Tag Archives: Rules

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.

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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.

You’re not supposed to hang out on the stairs

I was taking the train a couple of weeks ago. Where I live, the subway is aboveground, so if you want to take a ride, you’ve got to walk up these two flights of stairs to get to the platform. And exactly halfway up, I ran into my old friend Greg, he was coming down the opposite direction, man, I hadn’t seen him in probably like five years, maybe longer. We caught each other’s eyes right away and stopped to say hi.


A lot of the time it’s a pain to have to stop and say hello to someone when you’re just trying to go about your day. But this was different, Greg used to be a pretty good friend, at least for me, this wasn’t your typical “hey how’s it going,” I mean, maybe it was a chore for him, but if it was, he was doing a good job of not letting me know it, trying his best to seem genuinely pleased to see me.

But after maybe fifteen seconds of pleasantries, right after we got the “It’s been such a long time!” automatic intro sentences out of the way, but right before we could really get into any specific “Where are you living these days?” advanced conversation points, this MTA employee comes up from behind me and gives us this really curt, “Listen, you guys can’t congregate on the stairs, OK, you’ve got to move.”

And yes, it wasn’t the ideal spot to catch up with an old friend, but it wasn’t super crowded, and we both made sure to move as far to the side of the staircase as possible. People were going around us. I’m very aware of whether or not I’m causing a traffic jam, and this was definitely not at all impeding the flow of foot speed.

So I kind of motioned to the MTA employee, like I didn’t say anything to him directly, but I made eye contact, I nodded, and then I looked back toward Greg with renewed urgency, like, yes, let’s continue what we’re doing here, but let’s maybe speed it up a little bit, because we are on the stairs, we can’t very well stand here for too much longer.

But the MTA guy wouldn’t have it, he wouldn’t even let Greg and me get in another back-and-forth, I was just about to ask what he was up to these days, but this guy shouts, “Look, I can’t let you just hang out here. OK, you either have to up the stairs, or you have to go down the stairs, but you can’t just stand here on the stairs.”

And I instantly got kind of annoyed, like yes, I know that we shouldn’t be standing here, but this is where this conversation happened to take place, OK, it’s not like I was like, hey, Greg, do you want to get together this afternoon to catch up? Yeah, great, meet me at the Broadway stop of the N train, the Northwest staircase, about halfway up.

Also, I resented this guy’s message, like, here, let me spell it out for you, let me give you one of these long detailed overly worded I’m-in-charge ways of communicating to you what could easily be said in three or four words. So I turned around, I looked this guy in the eye and I said, “Thank you,” while trying not to appear visibly pissed off, like I tried to smile, and I hoped to get the message across that, OK man, I hear you, we hear you, but thank you, now please go back to doing whatever else it was that you were doing before you came over here to start vigorously enforcing the no-standing-on-the-staircase rules.

So Greg and I kind of continued talking, but it was only like a word, maybe two words, because the MTA guy in his orange neon MTA worker’s vest was not having it. “Gentlemen,” he interrupted. And now I thought, OK, this guy’s not going to let up, maybe we should move? But where? Was I going to go all the way back down the stairs? Because Greg didn’t look like he was willing to walk all the way back up. What if one of us made that effort and then the conversation fizzled out? What if it turned out to be nothing more than a heavy initial dose of nostalgia before we both realized, wait a second, there’s a reason I haven’t seen this person in years, it’s because whatever it was that we had in common wasn’t strong enough to sustain a lasting friendship?

And this got me even more annoyed, like what the hell man, you can’t just let two people run into each other and say hi? Can’t you just take a hint? OK? I took your hint, right, you don’t want us standing here anymore. Hint taken. Can you now take my hint and leave us the fuck alone? Just for like a minute? How long do you really think we’re going to stand here? Is it that important to you that we move right this second?

And so I turned my attention from Greg toward the MTA guy, I started giving him the business, throwing out stuff like, “Why don’t you just back off, all right?” and more stuff like, “You’re not a cop, OK? You want to call the cops? Call the cops, because the last time I checked, MTA guys don’t really have too much in the way of actual authority.”

