Sunday, December 18, 2011

C'est La Guerre (part 1)

This is a big topic. And it will likely take some time to get out. There will be a few chapters. And there will be some revisitations and edits.
Please follow the link below and forgive my inability to embed video on the blog. Je suis un idiot.,0,3554681.story

Having been interviewed a few times for various news stories regarding bicycles and bicycle safety, I admit to being completely confounded as to which snippets of an interview they decide to use and which ones don't make the cut. 15 minutes worth of interview always results in 2 minutes worth of material I would have considered to be out takes.
Although, I do understand to a degree, as I am not A) photogenic B) well spoken or C) consistently coherent. Keeping that in mind, it's easier to understand why entire portions of an interview are scrapped.
Immediately following this interview I received a phone call.
"Yeah... I'm calling because I seen where you was on the news," said a total stranger, "and I wanna say a few things. You ain't got no business being out on them highways. Y'all need to be riding in designated cycling areas."
My ire was up. Whether because I'd just been on a soapbox and was in my hyper analytical and pontificating frame of mind... I felt my vision beginning to take on a decidedly crimson tint.
But I kept my cool.
"I'm sorry, sir, but I have to completely disagree. We have every right to be out there" I barely got in edgewise, as "SIR" as we will call him henceforth, continued....
"Lemme tell you what.. I live out there in _________ (I honestly couldn't understand him, but took it to be in the vicinity of Hornytown. ) This one time I came up on a feller what was standing in the middle of the road on his bicycle, talking to a feller on a lawn mower. He ain't seed me at all as he weren't paying no nevermind to nothing and you know what that feller did? He ran plumb into the side of my truck. Ruirnt my mirror and all. He were ok. But it knocked him to the ground but good. You cyclist's ain't got no sense!"
While it may seem that I'm being intentionally mocking in my quotations of the caller, I promise you... this is near verbatim. And I am not. Because as much as my hackles were up, sensing the pending fight that often comes with such words, I was with him. 100%. And I told him as much. But I also did my best to explain that while a few bad apples can ruin a bunch (the kind of saying I imagined would have some bearing to the caller) the fact was that most of us were very conscientious and hyper aware of both our vulnerability and responsibility on the roads. And that as annoying as we might be sometimes.... we are human beings. We are fathers. We are sons. We are husbands.
And our conversation become more than a black and white argument. We went back and forth for a while... and we actually talked. And connected.
He told that we need to model ourselves on Europe, where he and his wife had toured the other summer.... and the the cars take the highways and the bikes take their own lanes.
And I told him that I understood. And that to an extent, I agreed. But that this wasn't Europe. And that we weren't there yet... That this is a growing sport, and the number of cyclists out on the road ways was only going to increase. And that perhaps one day we'll have that infrastructure. But right now... we share the roads. And every time I'm out there, I put my faith in my fellow human beings to do the right thing.
And he agreed with me and said he respected my opinion and that hopefully we get there soon.
I can't say for certain, but my impression was that when we both hung up the phone, it wasn't with the vexation that we both picked it up with.

It's an old story... and I've heard it a million times. People hate us. HATE us.
Just a brief perusal of the comments regarding the news story above.... wherein a cyclist was critically injured... and you can see that bile. Although it's not just bile... it's something much more toxic than that.
A few things. At first glance it's overwhelming. The overwhelmingly negative comments are daunting, and I felt like crying, spitting and fighting reading them. These are supposed to be my fellow people? This is my species? This is my country? This is what a human being is?
But upon inspection you realize that it's 5, maybe 7 people... most of whom have given themselves absurd names like "thevoiceofreason" and "sophisticatedidiot" and "sassyman2295".
Ah... the confidence that internet anonymity provides.
I'm not going out on a limb when I say that for the most part, (and when I say most, I mean 99.9%) the people compelled to make comments via news stories are out of their f***ing minds.  
I understand some of the responses, where level headed people made the mistake of reading said comments and felt that they could not contain it any longer and had to say something.
But again.... the fact is (and it's a scientifically proven FACT) that for the most part, the people commenting on news stories are idiots. ALL stories. Just take a look! Seriously. Read a story via an online news network, whatever network that happens to be... a story about ANYTHING....and then read the comments. You will feel like crying, marveling that people can be so dumb.
Look....I'm sorry if you're one of those people... If you happen to be "Hammerhead444" and you think your comment on "The New Superfoods of 2012" was prescient and brilliant. It wasn't.
Sigh... it's true.
So... seven dips***s made stupid comments, over and over.... and I find myself losing hope in humanity. Good googely moogely... have you followed the Republican Debates?! It's that times 1000! (Don't get me wrong... the Democratic Debates are just as nauseating.)
Seriously.....Don't blame me... I voted for the REVOLTING COGS!)
These people don't represent everyone. Not even close. They represent a tiny fraction of mentally unstable idiots who comment on every news story, and who think they have important things to say. (uhhh... Watts? Not to be "thevoiceofreason" but aren't you kind of commenting on a news story and acting like you have something important to say?)
They comment on every story. Not just this one. "thevoiceofreason" didn't just get a wild hare (hare? hair? Either way....I don't understand) up his ass and NEED to respond to this one story.
Hell no! He weighs in on EVERYTHING. Poorly! (You mean... like you're doing now?)

