You, Me and the Baby Crushers Part 1

Since I was 6 years old and first taught myself to ride a bike I have understood the flaw in the man plus machine combo.  That being, that you’re going to fall, its gonna hurt.  As Lance Armstrong said ” If you don’t wanna fall, don’t get on the bike”.  Likewise, if you ride in traffic, you will get hit by cars.

The first time I remember getting into an accident with a car was the summer I learned to ride.  I was 6, as I said, and my family lived in Newburyport, MA.  The town was still fairly working class at the time,  ’84, and we rented an apartment in a two family across from Brown Elementary.  It was a kid friendly neighborhood and my friends and I roamed the streets at will.  One day we were riding bikes at the school, Kaitlyn, Andrew and myself.  We were trouble makers and all got held after class together regularly.  Anyway, someone decided to leave the playground and head out onto the sidewalk and I noticed last.  I raced after them.  It was cool New England summer sun and the cool shade of maples and oaks.  It was laughter, it was glee.  The other two raced ahead blocking the sidewalk so, at the corner I jumped the curb and turned left into oncoming traffic, I looked to Kaitlyn and Andrew, I was catching up.  I heard a terrifying screech and looked back in front of me.  There was a car, a little blue four door with two stunned old people just screeching to a halt.  I froze.  The bike skidded.  My front wheel made contact and I flew forward and seriously crushed my little nards.  Damn banana seat.  The old couple just stared at me.  I waddled to the side of the road, sucked it up and peddled slowly after my friends.

The next one was simpler,  I was in junior high, probably seventh grade.  My family’d moved to suburban North Jersey.  I was riding the wrong way down the street on my way home from school.  I went behind a bush at a corner on a hill and a car swept out from behind the other side.  She smacked me pretty good, tossing me a good five feet into traffic.  The driver was a mess,  she had apparently just divorced her husband mere minutes before.  When the police arrived they had to calm her down more than deal with me.  I was only shaken, she was completely rattled.  People made me sit, even though I wasn’t hurt.  They gave me watter and reassuring pats on the shoulder etc.  My bike was a bit bent up so the cops gave me a ride home.  I hope they never fucked that woman over, she’d been through enough.  But what can I say, I was a kid and I never followed up on it.  Meh.

So you see, I’ve been stupid since the beginning but I’m resilient.  I’m not going to try to list every accident I’ve ever had but I’m gonna lay out all the biggies and some of the little ones.  Next in Part 2 I move to Boston and start getting hit for real.

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Riding With The Fear

This country and increasingly, this world, is made up of people who would rather go broke piloting machines that can and will crush, kill, maim and destroy than put any effort into the world around them. I grew up in North Jersey, where you need a car to live. I hated driving, it felt dangerous and reckless in the worst way. I was worried I was going to kill someone, or be involved in a wreck where someone lost their life. I had to get some control over that fear, and it is a specific fear, that of death.

So I moved to Boston, and found a city where you could go anywhere by foot or bicycle or whatever. Cars were finally unnecessary though they were still omnipresent. I bought myself a mountain bike and then an early 70’s Peugeot. My first taste of the other side of that fear was like wine from the gods. Now I no-longer had to fear that I was going to hurt someone else, now it was only me that I had to worry about. And that fear drove me, made me pedal harder, move more swiftly. I learned how to run red lights, how to ride the dotted white and the double yellow. I learned how to take a lane, and how to take intersections. I rode with Critical Mass for a couple years and learned how to be a dick, how to wear my pride, and my arrogance on my sleeve. I also learned where not to be on the road, I got hit allot early on. Then I learned how to roll with the punches, I began to see that If you were more aggressive on the road you got hit less. If you’re going the same speed as a car they have no reason to pass you. I also learned that driver’s hate bicyclists period. Even drivers who were once themselves riders succumb to this. Watch bike videos long enough on YouTube and you’ll come across hate thrown at every type of rider. Day cyclists in their spandex, people with lights all over and a safety vest, dirty punks and messengers, drivers that hate riders hate us all. So yeah, I’m a little selfish on the road. They’re the ones who decided that their trip to work that morning would involve risking my life, not me.

