Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Rule of the Road

Nearly every morning on the way to work I end up behind a worn-out light blue Chevy with a sticker on the trunk lid that reads "I'll share the road with you damn cyclists when you share the stop signs with me". In the mirrors I can see the face of the driver. He is middle aged, probably in his late fifties, with white hair and a weathered face. He looks as worn out as the car. His appearance and demeanor reminds me of the old sods in the fishing circle back in Arkansas who hold that its all the liberals fault; or the homos or the commie unionists. Anyone or anything different is the subject of scorn and derision and the source of all the worlds woes - especially their own. There is no debate. They are certain they are right. They are the epitome of intolerance and when they are armed they are dangerous.

The guy in the Chevy looks like the last time he rode a bike was when he threw a paper route - if he ever rode at all. His obvious lack of experience with a bicycle doesn't matter to him. He seems typical of the vigilantism so pervasive today: he has abandoned reason for cliche. We're either with him or against him. We either stop or we don't.

Some mornings, after having had yet another close call the day before, seeing that sticker grates on my last nerve. There have been times when I wanted to grab the guy by the collar and give him a good shake - to ask him if he's really aware of the animosity and resentment he advocates. But I always take a deep breath and let it go because I get the sense that he probably wouldn't understand, not unlike the fishing circle, because he's not out to help solve the problem. He's only out to prove he's right.

I've written about Traffic in St. Louis before. Inside and outside of St. Louis the debates follow the same tack. "Those damn cyclists", they say. "They're the cause of all our troubles. They run stop signs and take up the lane and slow down my commute and get in the way when I'm in a hurry. Sometimes they surprise me and it makes me so startled I get angry! They have no respect, those cyclists! I'll show them respect!" And then it gets dangerous because the next step in that train of thought is to hurt someone. But that's never the *intention*, right?

Just so there's no misunderstanding, I'll lay it out like I teach it to my children: when I ride on the street, I ride for MY SAFETY. Period.

Yes, there are traffic laws and rules of the road. I understand them and I respect them. I make my best attempt to abide by them. HOWEVER. If gaining a safe advantage on traffic means taking the lane, I'll take it. If I have a clear view, momentum and the right-of-way, I'll continue through the intersection. You see, the issue isn't quite so black and white, but it is pretty simple: if I stop moving, I can't get out of the way. I don't apologize for my safety. I'm not sitting all cozy inside 3500 pounds of machine. That being the case it seems pretty obvious to me that the rules for my conduct will be a little different than those for the driver of a car. I certainly don't mean to sound flippant, but until the roads improve and the attitudes improve, I'll take whatever liberties I need to stay alive.

I'm a mature adult with a family and a professional job. I am responsible for my own decisions. I never leave my house on my bike with the goal of violating x-number of traffic laws or annoying y-many drivers. I leave my house with the goal of returning in one piece. I brook no stupidity on the part of other cyclists, either. There will always be those who show contempt and blatant disregard. I cannot account for them. Does that mean I have to pay with my life for the annoyances of some random jerk?

I know its hard for the non-rider to understand, but there's a lot more to riding in traffic than there is to driving a car. And with all the very certain angry drivers on the road today, I can't afford to take any chances. Sorry about your stop sign. Just take a deep breath and let it go. There are bigger things in the world to worry about.

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