Tag Archives: bicycles

Biking in the rain

I just got caught in the rain, big time. It’s one of these weeks where it’s raining every day, and if it’s not raining, it’s constantly just about to rain, the sky is gray and the wind is blowing, it’s an ever-present threat. And I guess it’s good, you know, for the environment, for my garden. Every day I try to make a point to go outside and hose down the plants, but even when I do it, I’m probably not out there for as long as I should be. I keep meaning to buy a sprinkler, but it’s been so rainy lately that, one, I don’t really have to, because nature is taking care of it, and two, I don’t want to leave the house unless I really have to, because it’s so gross out.

So today I went to meet one of my friends downtown for lunch. The sky was cloudy but for some reason I was optimistic, like come on, it already rained yesterday and the day before. Today is going to be different. I rode my bike. I love riding my bike. I always know exactly how long it’s going to take me to get anywhere. I don’t have to worry about the subway being late or not paying attention and missing my stop.

And it was fine, I made it downtown fine. But after lunch I headed out to bike back home and it was starting to rain, just a misting so far, so I was like, OK, I better book it before I get wet. And that was stupid, because I started getting wet immediately. A lot of the time I’ll travel with this emergency biking-in-the-rain outfit, some waterproof pants, a couple of plastic bags to wrap around my backpack. But I didn’t have anything with me today.

Still, I should have just gotten off of my bike and taken the subway. It’s totally acceptable to bring your bike on the train. But it’s just such a pain in the ass. First of all, if it’s raining out, everybody’s going to be looking for shelter underground. Time to get off the streets and get back inside. And so the normally crowded subway system gets even more crowded. And I have my bike with me. Do you know how difficult that is, trying to maneuver not just yourself, but also a huge bike through a crowd of wet people?

It’s like, what’s the correct way to get your bicycle through the turnstile? I have no idea, so I just pick it up and kind of shove it through which, depending on my angle, depending on how many people are simultaneously trying to come and go, it might work or it might not. It might get stuck, and then I’m causing a little traffic jam, and then people start yelling things, not the people immediately behind or in front of me, no, that would be a little too confrontational. But the people two or three back, safe enough to lob whatever insults they want without any fear of repercussion or altercation. They’re like, “Move your bike asshole!”

And also, whenever it’s really wet out, I have such a hard time getting my Metrocard out of my wallet. For anybody not familiar with the New York City subway, the Metrocard is a credit card shaped piece of plastic that holds money for passage. I don’t know if I’m the only one who experiences this problem, because I’ve never even really consciously thought about it until I started writing this out, but it’s impossible to get a grip on it when it’s wet. And my wallet, it’s like I need to use the tips of my fingers to pull the card out. And I can’t. And I have my bike. I’m just standing there at the turnstile, “Let’s move it jerkoff!” shouted at me from every direction.

Getting the bike on the train, it shouldn’t be a problem, but again, when it’s raining, the platforms are jam-packed. So even when the train eventually arrives, what am I supposed to do, push people out of the way so I can take up three spots, one for me and two for my bicycle? Everybody’s crammed in, wet, cold, and they see me standing there occupying all that space, I can just hear them screaming in their heads, “Way to go, jerk!”

So I toughed it out and rode my bike in the rain. It didn’t let up until I was like three quarters of the way home, but even if it’s not directly raining, all you need to make the ride really inconvenient is a layer of rain on the street. Your tires will constantly splash it up along your back, in your face, soaking your feet from underneath. It’s not pleasant. But whatever, I’m home. I have to leave for work in like half an hour. I guess I’ll bike, because if I wanted to take the train, I should have left like five minutes ago.

Get out of the bike lane

The Queensboro Bridge links Midtown Manhattan with Long Island City. I cross it every day on my bike to get to work. There’s a dedicated lane, totally apart from traffic, for pedestrians and cyclists. It’s wide enough for everybody, so on a purely theoretical level, there shouldn’t be any problems. But there are always problems.

People don’t know how to follow the rules. This dedicated lane has a line drawn down the middle. On one side, there are stenciled images of people on their bikes, on the other side, ones of people walking. That sounds simple enough, right? People on their bikes are riding fast, and people walking or running, not as fast. Terrific.

But it’s like, maybe twenty five percent of people on the bridge at any given time are either not understanding this very clear line of demarcation, or they understand it, but they’re thinking to themselves, fuck this line. I’m not going to get bossed around by a line. I’ll do whatever the hell I want.