The point being... don't pay him no nevermind. Because that gives his voice a power it doesn't deserve.

Back to the news story...
Two major points:
One: I really don't care about the speed limit. To be honest... it's never occurred to me to lower the speed limit on those roads. The news anchor asked a question regarding the speed limit and whether I would advocate lowering it... and I said "sure"... and spoke about how much development has happened north of town and how what were once country roads with abandoned horse farms are now major byways with burgeoning deveolpments.
And somehow, via this interview... it looks like I'm lobbying for a lower speed limit.
As if that was my agenda.
Not at all.
I know that FOX news are the masters of spin.... but I didn't really expect it on something like this.
I blame my own naivete. The writers and anchor clearly had an agenda. If not an agenda... then a story in mind. And the goal was to use what I said to support that story. Not to find out where it takes them.
Because never once did I mention lowering the speed limit, save for when I was asked whether I would support such an act. To which I answered yes.
The question and answer that SHOULD have been included was pretty simple:
"What is the biggest challenge you see to bicycle safety?"
My answer was and is simple: Ignorance.
And I didn't mean it in an accusatory or blaming way. Sometimes it's willfull, yes... and people just don't care.... but I genuinely believe that for the most part, it is a simple fact. People just don't know. They don't know the rules of the road. And they don't know what to do when the encounter a bicycle.
They just... don't ... know.
I spoke about how I think there needs to be formal education programs in place.... teaching drivers how to handle bicycle traffic when they encounter it.
But I also spoke about education bicyclists on how to ride safely.
Because come on... some of you are just as stupid as Sassyman225.
I remember when I first moved back to Greensboro. I showed up to one of the group rides... the Farmer's Market Ride (a blog entry in it's own right).
This was my first formal group ride back in The 'Boro. As we rolled out, I noticed a man in a flapping, loose shirt with a very poor fit on his bike wearing a pair of headphones. Not earbuds (though I wouldn't have cared either way, as they are both STUPID things to wear on a bike) but FULL COVERAGE EARPHONES. I pulled up next to him in this group of near 30 riders and said something along the lines of "take your f***ing earphones out you f***ing idiot."
"What did you say to me, son?" asked Mr.FlappyJersey666.
"You f***ing heard me. You're a menace to everyone out here right now."
I seem to remember giving him the finger and riding off the front of the group, splintering it into the manageable pockets it should have been in to begin with.
It took every bit of self-restraint not grab Mr.FlappyJersey666 by his collar and yank him off the bike. Because he was being willfully stupid. And was being disrespectful to his fellow riders, ignoring their safety, and disrespectful to the motorists who it should come as no surprise, we share the road with.
Could Mr.FlappyJersey hear that there was an automobile behind him, coming up fast, as he rocked out to whatever crappy ClearChannel "rock" he was listening to?
It's just common sense.
And I'll admit... there's a dearth of it out there. And there are alot of riders who should f***ing know better.
Hell....I've been one of them. And I've been called out. Taken to school.
That used to be the credo. You do something stupid... you get pulled aside and educated. Or get kicked out.
The art of HOW TO RIDE A BIKE LIKE YOU'VE GOT AN OUNCE OF SENSE needs to be another blog entry as well (Man... I've got my work cut out for me.) But suffice to say...
Some of you need to act right.
I think all cyclists should have to drive up on a large group ride (20 plus) on a two lane road and figure out how the hell to pass them safely. It's very enlightening.
And it gives an idea how frustrating it can be. If we, as cyclists, aren't aware of that, and take it all for granted... then we're going to get a viscious wake up call when certain roads are no longer accessible to us.
But make no mistake... I'm not condemning cyclists.
And I'm still unsure what it is about my 150 lb frame on a bike, riding safely and conscientiously, that is so threatening to 200+lb men (and women) in 2000lb Ford F150 trucks.... but it most be something. Because some people just lose their s*** when they see us. Maybe they had a bad day. Maybe their bosses were totall asses and they were transferring that frustration on to us.
That's when we go from being obstacles to targets.
Which bring me to...
On the link above, they show a clip of me saying something along the lines of "everyone I know who rides a bike has been hit or had an accident."
This would seem to indicate that it is, by nature, a hazardous activity, and that we are all stupid for persisting in it. And it has certainly been brought to my attention as thus by various folks.
Just about everyone I know has soiled their pants at one point or another as well.
Does this indicate anything about the danger of wearing pants?
Yes... I'm being glib, because I do recognize the inherent risks involved with riding a bike. But having inherent risks involved with something is a far cry from it being inherently risky.
Hell.... LIFE is risky. Childbirth is risky. SEX is risky! Probably more risky than riding a bike these days.
Are you going to stop?
Right. So shut up.
When I say that everyone I know has had an incident of some kind.... I am referring specifically to an certain kind of incident. I've had accidents, where my wheel slipped on a stick or acorn, and I take a tumble. And I've had at least 5 very bad incidents... where the word "accident" has no bearing. I've been intentionally run off the road at least four times from behind.
Once, in the mid 90's as a relative novice to road riding, heading out for an solo evening ride near the airport, an SUV buzzed me with an inch to spare along an empty four lane road. As the driver had a whole lane to himself and had no reason to come within 6 feet of me, much less an inch, I threw my hands up and gave him a one finger salute.
