Tales from the Blacktop

By Sean Rule, Math (i.e., by Sean “Ralph Tells Me My Blogs Are Too Long” Rule)

I work in Pioneer Hall.  Pioneer’s academic office area has the wonderful distinction of housing the most concentrated group of bike commuters at COCC.  A quick poll of the 30 – odd folks that call Pioneer home shows that at least 8 of us ride to work at least during nice weather, and at least 3 of us ride in all weather.  Yay, us!

Now, of course, this translates into many kinds of savings.  For example, if I drove our beater Jeep to work and back each day, Monday through Friday, I’d burn 4 gallons of gas a week.  Also, I’d deny myself the wonderful workout that cranking up Archie Briggs gives me each day.  And, of course, I’d be contributing to the greenhouse gas emissions that I’m currently deleting.  Again, yay us!

However, there is a dark side to bicycle commuting.  I figure I’ve logged, since I started commuting back in Delaware, at least 25,000 miles by bike (including not only biking to work and back, but also running other errands that don’t require a car).  Now, you just can’t expect to ride a bike that much and not have things go wrong.  Flat tires, broken chains, cracked frames…heck, two months ago, I actually ripped the back wheel out of the dropouts.  Bikers call these “mechanicals”, and they happen (and will continue to happen) all the time.

However, there is another class of incidence bike commuters (well, at least me) experience: objective hazards.  By “objective hazards”, I mean this: cars don’t seem to see us (or don’t care we’re there, or care we’re there and want to screw with us), and therefore, we become (un)intentional targets.  I routinely share the more interesting of these events with my fellow commuters here at COCC, and one suggested that we chronicle them.  Well, here are just a few, starting with my memories of my East Coast objective hazards, as well as the lessons you can learn from each:

Riding down Kirkwood Highway (the equivalent of Highway 97…without a shoulder), I turned off into a neighborhood.  Looking right as I made the turn, I was surprised to see a Wendy’s milkshake flying next to me.  Even more surprising was that it maintained trajectory long enough so I could tell it was strawberry.  Lesson: Grow eyes in the back of your head.  While you’re at it, grow them on the sides of your head, too.  Maybe on your butt, as well.    

My wife, Jen, and I (and now my son, Max) will often go grocery shopping with our bikes.  Back in Delaware, before Max was born, Jen and I would ride our cruiser bikes outfitted with racks to the grocery stores, and then cruise back home, loaded down with grub.  As we were riding home one time, a car full of teenage boys went zipping by; as they passed, I heard screams of “Losers!” and “Get a car!”, all of which were ignorable, but I saw one of them throw a bottle out of the window, slightly backwards, as if towards us.  I stood up in the pedals, and upshifted as I cranked like Lance off toward their car, now stopped at a red light (remember, I’m loaded down with groceries).  I caught up to them at the stop light, leaned over, and knocked on the back passenger window.  Surprised, the kid looked up at me, and rolled down the window, not saying anything.  I asked something to the effect of, “Did one of you laboratory rejects drop a bottle?”  Nothing.  You could have heard a cricket chirp.  Then the light turned green, and they sped off.  When they were a safe distance away from the weird guy on the bike, the one whose window I had tapped, leaned out and screamed, “Loser!”  Lesson:  Cars full of teenage boys are also full of unbridled testosterone.  Something happens to these otherwise sweet people that makes them want to perform for their co – passengers.  Avoid them like the plague.     

