Tag Archives: bicycle

Stroller rage

I was riding my bike to school today. There’s a good stretch of my route along 34th Ave. in Queens, a dedicated bike lane, but one with a traffic light at every single intersection. I’m not a reckless cyclist. Whenever I come to a red light, I at least slow down to make sure no cars or pedestrians are in the way before going through. I know, technically cyclists have to obey all of the rules that a car does. But that doesn’t make any sense. It takes a lot more for a bike to get going after a full stop than a car.


So I’m approaching this one red light, very slowly. It wasn’t even an intersection. Here was a traffic light that served no purpose other than to keep a spacing continuity with all of the other traffic lights. And this isn’t a busy street. It’s a single lane both ways. It’s not Queens Blvd.

The pedestrian crossing signs were white, for walk, on both sides. On one side of the street there was a dad holding one of those exercising strollers, but there wasn’t any child inside. At his side were three little kids of various ages, the oldest couldn’t have been more than five or six. Do you know why I had a chance to notice all of this? Because I was coming at the light really, really slowly. I wasn’t even pedaling, I was just rolling through.

Like I said, the dad and his kids were on one side, and I had a clear path across, and so I just went for it. But it wasn’t going to be so easy. As I made my way through, the dad ran across the street, leaving his kids back on the corner, and pushed the stroller right in my way. So I stopped, I got off the bike, and I kind of made a confused and annoyed face at the guy. “Come on man, we both had the light.”

“What?” he screamed at me. “You didn’t have the light! You had a red light!”

And yeah, whatever, if he was a cop, I guess he could’ve given me a ticket. But he wasn’t a cop. And there was no harm being done. This was just some vigilante super dad taking the laws of traffic into his own hands.

Then things escalated. I didn’t say anything back to him, but he started yelling. “You almost hit my kids!” and he took his stroller and started pushing me, hard. Like my whole bike was moving. And I looked at him and his jaw was clenched, he was physically shaking with rage.

Now I was getting angry too, call it fight or flight or whatever, but this guy was pushing me and all my body was doing was telling me to push back. What would have happened? I don’t know. This guy was about the same size as me, maybe a little shorter, but he had the whole really, really angry thing going for him. Thankfully, it only took about a second or two for me to realize that, no, I probably shouldn’t get into a physical fight with some random dude on the street, even if he did push me with his giant red sporty cool dad exercise stroller.

“Listen man, I apologize, OK?” I said it as sincerely as I could. My goal was simple, to defuse the situation and get out.

“OK!” he screamed at me, and I could tell that I’d gotten through to him somehow. That in the basest part of his animal brain, I’d submitted to his power, and even though he probably still wanted to punch, there was really nothing he could have done now short of straight out attacked me.

I used the moment to push free of his stroller and take a couple of steps forward. But now that I was sure he couldn’t get me, I called back, “Hey kids,” and I said this in one of those parenting voices that super annoying moms and dads use to talk to their kids like babies, “Daddy needs anger management classes.”

And he started coming at me and screaming something unintelligible, but I’d already pushed my bike ahead and started pedaling away. When I was positive that I’d made an escape, I yelled back, really loudly, “Hey asshole, I’m not really sorry, I just didn’t feel like getting beat up!” and they I just gunned it, not looking back.

Because, I’m serious, there’s no way I was even close to hitting his kids, absolutely zero percent. And I’m happy with how I handled the situation, not getting into a fight, speaking my mind once I was free of immediate danger. I probably shouldn’t have said asshole in front of his kids. That was my bad. But at least I didn’t do what I really wanted to do, to fight back. Because come on man, don’t fucking push me around. You want to yell at me on the street? Fine. I can take getting screamed at by some random d-bag. But don’t start pushing people. Maybe next time whoever you start pushing around is going to be a real whack-job. And what are you going to do when they start throwing lefts to your face? You want your kids to see you get your ass kicked?

My bike

Something like three or four years ago, I had a bike stolen in the city. I was always really good about chaining it up to wherever I chained it up to, I had a U shaped lock that went around the frame, and then I wrapped a flexible chord lock around the two wheels. Other than this one time where I came outside one day to find my seat missing, I never really had any sort of theft problems.


But then one day I rode my bike to work. By the time I left the building at around  six in the afternoon, it was pouring rain. And I mean, I’ll ride in a little rain, I live close to work, I have rain pants, it’s doable. But this day wasn’t doable. It was really coming down. I thought about it, I thought, should I take the bike down on the subway with me? I’ve done that before. It’s not that easy, but you’re allowed to, like, there’s no rules against it like there is on the PATH train or the Long Island Railroad.

