I apologize for letting a week-plus go by between posts, but I had deadlines with monthly magazines, the Bicycle Paper and two motorcycle magazines: CityBike and Motorcycle Sport and Leisure. I had to focus on pieces for them.
If you are a writer yourself or if you are curious about the writer-editor relationship and how the pieces you read evolve into what you see on the page, this post should interest you. If you are a regular reader of my stuff and curious about my "process," here's a peek into my writerly head.
I was up against a deadline at the Bicycle Paper, as I mentioned. I'd just had a couple of experiences that lingered in my memory, and seemed to have resonance - with other experiences and with one another. Here's the piece I wrote:
On the Paths
A week ago, I saw the photo that’s been flying around the internet, the awful shot of a car driving head-on into the pack at a road race in
At least a few cycling bloggers put it up on their sites. I didn’t want to see it or offer it to others as a thing to see.
What can you do or say, I asked myself, about that sort of accident? If there’d have been a school bus or police cruiser or ambulance there instead of the pack of racing cyclists, the drunk’s car would have hit the bus or black-and-white or ambulance.
How would you warn cyclists about drivers like that one? What would you say? Wear your helmet? Stop at stop signs? Signal your turns? Take the lane? Act like traffic?
Yesterday as I rode out the Cherry Creek Bike Path, I said hi to a guy who looked like a bike rider. He had a nice carbon Trek and sat on it well. We chatted a bit as we rode. He asked me where the path went, and I told him.
I figured he must be from out of town. Local Denver cyclists know where the Cherry Creek Path goes; it’s perhaps the most-used path here.
“Where’re you from,” I asked the guy.
“Oh, I’m from here,” he said, “but I’ve never ridden the bike paths. I don’t know my way around on them.
“I just lost my brother-in-law,” he said. “He got hit by a Postal Service van out on 32nd. The driver lost control; the van veered all the way across the road. Hit him head-on as he rode, near the opposite curb.
“I loved that guy,” he said. “We rode together a lot. I’m not going to stop riding because of what happened to him. But I’m done with the road. I’m getting to know the bike paths.”
“I’m the same,” I said. “I ride the road little as I can. We’re so lucky here to have all the paths. I’m doing more miles than I used to but I’m more at peace, not as angry. I don’t feel like a helpless victim. You’ll be fine on the paths. Jeez, I’m sorry for your loss…”
I turned off the path to run an errand but I couldn’t stop thinking about that guy.
I figure he’s been riding around
Like a lot of people, he thought bike paths were fine for weekend family cycling or for walks with your mother-in-law. Bike paths were emphatically not for him.
They’re too scary; ruined by their multi-utility. Too many clueless skaters and dog walkers. Too many preoccupied, head-setted strollers. Too many clueless cyclists.
He was right. The bike paths are crowded, particularly on weekends, with clueless, self-obsessed citizens, oblivious, unwilling to admit that others may also be enjoying the path today. When they have to share the path they get testy, certain they’ve been slighted.
Why, they’re just like drivers, oblivious and unwilling to share the roadway. No, they aren’t just like drivers. They ARE drivers. They’re drivers - disguised as skaters, dog walkers and cyclists.
They’re drivers; they’re just not in their cars. So they probably can’t kill you.
They’re not any more attentive when they’re out of their cars. They’re not kinder or gentler. They’re as detestable as ever - but they’re…unarmed. They left the SUV in the lot next to the bike path. They can still knock you down but they can’t run over you.
They can’t take you from your family forever because they just couldn’t get over what their girlfriend said on the phone.
I love the bike paths.
Oh, sometimes I hate the bike paths too. I do. I hate the long-invisible-leash dog walkers. I hate joggers who, without a backward glance, suddenly turn around to run home. I hate skaters, lost in the music of the spheres or
I hate cyclists who forget that bikes don’t have brake lights, cyclists who turn or u-turn without warning, cyclists who pass when passing is recklessly unsafe, who stop in groups spread across the path while they decide if any one of them knows how to fix the flat tire.
Those people piss me off, but they do not, from intent or ignorance, try to kill me.
As careless and potentially injurious as their behavior on the paths can be, they don’t scare me the way my motoring neighbors do. They don’t make me feel as if every ride could be the last hurrah, sayonara, hey it was fun while it lasted, give my buddy my bike.
That’s how I feel on the road. Call me names if it satisfies you somehow. I’m telling you the truth. This is the truth. Your creep motorist neighbors are armed. They travel armed to the teeth. And armored, safe at 50 in a 25mph zone in their 6,000lb battering rams.
We’d be safer if they had guns instead of cars. Not everyone can hit a small moving target like a cyclist with a handgun. Takes hand-eye coordination and practice. Anyone can do it with a car. Thousands have.
How can you avoid injurious contact with your armed, untrustworthy neighbors? Stay away from them. Ride off-street bike paths where the obstacles are probably not lethal.
If you don’t have bike paths where you live, remember to act like traffic. Wear your helmet. Take the lane. Signal those turns. Good luck to you.
ENDAfter I finish pieces, I paste them into emails and send them to my buddy Corey in San Antonio. Corey and I have known one another since we both lived in the San Francisco East Bay, years ago. He is a motorcyclist and bicyclist and a thoughtful individual. Here's how Corey felt about the piece you've just read:
Your friend Corey
I sent the piece to my esteemed superstar editor at the Bicycle Paper, Claire Bonin. I told her that my friend and editor, Corey, had thought it was too bleak and would not be fun to read. Here's Claire's response. Bear in mind that she wears many hats at the Bicycle Paper's publisher and she works super hard. Neverthe-goddamn-less, she took time to write this note:
Well, it is pessimistic in tone
Won't happen in one day, but... Do we just go by and keep riding being mad at those that are stopped and ignoring that others are using the trail while they fix a flat or do we ask them to move - politely? Do we scream at the dog walkers or just ask them to pay attention and turn down their ipods so they can hear us coming? Do we put bells on our bikes so we can signal our presence or use our voice to let them know we are behind?
When they ask what they owe me for the tube or they can stop thanking me because I cared enough to help I tell them to help someone else in need. Next time you see somebody on the side of the road, I say, ask them if they are ok, give them a tube, lend them your cell phone if you can't help them get home so they can call someone (I don't have a cell so I figure other don't have one either). Make it a better place one person at the time, you do it, they do it, soon many will.
Is that a great letter? At that point, on deadline day, I had written a piece and heard from two people who I trust thoroughly that the piece was bleak and negative and no fun. If that's how you feel, Maynard, you could say, than that's what the piece should say. But it isn't therapy, is it? It isn't me working out my emotional turmoil in the Bicycle Paper.
It's opinion, sure enough, but it's reason for being is entertainment and enlightenment.
So I rewrote the piece. I eliminated any mention of the horrible photo from Mexico and I followed Claire's suggestions as to how to make the piece positive and to encourage veteran riders to welcome new (ill-equipped, clueless) cyclists who are fleeing from high fuel prices to our paths.
I would show you the piece here on my blog site, but the Bicycle Paper has certain rights. When the issue appears online, I'll put a link in a post, I promise.
Feel free to comment about the raw piece. It isn't my best, most coherent work, but it's chock full of attitude - for what THAT's worth.