Remember When You Didn’t Have to Swerve Around People on Bicycles?

I was coming home from the gym and hoping I didn’t get pulled over for driving while wheezing.  As I was coming around a bend and searching with one blind hand for my “coming home triumphant” mix compact disc, there on the right side of the road, yellow shirt aglow in the late summer twilight, was a man on a bicycle.  This guy had the whole get-up.  The helmet.  The shirt.  The shorts.  The shoes with the metal cleats.  The little dentist’s mirror shooting out the left side of his helmet.  The water bottle lashed against the powerful crossbar of the bicycle’s finely tuned structure.

I’ve always prided myself on being a friend to cyclists everywhere.  So it was not a problem for me to drive 15 miles per hour behind the cyclist for the next few legs of our journey to give him plenty of road to enjoy his ride.  I didn’t care about the line of cars behind me.  Sharing the road means making sacrifices.

After a few miles I noticed through the honking that the cyclist was waving his hand at me in a circular motion, almost as if he wanted me to pass him.  I thought he was just commending my respect for his bike riding, and I went on thinking this until the cyclist side-armed his water bottle at my car, and turned off into the adjacent wood.  While I was in the body shop getting an estimate on the damage caused by the impact of a hurtling polyethylene projectile holding 24 oz. of water, I meditated upon the natural end of the war of the roads.     

The cyclists, with their pro-environment image and greater amounts of sweat, will gain a greater and greater portion of the road.  Eventually they will win their own stage of the traffic light-changing.  At four-way intersections, the traffic signals will go through a whole cycle of green/yellow/red for the cyclists, while the cars must all stay at a complete stop, their operators presumably spending the time wisely by searching around for something in their cars.

The car owners, relegated to a smaller and smaller portion of the road, will become agitated and allow the interiors of their cars to become even more cluttered.  The car owners organize, and begin a series of attacks on the well-being of cyclists.  They publish reports of favorable biking weather when the report is really for a hurricane.  They go to sporting goods stores and mix up all the water bottles, so that bottles without BPA intermingle with bottles that have questionable amounts of BPA.  They follow cyclists at a slow pace when there is plenty of passing room.

The cyclists do not take this treatment sitting down.  They organize as well, and begin attacking the well-being of the car owners.  They start giving misleading hand signals.  They start wearing more biking accessories.  They start riding really slowly on narrow roads.

At some point the tension boils over and the two groups meet at a battlefield, like Gettysburg, or the Somme, or the parking lot at Best Buy.  The cyclists and car owners line up at opposite ends of the field, and their leaders meet in the middle.  The leaders of the cyclists cycle up, take a sip of water from their polyethylene bottles, and remove their helmets.  The leaders of the car owners drive up, do a few three-point turns so that they’re all parked at the same angle, and stare ahead at the leaders of the cyclists, while a blind hand goes looking around for things inside their cars.

The leaders agree that it is in everyone’s best interest to resolve the dispute peacefully.  The solution is the carcycle.  The carcycle has the body of a car but instead of an engine, there are pedals connected to the axles.  So you drive the carcycle just by pedaling.  The jokes about the Flintstones go away after a few months, and both cyclists and car owners adopt the carcycle as the preferred mode of travel.  

 And there is peace throughout the land, until the people who ride on those stand-up scooters start clamoring for their share of the road.

Remember When You Could See Around Most Vehicles?

We’d come to the end of another Saturday lunch at P.F. Chang’s, and I was chewing gum so that if I got pulled over at a police checkpoint my breath wouldn’t smell like gluten-free ginger chicken with broccoli.  I turned the ignition, adjusted the rearview mirror, released the emergency brake, popped in my “Drive Time Gaelic” compact disc, and put the car in reverse.  And then I realized I couldn’t see to my left because we were flanked by a van that had plunged my gluten-free sedan into night.

“How am I supposed to see around this thing?” I asked my wife who was gazing into a compact mirror by the light of her smartphone.  The van had a sticker on the rear right passenger bay window.  It said, “I brake for large objects.”

Then I remembered a scene from the World War II movie Saving Private Ryan.  I asked my wife for her compact mirror.  Then I took the gum out of my mouth and stuck it to the back of mirror.  I affixed the mirror and gum to the snow scraper that had been lying idle on the floor of the backseat, opened my window, and stuck the whole apparatus out and angled the mirror so that I could see around the van.  It was the most use the scraper got all season.

“I think I can pull out after this Honda and Panzer tank,” I said.

“Okay, Field Marshal.  But you’re buying me a new mirror.”

I got pretty handy with the scraper-scope.  Any time I needed to see around a Suburban or Avalanche or Hummer, I just stuck the scope out the window and ignored the birds that came to perch.  Sure there were stares from passerby, and even a few inquiries from police officers who wanted to know which facility I’d escaped from.  But soon everyone recognized me, like you recognize that guy who drives around with a flag on his antenna that says, “Make Lemon Bars, Not War.”

