Friday, November 27, 2009

A quick 10 on a cold day

Bright, glorious sunshine the day after Thanksgiving. I went to work for a few hours -- sweet productivity, all alone in the office with no interruptions! -- and figured I'd get outside for a while during the afternoon.

All geared up in my ski helmet, balaclava, windbreaker/shell and sweats, I set off on my standard 10-mile round trip to the grocery store for a few essentials.

It was about 40 degrees. A light but cutting breeze from the west-southwest, right in my face for the outbound leg.

It felt wonderful to be back on the Trek after what seemed like a month of overcast and drizzle. Far overhead, a flock of sandhill cranes croaked and clattered their way south. A man was pulling his snowmobiles out of storage, the day after I'd put my Harley into the shed for the winter. A woman was putting up Christmas lights. A couple bagged the last few leaves on their front lawn. A middle-aged man in shorts (!) and earmuffs roller-blading. Some sort of cold-weather fellowship had taken hold; all greeted me with a wave or a hello as I passed by. The chilly breeze was at my back as I headed home.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a few degrees warmer. If I can sneak away from the family obligations, I'll hit the limestone for a 20-miler.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Drivers, nasty and nice

Many, if not most, of my fellow riders on the Chainlink forums seem to have bad experiences with drivers on a daily basis. I feel pretty lucky in that respect. I can count the road ragers I’ve come across on three fingers — and only one instance that I thought was going to end in a physical confrontation.

... screen shimmers, minor chord plays ...

A major intersection in my neighborhood is undergoing a major renovation, forcing several thousand cars a day into alternate streets, one of which is a usually quiet four-lane boulevard that happens to be my usual bike route to the grocery store. Traffic is generally light enough that cars can easily pass me in the left lane for the half-mile stretch where there is no shoulder, bike lane or sidewalk and I’m forced to ride in the street.

One recent day, with traffic heavy and slow, I was in the right lane on my way home from the store, chugging along with a pannier bag full of double-fiber wheat bread and bananas. One driver, no doubt already annoyed because of the detour and heavier-than-normal traffic, pulls up three feet behind me and starts blowing his horn. Apparently, I was supposed to hurl myself, Trek 7100, groceries and all, off the pavement over the curb and into the parkway grass to let him by.

One assumes that his rage stemmed from his having to apply his brakes, which required the application of several ounces of pressure on a conveniently placed pedal, and having to drop his speed from 25 mph to 15 mph for several seconds, maybe as many as 20, until a gap opened up in the left lane and he could pass me.

When he got the chance, he pulled up alongside me and started yelling the usual stuff about “you don’t belong on the road.” Well-dressed, mid-thirties, nice car, about the kind of upwardly mobile professional dipstick you’d expect.

I looked him right in the eye and blew him a kiss.

It took me years to figure out that the finger isn’t the right response if you want to both confuse and enrage a self-important blowhole. A finger says, “You have succeeded in making me angry,” when what I really want to convey is, “Your rage is pathetic and I refuse to be a party to your dysfunction. Not only that, but I don’t even take you seriously.”

The silliness of a blown kiss seems to be such an unexpected response that the self-important blowhole’s brain kind of short-circuits. A matronly woman in a Lexus responded by sticking her tongue out at me while she almost drove off the road, which gave me the giggles for days. I hope she still blushes with embarrassment when she thinks about her 2nd-grade-playground reaction.

Well, Upwardly Mobile Professional Jerk swerved in front of me and slammed on the brakes, apparently preparing to respond to my gesture of affection with violence. Anger-management issues and a complete lack of perspective, that’s an attractive little package you’ve got going there, Bub. How’s that play with the ladies?

I pulled the U-lock off the handlebars and started to dismount, but the driver apparently decided against parking his car on a busy four-lane boulevard and attacking someone who was most likely in better physical shape than he. After a fist shake and some not-very-nice words, he drove away.

... screen shimmers ...

Actually, most of the drivers I come across are too nice. I’ll come rolling up to a four-way stop (of which there are 17 million in Naperville), carefully adjusting my speed so that the car that always seems to be simultaneously approaching the intersection can do the standard "California Roll" through the stop sign and proceed ahead of me. That way, I can just blow though afterward and not lose my cadence.

However, if the driver sees me, he or she almost always comes to a complete stop. Then I have to stop too, because I (a) don’t trust a car driver as far as I can throw a Buick, and (b) I want to be a good bicycle ambassador and stop for the stop signs when someone is looking. After an awkward exchange of “you go ahead” waves, we of course both start across the intersection at the same time, stop, and repeat the waving. Sometimes this Dance of the Four-Way Stop goes on for three rounds until somebody just goes through the damned intersection already.

I’d almost prefer drivers who’d ignore me and just crank on through the stop sign with just a token tap on the brakes. Those drivers are predictable. It’s the nice guys who give me fits.