But it’s a huge pain in the ass. You’ve got to carry your bicycle down a flight of stairs, and then you’ve got to put it down somewhere while you get your Metrocard out. After that it’s more stairs, and then you’re waiting on the platform, you and a giant bike, all while everybody else in the city is just trying to get home, just them and a bag, usually, not a lot of other bikes.

And think about it, it’s pouring rain, so everybody’s making a rush to the subway, there aren’t any cabs available, the system’s running a lot slower because of water leaking into the tunnels, because of people crowding the cars. That’s another thing, I’ll be waiting with my bike and a full train will roll into the station. If I were by myself, sure, I could push myself in there. But with a bike? It’s not happening. And everybody’s just getting more and more pissed at me, throwing a wrench into the system, making it hard for people just to walk around me.

I thought about it, I said, you know what? I’ll just leave it outside for the night. I’ll just pick it up in the morning. And you know, in retrospect, I can look at the whole situation and tell myself that even back then I had a bad feeling about it. But did I really have a bad feeling? I’m not so sure. That’s how I remember it now though, like I reluctantly left my bike to the fates, to fend for itself for the night. And this version of the story drives me crazy, because I always think, Rob, if you had a bad feeling about it, why would you go through with it? Why roll the dice?

Yeah, so you can imagine where this story’s going, right? I showed up in the morning and the bike was gone. And I just stood there for a while, I couldn’t believe someone had stolen my bike. I wanted answers, I wanted some sort of an outlet for my anger and disbelief. But there was nothing to be done, nobody to complain to, I just kind of stood there with my hands out, like I was pantomiming to the world, “Are you kidding me? Someone really stole my bike?”

And that bike was awesome. I mean, you wouldn’t know it just by looking at it. This thing wasn’t any sort of nice bike. I bought it on craigslist for seventy-five bucks, and right away I had to replace one of the tires, some brake pads, over the course of the next few months I probably dropped like another hundred, a hundred and fifty.

But it was more than just money. I bonded with this bicycle. As I made small hardware upgrades here and there, it came to feel like a part of me. Over an especially adventurous winter, I took the whole thing apart, sanded the frame, and gave it a brand new paint job. After two years or so, a lot of my identity was wrapped up in this piece of junk I kind of just happened upon on the Internet.

So when it got stolen, it was just this cold slap in the face, the world giving me a harsh reminder that I’m nothing, that the things that I care about aren’t necessarily important in the greater scheme of things. I tried to spin it into a whole life lesson, but no, part of me hardened that day. I’d eventually buy another bike, but a lot of the joy I got out of pedaling around town just wasn’t accessible to me anymore.

Which was why, a few months ago, I couldn’t believe it, I was in the passenger seat of my brother’s car when we stopped at a light. I looked to my right and, there it was, my bike. Sure, it looked a little more beat up, I mean, three or four years of city riding will do that to a bike. But aside from what looked like a new set of reflectors and maybe some new handlebars, that was my paint job, nobody could have done that exactly like I had, it was totally my bike.

So I just jumped out of the car and pushed this guy over, hard. And yeah, that was totally an overreaction, I get it. I mean, I didn’t think about it right away, but there was almost no chance that this guy was the dude who stole my bike. Whoever did it probably took it, cleaned it up a bit, and maybe sold it on craigslist. (Although, right after the original theft, I had spent hours for weeks, combing through the thousands of bikes available for sale online, hoping that my bike might have shown up, somewhere.)

And now here I was and this guy was on the ground, it looked like he was a delivery guy, and there were all of these take-out trays of rice and noodles spilling on the street next to him. The better part of me wanted to help him up and try my best to explain the situation, but a different part of me knew that, if I pursued that course of action, there would have been a good chance that I’d have to let him keep the bike.

So I just started pedaling. I didn’t even look back to tell my brother. I picked up the bike while that delivery guy lay there kind of stunned on the ground and I just took off. And this was kind of far away from my house, I was looking at like a two, two and a half hour ride back to my house.

The ride wasn’t the same as I had remembered it. In my mind, I had glorified this thing as some sort of a miracle machine. But after twenty minutes or so heading back to my house, I had to admit that, my newer bikes rode a lot better than this thing. I tried desperately to at least get some of that sentimental mojo going through my head, but again, aside from a really base lingering admiration of my paint job, there was nothing there, nothing that was strong enough to overcome the intense feelings of guilt that were starting to get even stronger as I really thought about what I did to that poor delivery guy.

