A couple of months ago, I purchased my very first bicycle (well, the first bicycle of my adult life.) I was a late-bloomer and didn’t really learn to ride until I was about thirteen. I blamed it on all kinds of stupid things, like growing up in the “desert” (um, do you know what a cycling hotspot Tucson, Arizona is!?) Really, I think I was just scared. It’s hard to explain, but I was never an adventurous kid. I didn’t really like making a commotion, I was fairly quiet, and I loved quiet, lazy activities such as drawing and reading and staring off into space to contemplate things like trees and wolves. And although I had a wonderful upbringing with loving, nurturing parents, my mother was a worrier (as I suppose most mothers are). I do think I was somewhat shaped by this. Throughout my childhood, I was aware of this unspoken fear. That by simply leaving the house, you were opening yourself to the possibility of injury, and danger was always lurking just around the corner.
Eight years or so went by before I found myself on the seat of a bike again, and let’s just say that experience did not go so well (I have four words for you: “muddy ditch” and “no breaks”). Jump ahead a few more years to present tense and here we are. I was apprehensive and a little frightened to get into biking in a city that I am already afraid to drive in. But the ability to get from place to place without a car is really appealing to me, so I was (and still am) determined to make this work. But Lord Almighty, does the incompetence of drivers make it hard sometimes! I just biked home from the gym, and considering this has happened not once, not twice, BUT EVERY SINGLE TIME I HAVE RIDDEN MY BIKE SOMEWHERE IN THIS CITY, I feel that I really need to get this off my chest…
When I approach a two-way stop at an intersection and the cross-street traffic does not have a stop, DO NOT STOP FOR ME!!!! Especially do not stop for me when I have already slowed to a complete stop and am sitting there, staring at you, waiting for you to continue on your bloody merry way. You know that awkward experience you encounter when you are on foot and reach an intersection at the exact same time as a car? If you’re anything like me, the voiceless conversation seems to go something like this…
Me: “Oh, after you.”
Faceless Car Person: (inches forward, then breaks) “Oh, no please, after YOU.”
Me: (takes a step) “You sure? I think you were here first, also you are bigger and faster than me. It will take me longer to cross the street.”
Faceless Car Person: “No no no, I insist.”
(Pause, pause, pause, crickets chirping…)
Me: “Dammit this is ridiculous, I have places to be!!!” (angrily storms across the street)
Do you know how much worse that is when you’re at a complete stop, on a bike, on a slight incline and you have to clumsily hurl your feet back onto the peddles, and pretend to still have strength left in your thighs after an hour-long bar method class, all the while frantically steering your handlebars to-and-fro in an effort to not tip over? SO MUCH WORSE. I know I should be more patient and I should be thankful that these drivers are cautious and courteous, rather than mowing me down. But what people might not realize is that these rules of the road are there for a reason. I need to follow them and you need to follow them to keep cyclists and drivers and pedestrians safe. Last week, I was waiting to cross a busy street on my bike and a woman actually stopped her car to let me go, forcing the eight cars behind her to also stop. Though she had the right-of-way and did not have a stop sign, she stopped. Didn’t motion me across, just stopped. A line of cars a few blocks in front of her meant I couldn’t see whether I had a clear shot from traffic in the other direction. She was being “nice” but as the cars behind her impatiently began laying on their horns, this put me in an awkward position. Do I say thank you, and ride across the street without full view of the traffic? Do I follow the rules of the road and appear ungrateful, shaking my head and motioning her to continue? Now I’m the one holding up traffic, which sucks, because as I mentioned earlier I’m not one for making a commotion… On the other hand, I’m not that crazy about getting hit by cars.
So I’d like to know: Are you a cyclist? Are you a driver? Are you a Houstonian? Have you had the “nice” experience? Have you had similar experiences in other cities, or is this unique to Houston? Am I crazy for complaining about this? Should I shut up now?
K, thanks for listening to my rant…
Be safe out there!