Wheels IV

Picking up from last week: Steering, biking, pedaling, and shuffling stupid.

Drive-Thru. Marna Mountaineer spots good friend Jennifer Jaywalk sprinkling her front flower beds. Honks, hails, and stops; delighted, Jennifer jogs out and around to the driver’s side for a car-hop conversation – in the middle of the street. Both look monstrously put out when driver-from-behind waits, toots for clearance, and either fumes or gamely tries to get by. Take it to the curb!

Buttheads. Memo to mobile smokers: This planet not an ashtray. (Well, David Sedaris has said he likes Paris because one can smoke anywhere, even in a hospital emergency room. “It’s like Paris is a giant ashtray,” says he. Theoretically, the, uh, people I’m about to describe could move there, but based on their behavior I suspect they all enjoy “freedom fries” – disdainfully.)

  • Clarence: You’re not foolin’ the old lady by keeping the window open and flicking your ashes below the sill into the roadway. Trust me; she can smell it all over you – just like the stink of your mistress.
  • Celestine: A good number of us thought smoking was cool once, but most of us either outgrew it and never got addicted, or kicked the habit after our lungs started screaming at us. You already know it’s obnoxious; elsewise, why is that elegantly manicured and bejeweled hand extended so gracefully outside the car?

Please, the both o’ yez; keep your smoke, ashes, and butts in there with you. Problem on both sides gets solved that way – you die faster, we live longer.


Motorheads. I’ve already waxed whatever about the mien of modern motorcycling as practiced in America. Just another observation or two about operation needs be made:

  • Pipe Dream. With no place to park a subwoofer, I guess the next best things for basso profundo entertainment and macho inflection are illegal straight pipes. There’s a pair of dorks who seem to enjoy flashing by my poor little Miata to set off Congressman Darryl Issa’s alarm; they must because they do it regularly and my neighbors and I are grateful, to say the least. (This requires considerable decibels and sonic pulses to get done – nothing short of impact, not even a speeding city bus, has otherwise managed to set it off.) Who the fuck are you impressing, anyway?
  • Lane Brains. I pushed a lesser Honda around our Nation’s Capitol for two years when I was in law school, so I have enormous respect and sympathy for two-wheeled, internal combustion commuters. Responsible motorcycle operation requires practice and a certain innate deftness, and the most egregious of iron steeds is more socially responsible than the smallest automobile. You truly must conduct yourself in traffic as though you are invisible and the hostility the car-bound have due to your maneuvering and parking superiority is palpable. A plea, though. You’re already at considerable risk just sharing the road; don’t take unnecessary chances. Don’t tailgate, for God’s sake, and make certain those headlamps are on low beam. When traveling between lanes occupied by vehicles, keep it in the middle and check those side mirrors to make certain we see you – especially if we’re stopped. And please, please don’t flaunt any fleeting advantage you may have. I’ve heard drivers wonder aloud about the wisdom and utility of opening a door in those circumstances. Now, that’s road rage!

Pedal Pushers. With the spike in gasoline prices, you’re climbing the social responsibility self-esteem ladder, and rightfully so. Fuel-saving and fit; well done. Unless you live in Davis, California or somewhere else that exalts the velocipede – the Chinese are headed in the other direction, by the way, as private automobile ownership has come within middle-class reach – you’re still at a substantial physical disadvantage. At the same time, you pose a real risk to the dismounted. Exercise caution:

