11/23/14

Rides 11/21: Lion in Winter

There are quests. Some are great and others are not so great and some involve the search for a savory scone. I believe Harry Potter and the Savory Scone was a popular children's baking book in the UK in the late 90s. Harried plodder and the savory scone was my Friday morning. The seeds of this were planted the previous Friday and then watered by this comment, luring me out of my way to Buzz, but that's no bother. The best thing about bicycling to work is the digressions, the sidetracking, the shirking and then the hurry-up. It's chasing butterflies, or in this case, buttery baked goods. Bikes aren't on train tracks.

I rode west on East Capitol to North Carolina and followed than to 4th SE under the highway and across M Street to then rode around a bunch, passing and re-passing the bakery a few times, before realizing that I had missed its smaller-than-expected sign. I stopped, locked and stood in the line. The line moved slowly and I had regrets. No coffee shop should be allowed to be staffed by only one person. Like a 747. I got a spinach and feta scone (it turned out to be ok at first and then better after a few bites, but I don't think that it lasted long enough for it to ever get to 'transcendent' or anything. I'd say it wrapped up somewhere around 'sufficient' in the Savory Scone Rankings, which might or might not be compiled by Nate Silver.) and a coffee and I rode on, up Half Street to I and over to 7th Street and this is where things started to get a lot off course. I could've headed downtown-ish, but chose instead to ride along Maine Avenue, which parallels the significant construction that has rendered the interim Anacostia Riverwalk Trail blocked. I kept on Maine and rode through a tunnel and then turned onto a kind of frontage road, which thankfully didn't turn into a highway. I don't think I had ever been that way before. It's unclear to me still whether bicyclists are permitted on that stretch. I suspect they are, but it isn't exactly hospitable. Anyway, bike commutes are for exploration and for going out of your way to procure savory scones and for riding on frontage roads and for never having regrets. 

I rode from coffee on the normal route. I think the real estate company who operates George Washington University as a side business would really benefit from adding a protected bike lane of sorts of G Street. Would be good for property values and maybe incidentally, students and other people. Every time I ride on a street that looks like it could so obviously host bike infrastructure and doesn't, it's just so disappointing. I'm sure there are "reasons," but there are always "reasons," some reasonable, some not, I suppose. 

The only thing I remember about the rest of the way into work is riding alongside the teenage driver of a gold Land Rover. FUN FACT: sometimes the teenage drivers of gold Land Rovers are not the most cautious around cyclists.

And now we've reached the part of the blog post when I confess my shame and ineptitude. I left my front bike light and home and rode home in the mostly dark without it. I'm not proud of this and I consider myself lucky for having gotten away with it. It wasn't my intention to ride home in the dark without a front light (I had a rear red light, whatever that's worth), but I did and I felt pretty dumb about doing it, especially in the same week as the "Gear Prudence says use lights, moron!" column. Anyway, it happened and I'm going to try to make sure it doesn't happen again. Here are some observations on riding home without a front light:

1. I could see just fine. There was enough street lighting and lighting from cars that visibility wasn't much of a challenge. 

2. There are a lot of people who ride without lights of any kind and this seems crazy to me, because:

3. I could tell that drivers and pedestrians couldn't see me coming. I noticed it especially with drivers at the 'mixing zones' of the L Street cycletrack. With no white light on their rearview or sideview mirrors, they didn't know I was there and I definitely felt that it would've been pretty easy for them to move across my path having more clue that I was there. Same with a bus pulling out of a stop on 11th.  As for pedestrians, maybe compared to drivers, their not seeing me was objectively less dangerous, but it felt no less perilous. This became pretty obvious on Pennsylvania Avenue, where more than once, someone stepped out into the cycletrack with nary a clue that I was coming. 

4. In conclusion, never forget your front light. It's really useful and definitely makes a difference on how others interact with (or avoid) you. Maybe also pack an extra light or always leave it on your bike. Or maybe don't ride home in the complete dark if you don't have a front bike light. I thought I could make it home before it got too dark, but didn't, so maybe I shouldn't have tried. In hindsight, it was pretty dumb. :

11/20/14

No Rides 11/20: Consistent Wreaths

I didn't ride to work today. I think it was the warmest day of the week, so in that regard, maybe my decision wasn't the most optimal. But in the regard that I had some stuff to do around the house (namely fill nail holes with wood filler, which was both laborious and tedious. Last time I ever let apprentice poodle carpenters near poodle-sized tiny nail guns. So many nail holes), it was a good day to get things done and I was able to accomplish pretty much everything I set out to do. Here's to small victories.