Which, I don’t know what I was going for here, it was a pure reaction. If I was thinking that my display of defiance might have somehow bought Greg and me a little more one-on-one time, I was wrong. Because even though this MTA guy might not have had any actual enforcement abilities, he was still wearing that vest, he still had a few non-arresting powers at his disposal.

Like getting-in-my-face powers, asking me if I was aware that threatening an MTA employee was a felony offense. “Who’s threatening? I’m not threatening?” I shot back with my hands in the air.

At this point Greg started heading down the stairs, “All right man, it was great to see you. Let’s catch up soon!” and I thought about going down with him, continuing the conversation at on the sidewalk, but that was it, the goodbye was said. And would our forced continued discussion be required to talk about the sort-of argument I had just engaged in with this total stranger?

Yeah, that conversation was over, I’d probably never see Greg again, not that it really mattered, not really. I was already feeling that nostalgia buzz start to die down somewhat. And then it was just me and the MTA guy, he was just staring at me, sort of smiling, like, ha, there goes your friend. I just turned and headed upstairs, muttering, “Asshole,” under my breath.

“What was that?” he screamed out after me, I guess I muttered it a little louder than I thought. But just as I considered saying something else, I realized, no, I muttered that exactly as loud as I had intended, just loud enough for him to hear me say it, and now I’ll just slip back into the background of the city, paying no attention to this crazy guy in an orange vest yelling up at some other guy already disappearing into a crowd of people waiting for the N train.

Dinner party

I’m a good cook. Just, please, try to stay out of my way. I don’t need any help. So no, please don’t bring any side dishes. I have the side dishes already planned out. It’s the same with dessert. If you bring dessert, well, don’t bring dessert, because I’m telling you right now, no dessert, so go ahead and try me, bring that box from the bakery, I’ll be like, “Gee, sorry, looks like there’s no room in the fridge,” and then I’ll really push back the dessert course, make sure your lemon meringue pie or whatever it is inside that box gets nice and warm, really mushy, and I have just the serving dish I can put it on, it’s gross looking, like I think someone put it in the oven one time, and so it’s got all of these weird burnt-on grease looking stains, and you could tell it was just starting to melt, minutes away from losing any semblance of structural integrity.

dinner party

I don’t need you to bring any drinks, I’ll handle the drinks. What, were planning on buying a few two-liter bottles of soda? Don’t even think about it. If you’re currently thinking about it, just stop right there, because I’ve got it covered. That includes cups, and yes, that includes ice.

And napkins. I’m taking care of napkins. Please don’t bring your coats. If you get cold inside, I’ll have plenty of extra sweaters and blankets available. Just leave it to me, all right? It’s just that, for my dinner parties, I like to maintain a certain continuity of theme, I’m trying to strike not just the perfect dinner, but everything, the ambiance, the lighting – please don’t touch the lights – it’s got to be just right.

Listen, I’d prefer it if everyone ate with forks in their left hands, OK? I know it shouldn’t seem like a big deal, but I’m going to be getting up to take a photo soon … no, nobody look over here, it’s got to be candid, and remember what I was talking about before? The uniformity? Yeah, just not like that. Like, try to cut the steak against the grill mark, just so everybody will be able to see the char.

You know what? I’ll cut the food. Just, everybody pass your plates over here. I insist. Hey, you two at the end, if you’re going to have a side conversation, could it maybe be something a little topical? I’m sure it’s very important to figure out who’s splitting a cab home with who, but maybe that’s something that you could have discussed before you stepped inside. Just think of it like a house rule, like maybe talk about the news, or sports. You know what? The news. Talk about the mayor.

Hey, over here, yeah you, nobody goes to the bathroom until after the first course. Look, this isn’t a restaurant, OK? The dining room is simply way too close to the bathroom, so it’s all got to be fit in somewhere, and that’ll be in between courses four and five. Yep, get comfortable folks. And besides, I’m not ready to go in there with you. There’s a certain way to do it in there, it may look like any other first-floor bathroom, but … well, I really can’t explain it, it’s just something I’ve got to show you how to do.

