Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Two days later, I still don't know

So we go from "you never know" to "shows what I know" within hours.

Let's recap my previous blog entry, where I marveled that sharing the busy, urban roads around Detroit hadn't turned out to be the Turnpike of Terrors I had been led to believe it would be; that, in fact, I had found drivers around here to be pretty tolerant and courteous. I posted it Monday morning. Monday evening, at one of the intersections I had found so acceptable, a motorist commenced to run over a cyclist with his pickup truck to, I guess, get the last word in an argument the two were having. It was the front-page story in The Oakland Press this morning.

What does that portend? It should portend close to nothing, but it will look bigger than it is. People will perceive and manufacture controversy and rage and fear, the same way they worry about being murdered by a stranger when the vast majority of homicides are between people who know each other.

I don't get the impression Mr. Driver and Mr. Bicyclist knew each other, but they appeared to be made for each other. The newspaper story says the 61-year-old driver passed the 42-year-old cyclist closely enough that the cyclist felt compelled to inform him of that when he caught up at a traffic light. Words followed; somehow the rhetoric involved cyclist whacking rear-view mirror with a water bottle, cyclist dropping the water bottle, cyclist retrieving the water bottle where it was so convenient to drive a pickup truck (I know; that was not lost on me) into him that the driver backed up and did it twice. I really don't know how these contests are scored, how many points you get for a broken ankle and how many you get for a felonious-assault charge, but we're going to have to call it a draw between losers.

I don't know either guy, and frankly, I can't relate to either. I can try, but they both just took it too far.

Lord knows I sympathize with cyclists. Cars are big and insulated and easy to talk on the phone or text in and easy to make go fast and anonymous and profoundly effective killing machines. People don't drive them with nearly enough awareness of that last part.

But I feel for the drivers, too. Hey, when you're driving someplace, you're usually in a hurry, and the fact is sometimes you have to slow down for a bike. Or a stop sign or a construction barrel or a squirrel. And it's annoying to slow down. I don't know why slowing down for a bike seems to be so especially annoying to some drivers, but I can guess. Maybe we look like we're having that much more fun, but maybe too many of us can ride pretty aggressively ourselves, blowing through stop signs and lights, hogging the road (sometimes you have to assert your position; other times it's just rude) either alone or in big groups (groups are cool, too, but there are obvious time and place issues).

Some very well-meaning civil engineers actually make things worse for a narrow and snobbish-sounding category of cyclists - mine, as it happens - who ride too fast for the bike paths they gave us, so we stick to the road so drivers who don't think it through can wonder why we're not over there slaloming between the skaters and strollers.

Goody. We've established that the road is filled with flawed individuals, making it very much like the rest of the world. How have I survived the better part of four decades on those roads without getting run over by someone trying to prove a point?

First, I'm just lucky. That's also why I don't have Lou Gehrig's Disease, a third-world hometown, or any given celebrity for a parent. Second, I've learned it's not as personal as it looks. Like Napoleon said, there's no logic in blaming malice when there's so much incompetence to go around. Even what looks like malice can be interpreted as extreme social incompetence, really.

It's not that I've never been harassed or threatened or scared or that I've never done anything dumb myself. It's not that I've never wanted to set someone straight. But to me, drivers are another form of weather. Some good, some bad, some types more common in certain areas than in others. With bad weather, you have a choice: You either prepare for it and accept it, or you stay inside and avoid it. Trying to educate a bad driver on the spot is akin to trying to lecture a tornado away from your trailer park.

So there you go. Anyone who saw that road-rage story two days after my peace, love and harmony blog post, well, I'm sticking by my peace, love and harmony claim. And it's nice that those two guys found each other. Cupid-dot-com couldn't have made a better match.

Monday, June 28, 2010

You never know

As the man says, if there's one thing you always know, it's that you never know.

Okay, I don't know that. I don't know if any man ever said it, let alone The man, let alone who the man is, which only goes to prove my point, which only goes to undermine the conceit that I actually had a point. Which bolsters, if not proves, the point I apparently didn't have.

Anyway, I'm still exploring my new home. This past week's probes of this urban landscape involved my first real bike ride through it and out of it. Mind you, I moved away from my home on the edge of Lansing for a home in southern Oakland County, smack in the middle of Michigan's version of the Eastern Seaboard. I used to have to ride half a mile to get to a rural road. Thursday, I had to pick up a car in Brighton, about 45 miles away (50 with my inadvertent detour) and it felt like the route featured about a half-mile OF rural road.