I did take a quick ride to the Harris Teeter at Potomac Avenue. My idea of a recreational ride is to a different grocery store from my normal one. 'Utility ride til I die' is tattooed across my back in black ink and gothic lettering. I took a slightly longer way back, heading over to 11th street and up that way to Lincoln Park and looped back over. I wore my new commuter jeans, even though I wasn't technically commuting. I hope that doesn't void the warrantee. The Official Wife said they look pretty hipster. I'm not sure that assessment was meant to be taken approvingly.

Tomorrow, colder once more. Remember to pack extra hot (or extra-hot) coffee.

11/19/14

Rides 11/19: "the grace? it was all right"- first draft

I watched another bicyclist put his hand on the hood of a woman's car. He didn't so much smack it as pet it, but maybe the way you'd pet a cat that's kind of a dick. (I do not own a cat.) The car was stopped in the crosswalk and remained there after the light changed and it was finally our turn to cross. That this happens, believe it or not, is not a rarity. That bicyclists or pedestrians sometimes take out their frustrations by angrily petting the hoods of cars is rarer, but it also happens. I didn't see the driver's reaction. Sometimes drivers get quite mad when you touch their cars. Sometimes cyclists and pedestrians get even madder and smack, hit, or wallop the hoods of cars, to quite an effect. I don't really know where this story is going- the story of not much happening after a driver blocked a crosswalk and a man on a bike touched her car- but it happened a minute before I was honked at for not hurrying across a crosswalk, so the two incidents, I guess, stick together in my mind.

Getting honked at is annoying. Getting honked at is not the same as getting punched in the face or the same as being run over or having a lawsuit brought against you for trademark infringement (I'll see you in court, Frito Lay! Chester Sharrow, the sassy sunglassed orange cat, is totally legit!), but like I said in the previous sentence, it's annoying. I don't care for it very much, nor does anyone else really, to the point where I'm pretty sure we should all just agree to get rid of car horns. I was honked at because I didn't cross the street fast enough. I was honked at because someone thought that his having to stop for an extra two seconds was worth more than my being able to cross the street at my preferred speed. And because he had an easily accessible horn. Side note: I, pretty much in almost all circumstances, refuse to hurry across a street, especially at unregulated crosswalks. There are some reasons for this, namely 1) hurrying anywhere is dumb, 2) I want drivers to fully stop and wait and not half-stop. This latter concern is not just out of pettiness. Crossing a street is, much of the time, when I'm the most vulnerable. If I'm rushing across the street and the driver is like 'oh cool, he's rushing, so I'll barely slow down' and then, let's say, I fall over or something falls from my bike or for whatever other reason something interrupts my traversing, then I'm not really in great shape. I'd feel much better about the whole interaction if I know that the driver is stopped. Drivers don't like this. I don't care. I genuinely do not give one tiny fuck if someone in a car has to wait an extra few seconds. 'BUT HE MADE ME WAIT TWO SECONDS!' someone might say. To which I might say 'what are you, a two year old?' [I think this is also why I'm hard on #CONFUSION.] It's time to stop lowering expectations, especially for adults who are operating potentially deadly multi-ton vehicles under government permission. Get over it.

When I left work, I saw a man wearing a hi viz jacket driving his red car down Nebraska Avenue. Finally drivers are taking visibility seriously. Next step, driver smart hats. Because here's the thing: in the sharing economy with the ZipCars and the car2gos and all of the 'rent your car at the airport when you're away on vacation' schemes, it's getting harder and harder to say exactly who is driving a car while it commits a traffic infraction. If drivers wore helmets with registration numbers on the back, then we can be sure to issue the tickets to the correct person and not just go by antiquated license plate technology. Venture capital please < pinches fingers together in mooching manner>.

Usual route downtown and then G Street to Macy's (really?) where I bought commuter jeans (really??? Yeah, I guess. I needed some new pants for winter.) and then down 11th to Pennsylvania and then the same route home as always. It was still quite cold. I should've worn thicker gloves.

Oh, hey, look a new Gear Prudence. It's about lights. 