I turned around and rode back to where I stole my bike back, hoping even though I knew that it was beyond unlikely, that he’d still be there, that I’d find him, apologize, pay for all of the food I ruined, give him the bike back. I didn’t really need it anymore, I had two more bikes back at my place.

But yeah, he was long gone, and I waited around for a few more minutes, but there was nothing I could do, my act of malice had seeped into the earth, it was like a deep stain on a white carpet that I knew would never really come out.

And all of this time, all of these years, I always thought about that bike, me and my misfortune, how I wished that I still had it, that I can’t believe I got robbed. And now I have it back and I never even ride it, it’s just lying in my garage, collecting cobwebs, unused, I’m too ashamed to even look at it.

Self-appointed bike lane enforcement guy

It’s not my job to tell people what to do, I get it. I keep telling it to myself over and over again every time I ride my bike across the Queensboro Bridge. I’ve written about this before, but there’s a shared lane fenced off from traffic on the North side of the bridge. It’s about the width of a single lane of normal car traffic.

photo (18)

Only, this lane is divided by a white line down the center. The inside side is clearly labeled every twenty feet or so with these stick-figure graphics of a guy on a bicycle, while directly opposite, there are images of pedestrians. It’s easy enough, biking on one side, walking on the other.

But I don’t understand why people can’t just follow this very simple system. If you’re on a bike, why do you have to bike in the pedestrian lane? If you’re walking or running, what are trying to accomplish by taking up space in the bike lane? Why can’t we just respect the system?

But like I said, I’m not in charge, OK, I get that. It’s not my job to tell people to follow the rules. I’m not a cop. People aren’t obligated to listen to me. And so I try to just bite my tongue. I really do make an effort to not let myself get angry just because other people make decisions that I wouldn’t make.

It seriously drives me crazy though. I’ll be biking on the bike side of the lane when I see a runner coming right at me. What do I do? Isn’t it easy enough to just swerve out of the way? Yeah, I guess in theory there might come a time where there could potentially be a traffic issue, multiple bikers trying to pass each other at the same time at the same spot, a situation that could be neatly avoided if the runner would just stay in his designated running lane.

But most of the time it’s not an issue. It’s certainly not my issue. The guy’s in the bike lane, it doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter. I should just ignore it, bike around him. Why do I have to let the actions of a complete stranger dictate the state of emotions inside my head?

But I’m not always thinking the same way every time I cross the bridge. Sometimes I might be in a really good mood. I’ll see that runner, I’ll say to myself, hey Rob, just focus on your own life. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. It doesn’t matter.

Sometimes it works. Other times I might be running late, I might have just gotten into an argument with someone. Maybe I’m just pissed off for no reason at all. That happens, I can wake up on the wrong side of the bed. And look, now I’ve got some idiot running right at me from the wrong side of the lane. Well you know what? I don’t feel like getting pushed around, not today, not by these people just blatantly disregarding the bike lane and the pedestrian lane.

And I just want to put it out there, when I get bent out shape, I know that I’m in the wrong. Every time that I take this shit personally, every time I choose to react to something like this, I get it, I’m the idiot here. Yet sometimes there’s nothing I can do. Something about it just drives me off the wall. Like why do I have to get out of your way? Why don’t you just stay on your side and then nobody will have to get out of anybody else’s way?

There are several ways of me going about being a self-righteous bridge asshole. If the runner is running all the way to the side of the bridge, I might meet him head on, a classic game of chicken. Eventually we get to the same spot, and I kind of put my hands in the air, like what the hell man? And he does the same thing, like come on dude! And that’s it.

Other times I might get verbal, like, “Come on man! Bike lane!” and then I’ve basically lost, because now I’m the crazy person yelling at random strangers on the bridge. It’s all nonsense. I don’t want it to bother me anymore. I just want to ride my bike across without feeling like I’m being one-upped by anyone. Maybe I should start commuting blindfolded. When I get in someone’s face, it’s pointless. There’s going to be another pedestrian in the bike lane like thirty seconds later. What am I going to do, yell at every single person? Is that going to be my thing, like self-appointed bike lane enforcement guy?

I hope not. I hope that eventually it won’t bother me, like I’ll learn to not let it piss me off. But I’m still far away from that day. Because even if I do restrain myself, even if I politely get out of everyone else’s way, it still pisses me off. Just stay in your lane, all right, it’s really not difficult at all.

