Compared to everywhere else I have lived, including Manhattan, the steeped in hostility/ignorance displayed by Raleigh motorists and the ruling oligarchy (despite the pretty talk) on the matter of non-motorized transportation constitutes criminal behavior. When former co-morons Bob and Madison thought it was “funny” to make light of assaulting bicyclists with automobiles on their little radio show (www.trianglemtb.com/pages/projects/g105.html), the message is this: to travel by any means than an automobile in this burg, one needs to be in possession of clanking brass balls the size of cantaloupes.
This current cycle of outrage began when I, downtown, watched my former Boy Scout leader, Robert L. McMillan, the Atticus Finch of Raleigh, get knocked down by traffic on his way back to his law office on Martin Street. I froze, petrified with fear until I saw his Panama hat rise, and the clock started again. Having been in Troop 306, I knew what the driver was getting. After he’d blessed the dude out, Mr. McMillan adjusted his hat and with perfect, stately dignity, continued on his way. The message is clear. If you apes will strike a man in his 80s, friends, we have trouble in River City.
I have not owned a car in years. Finally, when what I was doing to the planet got to me (100,000 miles on a ’66 440 Sport Fury @ 9 mpg), I decided to walk the earth. Then, in a town with whole dedicated bicycle interstates and an actual mass transit system–Portland–I took up bicycling again. There, there are never hassles; the motorists are used to bicycles and treat them with the care the bicycle’s fragility requires. (Here in Raleigh, not so much. The funniest response is SUV drivers who look at me, set their jaws and savagely stab the gas. Fine with me, asshole, you’re the chump paying $2.39 a gallon to impress/scare me, neither one of which succeeded.)
Back in Raleigh, fortune smiled in the form of truckload of crappy, junky bikes I found stored under the Velvet Cloak (thank you David Smoot). A few phone calls and some finagling via a YMCA 501(c)(3) tax write-off later, and the bikes were soon in the custody this kid name of Hans and his 1304 Bicycle Collective, their goal to foment, perhaps suicidally, a movement.
Every last Friday of the month, the posse meets at the N.C. State Bell Tower for a pleasure ride around downtown. I rode with them last week, my creaky old ass on a rattly Austrian (Sears) three-speed of approximately the same vintage.
Down Glenwood, the Friday after-work drinkers puzzled at the gaggle of battered machines and funny clothes. From drivers came the expected one-finger salutes volleys of curses. It was going just swimmingly–until we got to Moore Square. WHOOOOOOP went the unmarked Crown Vic. We eluded, riding into the park–and here he comes driving into the park to “get” us. Buff young detective finally got out and when he was 25 feet away, whadaya know, time to ride. We left him standing there flapping his arms like a seagull.
By the time we got to the old Education building, we had achieved megastar status–two ‘Vics and a brace of chuttering Harley FLHs.
“Parade service is all an FLH is good for,” I laughed to one of the motor cops. Harleys really do suck.
“STAY TO THE RIGHT,” the voice of God squawked.
“TURN LANE,” I yelled back.
Ultimately peace was achieved via true symbiosis–we had some fun and some exercise, the cops got overtime, and nobody got arrested.
“You weren’t doing anything wrong, were you?” my mother asked when I told her the story.
Monday evening, beautiful cool spring, I was coasting home, reveling in the freedom and silence and (compared to walking) the speed, 12 mph being about all the Sears three-speed can safely do. Crossing St. Mary’s on a green, I am in a rerun of Mr. McMillan’s experience–the putative cause, a motorist attempting to execute a right-on-red without the necessary component of–um–looking. I see the bumper of the car approach frame by frame and splat–I am knocked sprawling from my machine.
I lay there for a second and then using the sill of her door, raise myself from the pavement.
“What is wrong with you, woman?”
“Are you all right?” she wailed.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Oh, God, are you all right? Are you sure?”
“It’s really all right. I’m getting used to this.”
I went riding off, the Sears making this horrid clanking sound.
It is going to be a long summer.
The 1304 Bicycle Collective will have a meet and greet at the Worker’s Day event at Compiengne Park on Hillsborough Street behind Bruegger’s Bagels on Saturday at 4 p.m. Make sure your insurance is paid up, bring your crash helmet and we’ll see ya.
For more about bicycle unsafety in North Carolina, go to www.hsrc.unc.edu/pubinfo/2003crashstatistics.htm