walking around in tap shoes and pyjamas since 2010 - my cycling log (opens in new window)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Some Thoughts On Lycra and The American Way (A Highly-Parenthetical Exploration)

Because I'm one of those weird people who would probably be a 'naturist' if I wasn't shy, I am quite comfortable in lycra.  If I could avoid wearing 'regular' clothing entirely, I probably would.   (For the record, this is a major change from roughly two or so years ago, when I dressed like the student body of Oxford, circa 1885, on holiday.)    I realize there are some people in the world (DD's brother, for example, who believes that my pants 'fit wrong,' LOL) who aren't quite on board with my feelings about lycra -- but they're just going to have to get over themselves, because according to all the experts (you know, the people who put together all the Star Trek shows and movies, Babylon Five, and so forth) we're all going to be wearing lycra jumpsuits in the future, anyway ;)

That said, I've noticed that the more you look like a 'serious' cyclist (ah, if only everyone realized how very un-serious I am about absolutely everything!), the more a certain segment of the population has to act silly around you.  Today I happened to be kitted out in fairly 'serious' fashion, since it was chilly out.  The end result was an admittedly goofy-looking neon 'layerway,' but I had nowhere to be but my weekly therapy session.  (For the record, my therapist is not offended by cycling clothes -- not even when I show up in nothing but a wind vest and bike shorts, having dressed for the morning temperature of roughly 45F and not the afternoon temp of roughly 70F, and thus having peeled off everything else, as I did last week.)

Likewise, today, two separate fellows in pickup trucks -- one on my outbound trip and one on my return trip -- decided that passing me while I was stopped at a four-way stop was a good idea.

While I've had plenty of experience with drivers jumping in front of me so they can be ahead of me at red lights (which strikes me as a waste of effort and slightly daft, but not particularly high on the annoyance scale except when they do so but cutting me off), today was the first time in recent memory that anyone has pulled the stop sign trick.  This particular maneuver strikes me as both rude (especially in Louisville, where people will all but come to blows in an effort to let each-other go first at a four-way) and dangerous.  Four-way/all-way stop protocol has been developed for a reason, people!

Both did so at the same five-way intersection plagued with poor sight lines, right here:

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(For the record, this intersection is one of two that I negotiate on just about every ride that make riding in my neighborhood much less pleasant than it could be.)

One of them -- the fellow on my return trip -- did so while I was patiently waiting for a stopped school bus that he couldn't possibly have seen from behind me (I was heading north-west on Bluegrass; there's a house on the corner that would have blocked his view of the school bus, which was on Peachtree).

I'm not sure if -- at an all-way stop -- a driver (or rider) on the cross-street is required to wait for a school bus that is stopped with its stop signs out to let kids off, but it seems prudent.  The life of any child -- indeed, as I see it, of any pedestrian, period -- takes priority over my need to be somewhere, period.

Thus, I was pretty miffed at the guy with the big ol' American flag and eagle window-art thingy plastered all over the rear window of his pickup truck for passing me at a stop sign (not even in the intersection -- I was stopped at the line, he went around me), thus simultaneously cutting in line, running the stop sign, and -- worst of all -- potentially endangering the kids getting off the bus.  Fortunately, they had the sense to look both ways before crossing and did not wind up plastered all over his grille.  On a certain level, I was annoyed both my his rude and dangerous behavior and the fact that he did so while making the United States look dumb (also, I think it's both tacky and an abuse of the flag to plaster said flag all over your truck, or shirt, or beer can cozy, or pretty much anything else).  IMO, the rest of the world isn't too happy with us right now anyway, so I would really prefer it if we would behave a little better when representin' by driving or walking around with big ol' flags plastered all over our stuff).

It could be a coincidence that both these episodes took place on a day that I happened to look unusually 'cyclist-esque,' but I have my doubts.  Just as I (like it or not) made certain assumptions about the fellow with the flag on the back of his truck (based on his behavior, not on his flag window art-- I know some wonderful people who have , he was probably in the process of making certain assumptions about me (though not, apparently, that I was about to take off at roughly the speed limit, which I was).  I do wonder if some of the hostility required to make a bone-headed move like that one derives from those assumptions.  I also consider it my responsibility to do my best to defray said assumptions.  The human brain is wired to remember bad experiences over good, so it behooves those of us who want to change someone's opinion about a given segment of society to totally overwhelm everyone with good experiences.

In other news, I reached an interesting conclusion earlier in the ride.  Some kids -- maybe ten or twelve -- who were walking on the sidewalk shouted at me, "You're not a car!  Get on the sidewalk!"  First, I was sad that even kids that young have already been so heavily indoctrinated, and also that they feel so powerless that they need to shout things at passing cyclists in order to make themselves feel better.  However, the experience led to some rumination, which led me to conclude that we've lost sight of the 'American way.'

At present, a lot of folks act like autos should be allowed to rule the road without regard to anyone else's rights simply because they're bigger and faster.  Those same people routinely cite the danger autos present to cyclists without ever considering the fact that what they're really saying is that either they think so little of their own skill as drivers to believe they can't control their vehicles, or that they think so little of human life that they won't control their vehicles.  When pressed, a certain number of them will fall back on the tired saw that 'bigger is better' is more or less the American way, and that might really basically does equal right.

However, if our founding fathers had believed that, there wouldn't be an America.

At the time of the revolution, the United States was a puny, snot-nosed, upstart colony, and Great Britain was an Empire on which the sun never set.  Britain ruled the seas, and it's not a stretch to say that Britain ruled the world (sidebar: not too shabby, when you consider the fact that the England is basically a tiny little island off the coast of continental Europe).  Great Britain was, in a word, ENORMOUS.  Great Britain was mighty -- but the founders didn't let that stop them from making what was basically a totally insane leap for freedom.  Nor did they let it stop them from succeeding.

Needless to say, the little collection of colonies that gave rise to these United States was neither big nor mighty -- it was small and weak, and without the effective use of tactics and allies and a whole lot of chutzpah, it never would've won its bid for sovereignty.

If bigger really was inherently better, and if might really did equal right, we would all be avoiding lorries and bringing our bikes up to our flats on lifts and so forth.

The American way -- the principle on which our scrappy nation was founded -- has nothing to do with bigger being better.  It has everything to do with the God-given worth of every living person.  That's why we have the Bill of Rights.  That's why we fight so bitterly about how to interpret the Constitution.  That's why we have been able, in the end, to move forward in matters of civil rights.

Thus, I submit that the idea that the rule of the auto is somehow the true 'American way' is farce.  The American way has always been deeply associated with the idea of the tough little underdog making his way through the big, bad world.

And, I submit, that is what cyclists are, just now, in the US.  To ride on almost any road in almost any town in the US, you have to be a little gutsy, a little tough, a little crazy, and possessed of a vision -- whether that vision is one of peace and plenty for all, of getting to work without having to be stuck in a metal box for half an hour, or simply of dropping roadies on your Brompton and beating your driver friends in to the office.

All of those ideas are very, very American.

Meanwhile, I will continue to ride around on my beautiful machines and to wear pants that don't fight right, because that is what makes me happy, and the US Constitution guarantees my right -- and everyone else's -- to the pursuit of happiness.

Or happyness.

Or however you want to spell it.

Edit:  All flag-waving aside, I am planning on a minor change here.  I'm very fond of MapMyRide's new workout-logging tool, and I plan to use that in place of my existing Training Log.  I'm apparently too lazy to use both, and I generally log my rides on MapMyRide for anyway, so once I get everything set to 'public' view, I'll change the link up top.

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