In this time I’ve spent in Boston traffic I’ve come to love the fear. I find comfort in the idea of getting killed while riding, checking out while doing one of my favorite things, that doesn’t sound to bad. Yeah, getting paralyzed would be awful, but it might be worth it. Who knows, maybe I’d like wheelchairs too. But, I hope it never comes to that. I have now learned to slow down a bit. In that I’m respectful to pedestrians now, other cyclists too and I’m now more willing to stop at an intersection. I know the risks I take, and I just have to take them, so I don’t go for the almost certain death scenarios so much anymore. Every once in a while sure, gotta make sure I still got it, but not all the time. I also just don’t ride as much any more. I was talking to a friend about this recently, he said he was skating more often ’cause it’d been a year since his last car accident and he was trying to put off the inevitable. I myself walk more, still all year in all weather for many miles, I run through intersections and don’t wait at lights. But I ride at least a couple times a week, and when I’m working, five days a week. And when I get up and put my wheels on the road, I start slowly but I pick up speed and look for the fear. When I find it, it grabs me and I welcome it. Without the fear of death, what have you got to live for?

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I Guess That Makes Me The Jerk

It had been a hell of a day, in the best possible sense and the worst.  The end of a week hauling drywall.  I stepped outside of work into the the low, early August evening sun.  The Southie breeze whipped gypsum dust from my clothes and face.  I took a long time unlocking my bike, sucking on a cigarette, munching on crackers.  At last I slid on and dawdled over toward downtown, to Atlantic, to home.  The ride was easy and low, I dipped right onto Atlantic heading toward the Aquarium and picked up my pace.  The cars were few and far, the pedestrians milled in the crosswalks.  Giving them huge births I swayed through two lights at an easy clip, utilizing the full two lanes.  One of those moments of no care, where you’re alone, and the road is yours.  As State St. rolled toward I swung left, picking up just enough momentum on the turn to slip the light on the other side.  I strolled up the pothole moguls and into traffic, if there was a dotted white that’s where I would have been.  I moved easy and slow, pedestrians here are suicidal and step out at any moment.  I had to wait at Congress, but no matter, I was tired and could use a breath or two.  The light went green and I leapt out ahead, up off my saddle, leaning way out front, I pumped my way up the hill to Cambridge St. just squeaking through the light at the junction with Washington.  Up and onto Cambridge and flat ground, Government Center looming, its huge lot made idyllic by the farmer’s market.  The God of the weekend smiled on me all the way down Cambridge, all the lights were green, no cars pulled out, no tourists tried to kill me, I had a whole lane.  As I reached the Longfellow bridge, I darted to the left lane and as I approached the light it went red, but the right kinda red, I hit my pedals a couple times and I was across the crosswalk in plenty of time, without doing any harm, no traffic on the other side, I swung my hard left and up across the intersection and onto the sidewalk.  I took myself up the long ramp to the footbridge there, easing over to the Esplanade.  Over on the other side of Storrow the park was jammed.  The fair weather crowd was out, I knew I should’ve taken the bridge.  Nothing to do but go forward, I eased into the crowd.  Day cyclists and fair weather joggers crammed the bike path.  Students strolled in lazy gangs and families strolled with their broods and dogs.  The mood was light, and I tried to be one with it, not go to fast, not get worked up.  When in Rome right?  As I strode along toward Mass Ave, not long before, just past where they were building a new playground, a Statie in his fucking car came looming up the path.  He disrupted every thing.  People scrambled, dogs and toddlers were yanked.  As we came to each other he lumbered right giving me just about half of my lane.  I wove past, not hard, but inconvenient.  As we did, I said “Asshole” to my self, out loud.  As I tend to do.  I talk to myself too much.  I peddled on with that thought in my head.  That’s when I heard the “bwoop- bwoop”.  I knew instinctively what it was and pulled over to the grass, turning I saw the Statie, now blocking the entire bike path behind me with his car.  He flung his door wide and stepped out.  Adjusting his, I kid you not, mirrored aviator glasses, he walked up with a puss and a bone to pick, saying “hey, who’d you just call an ‘asshole’ back there, huh?  Who’s an asshole?  Did you call me an asshole back there huh?  Rapid fire and thoughtless.  Two girls sat on a bench just up to my left trying to ignore what was going on.  I instantly told him that ‘yes, I did, but I didn’t say it “to”him, I had said it about him, to myself’.  He scowled and balked.  He said ” You saw my window was open and said it right to my face, you were looking right at me!”   I hadn’t and I didn’t and I told him so reminding him that I had looked at the left side of his car to avoid getting hit by it.  I reiterated my previous position and swung my bag around.  He asked for my ID, I dug it out and passed it to him.  He went off to play with his computer to see my lack of a record and probably write something mean about me in some little file somewhere.  I enjoyed the moment, watching the sailboats dipping around on the Charles.  He came back, still with that puss and with a chip on his shoulder.  It may not have helped matters that I was a whole head taller than him and a bit older to boot.  He said “Mr. Scott, here.” he gave me my ID “You know, you think I’m the asshole, this is my job, I’m out here every day!” he jabbed his open palm with his other forefinger.  I told him I knew he has a hard job, but that cars have no place on the bike path.  He squirmed,”You really better wise up!” He waggled his finger.  I gave him an incredulous look with a smirk.  He wrinkled his puss at me and stormed off.  I don’t know, I knew he was right, but so was I.  The rest of my ride back to Allston was gorgeous, after Mass Ave. the foot traffic dissipated and the joggers thinned out.  I had a good laugh at the young Statie’s expense.  Trying to prove you’re not an ass hole, by threatening someone that you thought had just called you an asshole!  Priceless, sometimes I really do love cops!

