Post-traumatic jackass syndrome

April 11, 2014 § 30 Comments

If you don’t know Adam Myerson, he’s a member of the Lost Generation. These were the guys who came of age during the reign of Lance, and unlike Hincapie, Vaughters, Leipheimer, and those who have gone on to profit greatly from their misdeeds, Adam took the Nancy Reagan option. He just said “No.”

Adam and I are friends on Facebook, which is to say that since we’ve never met we’re not friends at all, at least not in the way that I grew up understanding the word. Rather, I lurk when his posts pop up on my feed and I like his approach towards cycling in particular and life in general.

Yesterday he opened up with a simple question. “Is there a medical term for the long term stress caused by being taken within an inch of your life, every day, multiple times a day, for the simple act of riding a bicycle on a public road?”

I glanced at the tail end of the comments and was surprised by the number. I was also surprised by the tenor of at least some. This was pretty much a softball question that any rider could relate to. Nothing is more ubiquitous in road riding than the constant fear of death and mutilation, and no preparation is more essential to the task of cycling than mentally girding yourself for the physical, verbal, and emotional onslaught that is the price we pay for daring to take our legal piece of the pavement.

Blame the victim

Incredibly, at least one commenter (since self-blocked and self-deleted) put the blame, or at least tried to shift it, on Adam. Surely there was something in his riding that precipitated at least some of this hostility?

All hell didn’t so much as break loose as it organized a freedom train.

And although the pro-Adamites greatly outweighed the anti-Adamites, the dialogue quickly assumed the air of a back-and-forth about who follows the rules and who’s a more law-abiding cyclist. All I could think was, “What the hell does that have to do with it?”

The price of pedaling

I know a lot of people who take great pride in their letter-perfect traffic behavior. I’m not one of them. I follow the rules when it’s to my advantage and I break them when they aren’t. I can feel the daggers when I cruise through controlled intersections, and I can hear the honks when some jackass in a giant pick-up vents at my infraction of the moment.

He can kiss my ass, because until the laws are set up to protect me, I’ll keep on surviving, thanks very much. As a reminder of how worthless you are on a bike here in SoCal, Jorge Alvarado’s killer just received the incredible sentence of 90 days in jail. We wouldn’t want to ruin that kid’s life, after all.

Nor am I on a mission to make cagers love me. The ones who accept me, accept me. The ones who hate me, hate me, and the ones who are going to mow me down because they’re texting or drunk or fiddling with the radio, well, I can’t do anything about them anyway. The only ones I care about are the crazies who want to kill me, and they’re not going to be mollified just because I put a foot down.

As Adam said, more or less, why should the price of making a mistake on a bike be death?

Post traumatic jackass syndrome

The unfortunate answer is, “Dude, that’s just how it is.”

But what’s more unfortunate is that his original question was such a good one. What do we call the mental condition of being constantly under assault or threat of assault?

I think PTJS is a good start, and although I can’t really describe its symptoms, I can describe the absence of them. Take the bike path and you’ll see what I mean. Suddenly, the cager exits your mental picture. As you pedal along the path you’re watching for peds and bikes and dogs and kids and skateboards and roller skaters and perhaps also the first thong of spring, but you’re doing it without the constant awareness of whether or not you’re about to receive a 1-ton solid steel enema.

There is a lightness to your grip on the bars and a relaxation of your shoulders and neck. You’re no longer afraid.

There. That’s the thing that riding on the road hangs around your neck no matter how good, how fast, how quick, or how experienced you are. The factor of fear, sometimes slight and sometimes screaming so loudly that you tense up enough to taste your own death, that’s the thing that you take with you when you’re wresting your legal piece of pavement from the jaws of the cagers.

The safety of the bike bath

Of course many riders eschew the beach bike bath in the South Bay because they claim it’s far more dangerous than street. They may be right.

Surfer Dan was pedaling along and prepared to pass Mitzy and Bohunk on their cruiser bikes. “On your left!” he said, loud enough for them to hear but not so close as to startle them.

Mitzy moved over, as she and Bohunk were hogging the whole path, but Bohunk didn’t budge. Dan eased over to pass. “Slow down, asshole!” snarled Bohunk.

