Monday, January 4, 2010

Have a pathological Christmas! Me, your cellphone, and US. Part 1

Christmas Eve was a day spent catching up on some much needed errands and last minute shopping. (Buying a house around the holidays is not the best move while trying to start and keep a regular blog) So I organized the entire day around completing my tasks on the bike.

Atlanta is quite cold these days so to prepare I wore my long sleeve wool jersey in addition to a base layer and arm warmers, casual action slacks, rounded out with an oversized bike bag. With my route mapped out to the point where a beer capped the final stop, I set out for some adventure.

The first destination of what will be a total of 5, distance about 15 to 18 miles round trip, was to gather up some final touches for a Christmas dinner, which was also the place that I unfortunately encountered a virulent pessimist.

Other than my smuggish pride I was unarmed, but make no mistake, whether intentionally or unintentionally I was attacked. A sneak attack from a pessimist almost always originates from behind, and they know cyclists can’t see them coming, even with bike mirrors, which in my opinion can be more dangerous using them than not. Mostly it’s what is in front of you that is important.

Before we get into the encounter let’s make one thing clear, but it’s already obvious, this retelling is of course my perspective of the events that transpired, right or wrong unfortunately can be a pointless exercise in these circumstances. Sometimes surviving to talk about it is the only kind of good that can come from what happened. Perspective is a hell of a thing.

Here goes: leaving the store, travelling up the hill to the stop sign, the pessimist pulls in front me, not 5 feet from the sign, forcing me to react by braking and putting enough fear in me to uncontrollably yell “What the fuck!” Being a “vehicle “ by law in the state of GA, I could very easily say this maneuver was indeed illegal. Worse yet, the pessimist was also looking at her cell phone, more than likely trying to recruit another damned soul into the hive mind.

Leveling out on the road, I see the pessimist drive out roughly a mile before coming to a stop light, green she's off and then pulls over to the curb.

Interesting.

As I ride closer, the car remains curbed; I now begin to process the moment. What if I am able to reach her car in time? What do I say? What’s my angle? Foam at the mouth? Spray her with my water bottle? Use the kimber pepper blaster? (diabolical) Am I being unreasonable on Christmas Eve? No. She took a chance with my life when all she had to do was wait a couple of seconds longer for me to pass through the stop sign. I decide to collect some empirical data.

I hit the red light, I am clearing my thoughts for the moment, she idles. Green I roll. I pull up to the car, she is still playing with her squeezebox blackberry. I knock on the window, she looks shocked at first, then a moment of familiarity washes over her face and rolls down the window. As soon as the window cracks, she is in mid tirade- about me.

Pessimist: “You crazy cyclist. I saw you run the stop sign. I was watching you. You ran that sign. You’re a menace to the road. What the hell is wrong with you…”

Me: Ma’am (really) I was near that stop sign when you cut me off. By the laws of the state of GA, I am a vehicle, you put my life in jeopardy, and you broke a law. What's worse is that you would not have done that if I was in a car.

Pessimist: “I did not break any law! I saw you run that stop sign and you just ran that red light.”

I was not expecting this. What proceeded resembled the wailing of two cats facing off under the same car- the sound of confusion.

Me: Ma'am, you are making this up. Why are you making this up?

Pessimist: "I am not making any of this up. This is a case of he said she said".

Who's court is she arguing for? Crazy? Craven? Afraid to be wrong? A carnal craving to be right.

At times we all choose to lose but some of us are better at pretending that we don't care.

Me: (getting irrational now) I am going to take a picture of your license plate and send it to the police. (they would just laugh)

Pessimist: "And I am going to follow you home!"

Me: My name is (chickypanther). Here's my zipcode and the neighborhood I live in. Google that on your crackberry.

I actually give her my hand to shake, she shook it.

Little did she know I have succeed in using at least 4 of the techniques from Arthur Schopenhauer's "The Art of Always Being Right". Of the 38 ways, # 21 is my finishing blow: "When your opponent uses an argument that is superficial and you see the falsehood, you can refute it by setting forth its superficial character."

