Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

people who should wear helmets -- a commuting vignette

who knew that lawrenceville would be ten times more dangerous, and ten times more entertaining, to negotiate of a morning rush? trying to keep moving through town is a pretty engaging and scary enterprise. i'll be a better rider, or a severely injured one, pretty quickly.

this morning, some jackass came racing, just ahead of me, out of the Rite Aid parking lot just past 40th. he was helmetless, bagless, in low gear on a low-end mountain bike, pedaling furiously ahead of me but remaining on the sidewalk. i passed him initially, but at an intersection a block or so later at which i prudently slowed he rocketed across the street, handicap ramp to handicap ramp, and thereafter jumped on and off the sidewalk at will, as i lingered a steady twenty to thirty yards back. the pattern seemed to be that as soon as any trouble appeared to be developing on the side of the road, he'd hop to the sidewalk in hope of bypassing it at furious speed. an interesting recipe, especially later when a car inching to the right sent him up on the sidewalk, where he was forced nearly to stop by that same car. entering a parking lot.

we ran that way for a while, me patiently on the road taking an average morning's minor risks -- those that traffic renders all but impossible to avoid -- but mostly holding my place with the cars, hanging out, enjoying the cool breeze while he frenetically scurrying in and out of danger and i looked on.

then at 32d street he found daylight, took up some space on the right side of the pavement, and dropped his hands and slouched, still pedaling chaotically, in a parody of hands-free relaxation. i watched with a degree of fascination and stomach-twisting horror as he approached and entered the intersection (a fairly busy one in the morning with a pretty crappy line of sight to the left, where most of the traffic enters) at suicidal, or at least oblivious speed, hands dangling at his side, against the light.

i credit him with a great deal of coordination in rocketing forward to find his brakes when i was all but certain he was about to get t-boned by an understandably surprised driver in a chevy. he managed to find the brakes, however, and lock up, crabbing to a near stop a few feet in front of the car's bumper, which in stopping had held up a number of other cars and nearly caused at least one other accident further back in the line of traffic.

a passenger two cars back leaned out the window to hurl a choice -- and deserved -- epithet. he then looked to his right and spotted me, out of the saddle, erect and alert with vicarious adrenaline, standing nearly still at the thick white line stop line, watching the unfolding scene with a combination of humor and nausea. momentarily rocking back to hold balance as i eyed the passenger, i smiled as if to say, "that guy's got nothin' to do with me, bub." i think he understood.

perhaps two blocks later, my steady cadence as i cautiously centered myself in the left hand lane on Penn steadily propelled me past our little friend in the wife-beater. i didn't see him again.


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