I know it’s really lame for bike riders to complain about people being in the bike lane. Even though it’s true, it’s a tired argument, and Fred Armisen made fun of this trope at length on Portlandia. But come on, why are you going to walk in the middle of a bike lane? Riding downhill, bikes are flying. It’s like some people are thirsting for a collision.

And so every day I cross the bridge and there are always at least one or two people doing their thing, walking in the bike lane. Most of the time it’s … whatever, it’s annoying to me, but I’m not going to do anything. Normally there aren’t tons of people in the way, and it’s really no big deal for me to do a little swerve and avoid that guy with his head down (looking straight at the stenciled bikers spaced twenty feet apart) with his headphones on, or texting on his cell phone.

I really try to prevent myself from getting annoyed. I know that it’s crazy, that there are a billion people in this city, and I can’t let myself get upset at stupid trivialities like this. If I indulge even one urge to yell to somebody, “Hey man, this is the bike lane,” as I zip by, even if it does do something, which it most likely won’t, there’s just going to be somebody else doing it five minutes later.

And so I just try to stay calm, tell myself that I don’t have any control of this world, of other people, that this is probably like a metaphor for life, for my existence on the planet, me trying to do my thing without getting all bent out of shape about other people doing their thing.

But sometimes I’m not so patient. Every once in a while I will yell out, “Bike lane!” at some clueless pedestrian. Sometimes I’ll try the passive aggressive route, cutting right in front of the walker just inches after I pass. Did you feel that gust of wind when I passed? Yeah, that’s because you’re in the wrong lane buddy. You’re going to get hurt. I’m going to get hurt.

The lanes aren’t there arbitrarily. They’re an attempt at maintaining order, at facilitating the bridge crossing for a large number of people using different methods of transportation. Why do some people ignore it? It’s like life, why are some people just so opposed to everything?

“Hey, maybe things would run a lot smoother if we did it this way.”

“You think you’re smarter than me? Don’t tell me what to do! You can’t tell me what to do! This is America! I’ll do whatever the hell I want!”

The other day I was crossing and this guy and girl were walking their bikes, taking up the entire bike lane. And as I was trying to cross, there were other pedestrians going the other way in the pedestrian lane. And so I actually had to come to a stop because there was no way for me to pass. I made eye contact with the guy in the bike lane and that was all it took to set him off as he got instantly super aggressive.

“What the fuck are you looking at, bitch?” he screamed. And so I probably should have just ignored this and pedaled on, but I responded to the aggression with my own surge of adrenaline. I shouted back, “Get out the bike lane, you’re in the way!” His response to that was to throw down his bike and start walking toward me. I didn’t want to throw my bike down, but I didn’t want this clown to think that he could scare me away, so I placed it down, but did it with dramatic zeal.

“What are you going to do, beat me up?” I said, wildly mimicking his chest thumping and arm flailing, “You’re going to be a tough guy?” at this point the girl he was with started pulling at his arm, and me, having absolutely zero interest in getting in an actual physical altercation with a complete stranger, I picked up my bike and continued my ride to work.

It was pretty stupid. That guy could have been nuts. He could have totally attacked me. I don’t know what I was trying to prove. I felt like an idiot on the rest of the way over. What if he punched me in the face? What would I have said to my boss if I showed up to work all bloody and bruised? “Sorry boss, you see, this guy was walking in the bike lane, and we got into a fist fight …”

I just don’t see why we can’t at least try to follow the rules sometimes. Not every line is a challenge to your personal liberty, an invitation for something to be crossed. There are a lot of people on this planet, and sometimes these rules just help everything to run a little smoother.

Why so aggressive?

Sometimes you just have to fight that feeling that sprouts up inside, that emotional response to an external stimuli, something that completely hijacks your consciousness, that focuses and redirects all of your energy and awareness into something primal, something base, something outside of who you are and who you want to be.

The other day I was riding my bike home from work. I was heading east in between Third and Second Avenue. The light ahead was red and there were maybe three or four cars lined up at the stop. I’m pedaling along and all of the sudden this car behind me honks the horn. It’s a loud and sustained honk. By the intensity of the sound, by the way my body reacted, how the hairs on my body all stood up, how I felt my heart skip a beat, I could tell the car was directly behind me, way too close for a car to be trailing a bike.

