Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ridden to Distraction: Can't Afford to Pay Attention

Unless you ride exclusively on offroad trails, or in velodromes, or inside your modern home with a virtual reality trainer like the roadies do (in the roadie world, "junk miles" now include any outdoor non-racing cycling), you share the road with motor vehicles. This can be frightening, especially because you never really know a driver's mental state--he or she can be angry, inflamed with lust, or just plain stupid. And until recently, the most frowned-upon of all mental states was intoxication. However, times change, and everybody knows worrying about DWI is like totally last century. The cool new thing that everybody's saying is really bad but everyone's doing anyway is "driving distracted." I even produced a PSA awhile back:

Fortunately (I think) for us, anti-distracted driving mania continues to grow. In fact, a whole "Distracted Driving Summit" is currently taking place in Washington, DC, and the New York Times recently ran an article about the phenomenon:


As a cyclist who's been molested by distracted drivers even more than the public has been molested by bad Michael Jackson jokes, I read this article with interest--well, I skimmed it with interest, but to be fair I was distracted by young beaver (which is totally safe for work). I was especially horrified by the accompanying video, in which a California man's car is as full of electronics as a Californian is full of "epic" burrito stories:

In fact, the car itself is practically a burrito of electronics. He's even got a computer in there:

Clearly, this man (whose name is David Vered) is exceedingly busy--so much so that he cannot even stop driving to check his emails:

This may seem excessive, but keep in mind David Vered is an extremely important person whose life requires a high degree of connectivity. Granted, maintaining this state of constant communication is dangerous to himself and to others, but the fact is that people literally live and die by his word. Sure, it's stressful, but such is the life of the yogurt salesman:

Indeed, every day David Vered grapples with the sorts of moral quandaries the rest of us pray we will never have to face. For example, he has to tell people what to do when the yogurt machine breaks:

If you think talking a teenage employee through a yogurt machine fix isn't worth risking the lives of other road users instead of simply pulling over, then you clearly fail to appreciate the severity of the problem. First of all, one should never underestimate a yogurt-deprived Californian's capacity for violence. Each second that machine is not dispensing sweet, delicious, low-calorie yogurt to customers brings the world a second closer to an Orange County Register headline reading "Dozens Killed in Fro-Yo Massacre." Second of all, you've probably heard of the "butterfly effect." Well, there's also the "waffle cone effect." Let's say a Golden Spoon yogurt franchise runs out of waffle cones and a Californian actually settles for a regular cone instead of killing the employee and everyone else in the store. Unfortunately, it doesn't end there, because the customer will probably then go home and mistreat his or her child out of frustration, and that child will in turn probably go to school the next morning with an automatic weapon. In fact, it's precisely because of brave people like David Vered that there aren't more school shootings. So instead of dismissing him as a micromanaging multitasker who should probably consider flying instead of driving up and down the coast (or who should just get one of his yogurt-pullers to drive him around), you should celebrate him as a hero.

Of course, when the moment finally does come that Vered kills somebody with his car because he was too busy berating a 16-year old for giving somebody the wrong topping, he could very well end up in prison where he will experience a very different kind of yogurt.

However, it's not just drivers who are distracted. Cyclists too often have difficulty resisting the allure of the cellphone. Take this scene I encountered yesterday:

I apologize for the especially poor quality of the photograph, but please keep in mind I was riding at the time, which means I too am guilty of riding while distracted. (In fact, I'm actually cycling as I type this, thanks to my CETMA front-mounted computer stand.) In any case, the rider on the chrome Pista with the Tom Boonenesque faux-hawk is riding one-handed while operating his iPhone with the other. Meanwhile, the driver ahead is hurriedly backing up (note the reverse lights) to pounce upon a parking spot that's two cars back. Add to this a chicken-suited blogger fumbling with a camera and admonishing a helper monkey who's frying plantains in my rear-mounted wok (it acts as ballast for the CETMA) and you've got a recipe for some really bad yogurt.

Amazingly, despite this, the cacophony managed to resolve itself into something resembling harmony, and all parties made it through unscathed. Such is often--though not always--the case in a big city like New York. Still, this does not mean we should allow ourselves to be distracted--even when we see someone actually riding one of those Moof bikes, as I did recently:

Really, the best way to keep people from driving, or cycling, or even walking distracted (cellphones and stepping out into traffic go together like waffle cones and fro-yo) is probably to embarrass them somehow, since nothing works like a good shaming. Big companies know this, which is why Audi is now trying to embarrass cyclists in order to sell its A3 diesel:

I happened to see this commercial on television recently, and Portlanders are already indignant--though as far as I know they have not yet organized some sort of indignant theme ride around it. While the commercial pokes more fun at environmentalism than it does at cycling, it does depict people who ride bikes as hapless doofi:

I'm not exactly sure why Audi thinks they can sell a $30,000 car by saying it's better than a city bus, a cheap mountain bike, a Segway, and a vegetable oil-burning Volvo. I suppose someone might decide to spend a few hundred dollars on a bike instead of taking public transit, but I doubt many people are deliberating between an unlimited MetroCard and a new car. Why don't they say it's better than something that's actually comparable, like a Prius? This commercial is like trying to sell someone frozen yogurt by saying it's better than orange juice.

Speaking of embarrassment, few people seem more embarrassed these days than Antonio Colombo of Cinelli, who appears downright humiliated that Cinelli bicycles are now essentially the rolling equivalent of M&Ms:

This photo was brought to my attention both by acerbic commenter CommieCanuk and Lucho Metales of Metal Inquisition as well as the nascent Cycling Inquisition, where, among other things, you can gaze at cycling vestments in the denim colorway. Colombo's plaintive hand gesture and dour expression together cry, "It's come to this? Look away and leave me in my shame!" Regarding him, one feels like Andrew McCarthy in "Less Than Zero" when he found Robert Downey, Jr. whoring himself in that hotel room. His face is as nonplussed as if I myself had taken the photo:

Trust me, I know nonplussed when I see it:

One day, I hope to open some sort of establishment in which I can display all the nonplussed faces I've encountered over the years. Perhaps if Danny Aiello had had such a display in "Do The Right Thing" then Buggin' Out would have calmed down and tragedy might have been averted:

At the very least, it might have distracted him.