I don't know if any of you are fans of the show "30 Rock" about a TV show director, Liz Lemon, who directs a show much like "Saturday Night Live." In one episode, she was very annoyed at her fellow New Yorkers for not waiting for people to get off the subway before getting on, or sneezing into their sleeve, and following all the little common courtesies she tries so hard to adhere to. Then she got stuck acting in one of the skits, as an eccentric old lady dressed very shabbily, with her hair all a mess. As I recall, she was in a hurry after dress rehearsal and got on the subway in costume. No one wanted to be near her because they assumed she smelled as bad as she looked, or was carrying the germs of some deadly virus. It certainly was not the most politically correct episode! Anyway, Liz suddenly had a lightbulb turn on in her head. She started wearing the garb everywhere, and people gave her lots of space wherever she went, on the subway, in the movies, etc. I forget the resolution, but I wonder if she was onto something!
As I read the comments to my blog posts, a recurring theme is from the motorist's point of view, when a cyclist blocks up traffic, and sometimes they hint that the cyclists' egos are too big to allow them to slow down and let cars pass. Furthermore, as I chat with my fellow cyclists, while they don't seem egotistical to me, they are very competitive, and they seem to have a lot more problems with motorists than I do. I probably don't cycle nearly as many miles or as often at rush hour, but it does give me pause. Though I'm not a grandma, I'm old enough to be one. I'm far from athletic, and I don't often dress head to toe in spandex (not a pretty sight when I do!). I ride slowly, usually on a bike with handlebars almost up to chest level. I just putter happily along my way. Is it possible that people avoid me on purpose? Do I remind them of their mother or grandmother? Do they pity me for being a hapless creature meandering where I don't belong? And is it the sight of a lean cyclist hunched over a smart-looking road bike enough for motorists to decide that this is some egomaniac who deserves to be taught a lesson by having a car breeze by as close as possible, with the engine revved up as it passes?
As I pondered this, I mentally developed the Liz Lemon approach to commuting to work or doing errands by bike, especially in high traffic areas. 1) Don't ride in skin-tight bike shorts and racing jerseys. Remember you are not in a race. 2) Don't ride a road bike that you have to hunch over. Ride a nice upright beach comber or hybrid comfort bike. 3) Don't clip your shoes to your pedals. That's a sure sign of an experienced, athletic cyclist, and hence, obviously an egomaniac. 4) If you have an athletic, lean figure, disguise it with loose fitting, garishly colored ponchos, blouses or giant t-shirts. 5) Don't look like you know what you are doing. Allowable facial expressions are (a) fear; (b) joy; (c) confusion. In this way, motorists are more likely to either feel sorry for you, endeared to you, or afraid of the splat you'd make on their fender. They will give you a wide berth!
Obviously this advice is given with tongue in cheek. The real advice is to pretend you are INVISIBLE while being HIGHLY VISIBLE. This is common advice given by experienced cyclists. Dress to be seen, but still assume you are not being seen. Check your mirror (get a mirror if you don't have one) frequently. Try to make eye-contact with motorists on side-streets. Take the lane when you have to, to enhance your visibility. Ride as far as you safely can from parked cars. And have patience, both as a rider and a driver.
And now onto a tangent that has been concerning me a lot lately. I continue to see many people riding without helmets, often in dark clothing. In fact one day last week I saw TWO cyclists, at different times, dressed in taupe-colored clothes. They almost WERE invisible! I also see a lot of young people riding on the wrong side of the road and it really worries me. One teenaged boy was riding at night in the dark on the wrong side of Montgomery Road. I said Hail Marys most of the way home.
The other day I passed a boy of about 12 riding the wrong way on Ilchester Road with no helmet. I asked where his helmet was, and he said "I don't use a helmet." Moms and Dads: IT'S THE LAW! Children under 16 must wear helmets! If your child won't wear a helmet, tell him or her that YOU will have to go to jail if they don't wear it. Hopefully they don't want you to go to jail. Okay, maybe it's not a jailable offense. You can figure out your own way of enforcing that law. Remember, adults SHOULD wear a helmet. Children MUST wear a helmet. Set the example, and enforce the law. (Good luck with that. I had a 12 year old son once. Now he's 20. Thank God.)
Be careful out there!