No end in sight, as it generally turns into a call and response curse off, I interrupt her and drop #21, but I make it so to stick later on:

Me: You lack style and you're paranoid.

Pessimist: (moments of confusion, perhaps a quiet self admittance) "And you're pathological. Merry Christmas!"

Maybe I am pathological to ride my bike in Atlanta on Christmas Eve. That beer was good.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

'Road Rage' Case Highlights Cyclist Vs. Driver Tension

NPR’s story from last night about a pessimist from the hive mind lashing out at a cyclist.

'Road Rage' Case Highlights Cyclist Vs. Driver Tension

Another clip from an ABC news affiliate.

Road rage is indeed a component of the pessimist.

Let’s allow the audio and the salient information on the link to speak for itself. The clip does however allude to the line of thought shared by the hive mind:

"When you pull up alongside them and ask them to stay out of your way, they yell at you," he said. "They're extremely provocative, they're asking for trouble, and this is not the worst case that's going to happen. Someone's going to get killed, and to be frank with you, the residents aren't going to feel too bad about it."

Given the opportunity, pessimists are also muckrakers. A few cyclists creating trouble mean all cyclists are troublesome, right?

The piece continues to the perspective of another cyclist who talks of reckless cyclists that put in him jeopardy as “…the driver you tick off is the one who's going to run me off the road."

Evidence of the hive mind and its psychokinetic power over the cyclist.

I also deal with other cyclists that are rude and reckless; there is no doubt that this needs to be addressed. “Sharing the road” has other connotations than just the perspective of the cyclist. But if a cyclist breaks the laws of the road, then the people that are put in place to protect those laws should be the only ones enforcing them, which are the police, not the motorist.

I’ve received speeding tickets and other traffic violations as a motorist, but sometimes I get away with rolling a stop sign or whatever. The same can be said for other cyclists. Why motorists feel the need to police other cyclists I think goes back to the idea that they are having more fun and they’re also getting away with it.

To focus on safety, the linked NPR page has 5 steps toward better safety for a cyclist, but I would like to expand on them:

1. Lights: invest in 2 lights for the rear and at least one for the front. Cheap lights are cheap for a reason. If you buy a cheap light for the front, use 2. Talk to the people in the bike shop about where to clamp certain styles and brands of lights on the front, and which ones stay in place when clamped. Rear lights need to be visible and blinking. There are excellent products available that clamp to the seat post and others that connect to your helmet, bag, coat, belt, or the seat stay.
2. TLC: first, get educated on the language of the bike, Intown Bicycle in Atlanta has good section on their site about terms and “how-to’s”.
Next keep your bike clean by wiping the frame down regularly and keeping your chain clean. One rule for bikes is if there is any noise, rattle, squeak or other, something is wrong. Bikes should virtually be silent. Brakes should not squeal and nothing should feel “loose”.
3. Keep your eyes peeled: slow down in tight areas where cars are parked on the right; watch for car doors. When crossing intersections or outlets that have traffic entering from the right, make eye contact with the driver. Make sure that they see you noticing them. Also try to glance at the wheels to see if they are inching forward. Oncoming traffic looking to turn in front of you, just expect them to cut you off. They’re trying to get ahead. Some slow for you and let the cyclist pass but it’s safer to assume that they are about to cut you off. If they don’t cut you off, well that’s a better surprise than the alternative.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The concrete fishbowl and the hive mind

Despite being “the city among the trees” Atlanta is a quintessential car-friendly city. Atlanta is also encircled by I-285 which develops the “perimeter” keeping Atlanta proper inside and the country, along with its corresponding stereotypes, outside or “OTP”. A car is needed to connect one suburb to another.

A condensed history from the past 25 years consists of whiteflight, housing projects, urban renewal, urban sprawl and a growing populace making the cityscape very dynamic, with changes occurring frequent enough to shock even the few that deem themselves Atlanta’s own and neighborhoods wealthy and poor intimate enough to be within a mile from one another.