I'm used to hearing some people tell me riding 50 miles is crazy and then hearing others' sympathy that I didn't have enough time to take a real ride. But when I was asking locals for background information on these roads, every last one of them thought I was crazy, and it had little to do with mileage. It all had to do with the cars.

Well, you never know. I did have my first accident this week, but it was at the hands of another cyclist.

Thursday's trip to Brighton was just fine. To metro Detroit's credit, based on one early-morning ride, I have to say the drivers here are better to deal with than they are when I have to take a busy road in Lansing; maybe they know my options are limited. I only got honked at by one driver (in a pickup truck, of course; who had all the room in the world to get around me, of course). My biggest issue was having my rhythm broken up by long traffic lights.

Two mornings later, I was on the commuter bike (it's true; my once-prized mountain bike is now a 17-year-old utility steed) headed over to check out the Royal Oak Farmers Market (which is well worth checking out) and caught up to another cyclist at the notoriously busy Woodward Ave. While we waited for the light to change, my new friend told me all about the yoga class he was headed to. When the light changed, I motioned him ahead and then followed (a little too closely, the review tape would show). He looked back to tell me one more yoga detail, and down I went.

"Oh, I distracted you!" he apologized, which wasn't entirely true. I was quite focused on the fact that he was about to hook my wheel. What distracted me was the gravel and sand on the pavement and the subsequent realities of gravity. I got up, we finished crossing Woodward and then he motioned for me to go ahead and then disappeared down the first street available, which didn't look to me like it had a lot of yoga studios. I felt bad that he felt bad. These things happen, and other than a little road rash and bruising I wasn't at all hurt.

Which wouldn't have been the case if I'd borne out everyone's dire predictions and mixed it up with someone piloting a few thousand pounds of Detroit steel.

That much I do know.

Two other unknown things:
1) I was unprepared for the quick and thorough welcome back after Wednesday's Resurfacing entry. It was reassuring, heartening and, I dare say, touching. And I thank you very, very much. (You can tell just how much: When a supposed writer resorts to using the same modifier separated by a comma, he's either at a loss for adequate words or writing fiction dialogue where his character is, and I don't see any fiction here.)
2) We still don't know where Mr. B is, but confidence remains high. This is a good, safe, even comfortable area to be a stray cat, so it could take a while. Profuse thanks go out to everyone who expressed sympathy and concern there as well. It really (by which I mean really, really) helps.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


It took the floor guy two days to resurface the hardwoods in my new house. It's taken me a month to resurface myself. The hardwoods are gorgeous; I'm still not looking too good. But here we both are, just off Woodward Avenue.


Patty and I live in a new house now, in a new city. Well, new to us. The house and city are actually on the old side, and I'm feeling more and more that way myself. But old can cut a couple of different ways.

Old can have bumpy, oddly laid out routes and infrastructure that take some patience and creativity to navigate. Old can be creaky and problematic, with long-forgotten wiring schemes mystery switches and missing parts and moisture where it doesn't belong.

And the city and the house are just as bad as me. Haw, haw.

I won't lie. This move has been tough on me. It's put me behind on my work - here's apologizing for the blog silence while hoping it was at least a little noticed - and thus on sleep. It's taken me away from a home I loved, from friends I miss. It wiped out and hasn't allowed resumption of a training and racing regimen that I believe now more than ever is essential to my mental health. There has been frustration, impatience, stress and maybe even tragedy - our second day here, the curious Mr. B slipped out of a window where a screen should have been and we haven't seen him since. I am not ashamed to say that there were moments where I wondered if I had made the worst mistake of my life, and we're well beyond imagining it's reversible.

But if my old, new home and city can resemble my old, new life, maybe I can come to resemble them. Most of the houses here are old, and most of them are still here. So are the narrow streets and so are most of the residents. Nobody ever leaves - it's the Hotel California of cities. The neighbors are too nice, the trees too gorgeous, the atmosphere too friendly. People tend to remodel their houses, add to them or just move down the block to another one.

Sure, a few people go over the wall and buy something shiny and sterile and new somewhere else. A few residents have lived here forever and done nothing with the place. But most of the homes, and certainly the best of them, are originals with extensive updates. A solid foundation with a steady diet of newness and even a jarring dose of change once in a while seems to be the formula of choice.

I'm getting caught up. I think more stuff is put away now than in boxes. My attitude is improving. I know where some of the important things are. The cat will take his time, but he'll come back.

The Detroit Free Press Marathon is 17 Sundays away, and the training plan is 16 weeks long. Let the remodeling begin.

The old place is looking up.