Then one day I noticed other people with scraper-scopes.  Except they didn’t all use scrapers and compact mirrors.  Some used dentist’s mirrors.  Others used shaving mirrors with metal accordion extenders.  I even saw someone who had trained his dog to stick its head out the window, carrying in its mouth a long bone that had been wrapped in reflective foil.  We the oppressed…we the downtrodden…we the great unwashed masses of coupe-, sedan-, smart-, and zip-car drivers were united in our quest to behold the other side of sport utility vehicles.  When we passed on the highway we would waive to each other with our scopes.

It was another Saturday afternoon and I was in my car, savoring the interplay of the gluten-free “Buddha’s Feast” with the flourless chocolate dome.  As usual my car was in eternal night thanks to a Dodge Durango and a minivan with seven gables.  I stuck out my scraper-scope, angled it to see what I could see, and just happened to focus the mirror on the mirror of another scope sticking out of a Civic three spaces down.  The two mirrors instantly produced an infinite number of smaller and smaller reflections inside each other, ending in a point of light so blazing that I was unable to see for a few moments.

And when the purple splotches finally cleared from my vision, there was nothing left of the compact mirror but some smoldering dust.

“Well, that’s it,” I said to my wife.  “That was our only hope of getting out of here.  Now we’ll have to wait until our sun becomes a super nova and swallows up all the SUVs on Earth.”  I started looking for something good on the radio.

“Is that all?” she asked me.

I thought for a few seconds.

“Or I guess I could always back out slowly.”

Remember When You Didn’t See Those “26.2” Stickers On Cars?

I was on my way to Lowe’s to complain that I couldn’t push the walls of my house like the people in that “Never Stop Improving” commercial, when I saw a sticker on the back of a car that read “26.2” in bold black print against a white background.  I’ve nearly gotten into accidents trying to decipher these cryptic stickers.

One time it was “ADK” that challenged my intellect on the New York State Thruway.

“All Dieting Kangaroos?  Ankles Do Kink?” I said aloud.  “Albert David Kaufman?”  It wasn’t until I arrived home and checked the Internet that I learned that “ADK” was short for “Adirondack,” something I should have figured out from the frame packs and scruffy beards.

A few weeks later I was on the Long Island Expressway, gripping the steering wheel in one hand and rosary beads in the other, when I saw a sticker that read “OBI” in the same black print on white background.  After I accelerated a bit to confirm that Alec Guinness wasn’t driving the car, I decided that I needed to know what this “OBI” meant.  At the time I was conducting a one-man boycott of the Internet for giving me too much information about the Olsen twins.  Determined to solve the mystery, I put on my Scooby Doo hat and followed the car.

Although I did not score well on the “spying” section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test, I managed to tail the car pretty well by pretending that it was driving from a wedding ceremony to a reception, and that I’d left the directions in the yarmulke basket.  Eventually the car came to rest in the parking lot of a strip mall.  The driver went into a burrito joint adjacent to a nail salon and one of those stores that charges no more than a dollar for items worth 99 cents.

I got in line behind him, and pretended to study the different combinations of beans, rice, and guacamole that the establishment offered.  But I was really listening for any clues as to what this “OBI” might mean.

“I’d like a chicken burrito, please,” the man said.  Maybe this was an attempt to throw me off the trail.

“Black or pinto beans, sir?”

“Um, pinto.  Wait, no, black.”

So this guy wants to play games, I said to myself.  He moved towards the register and out of earshot.  I would have stayed closer but I was in the midst of a crisis in choosing between mild and medium salsa.

I was, however, able to get a seat next to him at a long high table against the storefront window.  Unfortunately, all I could make out was chewing, and when he left I couldn’t follow him out, owing to complications that arise when one loses focus while eating something wrapped in tinfoil.  When I returned home from the Emergency Room, I called an end to the Internet boycott and discovered that “OBI” stood either for the Oak Beach Inn, an infamous Long Island beach club, or for Ordnugsgemässes Beschaffungs-Institut.

With this history, I tried to ignore the 26.2 sticker staring at me as we inched along in Saturday afternoon traffic.  I knew that guessing would make my brain hurt, and I couldn’t take out my iPhone and check because not surfing the Internet while driving was one of the conditions of my re-admission into the International Brotherhood of Men Who Can Do Only One Thing At A Time.

But the number kept gnawing at me, and with the stop and go traffic I felt like I was running a mara—

That’s it! I said aloud.  A marathon is exactly 26.2 miles.  I was impressed with myself, but the feeling didn’t last.  I wondered why this person needed to show off to the rest of the doughnut-inhaling nation that he can run 26.2 miles without the aid of a car or helicopter.  Perhaps it was time to do some showing off of my own.

The next day I slapped on my own “26.2” sticker, circled the decimal point, and drew an arrow running from the decimal to the space two digits to the left.