Coming back from work at Del Tech (the CC at which I used to work), I was cruising down yet another Delaware road without bike lanes (trust me, folks…we’ve got it awesome here in Bend as far as bike lanes go).  As I approached a stop light, I began a track stand; that’s where you stay upright in the pedals without moving forwards or backwards.  I do this to ensure that, as soon as the light turns green, I can take off and get through intersections before cars have a chance to hit me.  Anyway, I’m track standing, and I hear a honk from the car next to me.  It surprises me, and I almost fall over.  Looking over, I hear the lady in the car scream, “Get the (unprintable) off of the road, you (unprintable)”, or something to that effect.  I wander over to her car, lean down into the window, and ask her what her problem is, to which she mumbles something about me taking over the road.  I reminded her that there were no bike lanes on the road, and she mumbled something (again, unprintable) and then flipped me off.  I then picked up my bike and moved in front of her car, where I remained after the light turned green.  I stood there for almost the entire green light sequence, while she (and all of the cars behind her) orchestrated quite a cacophony of horns and obscenity.  Then, in a flash of (if I do say so myself) brilliance, I timed it just well enough so that I got back on the bike and pedaled through as it turned yellow, leaving the angry, annoying lady behind.  Lesson:  Some people just hate you when you ride a bike.  If you encounter one, messing with them can be fun.

So, there are three of the many, many objective hazards I dealt with on the East Coast (don’t get me started about riding in Philly).  However, since moving here, I’ve had a few doozies, as well:

 Riding home on Morningstar about 3 months ago, I was approximately 20 feet from the intersection with 18th Street when I heard a fantastically loud, drawn – out screeching.  Looking up, I saw an Audi station wagon skidding across the intersection I was about to enter, and finally crashing into the curb 10 feet in front of me, so hard that it ripped the front right wheel off the axle.  Thank you to anyone who held me up that day for even a second, because you probably saved my life.  Lesson:  There is no lesson here.  Sometimes bad crap happens, and you just hope you’re not in the middle of it.   

  Recently, riding home on the same stretch of Morningstar (hmm…maybe I should change my commuting route), I looked up and saw a small delivery box truck peeking its way out of a side road.  The driver is looking down at his hand, and not looking at the road at all, so I look over my shoulder, and, after noting no other traffic behind me, begin to move out of the way (because I just know this joker in the box truck is checking a text message).  I get within 20 feet of him, and I hear the engine rev up and he begins to pull out onto Morningstar without looking up!  Naturally, I scream obscenities at the top of my lungs which, even though his windows were up, he heard.  He stopped (as I rolled in front of him) and I slowed enough to flip him off.  He gave me a little “what are you gonna do” shrug, and I pedaled on.  I probably should’ve stopped to ream him, but…

…I get home 2 minutes later, drop my bag in the garage, still fuming.  As I’m walking to the office to recharge my headlight, the bell rings.  Guess who it is?

The joker from the box truck, delivering cloth diapers to our house!  I open the door (still dressed in my commuting clothes, including my helmet) and I just stand there.  “He doesn’t recognize me”, I think.  So I say, “Hey, you’re the (unprintable) that almost(unprintable) hit me out there.”  This catches him off guard, and he stammers something like, “Well, my GPS was chirping, and I couldn’t find your house”, blah, blah, blah (he actually said “chirping”).  I muttered something else unprintable, and, as he had started turning away, I let him have a little more haranguing, closed the door, and felt much better.  Lesson:  Good Karma shows itself in weird ways.  In this case, it delivered the idiot to my door. 

            As Pam Beyer said, “I like to remind myself occasionally that my commute is normal only because Sean is a gravity well that attracts all commuting strangeness to his route”.  Indeed.  Also, riding in Bend is simple, and usually very safe, especially when compared to the cheating of death that occurred on a daily basis in my commutes back East.  However, as evidenced by the two events of the last couple of weeks (and many, many less severe ones that occur each week), we bike commuters need to stay alert and alive.   

            How about you?  Any good commuting horror stories?  Leave ‘em below.

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2 Responses to Tales from the Blacktop

  1. Peter Casey says:

    I have to thank Sean Rule, Doug Nelson, and Ralph Phillips for their biking dedication, they inspire me and I try to ride my bike as often as I can. Since September of 2008 I have almost 1,100 miles on my bike and I only live two miles from campus.

  2. Andria says:

    This is great Sean! The blog, not the mishaps and challenges of people yelling at you and throwing things. Here is a link you might find entertaining if you haven’t seen it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ahg6qcgoay4 I show this when I talk about false memory and attention. Main point is to watch out for cyclists!! Oh—and I don’t care that your blogs are long. They are fun to read :-).

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