In a sense, we live in a fishbowl whose inhabitants have created a culture dependent on automobiles.

But all this is quite obvious to Atlanta suburbanites. What is unseen however, what lurks in the city’s seams and ravines through our neighborhoods is the dreaded and hideous HIVE MIND. The hive mind is a school of strangers, in this case usually those that have bought an expensive car only to look good while they’re stuck in traffic, driven by a collective unconscious where each individual combines their psychokinetic powers to work like a city-wide machine, have a hive memory set which then focuses their disdain on those who want to swim like a different fish, those that want simply to jump out of school.

The hive mind makes it impossible to get from A to B in less than 30 minutes, even if it’s a 2 mile commute. The hive mind creates smog. The hive mind makes our roads dangerous. The hive mind is programmed to do the same, over and over. The hive mind consumes other motorists to keep alive. The hive mind forces the na├»ve to submit to their will, to assimilate. The hive mind of motorists work against cyclists and pedestrians. The hive mind does not want anything to get in their way.

The debate of why some (some– I am a motorist sometimes as well) motorists see cyclists as a threat or in some cases as a target is never ending, but only when you don’t consider the obvious: driving in Atlanta will inherently make you pessimistic. To be a cyclist in a city like this one needs to be optimistic, and optimists quite frankly have more fun. According to Robert Anton Wilson, “Optimistic people live longer than pessimistic people… pessimists are miserable.”

It’s rare to see someone looking happy stuck in traffic. Unless they are scared (or bonking) cyclists generally seem pretty damned happy to be on a bike.

Alan Harrington in his Immortalist talks of the mythical “the great big computer in the sky” watching and recording our actions, judging those that succeed and those that fail, and divvying out passes for those deemed worthy enough to enter when they hit the pearly gates. He speaks to the tendency of nonperformers that in moments of failure they try to hide themselves in a group, thinking that they won’t be noticed. Which he then parlays into the idea why some people like to bring others “down to their level”.

Given that perspective, it is an easy conclusion to make why some pessimistic motorists dislike cyclists. Misery loves company.

I ride long rides in attempt to burst the hive mind bubble, physically to get out of congested roads and metaphysically to reclaim my mind. One hole in the hive mind bubble exists northeast of the city where I-285 meets E. Ponce De Leon on the route to Stone Mountain and beyond. Cycling toward this cross over point, motorists have a tendency to lash out like crocodiles in a moat, with two points of access to the freeway and two points of exit. At this juncture cyclists contend with Stone Mountain tourists, motorists in need of gas and your everyday pessimist. The moat is at its most dangerous level as you cross the overpass, and the danger level does not dissipate fully until you cross over Mountain Industrial Blvd., and that is despite the bike trail that runs parallel to the road up to the mountain. (I have been hit from behind by another cyclist on account of a car that decided to cut me off. I and the other cyclist braked for our stop sign the pessimist decided to drive through their stop sign, forcing us to ride into one another. Pessimists can be quite crafty.)

Taking the Norman Rd. route I would say that the danger of the pessimists and their hive mind begins to dissipate after you cross over Memorial Ave.

Other routes to burst the hive mind bubble do indeed exist in other areas of the city, but not due north, for two reasons: the hive mind of pessimists has sprawled beyond the bubble and it’s too damn hilly to escape with a full head of steam, which also makes it difficult when pessimists use their weaponry, which sometimes consists of what remains of their 100 oz. diet cokes.

We, being those who want to reclaim their mind need to come together and work as a team to find other holes that exist in the hive mind bubble. I know of other routes, one being off Roosevelt Hwy., but I am not comfortable in advocating that route for the novice, despite being a relatively flat ride at some points. Be aware of concrete arteries that dissect the road which make it even more challenging to escape, leaving open the chance for other random acts akin to the Stone Mountain moat.