11/18/14

Rides 11/18: Wisco Blues

My tale of woe follows:

I left home late and I rode towards the Bicycle Space, a bicycle shop, where the bike was to be spruced up. The bike was the Brompton and it needed sprucing (brakes, headset and most importantly, the lights, which are powered by a generator hub in the front wheel) and so I set off in the abnormal cold for the bike's first proper maintenance in about two years of ownership. Chastise away. Last year, when we had moved out of the house for a few months, I commuted on the Brompton every day in December and in the cold and in the rain and maybe in the snow (or not), so I was, at one point, both accustomed to more regularly riding the bike and moreover more regularly accustomed to riding the bike in winter, but this seemed much worse than that. The wind was mean and spirited. I was slow and dispirited. Massachusetts, Columbus Circle, First, K and then I was there, more or less, after a half a block of 7th Street. I dropped off the bike, said hello to Rachel (Rachel, formerly of WABA and more recently formerly of a hammer museum in Alaska, works at the Bicycle Space now) and we talked and so I set off for the second part of my trip which was conceived of as follows: I would take Bikeshare from 7th and M to the red line Metro and thereafter take the Metro to Tenleytown and then take Bikeshare to work. The plan was foolproof. Until the problems started. The first problem was my Bikeshare key. This was, I think, my fourth replacement Bikeshare key. The problem with the previous Bikeshare keys, and with this one too, is that the chip inside, the chip that activates the unlocking mechanism when entered into the dock, liberates itself when the plastic halves of the fob begin to come apart. The top of the fob loosed from the bottom, or vice versa, and the chip fell out. Chipless, the key no longer works. You can call up the 1-800 number and the Bikeshare people will send you a new key (they've got a new batch of superior keys now that don't suffer the same problem) and also give you a code for a free 3 day pass until your new key comes, but I couldn't do this because my phone, which is currently in its last throes, turned itself off in the cold. The top button on my phone, the power button, no longer works, so I couldn't turn the phone back on. So, I didn't call and I didn't get my Bikeshare code and I didn't take Bikeshare. Maybe I could've just gotten a 24 hour pass and asked Bikeshare to retroactively reimburse me, but I don't know if it works that way. Anyway, I was right at the Metro, though at a station that would have necessitated a transfer, and I thought 'oh well, might as well just get on the Metro.' I did that. I didn't have a SmarTrip card in my wallet. I own SmarTrip cards. Maybe even 2. I had none with me. I bought a new SmarTrip card. It's a very special snazzy commemorative silver line card. It has a big SV on it.

I waited about 15 minutes for the train to arrive. I rode it one stop. I shared the train with, among other people, a man with a beautiful Rivendell bicycle. The man had a beard and some Bono looking sunglasses, but of a very little tint. Are you that man? Are you reading right now? I transferred at Gallery Place and waited another 15 minutes for the train. I rode that train to Tenleytown and the shuttle to work for there and I arrived at work about 45 minutes after leaving the bike shop.

At work, I called Bikeshare and they're sending me a new key and they gave me a code to access the bikes. At the end of the day, I walked to the Bikeshare station. The screen was busted. I could not read the screen, nor punch the correct buttons. I gave up. I walked to the first bus stop and waited, then walked to the next bus stop and waited a little more. Do you know it's 20 minutes between buses? And that's legal for some reason? I walked away from the second bus stop, but glanced over my shoulder and thought I saw the bus coming and ran back to the bus stop. The bus was a FedEx truck. I am not very good at spotting buses. I walked toward the next bus stop and this time I clearly saw the arriving bus. I ran to the bus stop and turned around and excitedly saw that this next bus was not in service. I was sad.

I decided to walk to the next closest Bikeshare station, which I later found out was devoid of bikes. I walked uphill to Wisconsin Avenue (btw, I call this street Wisco now. Way cooler) and I watched three buses go by as I was about two blocks away from the intersection. I decided to keep walking down Wisco and would look over my shoulder every 30 seconds. Maybe a bus would be coming! The buses didn't come. My phone turned itself off again before I got to the Russian Embassy. I was planning on taking a picture and tweeting 'If I were Russian, I'd be home by now.' Maybe that would have been funny. Maybe you would have laughed.

At Calvert Street, in Glover Park, I traversed Wisco, and walked down Observatory Circle towards the third Bikeshare station of the night. That station's screen also wasn't great and my skeleton gloves inhibited somewhat my ability to punch in the code, but I eventually managed it after much accidental button pushing and purposeful deleting and at this point on my intended bike commute, maybe about 40 minutes in, I had a bicycle.

Thus forward, it was mostly normal. I rode on the sidewalk down Massachusetts and I was glad that I didn't ride into any low-hanging tree branches. 21st and then L.

Hey, can we talk about L and 15th? It's the intersection of two cycletracks and this is great. Except, you know, when a bicyclist in front of you on L wants to turn onto 15th (right or left, it doesn't matter) and they just stop in the in-between space between the left-turning cars and the plastic flexposts. This is a problem if you are behind this person and intend to continue straight. My suggestion: if you intend to turn left (to go north on 15th), merge in with the left turning drivers. If you intend to turn right, um, do something else? I don't have the best advice on this because the design here doesn't really allow for a lot of great decisions. Maybe just bail from the cycletrack a half a block earlier? Maybe just turn left and then do a 180? I don't know. Just don't stop there. That's just not the best move.