Surfer Dan is a pleasant fellow, I suppose. But he’s also a coiled pack of solid muscle, the kind of muscle you get from a lifetime of surfing big waves, and he’s a coiled pack of mental muscle, too. You don’t earn your place in the lineup just because you surf well. You earn it because you can defend it, too.

Playfully, Dan looked at Bohunk, a giant, hairy, stupid creature who oozed ill will. “Please, don’t!” Mitzi begged. This obviously wasn’t Bohunk’s first brawl on the bike path and you could tell he relished the opportunity to beat up another wimp riding around in his underwear.

Dan grinned at Bohunk and said, softly, “Wanna go?”

Bohunk lunged for the bait. “Fuckin-A, you asshole! Let’s go!”

Dan eased his rear tire to within an inch of Bohunk, ready to whack the cretin’s front wheel out from under him in case the guy was crazy enough to try and get into a fist fight over being passed on the bike path. He had no intention of cutting his knuckles on this guy’s teeth. Bohunk reached out his left leg and aimed a mighty kick at Dan’s bike, but Dan easily moved over just as the full thrust of the extended, trunk-like leg fully extended into the open air.

Bohunk lost his balance and splatted hard on his shoulder, bouncing his concrete-like head against its brethren, the asphalt of the bike bath. With a long smearing sound of skin against pavement and sand, the aggressor then fouled the rest of himself up in the still-moving chain and rear wheel.

“Have a nice day!” Dan said, smiling as he rode off.

I’m guessing that he’s not suffering from post-traumatic jackass syndrome as a result.

 

END

Guts ‘n Gore Alley: Malibu & PCH

August 25, 2013 § 20 Comments

The City of Malibu has posted an online survey at http://malibu.metroquest.com/. You can take the survey to let the city know what you think are the most important issues regarding safety improvements to PCH.

Or, you know, you could just do something else.

Let me give you 10 reasons to take a few minutes out of your busy life and complete the survey.

  1. Marisela Echevarria, 36, lost control of her bike on PCH as vehicles passed by, and struck her handlebars on a parked vehicle, causing her to veer into the side of the bus. She was then dragged under the bus and killed when the bus crushed her with its rear wheels. Date of death: 10/13/2012.
  2. Luis Adolfo Olmedo, 53, was struck and killed by a cager on PCH between Encinal Canyon Road and Mullholland Highway. Olmedo had just finished fishing near El Pescador State Beach and was crossing PCH from the shoreline side. Date of death: 2/26/2013.
  3. Sarah Salam, 21, was struck and killed by a cager driving a limo as she attempted to cross PCH after leaving Moonshadows restaurant.
    A burned out streetlight, located steps away from the collision, and other preventable maintenance considerations likely played a role in her death. Date of death: 4/20/2013.
  4. Rodrigo Armas, 45, was struck and killed on PCH by a drunken cager who worked for the City of Malibu. He was participating in an annual organized ride. The cager fled the scene of the accident. Date of death: 7/5/2009.
  5. Christian Armas, 14, was struck by the same drunken cager who killed his father, and sustained injuries to his leg and multiple bone fractures.
    The pair were equipped with regulation lighting for night cycling. Date of injury: 7/5/2009.
  6. Amelia Ordona, 74, was crossing PCH in the early morning to catch a bus on the way home from her job as a caretaker, when she was struck by a hit-and-run cager, then run over by multiple other cars. Most of the cagers who ran over the corpse didn’t bother to stop. Date of death: 3/18/2010.
  7. Emily Shane, 14, was run over on PCH by a distracted cager while she was walking along the side of the road in order to meet a family member at Point Dume Village shopping center. Date of death: April 3, 2010.
  8. Erin Galligan, 29, was was hit from behind while cycling on PCH and dragged to death by a hit-and-run cager in a pickup. Her body was thrown so far from the point of impact that police had to search for her body. Date of death: July 10, 2012.
  9. Numerous other fatalities including two Pepperdine Law School students who were killed in a head-on car-to-car collision with a drunk cager; a tow truck driver killed by another hit-and-run cager while he working on a vehicle, and myriad cyclists and pedestrians who have been seriously injured by cagers in the last ten years on PCH.
  10. You, aged 40-something, were riding down PCH on Sunday morning when a cager drove by so close that you were almost knocked off your bike by his mirror. There was only a narrow three-foot space on the edge of the road, covered with rocks, debris, glass, and cracked pavement, onto which you could veer for safety. You were almost killed, and it ruined your ride.

