Friday, June 13, 2008

Sorry, says the lapsed blogger...

Hi all,
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 Mexico. The driver reportedly was drunk; he fell asleep at the wheel. The photo somehow captured the instant of impact. I couldn’t look at it.

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 Denver for years. But he did not know where the Cherry Creek path would take him. My guess is, he avoided bike paths.

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 Cloud Coo-coo Land or wherever they go.

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.

END

After 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:

About the piece: it's pretty bleak. I know it's how you feel and the honest thing to do is to share your thoughts/feelings. However, it makes me squirm in my seat to read it. Not only is it not safe to ride on the roads, but the alternative, the bike paths, are full of insensitive, despicable and murderous knaves. Where does that leave us?

I don't ride much on bike paths (as if there were bike paths in San Antonio, ha!), so I can't really comment on those citizens who inhabit the paths. They probably are clueless, self-obsessed, and easily angered. Maybe everyone, everywhere has become like that as a reaction to the pervasive air of fear and loathing in America today? Nah, surely not all of us.

Call me Pollyanna, but I think there are still some folks who are willing to share the road and are not trying to kill me when I ride. I suppose it just a matter of probability; even if only one in 100,000 is pissed off at bikers, it only takes one of those to make something bad happen. Nevertheless, I have not yet come to the point where I fear to ride the roads. I'm cautious for sure, but still willing to get out there and share the road with the pickups, gravel haulers and cement mixers.

I'm struggling with this. I know it's how you feel and you have to be true to yourself, but, as the reader, I'm not sure what to make of it. It warns me to take precautions, but the "good luck to you" ending is reminiscent of the "may God have mercy on your soul" that they give you before dropping you through the trapdoor with a noose around your neck. It's not uplifting, that's for sure.

In my opinion, it's too dark/depressing and most folks are not going to enjoy reading it. Maybe it's not about enjoyment and you feel the piece says things that need to be said, but those are my thoughts and they come from a place of great respect and affection.

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

I think you have a point about the people on the path not being attentive to the needs of others - but if we keep being negative about the bike paths and the roads, we won't be riding much longer. There most be a compromise somewhere.

I think that with the price of gas going up, we will see more and more clueless people on the streets and paths - so a more positive approach would be: What can we do, as road and path users, to make everyone safer and less clueless to make our ride more enjoyable?

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?

For me it's just like asking someone who is stopped on the side of the road if they need help - many just go by, either scared to help or too busy - I don't know how many times I've helped people fix a flat, given them a tube and/or let them use my pump.

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.

That's my take on it anyway.

Can't do much about drunk drivers, idiots and the likes, but we can help each other, I think - one cyclist at a time.

c

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.

8 comments:

Antony said...

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Christopher Johnson said...

Brilliant blog post, Maynard. First of all, it seems a blog is a good venue letting your frieds know where you are...so we can encourage you. Also, a blog is a good place to provide insight to the thinking process. Including the suggestions from friends (in this case) does that. Very interesting. Finally, a hint of hope and a teaser for the new piece. I'm looking forward to it.

Khal said...

Good points, Maynard, which is unfortunate. I'm glad to find your Blog after all these years of wondering what happened to you, even if it was to read an article on grim death (You can thank Patrick O'Grady for linking to your blog).

Grim and bleak does not equate to invalid. I think we have lowered the bar on vehicular operation to the point that we are way too vulnerable on the roads--not just bicyclists but as your Blog (and my stepfather's double knee replacement surgery) points out, motorcyclists, too. But with more people leaving their cars behind, perhaps we will acquire some allies. Maybe I'll even look for another 1980 Honda CX 500. I miss the one I sold when I moved to Honolulu.

I don't have the option of bike paths. Too few up in Northern New Mexico and those that exist don't go up into the lovely mountains where I ride. So I'll have to keep plugging away arguing for safer streets.

Brendan said...

Grim and bleak? Maybe.. or maybe you're a realist. Either way don't lose your resolve to enjoy what's yours, just try to keep safe doing it. I thought it was a great post in it's raw state, but that said the suggestions from your colleauges did make a lot of sense.

I must admit I never really thought of all the others on the bike path as being quite as deadly as you suggest. Annoying in many ways yes, but they're just the same self absorbed folks we all deal with regularly.

Drivers on the other hand always are out to kill me, or at least I ride that way on the roads.

Anyways - stay safe!

Opsimath44 said...

Grim and bleak...? Jung would say, embrace it. Let rip a mighty howl. Then see what happens.

Grim and bleak? Maybe. Honest? Definitely.

Rick Callies said...

Can you say, Mountain Bike? I'll take my chances with the mountain lions! In fact, today, for the first time in 14 years, I am skipping the Durango "Tuesday Night World's" to go ride my mountain bike -this after another rider in Durango was hit by a car on Saturday and is in "bad shape" and my last ride a dump truck nearly killed us all (5 people had to crash into the ditch to avoid being hit). can't take teh roads anymore - though I still commute 3 times/week - scared to death the whole time.

Daphne's slave said...

Maynard,

Some times life isn't all happy and fuzzy feeling. When the glass is half full you gotta call it half full. On the other hand if it's half full maybe we can plug the leak....

Tilting against the darwinian windmills of the clueless cagers, riders, walkers, dogs, cats, squirels and all other forms of animal life lacking situational awareness can be entertaining. Don't be discouraged when you realize that for everyone that evolves there are more braindead replacements readily available.

John Klever said...

Greetings,

www.trailsdenver.com has maps of the Denver trails so that all can get off the roads without getting lost.

Happy trails,

John Klever