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.