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A Comm Ave. Bomb

Crisp autumn air steals the soul. The shard like wind slaps my face as I step out onto Washington St. in Brighton at the intersection with Comm Ave. I squeeze my helmet down tight and eyeball the traffic flow. At the moment it opens up I mount my ragged Univega and pump my crank, steaming across to hang my left toward Boston. A couple quick breaths to center myself and the road drops away, I drop with it. Speed gathers around and in me. Gravity doesn’t pull me, I’m chasing it. The first of many more lights rushes toward me green and friendly. I grin and drop through it. My chest beats in time with my feet, my cadence is roaring. The next light hoves into view at the base of a steep drop, it goes yellow then red. I judge the little maroon four door, staring right into it, into the driver’s face. A flurry of action and the intersection is mine the road evens out as if for me, for my reward. I sway easily around in my lane and on toward the congestion of Harvard St. I wind to the dotted white line in anticipation, keeping my cadence up, holding on to my well earned momentum. The lights are red both ways and the little white man is flashing at all corners. I jump out of traffic, inches from someone I can barely see and whip into the open space someone howls at me and I glide on like the prick I am. The next drop is an easy one and I take the breather to roll up my sleeves and undo the top buttons on my jacket. My core temp is rising, and sweat is beginning to dew on me. I pump on, swaying down the hill. I hit a tricksy intersection, the big turn, the light is red and not calling my name but it’s easy to fold into the traffic rushing in from North Beacon. I slide right in, bullying for space and then taking a lane, stomping on my pedals, barely touching my saddle. A huge pickup lays on its horn behind me again and again and in that second I fly left to the dotted white around a little hatch back and pass it leaving them both at the light. I casually take another intersection. Around this bit of Comm Ave. Boston goes flat and I coast, free, soaking in the sun and that crisp autumn air.

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