The joy of commuting

March 22, 2014 § 43 Comments

I have three commuter routes in the morning.

The best one takes an hour, drops down Hawthorne to the coast, wends through Lunada Bay and Paseo del Mar, drops down by the Cove, picks up the bike path at RAT Beach, then goes up Emerald through the neighborhood by Victory Elementary and over to my office on Hawthorne. The ride has scenery, a couple of short climbs, and I arrive at work completely relaxed and ready for the day’s nap.

The mediocre route takes about twenty-five minutes. I go down Silver Spur, take PV Drive to Via Valmonte, then snake over to Anza and go straight up Anza to Spencer and my office on Hawthorne. This route has traffic all the way along Anza once you cross PCH, but the traffic is rarely hostile. Anza has a bike lane in some places, and a faux bike lane in others that is packed with parked cars ready to door you any second. When I take this route I arrive at work not very relaxed because the cars are so close for most of the ride.

The hell route takes twenty minutes. I bomb down the other side of Hawthorne at 45 mph side by side with the cars, the buses, and the trucks whose brakes are frying on the descent. Drivers chop me at very high speeds and occasionally honk even though I’m passing them. Once I’m on Hawthorne past PCH it’s a war zone. There are four lanes, and I control the entire right lane. This makes a lot of morning commuters very angry. I could add a couple of more “very’s” and still not capture the rage that many cagers express at seeing me in my lane. About half the time I take the hell route a cager yells at me, and I always yell and gesture back. I get to work tense and feeling like I just escaped death or serious injury.

“Hey, you, get offa my cloud!”

Yesterday morning I was stopped at Hawthorne and Torrance. I was the first one at the light and there was a long line of cars backed up behind me. Next to me was a late 1990’s gray Chevy pickup. The cager was in his late 50’s, badly overweight, and wearing slacks and a dress shirt. His hair, such of it that there was, had been slicked back. I could smell his aftershave.

“Hey, pal,” he said, indicating that we were almost certainly not going to be pals. “Get up on the sidewalk. You’re backing up traffic.”

“Hey, non-pal,” I said. “I have a legal right to be in this lane.”

“No, you don’t. You’re on a bike. Get on the sidewalk and let the cars pass. You’re blocking traffic.”

At that moment a big city bus turned from Torrance onto Hawthorne and pulled up to the bus stop just past the light we were stopped at. “Yes, I do have a right to be here. Just like that bus, which is also ‘blocking traffic.’ Or maybe he needs to also get on the sidewalk?”

The guy got really angry. “You’re breaking the law!”

“No, I’m not, and I don’t see your badge, so shut the fuck up.”

“There’s no need to curse!” he screamed.

“There’s no need to be a square-headed dick, either.”

The light turned green and he sped off. I kept smack in the middle of the lane and sure enough, as happens all the way down Hawthorne, the traffic behind me waited until the neighboring lane cleared, then safely passed by, one by one. I had won the battle, but had lost the stress war.

Get a car, maroon!

Although I have three routes to work, there’s really only one route home, and that’s the fastest one, back down Hawthorne. I’m always tired and always want to get home quickly because, beer. Yesterday was Friday and I was leaving at 5:30. Hawthorne traffic is always angry, but the two angriest times for cagers are Monday morning and Friday late afternoon. This is because on Monday they have to go the place they hate the most for the next several days, work, and on Friday they have to go the other place they hate the most, home, for the next couple of days. If every commute ended in a bar or strip club or all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, cagers would be a lot happier.

I made it most of the way to Sepulveda without incident. Then, about a hundred yards before the light, I heard the telltale sound of a cager to the left of me slowing quickly because he’d been texting or listening to music or fiddling with his knob only to discover that he needed to move two lanes to the right so he could get into the right-turn-only lane and turn onto Sepulveda. The only thing between him and his multi-lane change was me, and as always happens, the cager becomes enraged that an otherwise last second clean-lane-sweep is going to be thwarted by a puny bicycle.

By now we had stopped in the traffic waiting for the light. The driver had long blonde hair and looked like he had come straight out of a police profiling manual under the heading “Typical Unemployed Surfer Dude on Drugs.”

He leaned over and began speaking through his open window. “Hey, asshole!” he shouted, not even bothering to try and trick me with the “pal” thing.

“What’s up, shitwagon?” I answered.

“You think you’re a fucking car? Get out of the fucking road before I run your ass over.”

“You think you’re a traffic cop? Shut the fuck up you sorry ass drug runner before I video your license number and file a complaint for civil harassment and the cops strip search your anus with a cattle prod.”

“Get on the fucking sidewalk! Bikes aren’t cars!” he raged. The traffic began to move, he waited until I had passed him, then shot over into the far right lane and raced down Sepulveda in a squeal of angry rubber.