My broken bicycle chain

The other night I was riding my bike home from work when I started to hear this clicking sound. I couldn’t tell what was wrong exactly, but every three or four pedals, it was this noticeable click. One block away from work, two blocks, I started building up some speed and the clicks came at shorter intervals. Part of me thought, OK, something’s definitely wrong, like I know it’s not supposed to be making those sounds, but what was I going to do? It’s not like I had any tools on me, and even if I did, I wasn’t really in the mood to start pretending to be a bike mechanic on the side of East Fifty-Fourth Street.

So I started changing the gears rapidly, like maybe that would fix it. You want to something to click about? I’ll give you something to click about. Only, and this is totally speaking in retrospect, but I wish I had just left it in that one gear, because after a few turns of the shifter, the pedals jammed like the chain got stuck. I looked down, and it actually came apart, one of the links broke, and I watched the line of metal wind its way through the derailleur and then drop onto the floor.

This all happened within maybe ten seconds. It was like I was watching it, but I couldn’t really comprehend what was going on. My eyes saw the chain leave the bike, but my legs kept pedaling futilely, with nothing to give them any resistance, it was just this hollow motion, all while my brain simply could not make sense of the visual, the tactile, finally my momentum came to an end and I had to get off the bike.

I walked back and found the chain. For some reason that stupid, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” saying ran through my head, and it got me really annoyed. I had just worked a double, my back was killing me. All I wanted to do was get home and watch some TV before I passed out for the night, but now I really was going to have to pretend to be a bike mechanic on the side of the street.

The thing about bike chains, you touch them once and that’s it, that’s the last thing you can touch until you have a chance to get to a bathroom sink. Whatever bike chain grease is made out of, it gets everywhere. And of course I didn’t think about that, I just picked up the chain, and then next thing I knew I had grease on my shirt, on my backpack. I looked down and my left hand was in my left pocket looking for keys or something I might use as a tool.

I wasted twenty minutes looping the bike chain back through the system, and then I tried my best to hammer the chain back together with my bare hands. I stood the bike back upright and took off. Unfortunately, my fingers weren’t able to do the trick like a bike chain tool does, and so it was click, click, and the whole thing fell apart almost immediately.

It was close to midnight. I didn’t know what to do. Finding a cab that would let me shove my bike in the backseat would have been a long shot. Then again, I was kind of far from the subway, and at this time of night, I had no idea how much time I would have spent waiting for a train. I finally decided that I’d sit on the bike and push myself home, like a scooter.

It was one of those ideas that sounded great in my head, but halfway across the Queensboro Bridge, way too late to turn back and figure something else out, I realized what a strain this was on my system, my chest muscles felt like they were supporting my arms holding onto the handlebars, pushing my torso outward while my legs took turns alternating between standing on a pedal and pushing off the ground like I would a skateboard.

And I woke up this morning and my right foot was all swollen, like I could feel my actions last night aggravating muscles that I probably don’t use much while I’m walking or running, but I had stubbornly kept at it, refusing to let any more of the night pass than it already had. And now I’m sitting here looking at this bike with no chain, totally useless.

I love riding a bike because I’m free to go anywhere in the city without ever having to spend any time waiting around for buses or trains. And usually it’s great, I have my commute timed out to the minute, I save a lot of money on not having to buy a monthly MetroCard. But every once in a while something like this happens, something breaks, or it starts raining, or the bike lane on the bridge gets shut down for repairs. And then I’m stuck, I have to figure something out, I can’t take a cab, I can’t even run. In these moments, no longer is my bike a key to freedom, it’s an anchor, weighing me down wherever I happen to be, I’m mercilessly bound to the present.

Hey Donald Rumsfeld, you’re an asshole

Four or five years ago, I was riding my bike home from work one afternoon when I ran into former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. At the time, I was waiting tables at this restaurant on East 60th Street in New York. As a bike commuter, I had to do this weird loop few blocks out of my way to make it to the bicycle entrance for the Queensboro Bridge. It was annoying, because the restaurant was only like one block away. But it was against traffic, and at around five or so in the afternoon, trying to swim upstream like that is suicidal.

And so I was heading north on Third Avenue when I saw him, Donald Rumsfeld. It was definitely Donald Rumsfeld. It had to be. It was maybe a month or so after he left the Bush administration, right around when Dick Cheney was talking about how he was the greatest Secretary of Defense that had ever lived.


You think about the George W. Bush presidency, and again, I don’t want to get too political here, but those are the years that I came of age. I was a junior in high school when W got elected, I was a senior during 9/11, and I remember it was in the middle of our spring break during my freshman year of college when the President got on TV and gave Saddam Hussein that twenty-four hour ultimatum.