Inside the bubble, there are indeed numerous “safe zones”. These “safe zones” act like the zone in Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” where it can appear peaceful and harmless, with no visible dangers anywhere. Lucky for us the laws of physics apply in this world, there is no need to throw a cloth-tied metal nut ahead of you before cycling into a new area. Some popular “safe zones” are Inman Park, Cabbagetown, the parts of Candler Park that do not have pedestrian islands jutting out into imaginary bike lanes. Oakhurst and Kirkwood. Grant Park, Ormewood, East Atlanta, and Decatur. But there are powerful hive mind currents to cross in order to connect to these neighborhoods. These currents run high in pessimist numbers with a concentrated collective power of psycho kinesis, powerful enough to convince some cyclists to ride without helmets.

Riding in numbers or carrying a flask of whisky to keep your courage is advised.

Friday, November 20, 2009

preamble

A few years back, I had the notion that I shared with a friend who lives in Boston: bicycles are the new punk.

The meaning of that statement, then in what was casual conversation has a different meaning now, as cycling has indeed become quite trendy in the US. Much like what to happened to punk rock in particular, the idea of what was once punk rock has been commoditized and relegated to the shelves of fashionable boutiques all over the country. An evolution (or de-evolution) that the free market now owns and the little man (consumer) cannot stop. Which is apparently happening to the culture of cycling. http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/

My sentiment in my original statement meant that riding a bike in the US is almost like a petit “go screw” to the driver stuck in traffic, the oil cartel that jacks up the price of fuel, the local government and their backward traffic policies, smog, diabetes, and whatever else a bitter cyclist can conjure through the act of correlation to prove causation. Which, on the surface has the same essence of protest, like punk rock. Speaking of which, a manifesto of relevance in Cars R Coffins: Bikes+Punk Rock=Freedom.

Where are we now? Chatting with friends and new acquaintances, when cycling finds its way into the discussion, reactions from non-cyclists in Atlanta typically fall into 3 categories:

1. You’re crazy
2. You and you’re brethren are a menace to the road
3. How green

They’re not entirely wrong. I choose to compost the unwanted bits of produce, I can be a dangerously fast cyclist (and drinker), and I am a whole different person when I’m afraid.

After riding in Atlanta for 7 years, I have seen my fair share of the good and bad, met nice and mean spirited people, felt and experienced the “fear”, and have happened upon those that seem to be a bit more aware and considerate than others.

Without diving into too many of the details of the last 7 years now, as part of this blog’s intent is to spread out the last 7, the general impression that gives me some comfort in riding on the streets of Atlanta is this (many thanks to Horselover Fat for the inspiration):

1. Those that agree with you are insane
2. Those who do not agree with you are in power

I have become aware of the angst and bitter feelings that arise when one questions the reality of a motorist defiant on keeping their oversized car, undersized phone and the existing ways of these roads. They know there are problems; they’re stuck in the same traffic and are dealing with the same health conditions as most in the US. From some points of view, cycling is not a logical commuting option and some cyclists have even become targets, as I have had items thrown at me while riding (no silent evidence of provocation, I swear) and what seems to be an endless dialog:

Me: “Hey! You almost hit me!”
Motorist: “Stay out of the road.”
Me: “But I am a vehicle in the state of GA. I have a right to be on the road.”
Motorist: “No you’re not. You’re in the way.”
Me: “What the hell did you just say?”
Passenger in the car: “Just get out of here Harold. Just go! Just go!”

Hopefully after collecting a vast amount of empirical data, we can get close to a semblance of something that simulates a sensible answer.

Meanwhile, another lane to the highways and islands are added to the middle of streets seem to be the prevailing solution. One of which, unfortunately, works well only after midnight.

So, something must be done, if I don't do it somebody else will. Here's the fuzzy plan:

1. Get behind existing local organizations that are taking a stab at reform
2. Keep riding, with a helmet
3. Start a damn blog and try to have some fun with it as we, as a city, head towards some necessary change