Use it or lose it

The obvious question, paraphrasing an email from a friend who saw me commuting on Hawthorne the other day, is “Why in the world do you drive on that awful and dangerous street when you have much better alternatives?”

The answer is because it’s quick, and although stressful it’s not any more dangerous than the other routes I take. When I ride in the center of the far right lane, cagers pass me safely. This isn’t always the case on Anza. What seems dangerous, the proximity of cars, is actually safe when I’m in the lane with a bright taillight blazing away, especially in the daytime.

The other answer is that I have a right to ride in that lane. Why should I let cagers intimidate me with their ignorance? Why should cagers get all the fast, well-paved roads? Riding where I have a legal right to ride isn’t something I have to justify, any more than a person has to justify wanting to eat at a lunch counter or go to a movie. In tandem with that is the fact that every time a cager sees a biker in the lane, like it or not the cager is getting educated. He’s learning to expect bikes in the street, where they belong, not on the sidewalk, where they don’t belong.

I’ve seen downtown L.A. over the last five years go from being a place where bikes were a rarity to being a place where motorists absolutely expect to see bikes in the lane. I’ve yet to see a bike-cager encounter in DTLA like the ones I regularly experience on Hawthorne. Exercising your right to be in the lane is the best possible way of teaching cagers that you have the right to be there.

I’ve often thought that if bikers would commute down the bigger, more hostile roads in small groups it would be awesome. The sight of ten or fifteen commuters in a lane would make a much stronger message than some lone dude pedaling like crazy while screaming like a lunatic and flipping off his harassers. Maybe.

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§ 43 Responses to The joy of commuting

  • Brian in VA says:

    Hell yes, WM!

  • Rick says:

    I am conflicted. If it were not for people like Rosa Parks and MLK then our country would be a worse place. A civil society requires citizen of strong priciiple to be willing to risk thier person and property for those principles. And your argument makes sense.

    On the other hand it’s never a good idea to argue with an idiot (cager or not) because after a few minutes it’s hard to tell who is the idiot.

    There is no such thing as an isolated case of bad judgement. Don’t trust the idiot cager.

    • fsethd says:

      When I’m in an argument, there’s always one guaranteed idiot!

      I wondered if Mr. Pickemup was going to pull out the Glock and advise me of my rights and my rites with a trigger pull. Oh, well. People love to insult you but they have difficulty with the rebound.

  • Warren says:

    Another solid piece of writing. I wish more people could see your stuff. And since you mentioned, I wanted to make sure you were aware that bike trains exist in LA. http://labiketrains.com

  • Deb says:

    A friend of mine had a cyclist tell her to Move! as he rode along the sidewalk. She remarked it was a sidewalk, not a sidebike or a sideride.

    • fsethd says:

      What a jerk.

      I have a similar problem on Hawthorne. I’m cruising in the lane and numerous bumble dorks are pedaling on the sidewalk. Cagers see the sidewalk oafs and they’re thinking, “Why’s this asshole in my CAR LANE?”

  • Brian Crommie says:

    Laughed so hard at your commuter stories, Unfortunately I opened my door on a bike commuter last week(no damage), but being on both sides of the equation definitely humbled me.

  • EA says:

    Arguing with cagers is usually most amusing to the bystanders.

    Yesterday, I was commuting home on Washington Blvd on the border between Central and South Central LA. I pulled up to the light at La Cienega, next to a silver Mercedes. The window was down and a tiny white dog scared the crap out of me when it lunged through the window and started yapping. The driver was too busy texting to pay it any mind.

    Each time I looked back at the dog it would start barking again. It was really getting on my nerves. I guess I could have stopped looking at the dog so it would be quiet, but rational thought did not prevail. I turned around again and when the dog started barking, I barked right back.

    This was not some silly “bark, bark, bark” you do when pretending to be a cute puppy. I gave it all the deep bass gusto I could manage, the type of bark a junk yard dog would be proud of. I could see saliva spewing out of my mouth as I barked at that dog. It had been a bad traffic day and I let my frustration fly.

    I think that little white fluff ball may have wet herself. She went utterly silent. The cager noticed “sweetums” had gone silent, maybe she had been sprayed be sweetums piss, and stopped texting. She pulled up a couple of feet, rolled down her window and yelled at me, “what’s your problem you lunatic?”

    “What’s my problem? You dog started it. Shut up your dog and stop texting.” I probably would have kept yelling at her had not the kids waiting at the crosswalk behind me not been laughing so hard.

    “The dog started it,” they said and laughed again.

    The light turned green and the Mercedes and fluff ball sped away from me in a hurry.

    I was able to laugh about the whole thing by the time I got home and had a beer.

  • samgwall says:

    Absolutely right on. Take the lane. Rode Hawthorne from 147th-El Segundo 3-4 times a week training in the 70’s, and 147th-120th pre- and post-partying in those years. Bad then, evidently worse now. Still hate those fucking buses- and the hassling Hawthorne cops.

