Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: Sounds, Sasquatch, Stupidity, and Specters

Clearly, we're living in tumultuous times. Cops are tackling cyclists. Riccardo Ricco is not only confessing that he took EPO, but he's also outraged that he didn't fail more tests. And methanogens with cytochromes have considerably higher growth yields and threshold concentrations for H2 than methanogens without cytochromes. Whatever the hell that means.

I don't have an explanation for all of these things, but I can explain what's happening in New York City. Simply put, it's hot. Riot scene in "Do The Right Thing" hot. The kind of hot that creates the moist, tropical conditions in your underpants that are ideal for fostering new life forms. So as you'd expect, people are getting angry out there. And when people get angry, things get ugly.

I was pondering this very thing as I propelled myself to work today, only to be torn from my reverie by an urgent horn-honking. It was the kind of honking you hear from team cars as they try to make their way through the peloton to their riders in the break, and it was coming from a large van of the sort upon which you don't go knocking if you see it rocking. It was easy to imagine that inside it might contain an array of bean bags, or a rotating bed, or B.A. Baracus, or possibly all three, and its pistons snarled angrily like Mr. T himself used to while he pitied fools. I couldn't figure out why the driver was honking at me though, and I confess that this combined with the heat made me irritable. So as he passed I kindly told the driver to "Shut up," only I also included a bad word for emphasis. I didn't say it particularly angrily, mind you. Instead, I said it in the same way you'd say it to your friend towards the end of the ride after he's made fun of your Pentabike socks for the millionth time. But yes, I said it, and there was no taking it back.

"I'm just trying not to hit you, dumbass!," he replied.

This threw me for a loop. You'd think there were other devices in the vehicle that he might have employed more effectively if his goal was not to run into me, but apparently by simply sounding an alarm he thought he was doing me a favor. After a brief exchange that was actually fairly civil (apart from the fact that every sentence finished with the word "dumbass") I reflected upon the incident. An then it hit me. Some people are actually so stupid that they think horns make things happen. They actually believe their car comes with a magic button in the middle of the steering wheel that can change reality. Suddenly, I became aware of the constant chorus of beeping all around me--the kind that's always present in a big city, and the kind you simply tune out like you do crickets in the country. In every case, I realized the drivers stuck in traffic all around me were using their horns not to communicate information but simply in a vain attempt to change what was happening to them. It was as though they thought sitting in congestion was a bad TV show, and that by honking they might somehow change the channel and be transported to a clear roadway. I'm not sure where this notion comes from. I don't think there's ever been a traffic jam where somebody beeped and the thousands of others also caught in the traffic jam suddenly realized, "Hey, he's right, we can all just go!" and it was over.

Similarly, honking at me isn't going to change the fact that I'm there, and it's not going to somehow transform me into an ethereal presence that can ride straight through the row of parked cars besides me. Hopefully, someday soon, more people will realize that horns do absolutely nothing except turn people into bleating sheep. Maybe we can get Ralph Nader on the case and he can get horns out of cars the way he got seatbelts into them. The only time a driver ever needs to use his horn is when he's waiting at a light, the light turns green, and the driver in front of him doesn't notice. Then, and only then, a horn is useful. But you don't even need it then. In the horn-free future I think if a driver is stuck in that situation then it's perfectly acceptable after a polite length of time to inch forward and nudge the other person's bumper. Quieter, and way more effective.

My fantasy of a horn-free world almost made me forget the heat, until I was dragged back to reality yet again, this time by a Subaru wagon weaving more erratically than a drunken seamstress. As it forced me towards the sidewalk, I looked over, only to see something horrifying hanging out the passenger window. At first I thought maybe it was a hunk of smoked mozzarella cheese that had been rolled around the floor of a barber shop or something, but on closer inspection it turned out to be the shoulder of the shirtless passenger. Sickened, I realized I had seen something even rarer than a fixed-gear pie plate. I was actually within vomiting distance of the sweaty torso of Sasquatch himself. As the bile rose in my throat, I reached for my camera, but as I withdrew it the car containing the great beast lurched forward. I immediately set off in pursuit, but no thanks to an unlikely--dare I say supernatural--string of green lights I was unable to catch up with it before it escaped into the Holland Tunnel. All I managed was this shot of it careering back out of the bike lane before making a right hand turn from the left hand lane:




I know there's not much to see in this photo, and I know my story is suspect, so I can only assure you that I saw what I saw and leave the rest to you. Note also the Alabama plates. I realize the Sasquatch is supposed to be a Pacific Northwestern phenomenon, but I posit that what I saw was an even rarer Appalachian strain. It's much shorter and squatter (as you can see from the passenger silhouette), and while its fur is sparser than that of it's Pacific Northwestern cousin it is still quite thick I can assure you. And, most horrifically, I think it may have been female.

No sooner had I recovered from the disappointment of missing out on the shot that would have made me world-famous than I encountered yet another heat-addled moron. As I rode in the bike lane, a GMC SUV with Jersey plates pulled over in front of me, stopped, and began backing up. Naturally I assumed I was under attack, and fortunately I was able to escape by weaving around him. Once I stopped however, I realized I wasn't the target. I had actually simply had the misfortune of being too close to the parking space the driver wanted. Only another ape-like creature could be capable of this sort of stupidity, so in hopes of finally getting Bigfoot on film I walked into the space and took a picture:




Note the look of slack-jawed indignation on the driver's face. There may actually be a string of drool hanging from his lower lip as well, though it could also be a trick of the light. Here's a closer look:


As soon as I took the picture the driver and his passenger emerged from the car and demanded angrily to know what the hell I was doing.

"I'm working on a project," I explained. "I'm taking photos of people who almost kill me."

This sent the driver into an agitated state just a few degrees lower than a full boil. As I sat casually on my top tube, he explained some things to me. Firstly, he explained that I was stupid and that while he was doing something important I was out "playing games" on my bike. This upset me. I mean, sure, I had been playing "Flat Out: Ultimate Carnage" on my handheld game console while I was riding, but that's not a game--that's a way of life. He continued his diatribe. He said I wasn't "from Manhattan" but he was. I wasn't sure what this had to do with anything nor what led him to that conclusion. I was about to ask him if being born right across town in Beth Israel Medical Center counted as being from Manhattan but then he finally arrived at his point. "This is the most busiest place in the world and you're riding around on a bike being stupid." The use of "most busiest" in the sentence he used to call me stupid stopped me like a stick in the spokes. All I could do at this point was repeat "most busiest" over and over again like a shock victim. Finally he concluded his speech by telling me that I should thank him for protecting me from getting hurt. I suppose he had a point. I had been quite lucky to have been on the receiving end of so many favors this morning. First a guy in a van beeped at me so he wouldn't run me over, then a guy from Jersey who says he's from Manhattan tried to back into me. Still, I didn't feel lucky. I just felt angry. I told him that he had indeed hurt me and that my brain was now smarting from his retardation. Something told me he wasn't taking that well though, so as it sunk in I opted to ride off before he figured it out and started swinging.

At this point I had no doubt I was running the gauntlet through a mad world driven even crazier by the heat. I only had one goal at this point--to get where I was going as soon as possible without getting into any more trouble. Carefully I made my way along the bike lane, only to encounter a police car parked in it. The officer, clearly driven insane by heat herself, was quite literally staring into the middle of the empty street and writing a ticket to nobody. Here's a picture if you don't believe me:


I was no longer hot. I was no longer irritable. I was terrified. I felt like that guy in "28 Days Later" when he realizes everyone in London has become a flesh-chewing zombie. Note the manic glint in the officer's eye as she spots me. I didn't know if I was about to be tackled or eaten, and I wasn't about to find out either. I put my head down, pedaled hard, and made straight for the nearest air conditioner.

261 comments:

«Oldest   ‹Older   201 – 261 of 261
ant1st said...

200th, WOHOOO

ant1st said...

Damn, beaten at my own game.

SvWKSfko1IX6RB9xPqA0bKtJkJM- said...

Great post! I've been tempted to fight back with AirZound (the world's loudest bike horn - 115 db, refills with any bike pump) but you never know who's carrying a loaded pistol.

