Rides 8/25: Rotisserie Turkey

I work in education. Today was the first day of school. School is, for the most part, about learning, but the other side of that is teaching, and while I don't teach, I think about teaching and learning a lot since that's the kind of business I'm in, though somewhat obliquely. 

I rode behind a guy on Pennsylvania Avenue and the cycletrack is built in such a way as to precipitate conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians. What cyclists see as the bike lane, pedestrians see as the crosswalk and refuge, and both groups are right and wrong and neither and both and it's all because of the bad design and unclear markings and it's no one's fault in particular, except for the people who designed it and the politicians who compromised a better design and the subsequent people and politicians and inertia that keeps it from getting better. But it's really not the fault of the users- the hand was dealt and we're all just playing the cards. Anyway, I rode behind this guy and as we approached an intersection he saw some guys standing in the bike lane/crosswalk and he yelled. It wasn't a "hey! I'm coming through here so I just want to make sure you see me, so look up so we don't inadvertently collide" (these kinds of yells are pretty common and fairly anodyne and I think I have enough of an ear for them to know what they sound like and what aren't them), but more of a "hey what the hell are you doing you morons! Get out of the way because I'm coming through and you better move or else" (but that's more of a supposition and even if that wasn't the kind of yell this was, I've heard enough of these kinds of yells to know that they are common enough and real and true enough to be sufficient for the basis of this story, even if this is not exactly what exactly happened this morning). In short, the guy on bike was pissed and wanted to clear the way not because of concern for an imminent collision, but because he didn't think those guys should be in his way at all. 

It's a pretty common thing in a crowded city for people to think that your not being somewhere would be better than your being somewhere. Having overly strong opinions (and the means to realize them) about who should and shouldn't be where is basically the story of all of human history. Forget class struggle- it's not liking your neighbors that drives the dialectic. 

You know how when you're a little kid and there's a hot stove and you reach for the hot stove and maybe a parent whacks away your hand or maybe a parent doesn't because the hot stove'll teach you a lesson about curiosity or cookery or something? 

The problem with commuting is that too many people want to be hot stoves. I shall be the conveyor of lessons. I shall teach you not to transgress. I shall be the means by which you learn proper behavior. I will inflict upon you a cost for your misdeed. You will learn by me. 

Truth be told, I don't see a lot of bicyclists doing this. I think the position of relative vulnerability mostly precludes it, but yelling to intimidate a pedestrian and thereby "teach him lesson" about standing in the bike lane is a thing that happens, and that's hot stove-y. More common, unfortunately, is the driver looking to "teach a lesson" to a fellow driver or cyclist or pedestrian by honking or tailgating or passing too closely or giving a "love tap" or doing some other horrible anti-social thing that's meant to both reinforce dominance, but also serve a pedagogical benefit. Learn the lesson, don't repeat the mistake. 

Remember when you were learning your times tables and you thought 7 * 8 was 42, so Mrs. Fogel got into her Hona Accord and angrily honked at you until you got 56 instead? Good times. 

I think what I've learned from working in education, though obliquely, is that there are many paths to learning and barely any of lessons are taught by hot stoves. To want be one, is, I think, to miss a larger point about teaching and learning. But maybe that's the point. 


I took the trail home today and rode along the river and then through SW to the store and then up into SE and to the back of a church in an alley where I met my chutney dealer and then I biked about 10 blocks more and was home. 


  1. CapHill biker dudeAugust 26, 2014 2:29 PM

    What do you think about bicyclists "teaching a lesson to" (read: yelling at) oblivious and/or malicious drivers doing blatantly dangerous things? For example, I was very nearly killed a couple of weeks ago while riding northbound on 6th NE when someone ran a red light from Stanton Park onto SE-bound Massachusetts. And then the driver had to slam on their brakes to avoid running into the line of stopped cars in front of them. I yelled some very inappropriate language because it scared the !$#&@ out of me (car passed less than 6" in front of my tire, going 30+ mph, as I rode through the green), and afterwards had mixed feelings about my reaction. Is it worth saying anything? Also, can the city please put a red-light camera at that intersection? $5000+/day, easy.

    1. I think it's a little different and far more justified, though maybe still not the best thing to do. When someone really, really endangers you, yeah, you're gonna be mad. It's awful to be so close to being so hurt or so dead. So, in light of that, yelling doesn't seem so out of line. I think that that'd be different from the kind of lesson-teaching that most bothers me, which is the needless and unprompted kind. It's one thing to yell at a guy who almost hit you, but going nuts over every transgression, even the ones that don't really impact you, I don't know.

  2. Felkerino and I have had this conversation about being the bike police. I used to be more that way until I took the "it's just pavement" approach. Sure there are rules, but they are often loosely followed, and there are also things that are more norm-like and we all have somewhat differing ideas bout what those are. I will yell at people if they threaten my life. I also asked a guy why he ran in the bike lane for a mile because I really wanted to know and it was completely irritating, but generally I avoid being the bike police because I end up feeling icky and I don't think it helps make my commute any better or safer.