If you are reading this from the comfort of some country other than the US, consider yourself lucky at least in one respect: you don’t have forced ringside seats for the most tawdry, surreal, high-stakes, expensive political brawl in my country’s history. Everyone is on edge, and no one can look away. I think many of us feel like Alex from “A Clockwork Orange”:
Usually, though, when the going gets tough, the tough have the option of getting going– on bikes, on foot, in boats, in studios, in boxing rings, up mountains, etc. To paraphrase William Congreve, movement hath charms to soothe a savage breast (most people think it’s “beast”, but it’s actually “breast”– at least according to the internet).
I mean, who can get sucked into the latest video scandal when you’ve got the open road, bright-colored leaves on the trees, and crisp (but not freezing) temperatures?
I pursued this line of two-wheeled therapy on the recent holiday Monday this week. A bunch of friends and I rode out west of Boston on scenic roads adorned with fall colors. We made the requisite stop at a New England country store, updated for Halloween by inflatable day-glo spiders. We didn’t mind the mixed visual themes.
But of course even though we could pedal, we couldn’t hide from the aggression in the environment. One driver rolled his window down and called us idiots (for what? for riding? he should try it– it’s fun). Others honked at us. Yet others passed us more aggressively than usual, even though it was a holiday.
On Friday afternoon I rode with my friend Pata. We left a bit later than planned (2ish rather than 1ish), so we did encounter more traffic. But we also encountered some seriously aggressive drivers, including one that flat-out broke the law, turning left in front of me (as I was getting ready to go straight at an intersection) when that person had a steady red light. At another spot two cars made foolhardy lefts as we were turning right, nearly taking out both of us. Even on the street going home (where there are soccer fields and parks for little kids to play), cars were zooming past us, far too close, going much faster than they usually do.
Of course, in some ways this is no news. We seem to be in a stage of traffic evolution in which there is a lot of driver anger against bicyclists, and a lot of bicyclist anger against drivers. I keep hoping that we’re making progress toward this:
But until we all reach the Dutch level of city cycling nirvana, we’re going to have to watch out for ourselves and others.
I wonder, though: how much is the political season affecting the moods and health and behaviors of those of us who are living through it? Of course the answer is “a lot”. But is it creating conditions in which we are all more at risk in our everyday behaviors (like driving or cycling or walking to work)? I’m not trying to be alarmist, but rather to say that, at least for those of us in the US (and maybe there are spillover effects, for which I personally apologize on behalf of the American electorate), a little more care may be in order. I’ll still be cycling, but will adjust the times of day I ride in town when I can. Maybe more off-road riding is in order, too.
Ending on a positive note: there’s nothing more fun than riding a bike wearing a costume. Along with a bunch of friends, I’m going to do the costume race on October 30 for the Orchard Cross cyclocross event. I’m pulling out the banana costume again– after all, I paid $15 for it and want to get as much use out of it as I can. If you’re anywhere nearby that day, come out and ride or watch. I hear the giraffe cyclist may be back.