  • Winemaker says:

    WM, as you know, I live part time in downtown LA. and while we see a lot of cyclists there, the majority are on the sidewalk. And, it is legal in downtown to ride on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, over 95% of the cyclists there don’t have lights at night, don’t wear a helmet, and think riding the wrong way on a one way street, at night, without a helmet, salmoning onto and off the sidewalk, (and generally scaring the shit out of people!), is just peachy fine.
    When I go out for a ride from 7th and Flower, the cars are definitely more used to me…but I am still scared as hell. My gal Sal doesn’t like those rides at all.

    • fsethd says:

      This simply proves what we already know: Humans are generally idiots, and bikers, as a (mostly) subset of humans are idiots, too.

  • JEFF says:

    I’m so immature. I ride my bike all over the place and laugh at cuss words in print.

  • JPrumm says:

    I guess it’s time to ride with some copy’s of the law’s in your pocket. Then you can just hand it to the idiots that think they know the law (leaflets). Also in most places it’s illegal to ride a bike or other wheeled contraptions on the sidewalk.

  • P K says:

    You are the man!, sprayed some kids with my bottle the other day at a stoplight, then realized that it could’ve been dangerous, but we all laughed, and I put my plans for that bulletproof vest purchase on hold.

  • Patrick says:

    Great writing Seth. I even get crap from drivers when riding Hermosa Ave. (share lane). I was on Hermosa Ave. one day (taking the whole lane) and a car pulls up next to me at a stop sign (yes, I stop). A young guy rolls down his window (now I’m thinking, here we go, another altercation). He looks over at me and says “damn, I can’t believe how quickly you get up to twenty miles an hour” and gives me the thumbs up. I just laughed and said thanks.

    That made up for all the other assholes that have cussed me out, cut me off, made me squirt them with my water bottle.

  • above it says:

    A person chooses his own reaction to abuse. Foul retorts may seem cathartic, but you talk about being stressed, so I doubt they’re working.

    I ignore most of the jerks, except for body language that says “Wow, I can’t believe that little kid wasn’t educated better.” No sign of anger in the body language, because some of them want to make me mad.

  • darelldd says:

    When presented with this,

    >>I have a right to ride in that lane. Why should I let cagers intimidate me with their ignorance? Why should cagers get all the fast, well-paved roads? Riding where I have a legal right to ride isn’t something I have to justify <<

    Many of the half-educated, non-riding drivers will trot out some version of the tired "cyclists have nothing more or less than the same rights and responsibilities as motorists" bit that we keep hearing. The implication seems to be that if cyclists refuse to follow the rules of the road (as defined almost exclusively by "blowing through" stop signs) then we shouldn't have the right to be on the road. We haven't upheld our "responsibilities" end of the bargain, you see. So we have not earned the right to use the roads.

    I like to respond with a version of:
    How then do we justify the drivers’ right to the road? Should drivers have the right to the road if they exceed the posted speed limit? If they accelerate through a yellow light? If they pass a cyclist too close? If they park in the bike lane? If they tailgate? If they talk on the phone while driving? If they roll through the stop sign at the end of their quiet street? The "right to the road" that all drivers enjoy seems to be a given, yeah? But apparently if cyclists roll through a stop sign, they forfeit their rights. :sigh:

  • Opus the Poet says:

    If Stoned Surfer Dude had made that threat about running you over in a Stand Your Ground state you could have claimed verbal threat of violence while in control of a weapon and shot him (personally I would put the first round in the engine).

  • Gary says:

    I wish I had seen this earlier.

    Anyway, here’s a boring front-and-rear view video of cycling up Figueroa Street from Exposition to 7th Street at midday: http://vimeo.com/88343481

    And his a rear view of the same route during evening rush hour: http://vimeo.com/89685353

    I am controlling the right through lane. Not a single honk. All motorists behind either changed lanes completely to pass or waited to make a right turn. Piece of cake. And yet I hear from so many that Figueroa is dangerous for cyclists and needs a $20M cycle track–basically a sidewalk for cyclists. Hm.

  • Serge Issakov says:

    I’m convinced most cager rage stems from feeling ignored rather than from being delayed or anything else.

    So I use a mirror, see them coming, and acknowledge them, by looking back at them and smiling and nodding, before they get a chance to get angry. I can’t emphasise what a huge difference that makes. That, and really using the full lane rather than riding in the right tire track or near there.

  • JF says:

    I must confess. When I was at UCLA I used to ride down the sidewalk of Westwood Blvd cuz I was scared shitless of the traffic there. That stopped when one day one of UCLA PD’s finest rode his 400 pound Kawasaki, complete with red-hot exhaust pipes, down the sidewalk at 25 mph, to pull me over and inform me I shouldn’t be doing that. Okay then.

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