Everything Wrong with this Country in Ten Seconds or Less

I came upon a most perfect example of civic disintegration today. Perfect not just because it exemplifies the brazen meanness of people with power, but also because the incident is so inconsequential, the only reason it could possibly occur is so one person can bully another. That other being me.

It takes a lot of rules for the City of Cambridge to uphold the torch of liberal tolerance. There are signs everywhere, about dogs, children, pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles. Signs denote conventions; signs clarify rights-of-way.

As a cyclist, I appreciate my city’s ease to navigate; though I’m amused by the novel ways we arrange bike paths. My preferred designation is simple: a painted white line on the same pavement as motor vehicles. I have a clear place on the road, separated by a curb from pedestrians, since bicycles are supposed to follow vehicle rules, not pedestrian ones.

That is too simple for Cambridge, which has too many variations. On Concord Avenue the bicycle lane is raised so cyclists and pedestrians are adjacent, a curb above cars, with separate paving and markings, bikes next to the road, pedestrians nearer the trees. This may look safer on paper but in reality it is not. Pedestrians waiting for the bus cluster on the bike lane, cars don’t see us at intersections.

I am riding east on Concord Avenue, on the bike lane, when a runner crosses the road and strides onto the curb just in front of me. We look similar: middle-aged white guys. He’s wearing ear buds. He doesn’t glance in my direction. He turns onto the bike paths and continues his stride. I call out, “Passing in the bike lane.” Nothing. I repeat, louder. I slow down, so as not to run into this man. I call out in a loud voice, “Passing in the bike lane.” No response.

I try not to jump to ill conclusions. Perhaps the man is deaf. I proceed slowly off the bike path and onto the sidewalk. Now two people are moving against protocol and I’m passing on the right. I worry he’ll shift to his appropriate lane. When I am abreast but a bit in front, I say, “You are running in the bike lane,” with more care than the sentence ought to require, but I am over polite in our prickly public domain these days. I try not to sound priggish or righteous: I just want to convey convention.

“Why is it so damned important to you?” The once silent man speaks very loud. “Just go around me, you f#@k#@g moron!”

I do as he says, too shocked to even phrase a retort. I continue on to Trader Joe’s, lock my bike, put my pannier in a basket, and roll through the aisles. Once off the bike, I begin to shake. My head spins in recrimination. What did I do or say to trigger such vitriol?

Trader Joe’s is not a good environment for somber internalizing. My cashier doesn’t ask, “How you doing today?” with his usual joviality. Anyone can see I’m upset. Yet I can’t spill woes simultaneously too vile and too insignificant to a guy in a Hawaiian shirt. Why am I so upset? Am I a wuss for letting this guy get under my skin? Has the foul-mouthed runner already forgotten me, catalogued under ‘losers too easy to pick on.’

This is how we live in the United States these days. The systems and processes that outline an orderly life are ignored. Those who can, flaunt them, with such loud derision that they leave silly souls who follow rules wallowing in doubt. Car lane, bike lane, pedestrian sidewalk; meaningless designations to the guy who plugs in his head phones, tunes us out, and stands his ground wherever he chooses to be. Might is right. The loudest voice gets the attention and his way. The prerogative of the winner surrounded by mere chumps.







About paulefallon

Greetings reader. I am a writer, architect, cyclist and father from Cambridge, MA. My primary blog, theawkwardpose.com is an archive of all my published writing. The title refers to a sequence of three yoga positions that increase focus and build strength by shifting the body’s center of gravity. The objective is balance without stability. My writing addresses opposing tension in our world, and my attempt to find balance through understanding that opposition. During 2015-2106 I am cycling through all 48 mainland United States and asking the question "How will we live tomorrow?" That journey is chronicled in a dedicated blog, www.howwillwelivetomorrw.com, that includes personal writing related to my adventure as well as others' responses to my question. Thank you for visiting.
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5 Responses to Everything Wrong with this Country in Ten Seconds or Less

  1. yogibattle says:

    I just saw this video recently and your post reminded me of it…

    • paulefallon says:

      I love it! I have empathy for the pedestrians in the video since the sidewalks are so busy – my guy had an empty sidewalk that for whatever reason he just didn’t want to use!

      • yogibattle says:

        Sorry you had to incur his wrath. I really enjoyed following your journey and am glad you are safe back home aside from this incident.

  2. jamesbaxter says:

    I completely feel the same way! My husband and I are both cyclists. The city of Salt Lake City went through a pretty major bike lane infrastructure change the last few years. The city and the mayor thought it was a good idea to place the two to four lane road in the center, parallel parking next to it, then a foot of raised concrete median separating bike lanes, then a curb, then a side walk, on several of streets in downtown Salt Lake. You can imagine what this does to cyclists. We are constantly fighting people walking or crossing on bike paths, severe visibility issues as parked cars are blocking the view of the traffic as we try to make turns, and cars that come out of a property or parking lots stop and completely block the path so they can see the streets to make their turns! Last year, my husband was on his way home from work, he saw a car come out of parking lot of a YWCA. The driver did not see or check to see if there was a cyclist so he came out blocking the bike path in a matter of seconds, causing my husband to slam on his break and skidding and falling side ways. Luckily he was not injured. Then the driver proceeded to come out of his car that was not damaged, he started to yelling at him. My husband knew he did not do anything wrong but the driver did, he started to argue with the driver. Then a guy who was driving a massive truck stops and come out his truck to take the driver’s side, and another pedestrian doing the same. My husband now had to argue with 1 entitled driver, 1 red neck and an ignorant walker who had no business getting into the argument. Eventually my husband felt threatened and had to leave the scene boiling his blood. The driver had a toddler in the back seat too, and probably learned lesson of how to treat cyclists when he grows up. How is that we live in this world and nobody seems to have a common sense or the courtesy. This is not just an issue about cyclist vs. world. It is an issue with the lack of moral in people in this world.
    Sorry to rant. We couldn’t even file a police report since we didn’t have enough information. I am still bothered by it if you can’t tell…

    • paulefallon says:

      Thank you for your rant – better to get it off your chest hear than on the wild streets of Salt Lake. I am beginning to think, radically, that physically separated bike lanes are not a good idea. We all need to get along, share the same streets. If cyclists are on the streets – all of us – and auto drivers have to see us, they will go slower. Separated bike lanes seems like such a great idea but they breakdown at intersections, driveways, etc. and no one is looking for bicycles then. That is where accidents occur.

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