Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Well, really only FOUR days in the country...

I'm back a bit early from the meditation retreat. I'll tell you why in another post soon. In this post, I'd like to talk about my ride home from the retreat site.

Because I left early, I had to scratch for a ride. The retreat organizer arranged one, I'm pleased to say, but the journey did not promote the inner quiet the teachers had in mind.

I rode home with a young lady who had done these retreats before. She did her first one in Tibet, a 10-dayer, she said, and she's done several shorter retreats as refreshers since. 

We're not talking about an airhead here. We're talking about a young woman in her mid-twenties I'd say, of at least some seriousmindedness - interested (if not in spiritual pursuits) certainly in the examined life.

We hopped right into her late model, very dirty Volvo sedan. I was afraid almost immediately. 

She drove with her phone in her left hand and her instructions on how to reach the retreat site in her right, only dropping the instructions to fool with the radio or CD player. 

She lives in metro Denver not far from Tamar's and my place, but she had no idea where we live. East and west were unfamiliar terms. She knew streets near her home but was lost elsewhere. I offered to navigate. She turned me down. 

She seldom drove with both hands and full attention. More often she manipulated the phone, studied the instructions and changed radio stations or swapped CDs, concerned that she was choosing music that I'd enjoy. 

While she did those things, tasks that were clearly priorities, she did not or could not drive in a straight line. She would veer over the center line or cross the fog line onto the shoulder. Three times she jerked the wheel to center the car on the road, apologizing to me each time.

At one point she said: I guess I shouldn't get into an accident with you in the car, meaning me. 

When we reached I-25, she used the left-hand lane primarily, following too close and continuing to look at her phone or radio or CD player. Once or twice, traffic slowed in front of us; she did not notice until we were scarily close to rear-ending the car in front. 

I thought of myself on my bicycle or motorcycle, sharing the road with this woman and her like-minded contemporaries, overwhelmingly more intent on selecting the perfect CD than they are on their driving. 

They are not troubled by guilt or embarrassment because of their misplaced attention; they're driving just as they always drive - really badly, really dangerously. And they aren't even aware of it. That's the frightening part. They don't know any different.

Often in cars, I feel the inertia, the resistance of the huge vehicle to slow down or stop, especially on busy freeways or on narrow city streets. I suspect that the drivers are not attentive, not exercising due care. Their minds are elsewhere. 

But Tamar and I are not in cars often. We walk in the city and ride on the bike paths. We can forget, I'm happy to say, how common incompetence is behind the wheel. 

When we cyclists and motorcyclists remind one another to "take care," we may not hear the seriousness behind the phrase. We've got to take care; our neighbors couldn't care less.

Let's be cautious out there, huh?  


jthurber80 said...

Welcome home - it sounds like you were riding with my sister-in-law. She tailgates, horribly, chats on the phone and pays absolutely NO attention to what's going on around her. She scares the crap out of me -- and that's when I'm in the car. I'd hate to be on a bicycle when she's out and about.

Khal said...

Yep, Maynard. That woman is going to kill one of us some day.

Maynard said...

Oh, Khal...

My fear exactly.

chuey said...

They are all around us. They drive all manner of cars, and fall into no particular demographic slot. We need cars that explode on contact, no airbags, no crush zones, poor brakes etc if we want them to pay attention.

Alternatives? Meaningful driver license testing may be a start. Legal ramifications if they hurt us wouldn't be out of line. They all watch TV so some (lots) spots on TV, designed by someone clever at that kind of thing, may help.

It is filled with malice to drive like that. How do they excuse themselves?

Sorry, my pet peeve.


Khal said...

Mine, too, Chuey.

Dan Brekke said...

Our neighborhood (in Berkeley) recently had a meeting to discuss some issues on the street. One of the concerns was about the occasional car or truck that races down our two blocks to avoid a traffic signal. Needless to say, the drivers are generally heedless of the possibility of a car backing out of a driveway, a child or dog running into the street, or another driver in a hurry turning the corner at the blind intersection that bisects the street.

At the meeting, one of the neighbors was loaded for bear. He at all costs wanted to shut down a suggestion we approach the city to build a roundabout at the intersection, which happens to be next to his house. He came prepared with a mockup of the intersection and various horror stories about the hazards posed by roundabouts. Among his personal gripes was that he might lose a parking space in front of his house and that he might no longer be able to park illegally facing the wrong way on the curb.

It only occurred to me later that this particular neighbor *never* walks here. His entire interaction with the street is in his cars and on his motorcycle--and that leaves him with very little understanding of how the world looks from a cyclist's or pedestrian's viewpoint.

[And Maynard, in other news: Do you remember the Salsbridge? If so, I've got a couple of questions for you (and I don't know any other way to reach you).]

Khal said...

Ironically, roundabouts are very good at stopping the worst of crashes and do cut down on serious injuries. Well, you hit the nail on the head, Dan. It was all about "him".

sda said...

A lady (driving an Explorer and reportedly talking on a cell phone)struck and killed a 9 year old girl on a residential street in Fort Collins last week. Totally senseless. People need to wake the F up and drive responsibly.

philcycles said...

No, sounds like MY sister. She's wreaked her car-she always gets a BMW_ twice in the past 3 years-totals. And she has a 5 year old.
Phil Brown

Khal said...

SDA, please let us know if they properly charge the SOB. For example, with criminally negligent homicide.

sda said...

I will Kahl but from what I've read I wouldn't be surprised if the woman got off. The girl was in a bike lane riding against traffic (ie. the wrong side of the road) and no helmet. I don't know if those circumstances negate culpability on the part of a driver (in a legal sense), but the authorities here in FoCo seem to side with motorists whenever they have even the narrowest reason to not prosecute someone. From today's paper:

"The driver, Michelle Smith, 36, has not been charged although police and prosecutors might meet as soon as today to discuss the case."

I'll let you know what develops.

Khal said...

Bob Mionske, a few issues ago in VeloNews, said as much: if the cyclist made any mistake at all, its used to write up an exculpatory letter for even a wretchedly bad motorist.

sda said...

update, they filed charges. pretty weak sauce though, imho.

Anonymous said...

Well put, Maynard. Only a person who has ridden "bikes" of any size knows how important vigilance can be. I have saved my life twice by second guessing some joker who was not paying attention.
Once I signaled my left turn (arm out, mind you) and glanced back before turning, just in time to see this (explitive-deleted) pulling around on my left to pass me!
Another time I had the right of way at a two-way stop and revved the engine of my 650cc Triumph. This loud roar had no effect on his approach and got no response or respect. The guy ran the stop sign, and because I was driving defensively, I avoided being squashed like a bug.
(Bloomington '66)