Nobody can — or at any rate, should — complain about nice weather, but it does have its drawbacks.
Now that the trees are in bloom and the breezes are balmy and the sun rises early and sets late, my bicycle commute, so solitary and contemplative in the winter, is suddenly thronged with fair-weather cyclists, and an amazing number of these are what I think of as volunteer traffic cops. They’re always yelling at you about some violation you’ve committed against the rules of the road — rules which, in many cases, seem to exist solely in their own heads, and may even be made up on the spot.
Full disclosure: I am in fact a great scofflaw even when it comes to the actual on-paper Vehicle Code. I laugh at stoplights, for example, and run through them at every reasonable opportunity. (On the bike, that is: I’m quite law-abiding in a car.)
Now I don’t necessarily expect other cyclists to be quite such an old anarch as I am, but even so, I’m amazed at the psychic investment so many of my fellow two-wheelers seem to have in the notion of law-abidingness.
The so-called bike path I take from home to work and back is not without its charm. It runs more or less along the bank of the Hudson River, except where it’s interrupted by horrors like the cruise-ship terminal, with its pathetic hordes of sad-sack customers wheeling their bulky suitcases on- and offboard. And the Intrepid, that munchkin aircraft carrier, with its clutter of goofy-looking military planes on deck. And the trash-barge pier, where another cyclist got smashed flat a couple of years back by an NYPD tow truck crossing the path, and where I nearly followed him to the Shades last week (though my near-Nemesis was an NYC garbage truck). And worst of all, the unspeakable Chelsea Piers, home of a driving range and other vaguely sportif venues. Apparently exercise needs to be confined to the interior of this shrine, since the city has made elaborate arrangements to ensure that patrons can practically step out of thir cabs into the steam room.
No walking, please, we’re jocks.
So it’s a very compromised design, this path, a grudging, half-hearted affair, but nevertheless very popular.
Yesterday I was heading home and I came to one of these interruptions, where there’s a silly-looking bicycle red light, allowing patrons of some city giveaway or other to take their cars in and out. The light had just turned red, for us cyclists, and there was one of those preposterous SUVs — an Escarole? An Escalator? An Eschewage? something like that — at the head of the line waiting to get out.
I seen my opportunity, I took it. Just as Escarole was starting to roll, I darted athwart his bow. With the usual prey-species startle reflex, he jammed on the brakes, and very likely spilled some of the warm fluids which are said to contribute so much to these people’s sense of safety(*).
After this somewhat juvenile stunt I heard somebody yelling at me. I figured it was Escarolius, and went my way rejoicing. THAT’ll teach him to drive that preposterous folly in this town.
But no. Five minutes later, another cyclist, whom I had barely noticed, a guy who had obediently stopped at the red light, caught up with me. He was one of those head-to-toe Lycra dudes, though the look didn’t really suit his somewhat doughy physique. And he was furious. He unleashed the most amazing torrent of abuse: “what part of red don’t you understand, asshole?” was his exordium. A number of other injurious reflections followed it, which I didn’t quite catch. He concluded with the crushing observation that I ought to get a helmet. (I haven’t worn a bike helmet in the last twenty years, and never will again(**).)
This incident was a bit of an outlier — one seldom ecounters this level of frenzy, and I suspect this chap may have been even crazier than the general run of Amurrican. But on a smaller, less vivid scale, this sort of thing is not just a daily, but a many-times-daily occurrence. I probably get more of it than most, being such a blithe lawbreaker, but it’s hard to avoid the impression that this town — this country? — is full of people who walk or ride out their door in the morning, loaded to the gills with a fund of reproach and censure which they simply have to unload on somebody.
(*) E.g. G Clotaire Rapaille, Detroit consultant : “The No. 1 feeling is that everything surrounding you should be round and soft, and should give… There should be air bags everywhere. Then there’s this notion that you need to be up high. That’s a contradiction, because the people who buy these S.U.V.s know at the cortex level that if you are high there is more chance of a rollover. But at the reptilian level they think that if I am bigger and taller I’m safer. You feel secure because you are higher and dominate and look down. That you can look down is psychologically a very powerful notion. And what was the key element of safety when you were a child? It was that your mother fed you, and there was warm liquid. That’s why cupholders are absolutely crucial for safety. If there is a car that has no cupholder, it is not safe. If I can put my coffee there, if I can have my food, if everything is round, if it’s soft, and if I’m high, then I feel safe.”
(**) My memory is apparently worse than I thought. An old comrade has produced photographic evidence that I wore a helmet on at least one occasion as late as 1998. Busted!