Wednesday, March 18, 2009

For us "Freaks"

A buddy sent this to me back in 2003 when we were both commuting a lot more regularyly than we are now. I thought of this this morning on my commute in to the shop.

Your neighbors are moving further from their jobs. They commute
further, one neighbor per vehicle, in larger and larger vehicles:
trucks or SUVs. They used to drive VWs or Civics. Now they buy vehicles
as if each time they drive they're moving their homes, not merely their

Because the freeways are parking lots mornings and evenings, your
neighbors instead choose scenic, secondary roads you've ridden on your
bike for years. They drive as fast as they would on the freeway - if
the freeway were empty. The freeway hasn't been empty since 1971.

They hate you for being there on their roads, slowing their commute or
trip to the mall. They act as if all traffic hassle is some cyclist's
fault, as if out on the freeways, where there are no cyclists, all is
well, love is in the air.

You ride anyway.

Your neighbors' land-yachts sprawl across narrow lanes. They crowd you
on your bicycle, scaring you. Your neighbors sip drive-thru lattes and
chat on their cell-phones, not scared at all.

They pause in school zones, mom or dad dropping off Justin and Heather.
You pedal down School Street, a corridor of fear vibrating with the
rattle of huge diesel engines.

Mom and dad almost never see you, as if you did not exist. When they do
see you, they look straight through you - as if you didn't exist. They
wish you didn't. You're just a nuisance, pedaling uselessly through the
school zone.

You navigate around sudden U-turns and unpredictable moves. Any crazy
thing could happen. You are beyond fearful. You're a submarine captain
listening for the depth charge that penetrates the hull, lets black
freezing water roar in.

You ride anyway.

On your ride, young guys in baseball hats, one cheek bulging
smokelessly, practice "sharing the road" with cyclists. They share the
road 90/10. The cyclist gets 10%; The young guy's rusty Ford
four-b'-four gets the rest.

If the young guy is lucky enough to have a girl sitting close to him in
that old Ford, the split goes to 95/05. You can hear the Dixie Chicks
as the truck skims by. You hate the Dixie Chicks.

You ride anyway.

When it rains, bits of glass from car crashes and nails spilled from
truck-beds cut the wet rubber of your tires. Thorns you could have
rolled over harmlessly in July now find their way into your tubes. The
air gets out.

You have six times as many flats as summertime. You fix them in silence
on the flooding roadside in the rain. Your hands take a beating from
the work and the cold. My hands are always dirty, you think. And

You ride anyway.

When you get to work, you change out of your soaked cycling clothes and
spread newspapers under your dripping bike. You hang pieces of dripping
clothing off your saddle, top tube and bars. You stuff your shoes with
newspaper as if you really believed they'd dry by quitting time. They
never have.

People at work do not mention your commuting by bike. They know that if
they even start to discuss it with you, they'll blurt out how crazy
they think you are. You ride in the RAIN and the DARK, they'd say; Why
do you do that?

You can see all that in their eyes, so you continue, quietly hanging
your soggy tights from your bars. They stare at you, astonished. No one

You ride anyway.

In winter it takes you nearly as long to dress and undress for your
ride as the ride takes. You feel like the Michel-in man. You own 22
pairs of gloves but you're still searching for the perfect pair. Not to
mention booties.

You're obsessive about rainy-weather chain lubrication. You know you
are. No one else on the planet cares about it at all, and you're
obsessed. You fool yourself that you have your little problem under
control. You don't. It hasn't impacted your work life or relationship,
but it could...

You sense an intervention lies ahead. Tough love for the chain-lube

You ride anyway.

You've spent four grand on high-tech bicycle lights. You're considering
buying yet another system based on a glowing magazine test. You know
that some people, on learning of your somewhat excessive lightbuying
behavior, would conclude that you're a genuinely sick person. They
would be correct.

You ride anyway.

You get a cold a year. It's not a terrible cold, no worse than three
years as a prisoner of war in Viet Nam or manning an oar in a Roman
slave galley. Your cold typically lasts eight or nine days, during
which time you forget why you ever thought life was worth living.

You ride anyway.

You take your ex-girlfriend to the airport in her car. She's flying to
Italy. She'll be gone a month. She promises to buy you a jersey in a
cool bike shop in Florence. She leaves you her wine-colored Mazda
Miata, the Special Edition with tan leather and tan top. CD player.
It's gorgeous. Enjoy it, she says.

She fills the tank for you, to thank you for dropping her off at UAL
Departures and picking her up next month. Sweet woman. Nice car. Rains
all week.

You ride anyway.

You sit at a light next to a dark-eyed woman in a print dress in an old
Ford station wagon. The light changes. She gasses it, turns right, cuts
you off brutally. You yell something not quite coherent at her. She
shakes her fist at you: It's YOUR fault!

You see her three days later, same light. She honks. You look into the
old Ford wagon. She's made a little cyclist doll. It's wearing a tiny
yellow Giro helmet like yours and, ohmigawd, a club jersey just like
yours! She pushes a hat-pin through the doll and smiles at you. The
light goes green.

You ride anyway.

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