Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I am not from Mars. (Or am I?)

This was my commute this morning.  At various points, the bicycle lane was blocked by, among other things:

A UPS truck
A Halal cart (on a leash)
An ambulance and two police cars

Can I get around them?  Is there a bus behind me?  What’s with that woman with the cane standing in the middle of Third Avenue?  (and why do so many New Yorkers walk with canes?)  I waited for the green.  And so did that guy, so that he could cross on my green, right in front of me.  How companionable.  Is he going to go---------no.  He’s stopping.  And glaring at me, for having the temerity to ride (on my green) where he wanted to jaywalk.

Number of cabs opening doors right in front of me:  2.  Number of take-out delivery bikes going the wrong way down my one-way bike lane:  3.  That car’s inching over…is he going to turn- right in front of me?  Yep.  the right hook.  Repeated 5 times.  And right before I reach my building, in midtown Manhattan, a group of people, dressed in business suits, standing in the middle of 49th street.  Oblivious.  Next to a perfectly empty sidewalk.  A sidewalk on which I’m not allowed to ride.  And I’m on board with that-  but really-  where am I supposed to go?

Oh, and finally, there was That Guy.  That Guy (on the edge of the sidewalk) who looked slightly startled as I rolled to a stop (on the street) in front of him.  That Guy who didn’t see me.  That Guy who had that look that I could spot in a flash from 50 feet.  That look that said that the mind belonging to the body of That Guy was floating somewhere over Smith Street.  I’ve seen that look.  I’ve had that look.  That Guy couldn’t see anything that was happening on 4th Street.  That Guy couldn’t see that I was slowing to a stop well before I reached him.  All That Guy was able to process, once That Guy’s brain rejoined That Guy’s body, was that that suddenly there was a cyclist RIGHT THERE!  That goddamn cyclist ALMOST HIT ME!

Speed is the magic ingredient.  Because at speed, we’re too busy working out whether That Guy is going to step into my path or Goddamn Cyclist is going to mow me down to see Woman With Stroller who is clearly waiting for the light, or Car Who Saw Me And Waited.  To see the background hum of humanity.  To see anything besides Glaring Man.  Cane Woman.  That Guy.  Goddamn Cyclist.  Flashes.  Not humans.  Speed removes subtext.

Because when you are stopped at a red light, you can have an actual conversation with actual subtext with an Actual Pedestrian:

Him:     ‘You’re not actually waiting for the green light?
(Subtext:  Is she from Mars?)
Me:       ‘Somebody has to.
(Subtext:  I’ve been told I can expect to receive a Nobel Prize for the act of stopping for a red light in this city.  Is that correct?)
Him:     ‘You don’t have to do that, you know.
(Subtext:  Is it because the glowing red orb reminds her of her home planet that she stops to worship it?)
Me:       (shrug)
(Subtext:  I’d take his word for it, but he kind of looks like he’s from Mars.  The Olympus Mons region.  And  you know what they’re like).

This was my commute this morning.  A variation of this is my commute every time I ride my bike.

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