Although many Malibu residents come across as hateful, vengeful, stingy, selfish, and filled with venom towards bicycle riders, they are a small minority. Most Malibians are just like rich entitled cagers everywhere: They don’t like it when shit gets in their way and slows down their car, whether it’s a slow-moving truck, a traffic jam, a bicycle, or, you know, a corpse in the middle of the highway.

The city recognizes that PCH is a death trap and that they have traffic fatality and injury rates commensurate with a city many, many times larger. This survey is part of a planning process that may — may — eventually ameliorate the toxic combination of crazy-fast speeders and crazy-slow bicycle riders. Rather than gutting up for the next memorial ride to commemorate the life of another bicycle rider killed by a cager in Malibu, please take a few minutes to complete this survey.

Thanks.

Law of the jungle

August 1, 2013 § 52 Comments

Every so often I see an article  like this: “Cyclists! As long as you keep breaking the law motorists are going to keep hating you. We must show that we are law-abiding members of the public if we hope to be treated with the respect we deserve.”

This is stupid and it’s wrong.

Cagers hate you because of the law of the jungle. When a tiger and a mouse meet on a path, the mouse steps aside. Your bicycle, a weak and puny plastic thing, impedes the forward motion of a hulking 2,000-lb. slab of steel. The jungle law says you must step aside, but the California Vehicle Code does not. So the cagers hate you even when they yield the right of way.

Before you start whining you should ‘fess up: You’re no different from the soccer mom in the SUV. Remember last Sunday on the bike path coming back from Malibu, and how the path was clogged with all those fucking walkers? Remember how you roared past them at 15-20 mph shouting “On your left!” Remember how annoying it felt, especially since the path said “Bikes Only”?

Yeah. The natural human reaction when a slow moving, weaker bicycle obstructs a faster moving, bigger car, is to be pissed off, and you can’t tamp down the cager’s road rage by stopping at the stop signs.

Here’s another example. Have you ever seen a cyclist on Hawthorne or PCH during rush hour and thought “What the fuck is that fucking fuckfuck doing riding on this busy fucking street at rush hour? What a fucking moron!”

Of course you have.

As long as bicycles get in the way of cagers, the cagers are going to hate them and it won’t matter if you stop at the stop signs. They will still shoot you, splat you and run away, kill you, kill you, and then finally, yes, kill you.

No one ever had his rights vindicated by being nice

You have a right to ride on the road. It can’t be taken away because you ran some red lights.

“Mr. Smith, due to your abysmal record of having run ten red lights and thirty stop signs this year, the court hereby revokes your right to ride your bicycle.”

Not gonna happen, although your scofflaw approach may get you run over and killed.

The only thing that obeying the law on your bicycle does is increase or decrease your chances of being hit, depending on the situation. It will never make any cager anywhere stop hating you. It will never stop someone who has made up his mind to hit you from hitting you. Most importantly, it will never cause someone to intentionally hit you if they haven’t already decided to do so.

Think about motorcycles. Most cagers who don’t ride think motorcyclists are batshit crazy sucides. But it doesn’t make them want to kill the guy on the Ducati in flip-flops and a t-shirt and an eggshell brain bucket who’s splitting lanes on the 405 at 70 when the traffic’s at a standstill.

At worst it makes you think “That dude’s gonna die soon and I’m not gonna feel sorry for him one bit.” It never makes you intentionally hit him. By the same token, seeing some old fart on a Goldwing with his wife, dog, and three kids on the back doesn’t make you love motorcyclists or change your opinion that this is their death wish.

The take home? Motorcyclists still have the right to be there. If they break the law they can lose their license — unlike cyclists — but you’re really fucked up if the way a person rides a moto makes you decide to kill them or not.

You have a right to be in the road on your bicycle. The only way you can keep that right is to exercise it. You won’t change the hearts and minds of the hater cagers by being a Boy Scout, although you may thereby avoid becoming a statistic. The only thing that will really change the way people think is making bicycles a permanent part of the traffic landscape.

Until then, the best thing you can do to change attitudes is to … ride your bike. Simply existing will piss off certain cagers, no matter how you ride.

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