  • It’s not a “sideride.” Read aloud and repeat as necessary: “I am a vehicle; therefore, the road.” If you’re over the age of five and off training wheels, get off the fucking sidewalk or walking/hiking trail. Skaters are already a big enough danger.
  • Gangway! When you must share pathways with other cyclists and pedestrians, a pox on your iPods and how about a little courtesy? Keep to the right, except when passing. My recollection is, when overtaking either from behind, calling out something like “On your left” is fashionable.
  • Share alike. No, I agree – not enough dedicated bike lanes and routes and that crease in the middle of the speed bumps is useless. (My street is a bike route and can get ugly for cyclists during commute hours; Californians and surface streets, and all that.) Two words: single file.
  • Left off! In my town there’s a growing desire among pedalers to ride in bike lanes (or not) against other vehicular traffic – that is, in the wrong lane, head-on. Are you daft? (This is probably a rhetorical question, since most of these loons lack even the rudimentary safety equipment – like helmets and mirrors.) At least give your survivors a chance at getting something out of it when you turn yourself into a hairy, strawberry-and-asphalt sundae.
  • Unattuned. If cycling is so boring that you have to distract yourself from your surroundings, take a taxi. The only difference between you and other distracted drivers when you’re wired for sound – please, God, not a cell phone! – is that they have the benefit of a ton-and-a half of body armor and air bags. Other than that fiberglass fedora, the only protection you’ve got is that padding in your grape-smugglers that keeps the saddle from bruising your prostate. I guess…
  • Just because! Since I hunger for grandchildren, my flinty heart always softens a little when I see parents towing those little cloth and aluminum trailers or that “built for two” seat post attachment that accommodates the offspring. Turning them into little bobblehead dolls with head protection is also nicely cloying – when they’re wearing helmets, that is. Out here you’re required to cradle the cranium if you’re under 16. Question: Where’s your helmet, O Responsible, Good-Example-Setting Parent? Trust me – you’re in for some painful conversation when the heir is about 14.
  • Illuminate me. Lights. Reflectors. Reflective vest. Light-colored clothing. Gimme something that allows me to see and avoid you better.
  • Doppler Dopes. Why is it that cyclists think their partners less than two feet away can’t hear them, when those of us 100 feet away and operating a noisy mower can, and painfully at that? Seems that ear-fed electronics enhance this trait sharply.
  • And, finally… Where did you acquire the idea that being overly aggressive, challenging motorists, and otherwise disregarding the rules of the road will get you respect? Let’s co-exist, peacefully; Look up, look around – let me know that you know I’m here.


Can’t get awful worked up about you perambulators, being at the bottom of the transport food chain. No argument – the importance of your role in building a better, saner world is in inverse proportion to the respect you get from our infrastructure wizards and the breaks you get from us behind-the-wheelers. To add to your burden just a little, with the promise of reward:

  • See me, feel me. My man Jon Carroll has already wrought a splendid piece about the importance of making eye contact with drivers; I second that emotion. Make the connection so we can stay out of each other’s way.
  • Unplug. Please interrupt that Justin Timberlake, podcast, or critical cell conversation – it’ll just take a second and won’t hurt at all, I promise – to orient yourself before you leave the curb. (See above.)
  • Don’t cut corners. The rules give you the right of way when you play by them; I’ll stop every time when you earthbound are waiting between the lines and seeking rapprochement. (See above.) If you’re going to dart blindly, don’t do it from between cars, in the middle of the block; give your survivors a fighting chance in court.
  • Face up, line up. It startles me how many folks were either never told or didn’t listen when Mom said, “Walk facing traffic.” The advantages are obvious. (See above.) Having said that, when a Buick Behemoth approaches, make like the ducks and fall into line; give yourself half a chance. You runners: same deal, in spades. (I get it; the asphalt is easier on the cartilage than the concrete. Just – co-exist.)
  • Illuminate me. (See above, under “Cycling.”)
  • Bully! Last word. Next to downtown, there’s a maneuver I call the “Mid-town Mosey,” wherein the ambler sets the jaw, lowers the eyes, and swaggers purposefully into traffic, as if the gesture is a political statement of some sort. Strikes me more like “Suicide by SUV.” Again, give yourself at least a statistical chance.

Used to be driving was (dare I say it) fun, because you could look forward to more or less everyone having enrolled in the program, Rules of the Road-wise. Now it’s like checking into rehab every time you get behind the wheel. (Um, or so I’ve heard.) Like everything else age- associated, the prospect of being a dithering old cotton-top in traffic, paralyzed between terror and watching my wife trace her pacemaker with one hand and clutch a Rosary with the other, is all too real. (Okay, Red’s just-over-the-line agnostic, but there’s Portuguese blood coursing through her veins so it’s still possible. I leave a mantilla out where it’s visible once in a while; her Pavlovian flinches are quite entertaining.)

Little help? And, No, you little bastards! You’ll have to pry my driver’s license from my cold, dead fingers!

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