L, 11th, M and then docked. I got my bike back and it was in considerably better shape than how I left it. The lights worked well and the brake pads bit the rim, like a cobra does a [whatever a cobra eats]. I was very pleased. I remain pleased. K, 6th to E and more or less back the way I came in the morning after Columbus Circle, on the same bike I rode many hours before.

11/17/14

Rides 11/17: 35 Animal Heads

It rained.

My brakes made an awful noise, louder and more prolonged than the usual squeal. I found it to be over-dramatic.

I stopped at a red light on East Capitol and talk to some Metropolitan Police Department police officers. They were waiting in the rain to babysit some Keystone XL protestors, who had gathered to shout at a building (or maybe the people inside a building). You suck, building! You're probably made of oil and/or pipes! Boo! (I am not especially acquainted with the issues surrounding said pipeline. I try to remained as uninformed as possible.) I expressed my sympathy that they had to stand in the rain. They said that it wasn't so bad. An officer with a mustache said my bike looked really heavy. I hopped off and let him pick it up. I trusted that he wouldn't steal it, as it would've been very easy for me to call the cops, namely his partner sitting inside the car. He was reasonably satisfied that the bike was not too heavy. We said our goodbyes. In hindsight, I find my extroversion weird. It's not my normal inclination, which is somewhere between taciturn and comatose. I wonder how they found it. Maybe a ray of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy morning? In related news, LOL.

The Mall has reopened and I rode past the museums and wanted to take a picture of the dreary-as-all-get-out Washington Monument, bathed in fog and gray and this picture almost happened, but then my phone's battery died. So just imagine a fog covered Washington Monument. To aid your visualization, if you have an obelisk and fog machine at home, get those out. If you don't have those items, get thee to your nearest obelisk and fog machine warehouse. There's probably a sale. My phone is nearly on its last legs and I will replace it soon, but for maybe the next month, I'll have a phone that can't consistently remain functioning in the cold weather. I haven't yet assessed to what extent this might be a problem. I mean, on one hand, if all a wonky phone prevents is foisting on your blurry pictures of what I say is the Washington Monument enmeshed in fog, then that seems like no major loss for any of us. But I'd hate to have to need it in an emergency and not have access to it. My plan for the next few weeks is to have no emergencies.

This time it wasn't an UberX blocking a crosswalk, but a Lyft. Sharing economy for the win.

The roads were comparatively empty on the way home. It felt like a Sunday before a holiday Monday, but it wasn't that at all. I was on the road 10 minutes earlier than normal, but I don't know if the sixth of an hour really made that much of a difference. I guess people just didn't drive to work today? It felt odd and mildly disconcerting. Unfortunately, sometimes the only thing that keeps the worst of drivers from indulging their worst habits is the presence of copious other drivers. It slows them down at least and the slower speeds cages in their terribleness. But when there's no traffic, that's when the worst of the lot find themselves speeding along and staring at their phones and altogether oblivious of things like drifting into the bike lanes and coming perilously close to me. "THIS IS WHY YOU CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS!" would be a sorta meme-y thing I could scream, except I'm too busy trying to stay out of the way. The best of when you get the 'I'm sorry!' wave and the guy giving you the wave HAS HIS PHONE IN THE WAVING HAND. Please, please, please, please pay attention while you drive. Please?

M Street to Pennsylvania to L Street to 15th. Then, back to Pennsylvania again. At 11th, I watched a woman not run across the street even though the crosswalk numbers counted to zero and a red hand flashed. She just kept walking, as if she thought that human decency and understanding would prevent the driver at the now green light from blaring on his horn. She was on the phone. I wonder if he just saw a 'distracted walker.'

So moody:

Filters used to enhance moodiness. I have no idea what reality looks like anymore. Not sure what Instagram filter adds Trump billboards. They should really look into that. Pretty sure that's not supposed to be there.
At Lincoln Park, a woman screamed. She screamed "Zack!" and she ran towards the road, looking panicked. I thought "holy shit lady, Saved By The Bell has been off the air for decades. there is nothing to get that excited about something is wrong" and asked "is everything ok?" Her eyes scanned the road in front of me and while her pace quickened she said "no, it's just my dumb dog" and I guess she spotted the dog, across the street in the arms of a woman who had crouched over to hold the black dog still. Dog crisis averted. To be honest, it's kinda hard for me to blame the dog too much. A dog's just a dog.