Thursday, February 23, 2006

Contrasts. A day of opposites.

The bike in it's natural habitat!

Listen to the beatings of the drums. The blog drums are speaking of Spring. The drums sound enthusiastic. It would seem we are ready for a change. Winter weather can present great adversity. We have had our chance to test ourselves. Pass or fail we have gauged where we are. Barring a special weather event this test is completed. It is time for a change. Spring and summer will bring new possibilities.

I have been thinking today of contrasts. The difference between cold and sun. All winter I have been the fighter pilot. Huddled in my cockpit doing battle. My concentration has been intense. Conditions have commanded my attention. Now it is getting warmer. The rain has let up for now. I am able to relax more. I think of the contrast. Today I am no longer the warrior. Today I am a pleasure boat captain. My posture on the bike has changed. Where before I was huddled now I sit up more. I am more stretched out. I am more at ease. Like a man sprawled on a deck chair in the sun. The upright posture makes the bike feel different. When I huddled I moved more with the bike. Today the bike moves under me. It is a different perspective. I feel more the smoothness of my steed. Shifting is now a series of quiet snicks. I hear less the roar of the wind at the front of the bike. I hear more the quiet growl from the exhaust. There is no stinging rain. I open my visor and breath fresh air. The weather itself is a contrast today. This morning was 42 degrees and clear. The ride home is cloudy with sprinkles.

There is a contrast in commuters. A study in differing attitudes toward the journey. I offer this story as an example. One commuter is on a bike. As you have guessed it is me. Another commuter is in a mini-van. It is a Chrysler Voyager. The van is the color of a green martini olive. Somebody in the world must like this color. The driver is a large man. Not so much tall as heavyset. He has a large head with a big nose. His lower lip hangs slack. Perhaps it is paralyzed. I think maybe years of mouth breathing have caused atrophy. I do not claim to be handsome myself. However, ugly is easily hidden by a colorful helmet. Helmets serve many functions. The man may not be a commuter. I shall call us travellers.

We are on the Interstate. My pattern is now the Interstate in the morning. The ride home is on back roads. I have joined the freeway in the usual place. Shortly afterwards the mini-van blows by me. Feeling playful I roll on and follow. In no time we are behind other traffic. I hang back and enjoy my trip. The warm weather allows for more sightseeing. I watch a hawk swoop and come up with a mouse. It is a great morning to be riding. The traveller on the bike is having fun. There is no stress for him.

The traveller in the mini-van does not share my good mood. The man is tailgating the vehicle ahead. There are frequent darts to the left and right. The driver seems to be looking for openings. Once in a while the man whips into the right lane. I know his plan is to slingshot. This man has issues besides his weight and ugliness. Gauging distances is not his strong suit. One of two problems surface. Number one: there is not as much space as he thought. Number two: there is a lack of intestinal fortitude. I will sum it up here. Tender readers shut your eyes a minute. The driver is a man with no depth perception and no balls.

You may open your eyes, again.

I am totally amused. The driver finds he cannot pass. I still have the large gap. It is simple space cushioning. The mini-van comes back in front of me. No problem, this is a fun show. Soon the man tries it again. The same result is achieved. Maybe I should say the lack of result. Over a course of thirty miles I am behind the van. We are at or below the speed limit. Finally the way is clear. Now the mini-van driver has clear space. He is one who lives in the left lane. I stated earlier that I felt playful. Playfulness now turns to impishness. I decide to add to this traveller's stress.

The driver is committed to the left lane. We are close to my exit. The road is clear for a while. I move up on the right. It looks like I am going to pass. Suddenly I slow and do a double-take at the front corner of the van. I speed up as if to pass again. Then I slow and look once more. The driver has noticed my behaviour. I wondered if he had the ability. I point at his front wheel. The one on the right side. The one furthest away from his line of sight. The other wheels he can see. Either out the window or in mirrors. This one is hidden to him. He meets my gaze with a slack-eyed stare. What am I pointing at? I point again, a little more emphatically. I make gestures that are vague. I do not want to be specific. Still the slack-eyed stare.

