I hate buses. When I’m riding (driving?) my bike around the city streets, it isn’t the cabs I worry about. In fact, the cab drivers are the least of my worries. Your ordinary, everyday driver in your ordinary, everyday car and/or roadhog SUV comes next because they aren’t paying attention to me on my little vehicle, they are only looking out for other ‘vehicles of size.’ They fear the other driver in the other car on the other cell phone and the damage the other car will do to their insurance rate.
Cars are so safe now, what with inflatable padding blasting out of every available surface that drivers and passengers aren’t in much danger of pain. Rather, they worry about their precious paint job or that tail light that costs $400 to replace or, as mentioned, the insurance rate that might take a hit since you are now a sudden risk, a higher risk than just moments before when you didn’t have an accident.
So, me on my bike, sans inflatable padding, sans crumple zones, sans warning indicators beeping at me in case I accidentally back over the dog, I am not in their view. So the average driver, he (or she) will open their door without looking. They will suddenly park in front of me. They will dart into the bike lane and not signal and why should they, even if I hit them I will merely fling my body over their vehicle and crash in a bloody heap to the pavement, broken bokes popping through my flesh, their paint job as waxed as ever.
So I watch out for drivers like you and I do my utmost to get the fuck out of your way. You wonder why I cross against the red when there is no cross-traffic though you have to sit there? It’s because I am trying to get the fuck out of your way. You grind your teeth as I bike past you, weaving between cars to get to the head of the line? I do that because I cannot go from a standing stop to 40 MPH in under 10 seconds and you can and you will and I will be in your way and woe is me if that should happen.
But the buses, they are the true demons of the road. I’m not sure if it’s because they’re so fucking big they can’t even see me at all, or if it’s that they just don’t care and they expect that I will get out of their way (one way or another) because they’re so fucking big, or if the drivers are all assholes who feel some sense of power up there behind the wheel of the commuter conveyer or what, but the buses, they suck.
Buses will race you to a bus stop. They will cut you off on your little bike as they rush to that pocket of street reserved for them. They will not take the extra few second to wait for you (no one will, by the way) they will instead go faster and try to beat you there so you can get squished by this huge metal box fighting for space with you.
Sincerely, I’d love to go on bitching about regular ordinary drivers and how awful they all are, but I also know that many, many, too many bikers are awful too. I think they are driven there, to be assholes, by being ignored and abused for so long.
Bikers are the fags of automotive society. Some try to blend in, only biking on weekends, or just taking trails, trying not to stick out or call attention to themselves. Closet bikers. Bike-curious. Some are perfectly well-adjusted and self-confident in their lifestyle, and bike to work every day and obey traffic laws and get along with everyone, mostly. Some are a bit rebellious, breaking rules now and again, maybe finding a little anger and resentment in the second- and third-class treatment we are afforded. (I think motorcyclists are second-class. After all, they have motors.)
Then we start getting into the Act Up Bikqueers. Stage One are those who wear the skin-tight nylon outfits. Garish colors and wacky glasses and clip-on shoes. Very stylish, very circuit boy, very ‘look-at-me!’ Out and proud bikers you couldn’t mistake for straight drivers if you tried.
Last but not least, some of them become drag queens on Pride Parade floats and do everything they can to be in your face and show you who’s really in charge here and flaunt their derision of acceptable traffic behavior with aplomb. They might be bike messengers, they might be year-round Burning Man devotees, either way they’re dolled up in outlandish messes, their bikes have bells and whistles (literally) and they kick cars and flip off drivers and are generally not very polite but we all sort of wish we could be like them, at least for a little while.
I used to be scared to get on my bike and venture forth into the city streets, thinking that they were not really mine to ride. Oh, sure, we have our little bike lanes where we’re supposed to stay (if you can find them) but we’re also legally considered vehicles and have all the rights and expectations any other vehicle does. Stop at red lights, signal turns, be mindful of crosswalks and all that jazz.
The problem is that we inhabit this little weird space between pedestrian and full-blown actual gas-guzzling car. Pedestrians can flaunt their freedom, they can go where they like and give snotty looks, I know, I’ve been there. I’ve felt the power of holding up traffic, of thinking “you’ll get there in plenty of time, you’re in such a hurry, lives will not end if you aren’t at Starbucks 8 minutes from now.” I’ve contemplating dropping rolls of nickels in busy intersections and then taking the time to pick up every last one while every last car waits on me, feeling their hatred and derision like hot water bathing my whole soul.
I’ve also been behind the wheel, I’ve been the guy with sweaty palms in a rush to nowhere in particular, revving the engine, timing the amber, jackrabbitting off the line and gunning for the exit lane. I know what it’s like to wait for the goddam pedestrian crossing the goddam street and doesn’t he goddam know I have goddam places to goddam be right goddam now and how can it goddam take so goddam long to goddam cross the goddam street?
But it’s on the bike where you become invisible. Drivers tolerate pedestrians. Drivers hate bicyclists. I think it’s part envy which is really quite amusing, and I think stems from the fact that when they are stuck in lines of traffic, we are cruising by them effortlessly, and also that their $25,000 car costs $2.00 a gallon to feed and $100 a month to insure and $250 a month to park and my $1000 bike costs nothing to feed (and makes my ass look great) and nothing to insure (even if it’s stolen, it’s still less than 3 months of car payments to replace it) and nothing to park. I chain it to the signs that tell them they can’t park there.
And that feels good.
Anyway, if there’s one thing I’d ask you drivers out there as a favor to us bikers even though I know you loathe us it’s that you please, please, please always use your turn signal. You can’t always see us. We know that. But we have to keep to your right, where you’re not always looking. So sometimes you think, “there’s no one behind me, I’m going to save myself the intense, calory-eating physical gesture of flipping the turn signal and look all cool and shit by turning without telling anyone I’m doing it.” And then, suddenly, oops, there we are. Right there. A bike in your way. And you slam on your break and honk and curse us as we pedal away… and it was your fault, asshole. If you had just signaled, I’d have known to go around you. But you didn’t, and what am I, a mind reader?
July 7, 2003