I had no idea what was going on back then. I didn’t read any papers or watch the news. But I remember seeing that speech and watching people’s reactions to Operation Iraqi Freedom. There were a few dissenting opinions here and there, but mostly it was stuff like, yeah, let’s get them. Let’s get those assholes. Nobody fucks with us. Stuff like that. Remember, it was like a year after 9/11. I still remembered being that senior in high school and watching the Vice President on TV telling us that it wasn’t a matter of if there’d be another attack, but when. So this stuff, to me anyway, it wasn’t anything that I thought of as being outside the realms of how the world was supposed to operate.

And then throughout the course of college, I started keeping up with current events. We weren’t out of Iraq in six months. I thought for sure, I just knew it, that Kerry was going to win the 2004 election. He didn’t. We’d be in Iraq for a while. I graduated college. I started watching documentaries about the Iraq war and what was happening overseas, why we were doing what we were doing.

A big moment that I’ll remember, something that, I hate to say cemented, because I want to have this idea of myself as being open to change, but something was firmly planted in my mind when Saddam Hussein was captured, when we handed him over to the new Iraqi government, and he was executed. Someone present at the event managed to record the act via cellphone, and for a whole weekend in February, this grainy footage was playing on repeat over every news channel.

I remember thinking, this is the culmination of American justice? This is why we went in there, we insisted that this guy get out, all so we could hand him over to his own political enemies for a good old fashioned hanging? A hanging, with a noose. It’s medieval. And we enabled that. We went over there and this big result was a hanging. It was crazy.

And throughout everything, as things got bad, then better, then bad again, as civilians got massacred, as it came to light that the administration had all but lied to the world regarding the justification of the invasion, everybody in charge, all of the real key players, every weekend they’d run around to all of these interview shows and double down on their arrogance. Even now, these idiots are still parading around the country, giving lame speeches in a pathetic attempt to defend their actions, belittling their opponents as they try to carve out a legacy that doesn’t involve the words war criminals.

Toward the end of his presidency, even Bush knew that he’d given too much power to the wrong group of people. It was too little, too late, unfortunately, but Rumsfeld resigned in disgrace, Alberto Gonzalez as well. Even Cheney’s grip on executive authority was curtailed significantly, leaving relations between the former President and his VP strained to this day. But in thinking about everything that went down, all of the lives lost and reputation squandered, yeah, these guys might have lost their jobs, but they got off easy. They’re still greeted as champions by certain sectors of the political spectrum. Their agenda, their worldview, while maybe it’s in remission, it’s hardly been defeated. It’s all a waiting game, they just bide their time utnil another like-minded President is elected, the right environment to carry out their goals. To borrow from a popular TV show, all of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.

But back to me, riding my bike on Third Avenue, it was definitely Donald Rumsfeld. He was at the head of his pack, surrounded by an entourage of old men in suits. I was going pretty fast, but I knew that this was a unique encounter, for me anyway. I wanted to say something. But what? I couldn’t think of anything, so I wound up shouting, “Hey Donald Rumsfeld!” and he kind of looked up, that Rumsfeld scowl, and I yelled, “You’re an asshole!” and that was it. I turned onto East 62nd, made the right onto Second Avenue, and I was over the bridge pedaling away back home.

Every once in a while I’ll think about what went down. It was a very minor interaction that I’m sure I’ve unconsciously embellished in my head over the years. Like, did he really look up at me? Was I really yelling in as strong a voice as I think I was? And I was so certain that it was him at the time, but thinking about it from four year’s distance, what was he doing over by that part of the city? Why was he in New York? Was it really him?

I’m sure it was him. And I’m pretty sure that, even though I didn’t really have anything to say, I think I said exactly what I should have said. Because seriously, what hasn’t this guy heard before? He goes to Washington, he sits at the head of whatever think-tanks and conferences, and he probably hears arguments from both side of the coin, from people more educated and up-to-date with what’s going on than I could ever hope to be. What was I going to do, stop my bike and get into a policy argument with the former Secretary of Defense?

No, a guy like Rumsfeld, I felt that it was important for him to be faced with his legacy as it is, not as how he and his buddies planned it out before they ever sent the first troops overseas. And maybe he can dismiss opposing arguments from the highest levels of government officials. Maybe he can listen to professional journalists and analysts rebuke his decisions and dismiss everything as something fundamentally flawed.

And probably, my comment didn’t register at all. I’m nobody. I’m some dude on a bike screaming out an insult. Maybe he didn’t even hear me. But that was my moment. For just a second, I had this guy’s attention, I think, and I wanted to let him know, one guy to another, hey Donald Rumsfeld, I think you’re an asshole.