Seriously? You guys are leaving already? Well, let me wrap up some of this food for you, trust me, you’re going to love it, I’ve been working on this all day. Just, when you get home, make sure you adjust the presets on the microwave, like normally they’re set to nine or ten and nobody ever thinks about it once it’s set up. All you have to do is set it to six, run it for twenty-four seconds, then you set it to ten, and you pulse it, one second, wait, three seconds, wait, then you take it out, you mix it up a little, back to level six, thirty seconds, rest, wait, repeat.

You know what? I’m going to come with you, I just need to show you, this won’t take long everybody, just, feel free to hang out in the living room, you guys can talk about anything, well, feel free to open up the conversation somewhat, like I guess sports is OK. No come on, I insist, give me the keys, no I’ll drive, I know a shortcut, I’ll have you guys set up at your dinner table in no time.

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 is morale so low around here?

Morale is at an all time low. We’re not blind to that fact. We get it. We were just ignoring it for a while, seeing if it might not starting going up again by itself. Maybe it was just a weird phase. Maybe everyone would start getting happy again. But it’s not. And since we first identified the all time low, things have dropped even lower. A new all time low. It’s dropping so fast that I can’t even keep up with labeling right now correctly as an all time low, because before I even have a chance to complete my sentence, it’s dropped even further, and so it’s technically not true anymore. But you get the idea. Very, very low morale.

Which is why we’ve decided to take some morale boosting measures, make some morale boosting rules. We’re positive that these rules will turn morale around in no time. The first rule concerns hugging. From now on, whenever you see somebody, you have to give him or her a hug. And not one of those fake hugs. It has to be an actual embrace. For at least five second. You actually have to count to five. Not necessarily out loud, but if you’re not saying it out loud, make sure you’re screaming it as loud as you can in your head. Block out all other thoughts. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. But not too fast. You can count Mississippi afterwards, but only if it helps. It’s not necessarily required. But if you finish hugging and it’s too short, you have to start over. We’re going to have to be very strict here.

I’m looking at some numbers here. It looks like morale is on the up and up already. That’s good news. Very good news. I’d say count to six in your head. This way you’ll be positive that you’re hugging for at least five seconds. I’ve always found it much better to overshoot than to undershoot. Plus, if you’re counting to five, and it’s a little fast, but the person you’re hugging is counting slower, at a more appropriate pace, well then you’re grip is going to be a little off, you’ll be letting go of the hug too early. But the other person will still be hugging. And that might get a little awkward, like you’re feeling like you’re just being held, your limp body just kind of there in this other person’s arms. We’re looking for a casual mutual embrace here, not one party holding another party. Hugs will definitely improve morale. But if it’s off for even a second, well, the studies aren’t back yet on how morale will be affected, but it’s always safe to assume the worst, right? That way we’ll be prepared.

You know what? I think that both parties should count out loud, to five. And scratch the Mississippis. We don’t want to be vocalizing a preference of one state over another. Corporate’s going to be down our throats. Just count a thousand. Don’t count to a thousand, just count, one one-thousand, two one-thousand, etc. We’re really just looking for a syllable count here, something to keep a measure, like beats. Just so everybody’s on the same page.

More numbers. Looks like morale’s turning around here folks. Well, it hasn’t completely turned around yet. But it’s not plummeting as fast. This has got to be some good news, a break in downward momentum. Wait a second, even more numbers. These numbers are terrible. This isn’t good news … wait. Wait, more numbers. OK, these are some great numbers. I think it worked. It definitely worked. Don’t discount morale. Any good team needs morale. Any good organization. Get over here, you. You. What’s your name, you. Just, I’ll go left, you go right. No, not like … OK. There. A little tighter. That’s it. One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, four one-thousand, five one-thousand. Terrific.