Honestly, it is baffling sometimes to see the abandon with which so many humans cross roads and jockey street gutters in and around Eugene, Oregon, where I live. I spend a lot of time as a motorist, and, both as spectator and actor, have witnessed bevies of close-calls, brake squeals and suerte de muertes by pedestrians toward the rival humans and the 2 ton mechanical-bulls-cum-tilting-horses they canter around in perceived opposition. Whether it’s not looking before crossing a street, opening car doors onto the part of the street where the cars actually move, loading groceries into those open doors or stopping in a street or obvious thoroughfare to chat with someone you haven’t seen in forever, it’s all a weekly occurrence to the sample size that is purely-my-own-subjective-experience. Which means it must happen, on the whole, far more often than that on roads all over Eugene.
There is considerable anti-car sentiment in this town, and it’s understandable. Gasoline-driven vehicles really are like the long-dead plants and plankton (and dinosaurs) whose remains, today, power those vehicles’ four-stroke engines. And bicycles are a progressive invention, just like Eugene pretends to be. It is true they don’t expend fossil fuels to operate (although making one is a different story), they don’t add pollutants to the breathable atmosphere (this is potentially bad) and the amount of time you spend on one isn’t directly correlated to your likelihood of a premature demise.
Although, we are going to see that, as in getting knifed in a crap game, it really all depends on where you spend a great deal of your leisure time.
Like Albuquerque, for example. Both for the crap game and your demise. Or Eugene, Oregon.
Pedestrians are one thing. Though they are easy enough to spot and their only gimmick, really, is crossing in front of you at a person-like pace, it can still sometimes be reminiscent of mass toad migration in Scotland. Nearly impossible to avoid fatalities without a chaperone. Kind of like Bufo bufo meets drunk teen prom night dance floor.
Without a chaperone.
Bicyclists, however, are an altogether different story.
It’s bad enough they’re difficult to see and they blend in with the low-story buildings and bushes, but what’s worse is that, according to the law, they have to alternate— sometimes in a matter of minutes—between bicyclist, pedestrian and motorist. And often they do this just for the sake of their own convenience, breaking the Flow Pact that tacitly exists among all humans present at any given moment on a busy street.
You see them in car lanes, waiting to turn. You see them on sidewalks. You see them in bike lanes. You see them in bike lanes, going the wrong way. Sometimes, the bike lanes disappear and you see them, again, in car lanes. Sometimes, the road doubles as a certified bike lane, and you see them in front of you, wobbly, doing ten miles an hour. And, lastly, you see them in bike lanes. Going the wrong way. At least twice I’ve nearly pancaked some idiot on a bicycle who was in my blind spot going the wrong way as I was making a left turn, who I only happened to see at the last second before stopping just a few yards before sending this person onto his/her way to a ride up with their very fit, energy-bar-consuming bicycle gods.
Now, this isn’t a riff against bicyclists or anyone who doesn’t drive a car, simply because driving—like taking my motor home to the convenient store to pick up some Tic-Tacs and a lottery ticket, eating conventional, gluten-packed foods or supporting Chief Wahoo—is something one should do strictly to combat liberalism. It’s not.
It’s just about people who break the Pact I spoke of earlier. Who don’t get that roads are, first and foremost, made for automobiles. If you’ve ever lived or spent time in a big city, you’ve seen what I’m talking about. Sure, people hit and get hit, but there exists a sense of flow you don’t see in smaller places.
And for the consideration of the court, I need submit only one exhibit: Hanoi.
YouTube it. I highly recommend it.
It really isn’t just bikes, either. I had somebody once—teenage boy, it was—stand in the middle of a residential street with some girl, and as I approached and slowed in my car, look right at me, smirk, and motion for me to go around them. As soon as they saw my driver’s side door open they bolted, but, nonetheless, it’s a mentality that doesn’t really lend much to the argument of primate evolution.
‘I’m a teenage boy with a girl I’m sexually attracted to nearby. *<SELF PRESERVATION SHUT DOWN>*.’
It’s amazing how humans become like so much desert agave, staying celibate for twenty years or so before attempting to release their gametes into the ether in one quick spurt before letting go of their grip on life in the process.
“That chick is hot! I forget what railroad tracks are for!”
Take that, Stephen Jay Gould.
Which is actually funny, because I guarantee you if an arguably lesser-evolved creature than a human—a baboon, say—of the same relative age as a human teenager, saw something the size and speed of a car barreling down on it, it would get its iridescent fanny out of the way. Because why? Because it hasn’t yet “evolved” beyond its own sense of self-preservation through a competing, inflated sense of self-righteousness, entitlement, effrontery or passive-aggressive pedantry. It fundamentally understands on some level that there is danger here, and if I avoid that danger, I will live further to fight other baboons for the right to have sex with many other baboons so that my genes can one day be passed on and my Team (of baboons) in the special track meet of life (read: ‘full of species’, not the other kind) on Earth can stay competitive, despite how far behind humans we seem to be running.
I mean, it is true that if you put a female baboon in estrus the middle of the street and let another male baboon loose on the same block, both would likely get slaughtered via vehicular coitus interruptus, but there’s really nothing anyone can do about that. Except humans, of course.
Which is kind of my point. The ability to talk one’s self out of acting in a dangerous situation, or, at the very least, choose to take precautions if the dangerous situation is life-threatening is the ne plus ultra of human frontal lobe development.
But these are human beings we’re talking about. In all practicality, sometimes they just think they know too much for their own good.
Like, remember back around 2001, when Sharon Stone’s husband got part of his foot eaten off because he wanted to pet a Komodo dragon? The events of the incident are disputed, still—one side claiming bravery, the other claiming what was, in all likelihood, the actual truth—but the heart of the story remains. The guy went into the cage of a Komodo dragon and, in minutes, got some part of his body eaten off. After the thing appeared like a necromancer and took hold of him, he claimed he was able to pry the dragon’s jaws open with his bare hands and make his getaway. The zookeeper, who wasn’t married to a Hollywood actress at the time, told a slightly different story.
I’d heard hidden surveillance footage did surface, eventually. Apparently the zookeepers knew Sharon Stone and her husband were coming so they pissed the thing off all day by giving it Indian rubs and power noogies while it was pinned down, and then after they let it loose they paid the guy who narrates all those cop car crash videos to do the voice over: “We convinced Sharon Stone and her husband Dirk Benedict (or whatever his name is) to give up fifteen thousand dollars to spend five minutes with a Komodo dragon. Now watch what happens.”
But a Komodo dragon has only two modes, you see: sleep, and attack.
And if you’re going into the den of one, or many, Komodo dragon or dragons, you need to be prepared to either a.) defend yourself with a Tsar Cannon, b.) play prehistoric dodge ball without a referee (or any set of rules, for that matter) or c.) be really, really, REALLY careful.
So, in any and all cases, you need to be paying attention to what the Komodo dragon is doing.
Otherwise, you may find yourself married to Sharon Stone one day. By which I mean spending the rest of your life in some horrible agony due to the encounter you had with one thing you should never have had any business having an encounter with in the first place.