View Full Version : Pedal power!

06-26-2007, 01:01 AM
O! What an exhilerating bikeynight.

After a relatively uneventful half-hour ride from Beaverton -- my pen ran out of ink after a modicum of progress on the daily crossword -- I alight MAX at SW 18th Avenue. It's about 9:45 PM. The baseball game across the street is in the late innings. A lot of families are getting on the train here.

I'm clumsy and it takes me a few minutes to reattach my pannier, remount my two headlights Blinky and Ogly. Still I blast through the lights along the tracks on Yamhill Street and pass that train at the next station at 10th. Quotidian, but still evokes a satisfied swell.

I continue downhill along the tracks, through the signals timed for 20 MPH, and I pass the Yellow Line train entering SW 4th. The Yellow diverges north from the mainline and stops a mile from my house. Riding it means I don't have to climb a slope that's either short and steep or gentle but endless, depending on which line of longitude I choose.

In a discussion this winter, a bikey friend told me she hates the bike-train combination. I had found it convenient then; but having gotten physically stronger and inured to negotiating city traffic, I'm now of liker mind. Cycling's a rush. It's a bummer to cede control, to wait, to go slow. Whatsmore, once I resume pedaling, I'll find my legs got tight and sore.

I decide to meet the Yellow Line at its last downtown station. It will maximize my time on the saddle. It still lets electricity drive most of the hard travel.

I am in the right lane northbound on SW 2nd Avenue. Again, I'm keeping in time with the greens. I approach a crappy sedan in which Michael Landon might have cruised that famous highway, as foreshadowed in song by AC/DC. The signal turns green; the car goes. Next signal, the car doesn't go for a few seconds. I have to brake. When I cut to the left to pass, that heavenly auto just then proceeds. I resume tracking in the middle of the lane. My net movement is a quick erratic jackknife. I'm annoyed.

Through the next light, and the car slows down. The driver flicks out a lit butt or... CLIKITCLAKITACLUNCHITACLIK! The fuse finishes and the firecracker explodes. The sound shocks me and the light stings my eyes. I am righteously indignant.

I bust ass. Hard as I can. After them. Off with their heads.

There are no traffic lights where SW 2nd curves left and the street names transition from types of tree to city founders. You can't see Burnside Street until you're almost upon it. The signal there does not always sync with the grid because it's a two-way arterial. "You better hope you have a green light at Burnside!"

I doubt the occupants of the car heard what I said, save my voice's timbre. But damned if the sight of my headlights didn't spook them like the grill of a truck with a pissed dittohead at the clutch. They accelerate. They establish a few yards' distance. I trail them under a yellow light at Burnside. Two silhouettes shrinking away.

They can't continue this fast without hitting a red at the next light at Everett. From the right lane, they corner left onto the side street of NW Couch. By the time I make that turn, I see them at the end of the block. They turn right onto NW 3rd. Wrong way on a one way! And I'm not going to follow them that way.

I could absolutely boast that I had them scared shitless. If that's all I accomplished tonight, then I'd be right to be pleased. At that moment, though, I am disappointed with myself for failing to keep pace.

I continue on Couch to 5th. I have no chance to catch up if I follow their trail. 5th is the next legal southbound avenue, and there's a parking lot on the north block there, so maybe I can catch site of them and parallel them.

Do I see them? Yes. They've turned down 5th. They are pinned in by a lane closure (more MAX tracks to come!) and there are no intervening side streets. I have them. I think I will just catch their license plate number and get somewhere safe. No! Lo! There is actually a bicycle rent-a-cop at the corner. Dead to rights.

"Those guys threw a firecracker at me."

"Which guys?"

"Those guys." Actually, I have no idea whether I am pointing to the right car until it approaches the corner.

The occupants are two blond teenagers. If they are not related, then their grandparents must have arrived on the same Norwegian wagon train.

The driver says he's sorry. He sounds sincere.

"It was a scary thing to do," I say.

"Sounds like a stupid thing to do," bike cop says.
"Yeah, we're stupid teens." Though the statement smacks of bathos (bathetic!), the kid sounds really regretful. The passenger is silent. Maybe he was never scared of me and doesn't regret a thing.

When I realize my headlamps are in the kid's eyes I turn my front wheel askew. I give him a standard bikey speech. You threw a firecracker at me and that's bad enough, but what really scared me is the possibility that you'd do something more. I'm really vulnerable when I'm on this bike and you're in a car.

I turn around and leave the scene. I feel satisfied but not quite at ease. I still believe there's a slice of possibility they'll try to find me and do that something more to me. I want to get somewhere safe quick.

I book it to Old Town station at NW 1st and Everett. I'm fueled by adrenaline. Or maybe I still have true biodiesel in the tank. Commuting on a partially-loaded touring bike will do things for you. Walking into my math lecture today, first of the summer, possibly every girl glanced at my legs. (It's math, so there aren't many.) On the other hand, I have no memory of what route I took to Old Town.

At Old Town: There's that Yellow Line train, just leaving its previous station under the bridge.

I did all that and I still made the train. As you diagram this story, mark that as the climax.

The denouement: Know that my safety was my first thought at all times. It was downtown in the evening. It was busy and the streets are slow. I know the area well. I maintained a special awareness of my immediate surroundings. I resolved to stay in BACK of the vehicle at all costs. I planned no confrontation; get the license plate number and go. Yeah, I probably wouldn't report it -- no confrontation -- but the dudes would know I got their plates.

There's a line of thought in our community (such a rich bike community here that it has lines of thought!) holding that because we are vulnerable when we cycle, we must always genuflect, even in the face of threats and gestures of violence. I've written to demonstrate a way we can obtain justice in such conflicts with other road users, directly, non-violently, and constructively.

Jonathan Maus
06-26-2007, 07:34 AM
thanks for sharing your story, but please don't use words like motherf***ers in your posts. (I have edited that word out of the original title of this thread).

i know you mean well, but i don't feel comfortable with that.