me the finger and they pedaled away from the crazy screaming middle-aged madman.
So now a couple hours have passed, I’ve eaten my pizza, my son is at a friends house, I’ve had two glasses of wine, and have had time cool off. In retrospect what do I think of it all? Were the bicyclists jerks? Yes, definitely…but so was I. Did the bicyclists behave badly? Without doubt…but so did I. What I should have done was just let them pass…I certainly am not going to change them. But for whatever reason when they hit the truck with their fist it was like pushing a button. This for me was a true lesson of learning (and maybe that’s why this happened). I have written at this blog on more than a few occasions of drivers behaving badly and treating bicyclists like non-vehicles…but this was the first time in my life where I was able to witness through the eyes of a driver what idiots some bicyclists can be (and the even more idiotic behavior it stirs in the driver)…I felt sympathy for car drivers. It is a revelation of sorts.
With the amount of spiritual reading I’ve done and continue to do I should have been able to control myself. But this is just another proof that though a person may be on a spiritual path they are still human and have much work do do (I have so much to do). Any mystic will tell you that it’s not the event itself which causes pain or other disturbance in your life; it’s how you react to the event that is causing the problem…and in this case I reacted just as poorly as the bicyclists.
I know that a few people from Buffalo read this blog, but it’s highly unlikely that the riders I clashed with tonight do. But in the event that you are, this is what I wanted to say to you:
I did see you coming down the road. And I do share the road with bicyclists. I own six bicycles and one truck. I ride bikes every day and drive my truck about once a week…I am fully aware what it is like to be on a bike in traffic. I’m on your side. But with that (riding bikes in traffic) comes responsibility. We have to follow the same rules as car drivers. We have to do this because it is the law but even more importantly so that we are taken seriously and that bikes are viewed as viable and legitimate forms of transport. If you drove a car tonight the way you rode and acted on your bicycles you may have been locked up. You acted very badly, but my response wasn’t much better.
The below image is the back of a shirt I purchased last weekend at the Allen West Festival. I have not worn it yet but I almost did today. Now wouldn’t that have been ironic.
This is a rash generalization, but…what is the deal with drivers and bicyclists? Do they (or at least many) really think that they, because they are in a car and I am on a bike, automatically have the right of way and in any circumstance? Do they automatically think that because they are in a two-ton metal box on wheels and I am not that they can simply barrel through turns and intersections in front of me? Or see me and look me straight in the eye and pull out in front of me and think this is acceptable. Well, I am beginning to think this is true.
About a month ago I posted on an incident where a person pulled out in front of me causing me to nearly collide with her car (click here to read it). Tonight on my way home from work I was pedaling westward down Allen Street approaching the intersection of Delaware and I see a car coming in the opposite direction with their left turn signal on, which would mean they would turn in front of me.
Me, not turning and going straight through the intersection had the right-of-way, this is without a doubt…well, not according to the car driver. As I approached the intersection I could see that this person could see me (I try to make eye contact with drivers so that they know that I am aware of them, and vise-versa). By now I’m approaching the middle of the intersection and I’m looking right at her and I can see that she is not breaking…instead she just turns and starts honking her freaking horn! Are you kidding me? I was, I believe, about two seconds ahead of being broadsided.
There are, I truly believe, too many cars on the road today…and they make people crazy. And cars are so comfortable today that I don’t think they sometimes remember that they are not on their living room couch but are in fact driving around this enormous piece of machinery. Now I know that many, but not all, readers of this blog are younger than me, but does anyone (or everyone) remember when each family owned just one car (egads…just imagine)…my family, in fact, didn’t own a car most of my youth…we walked or took public transport (four kids and two parents).
Now things of course are different today…way different. It seems there is a car in the driveway for each person above 16 years of age: two parents and two teenagers; 4 cars. And I don’t think I’m exaggerating here.
I’ll say it again: there are simply too many cars on the road AND they make people crazy.