I tire of the game. We have been vulnerable beside him. It is time to move away. I shrug my shoulders as if giving up on him. I shake my head and wick it up. It has become tiring playing mind games with an unarmed opponent. A mile more is my off-ramp. As I slow the van comes by. I see he is driving more slowly. Perhaps next week he will realize he has been toyed with.

The contrast is obvious. Two travellers covering the same distance in the same time. There is a huge difference in their experiences.

Tonight I have included a picture. This is something I seldom do. Steve always has a picture of the lovely Vespa. Gary is using more pictures. I do my own thing. I am a "rugged individualist". I have decided to be an individual with the group. So here is a picture. This is where I went for lunch. Coffee and a sandwich. The turkey pesto sandwich is very good. Katie did the caption. She laughed when I got an award. I was the Starbucks "employee of the month". I do not work at Starbucks. Katie and I have different opinions. She claims I navigate by Starbucks. This is true. I don't call Starbucks our "natural habitat". I consider this to be the open road. The bikes and I are wandering creatures. The Starbucks are just watering holes along the way.

This was to be the end of the contrasts story. Fortuity delivered a gift to me. Did you see the Hummer? I could not help taking advantage. I have mentioned this before. A stunning contrast in social responsibility. The bike and the Hummer. So we parked beside it and took a picture. While eating I tried to spot the driver. None fit the "stereotype". As I was leaving the driver exited also. The young man did not look the part. Just the opposite, actually. He had frizzed blonde hair. Polar fleece and cargo pants were his clothing. Sandals were on his feet. I would have pegged him for an activist. One who wants to protect nature. Not to be a participant in its destruction. Another contrast to ponder.


Steve Williams said...

I'd like to think this is the bike's natural habitat but more often I see them congregating at other sorts of watering holes. For me a Coffee Shop is a natural stop having given up pursuit of those other kinds years and years ago.

As always, your perceptions of what is going on during the rides and especially with other drivers is uncanny. When I ride all those cages are just hulks hurtling down the highway like cows to the milk parlor---sort of mindless and intentional at the same time.

I can't figure out how you see so much. It's all I can do to consider them as potential death gifts...

I love reading your stuff Dan. It makes me think of so much more than I usually find myself.


irondad said...


You're right. A coffee shop seems a natural stop. I know what you mean about the other "watering holes". See it all the time. There are groups who plan organized rides that include one or more of them. Really bothers me.
Thanks for the kind words. My grandfather instilled in me the trait of looking beyond the surface. He was a cop for a long time. Law enforcement reinforced it. You look at subtle facial changes, body posture, etc. Coming onto a potentially dangerous scene it is critical to really see the picture. Missing little things can literally get you killed. Once I had a stand-off with an armed young man. We both had guns out. Because I was what I call a "trained observer" I was really seeing what was happening and not just going by an impression. I was the briefest look of fear cross his face. Instead of shooting I talked to him and he surrendered. Good ending to what could have been much worse.

I try to pass that on to other riders. There is a big difference in looking and observing. What we see with our eyes is interpreted by our brains based on our past experience and prejudices. With training we learn to see the truth, not the impression.

Interesting term "death gifts".


Mad said...

We have bike meets here and they are invariably at pubs but there has grown up such a strong ant-drink-drive culture that I've never seen a biker drink anything stronger than shandy at one.

I think there is something to be said for the idea that as riding is more demanding mentally and dextrously than driving that the blood alcohol limit should be even lower for bikers than drivers.

irondad said...


what's "shandy"?

Mad said...

lol. I need to link to an online translator!

Shandy is a mixture of beer and lemonade. I prefer it made with bitter and lemonade but most people have lager and lemonade. It's given to kids over here and is rather good on a summer's day. Oh and while I think about it I don't mean the stuff you call lemonade but rather the clear sparkly 7up kind of stuff.

Was it Churchill who said "Britain and America are two countries seperated by a common language"?