Wednesday, September 7, 2011

bikes vs pedestrians

It's finally cooling off here. Good thing too. People were getting a little cranky. Not me, of course. But I noticed a few things you might enjoy hearing about.

I was walking home from the market late last week, when it was still hot, and there was an older woman walking ahead of me carrying a bag of groceries. As we neared a corner an even older man slowly came around the corner on his bicycle. Unfortunately for him, he was riding on the sidewalk and the woman was feeling a little territorial about her path home.

He wasn't riding fast (I think I was walking faster than he was riding) but she looked him straight in the eye and told him that he shouldn't be riding there. She may have even shook a finger at him, but if she didn't it was certainly implied. It took him a few feet to stop, at which time her turned and said something sharply to her. I believe it was that he was hardly moving, he never even came close to her, and the street was not safe for anyone to ride on.

(You'll have to forgive my horrible translation at this point. They were using words I don't know, some I probably shouldn't and they were speaking quickly. But you'll get the gist of it anyway.)

Before this she had given every impression that she was in a hurry to get home with her food, but now she walked back towards him (past me) and started waving her free arm around, pointing at the bike lane on the other side of the street and clearly telling him that if he didn't want to be on the street he had options that didn't endanger the lives of innocent women and children.

By this time he had turned his bike around to face her and leaned on the handlebars, apparently ready for a long discussion. He told her that he was going to the store on this side of the street. Why on earth would he cross the street, ride one block and have to cross again? Really, it made no sense at all. His argument was sound, even if the law was on her side.

By now I was standing at the crosswalk waiting for the light to change and honestly kind of hoping it didn't. Listening as their argument became more and more passionate was riveting. You would think they were discussing something really important like politics or wine.

They were now face to face and he stood up...his argument was falling apart and he needed his hands to talk properly. I couldn't really hear the discussion anymore over the traffic noise. She continued to talk at him, occasionally lifting her hands up to emphasize a point. He started out looking angry. Suddenly his hands reached out with palms upraised as if to say "huh?", his shoulders shrugged and his look of confusion was Oscar worthy. A few seconds later (she never stopped talking I don't think) his shoulders dropped and his face softened. No, he didn't feel sorry about anything, he just felt bad for her that she couldn't understand his simple need to ride on the sidewalk. A man's gotta ride where a man's gotta ride, and all that.

As the light changed and I started across the street she turned away from him with a disgusted look and walked around the corner muttering to herself. If there really is something to the idea of an evil eye curse that man better watch himself for the next little while. As she rounded the corner he lifted his face and his hands to heaven as if to say, why God? Why me? Why today?

Later that same day I was walking down a street that has a bike lane. About a block away I could see an older (at least in her 70's) woman coming down the bike lane on  her bike. Right there she gets points for riding her bike after the age many American people decide it's just too dangerous. Suddenly from between two parked cars an even older elderly (elderlier?) woman stepped into the bike lane with her companion next to her.

It was like watching a movie in slow motion. The woman on the bike started using her bike bell instantly...and constantly, from half a block away. The walking woman had to walk to the corner (4 meters) in the bike lane because she couldn't step up the curb from the bike lane to the sidewalk. The companion tried to pull the walking woman over closer to the side of the bike lane but she seemed reluctant to go (or she just moves that slow. I'm going with the second choice.) As the riding woman got closer she started to talk (loudly) to the two walking women. Walking woman couldn't hear what she was saying so the companion was repeating everything riding woman was saying. Walking woman seemed to understand and sympathize with riding woman's plight, but she remained about dead center in the bike lane. Maybe she was blind as well as deaf.

The seconds ticked by as I watched the bicycle slowly overtake the pedestrian. Would she be able to reach the side of the bike lane in time? Would riding woman slow down? Wait, she can't because she's barely moving fast enough to stay upright as it is. At last the bike was even with the walker and whew, it was a squeaker but she got by. Walking woman continued down the bike lane apparently unconcerned about her brush with death. Riding woman rode past me, muttering to herself about crazy old people. Really she did.

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