In this chilly, longplaying Denver winter, I started walking for exercise. I guess I've been doing it for maybe six weeks now, walking between 20 and 25 miles each week. I walk on city streets and on the Cherry Creek bike path, where bicycle traffic has been thin. I like walking.
I'm more easily spooked than I was before my August '08 crash, but walking never scares me. I watch my neighbors at their irresponsible, callous worst. I don't get impatient or outraged. What they do doesn't threaten me. Walking gives me that blessed bit of distance.
Ah, but this past week, I'm back on the bike. It's just like it always was, at least in this Brave New Century.
Today, an old guy released his dog to run across the bike path right in front of a cyclist. I watched from behind the rider and it seemed close to me. Scary close.
The cyclist kept going but I stopped. I asked the old guy if I should call the cops, report him for a leash law violation. I said, your dog just ran across in front of that cyclist.
The old guy told me how ancient the dog is. The dog really had to go to the bathroom, he said, so I let him off the leash. That's illegal, I said, and he told me again about his sweet elderly dog. You can't let your dog run free on the bike path, I said. He told me how much he loves the old dog.
I realized I was wasting my time. I rode on and caught the guy who'd almost hit the dog. I asked him if he'd been scared. Nah, he said, and told me that dogs have to have fun too. He was as "whatever" a kinda guy as you'd ever meet. Doesn't worry about dogs on the bike path.
Is it just me, I wondered. If it isn't just me, why is there a leash law?
And why does the dog owner violate it and feel perfectly justified? Does he not sense what could happen? Does the dude riding no-hands and weaving through bike path traffic not sense what could happen? Do the guys in training ride pacelines passing skaters and dog walkers and cell phoners and homeless folks with grocery carts sense what could happen?
I realized first that I'd been free from those thoughts for weeks; I'd been a guy who goes for walks.
I realized second that when we propel ourselves at speeds from which we cannot stop instantly, or cannot stop really fast without the risk of falling down, we are dependent on everyone, every driver, dog walker, skater or cyclist, for our safety.
When we drive, we count on others to obey the rules, to stop at stop signs and lights, to signal turns, to hear sirens, to pay attention to what's happening...on and on. If people don't follow the rules, it won't work. We're all moving at lethal speed in a huge, badly choreographed ballet. It's a wonder anyone survives...or anyone's sanity survives.
If we thought about what we do, and the countless possibilities for disaster, could we do it?
The people we must depend on are overwhelmingly undependable and utterly uncaring about our well-being. If we say we are bothered by that, they will ask us what our problem is. They will do what they want, and if it threatens or scares us, we just have to deal with it.
Hey, it's a sweet old dog.
On the whole, I like walking. I only depend on me.
Maybe, as I continue to ride, I'll learn again to absorb all this cultural abuse. Like small doses of poison, it won't kill me. It's still poison, as you'll realize, and probably cumulative in effect. As the years pass, as population density increases, the recession deepens and social relationships grow less and less important to Americans, the dosages grow larger.
I'm sure walking is good for me. I'm far less sure about cycling.