He slammed on his brakes and put the car in reverse. I pulled off and he stopped next to me. I couldn't see through his heavily tinted windows, but gave a "what the hell, man?" shrug. Then I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I rolled by him and kept riding. I don't know what I was thinking, honestly. Maybe that he'd made his "point" and I'd made mine. And the fight was over.
I heard his tires start squealing as he went from zero to "impact" in 4 seconds. His passenger side mirror slammed into my shoulder, nearly knocking me down. And then he started coming over, using the passenger side of his vehicle to push me off the road into the ditch. I went ass over tea-kettle.
You know what?
No one stopped. Not him.... Not the car behind him.... No one.
Why not?
And once, knocked off my bike by a head on collision with a woman who was cutting across four lanes of road completely devoid of traffic. In her own words, she didn't see me because she was "busy praying to her guardian angel."
When I got up off the ground, scraped to hell... the woman, without once apologizing, explained how she felt that while she may have been completely distracted, her angel had saved my life (and her ass, incidentally... keeping her out of jail for vehicular manslaughter.) I tried to explain that if she hadn't been distracted by her "praying" and "guardian angle" she would have seen me, and thus... never hit me.
Needless to say, we didn't see eye to eye, and I believe I used her lord's name in vain a number of times as I met with her obstinately stupid excuses for not paying attention to her driving.
The other day, stopping for some supplies at Target, I approached a two way intersection where I had the right way and all other traffic had to stop. A woman clearly thought otherwise and pulled out right in front of me. I slammed on my brakes, sending groceries and presents careening toward the front of my car, and stopped less than an inch from her driver side door. Dumbfounded by this woman's stupidity, my jaw dropped when she turned angrily to me and yelled, "learn to drive!"
As far as she was concerned... she'd done no wrong. She'd run a stop sign... willfully ignorant of her obligations as a driver, and had the audacity to blame it on me.
When I said that everyone I know has had some kind of accident on the road, I was referring to a particular kind of accident. The kind where someone does something really stupid. Maybe something crazy.
The times I've had serious bike accidents... it was either entirely intentional on the part of the driver, or the result of negligence.
What is an accident?
Seriously.... what defines "accident?"
When I knock a glass over, is that an accident? Or is it negligence... because I wasn't aware of my surroundings and should have been paying attention?
If a meteor fell out of the sky and plowed right through your windshield, knocking you unconcious... I'll call that an accident. Fabio getting hit in the face by a goose while riding a roller coaster... that's an accident.
But you following too close... or going too fast... or fiddling with the radio.... or sending a motherf***ing text message about f***ing NOTHING OF CONSEQUENCE!!!
.....That's negligence... pure and simple. Criminal negligence.
Look... we've all had that moment. My phone rings... I look at it for just a moment....and look up just in time to avoid ramming the suddenly braking car in front of me at full speed.
And if I'd hit them... it wouldn't have been an "accident", as sorry as I might be, and as unintentional as it would have been... it would have been NEGLIGENCE.
 I don't know what Amy Byrd was doing when she plowed into Ross Hiller, forever changing his life for the worse. I can't speak to that.
But I have a hard time believing that it as an "accident"... sneezing fit or not.
I know it wasn't intentional.... and I know she feels truly horrible about it.
But that doesn't make it an accident.
I could be wrong. But I feel like there was a healthy dose of negligence involved. And now, someone is paying the price.
Ross knew the risks... he knew that there's a chance that someone somewhere wouldn't be paying the attention they should be. And that some people are just stupid and mean.
Sometimes horrible things happen. Sometimes people get hurt for no reason. But sometimes... horrible things happen... and it's because we just weren't being the people we need to be.
Bethany Hamilton, at age 14, had her arm bitten off by a shark while surfing. It's an inherent risk of surfing. You're in the ocean... and there are sharks. And since prehistoric times, the shark, which has evolved very little, as it has a ecological niche that requires very little growth, has been programmed to kill and eat. Bethany understood that risk, and to this day, she's out there absolutely RIPPING it among the sharks, sans one arm.
But you know what.....people aren't sharks. And as much as there are inherent risks involved with cycling, motorists aren't sharks. They're human beings, like us. And we hope they think at least a little bit like we do.... And we put our faith in our fellow men and women to do the right thing. And to be vigilant. And pay attention. And not allow their negligence to get the better of them.
It's a big leap of faith, I know. And as a misanthrope of epic proportions, I can go on and on about the folly of trusting people to do the right thing.
But come on... this is what it's about. All of it.... regardless of your beliefs.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Me? I just want others to just pay some goddamned attention to what they're doing. You know?
And I want them to own up when they're wrong... when they're being stupid.
And I want them to try harder, and instead of being defensive and trying to turn it around, saying "Well you're a hypocrite... blah blah...." Just admitting their own folly and promising to do better.
And I want to be able to believe that people have that capacity.
And I also want a pony.


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