Anonymous said...

i must say, i don't get the anger over being honked at. as a frequent cyclist and driver, i think i prefer a honk to a collision any day. a honk is best used to alert others on the road of your presence, just like a bike bell. even if the honk is coming from an asshole, it's telling me 'hey! here's an asshole!'. and i'd rather find out that way than by being crushed under a wheel.

and another thing: i really don't get the spitting as a response to a honking. that's immature in the extreme, and i seriously could care less about annoying someone who would be such an asshole as to spit at someone else who has yet to engage him or her physically. motorists and cyclists alike immediately betray their idiocy by spitting.

A1Zero said...

My absolute favorite are adjustment honks--the kind motorists even do to each other. You've done nothing wrong--they just want you to know they are there. My theory is that, for them, just leaving their house is even more terrifying than a bad acid trip in a car wash. It makes towering over them on my bike by their window just as much fun as killing their road rage with kindness, sarcasm, and a suspiciously threatening frame pump.

echuck said...

Sorry ant1st,

I just had to sprint to the line when I saw the gap between 199 and 200. It kind of felt like one of the stages that Cavendish one, only I am in front of a computer. Kind of sad really.

animatedblader said...

I never understood why so many people honk the horn in the city. You've completely opened my eyes to the truth. They think they are watching tv. "by honking they might somehow change the channel and be transported to a clear roadway"

Shaka said...

Dude, I know what you mean about the honking! I visited NYC for the first time 2 years ago during new years, and coming from a relatively small city (Orlando, Fl), I just couldn't believe the amount of honking that was going on in the busy streets! I started turning kinda retarded after only staying there for about a week, I guess a week isn't long enough to learn to tune out the honking. However, I'm happy to report, a week is long enough to tune out how trashed the city is, if and only if, it's cold as freaking hell and your priorities change from sensory insult overload to keeping warm. Oh and also checking to see if your wallet hasn't been stolen every 10 minutes or so.

Baron Daguerre said...

Ant1st:

Try 'unique horns'.

Brian said...

BEST POST EVER

Ev said...

sd, I agree about riding "the correct bike" but only in the sense of its being "correct" for each individual. I enjoy riding my brakeless track bike ... every day for at least 20 miles. That's not a huge number, but doing it every day for a year in a hilly city my legs have gotten into pretty good shape and it keeps me out of my car.

Personally, I get freaked out on freewheeling bikes, especially ones with drop bars and road levers. Who knew riding with brakes could feel even more brakeless than a track bike.

However, I do have enough components laying around to put together a pretty little 10-speed with Ultegra shit. Whatever. We'll see how it goes.

acquiesce808 said...

please stay in one piece BSNYC.

Anonymous said...

BSNYC/RTMS,

What an awful commute that must have been. I extend my sympathy to you... your post brought tears to my eyes.

Bradley Burnie said...

When someone puts her life at risk or are super rude she remembers the plate. Then she looks them up in her state DOT website and mails them a letter where SHE apologizes in a creepy but nice way. I even agree about horns which are very honking.

Giles said...

"weaving more erratically than a drunken seamstress"

nice

batman said...

A car honks while passing dangerously close to your bike, maybe insults you? Scary and dangerous, isn't it? Here is what I did once in this type of situation: I followed the car until it was stuck at the next red light (easy in NYC), bent his radio antenna 90 degrees and left the scene quickly.

echelon draft said...

We in SW Florida have found an effective way to deal with aggressors of this type. Wait until the car stops. Reach into the car. Take the keys. Ride away.

Works well with group rides. Strength in numbers kind of thing.

Anonymous said...

They should ban bikes in the "most busiest" city in the world and force everyone to walk or ride bikes. Its a dream...

Maybe after dark the roads could be opened to trucks for deliveries.

Next time you take a photo of a driver, please smash their window first to avoid the reflection.

Lastly, please quit whining about the heat. Its hotter in most of the country than it is in NYC. So when you whine about a 93 degree heat wave in NYC, please know that you are experiencing temps that most cyclists in the south would envy...

Robot said...

Hey Bikesnob..when do we get to hang out? I know you would make fun of me (noone gets spared) but your knowledge of old metal/punk is amazing and I would love to be there to witness some of your encounters..Thats the stuff you tell your kids!

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