And I was in a bike lane. There are tons of bike lanes in New York. Not every street has a clearly marked bike lane, but this one did, and it’s one of the reasons I take this particular route every single day. So I’m minding my own, riding up to a red light, in the bike lane, and out of nowhere this car come right on my tail and honks the horn and holds it.

My body immediately goes into red alert. I’m not a road rage kind of guy, but I’m instantly scared, but only for a second, because as soon as that instant passes and I realize that I’m not in any immediate danger, the fear is gone but the adrenaline remains, and the overall state of being that I’m left with is anger, rage, something that wasn’t there just thirty seconds before.

So I turn around, it’s a taxi, and he’s really close, way too close to me, but close enough that, as I instantly turn around to him, as I show him my middle finger, even though his windows are closed, I know that we’re close enough that he can hear me as I look the driver right in the eye and shout, “Fuck you asshole!” And as I say it, I’m sort of caught off guard by my own reaction, by the force behind the words, behind the volume in the words. My heart’s pounding, my lungs are taking in all sorts of deep breaths, preparing my muscles and blood for whatever’s going to come next.

All I need is a second to cool off here, to assess the situation. Unfortunately, I don’t get a second to think, because no sooner do I curse this guy out that he decides to show me who’s in charge on this road. He swerves further into the bike lane and accelerates, as if he’s going to plow into me. The reasonable part of my brain would have told me to run, to get out of there, but everything happened in like a minute, so there is no reasonable part, I’m just a reaction, pure animal. I stick out my leg as if to say, if you come and try to run me down, I’m at least going to kick your cab as hard as I can. Somehow that works and he slows down.

But we’re still going to the same place, right behind that line of cars waiting at a red light. We pull up behind traffic and we’re side to side. This has been a pretty aggressive minute already, and neither one of us is ready to let go of the moment. He pulls his window down to say something, but I don’t let him get a word in. “Go ahead asshole!” I shout to him, “Let’s race! Go ahead and race me to that red light!” And he makes a face at me, a real snarl.

And part of me was overcome with the urge to make a huge fist and pound down on this guy’s side mirror. Maybe I could have taken it off right there and then riden away. And I really, really considered it, if only for a second, but it was a whole second where I was thinking to myself, just do it Rob, just smash the shit out of this asshole’s car with your bare hands.

But I didn’t even get that second to really consider anything. Because as soon as he opened his window, I opened my mouth. As soon as I started talking, he opened his door and got out of the car and stood up right next to me. And that’s what jolted me out of the moment. That’s when the better part of my judgment kicked in, and I started pedaling, fast.

What the hell just happened? That was a situation that escalated fast, real fast, faster than any situation I’ve been involved in a long time. Was that guy ready to fight me? Was he going to beat me up? And what about me, was I equally ready to engage? I got a good distance ahead, turned around, saw that guy just standing by his open driver’s side door, and, still juiced up on emotion, I screamed back at him, “You’re a real asshole! A real stupid asshole!” The light turned green and I pushed myself out of there, past that street, past Second Avenue, past First, all the way to the Queensboro Bridge.

And as I pedaled up and over the bridge, I had time to think, about what happened, about how I reacted. What the hell was that? Where did that come from? I was shaken. I played over and over again in my mind what had happened, what could have happened if things had played out differently, if that guy hadn’t stopped when I kicked out my leg, if I hadn’t stopped myself when I got that urge to slam down on his mirror. So many alternate possibilities. So many different opportunities for one or both of us to get hurt, for police to have to get involved. So much unnecessary aggression and violence. Just two guys getting in each other’s faces at just that right moment where we both sent each other into instant equal but opposing rages.

I always think to myself, stay in the moment. It’s cliché advice, but it usually puts my life into perspective. In this case however, I was stuck in the moment, locked in some weird byproduct of evolution, my animal nature. Why get so angry? Why the sudden impulse towards violence? I’m reminded that it’s in all of us, that we all come from a crazy, violent world.

And I did get out. The whole thing is burned in my memory, but in reality the event only occupied no more than two minutes of actual time. I got heated, I got pissed, but I got out of it, I snapped out of it. I knew that this wasn’t a battle worth choosing. And so, yeah, I’m not exactly proud of how things went down, but I definitely learned something, about impulse, about emotion, about being reminded that you never know when reality is going to turn sour, when instinct is going to hijack the reasonable part of your brain. But it happened, and it was nuts, man, it was just fucking nuts.