07 May 2010

Can We Make A Difference?

I like to think that we, as cyclists, are part of an increasing movement of folks who are learning to become more aware of our surroundings and environment, more tolerant of others and better stewards of our own lives and our planet. That isn't WHY I cycle, but it is a seemingly natural by-product of it. The world is a mighty big place and I'm a might small cog on just one of it's many chain rings. I'd like to think that by doing just a few small things, I can have at least a little impact on the world in which I live.

The longer I do this, the fewer angry confrontations I have with drivers. Is that because of me or because of them? I think partly both. I think that the more of "us" there are, the less "they" are afraid or hostile. I also think the longer I do this, the more skilled I become in dealing with these situations. There seem to be learning curves to pretty much everything and as our awareness increases, the hostility diminishes. Look at racial issues. As a kid in the 50's I saw an incredible amount of racial hatred and it was IN YOUR FACE kinds of hatred. The KKK stuff, the battles over desegretation, the marches that turned to riots, all of that stuff that seems today to be so distant. And yet, as we passed civil rights legislation, we have since seen a drastically improved attitude between different races. Its not perfect, but its a darned sight better than it WAS.

In the past few years, there has seemed to be an increasing rift between cyclists and drivers. Through well designed traffic modifications, public awareness campaigns and an increasing number of cyclists sharing the roads, it seems like the band of haters is actually becoming fewer, though their propensity for vocalizing their hatred and rage only becomes louder. Most drivers I encounter are patient, tolerant and even supportive of my being there, and it just seems to me that the ratio of ignorant fools behind the wheel is not really that much different when I'm on my bike than when I am in my car or on foot. I'm just a lot more vulnerable to those few knuckleheads. So it is up to ME to try to do something about it.

Hatred, in my never very humble opinion, is just an outward manifestation of fear. I've been called "Lance" and "faggot" and "dipshit" all in the space of maybe 20 seconds, while on my bicycle. By the same token, I had half-consumed beer bottles thrown at me when I was in the United States Marine Corps in 1970 and our nation was engaged in a very controversial war. I've also had rocks thrown at me while I was walking a picket line. I've also had people lash out at me because I work for an insurance company as a claims adjuster. People tend to come at life from a place of bias based on their upbringing, their experience and their culture, and any meaningful change takes a lot of time, energy and patience.

As cyclists, especially as cyclists who fit one of my friend's description that "...our our normal attire makes us look like a cross between an Easter Egg and a Breakfast Sausage in the eyes of most people..." (and I do), we do tend to bring out more of the ridicule, I think. I remember in 2004, I was working catastrophe duty in Florida, and my company had put me up in a nice little 2-bdrm condo in Vero Beach. They even paid for me to transport my bike back and forth. On Saturdays and Sundays, I'd try to work just "half days" and get a nice ride in. Mimi has an aunt who lives about 13 miles up the coast in Sebastian, and I liked to ride up there for dinner sometimes, and especially early on Saturday mornings, liked to ride A1A up the coast. There was a mini-mart I usually stopped at, and there were usually a bunch of old locals that liked to hang out, smoke cigarettes, drink coffee and gossip. Its pretty much the same everywhere I've ever been. As I rolled up one morning, one of the old farts jerked a thumb over at me and says to his buddies, "will ya look at that. Guy thinks he's freakin' Lance Armstrong". I went into the store, bought my chocolate milk and payday bar, came back out and as I walked by him, I said, with a smile, "Well, I don't really think I AM Lance, but I did ride with him last month." And it wasn't a lie. I'd just come back from doing the first Portland Livestrong Ride, and not only Lance, but several other celebs had been at the start and done the ride "with us". The next week when I rolled up, here was this gang of old duffers hanging out, and the same guy there. He looked at me, smiled and said good morning. Asked me if I was having a good ride. Friendly instead of sarcastic. ONE GUY. Maybe when he's driving along, he views us a little different? Who knows. But we can make a change and we can make a difference.

I need to remember this when I've got that horse's ass honking at me, calling me names and yelling at me to get off HIS road. (or HER road.....)