The Art of Paying Attention

The roads we want.  Photo by Lech Naumovich on Unsplash

Sadly, as a cyclist and a motorcyclist, the roads we want aren’t the roads we get. Rarely. Regardless of how early or late we head out the door to take part in our passion, we always end up sharing the road with those who are within the confines of their shiny metal boxes and their smart phones.

Those of us who take part in those two-wheeled activities have to, because of those inattentive nit-wits behind the wheel, have to ride with our heads on a swivel and be always aware FOR the driver of the 4-wheel types. That is, to see. We have to be their eyes as well as our own.

Smartphones hate road heat

Although we prepare and most of us conduct ourselves in the defensive manner when on the road, inevitably, some asshat will ruin your ride with the most inconsiderate actions that will have you screaming obscenities in their direction.

Such is the case on a recent bike ride after work. Sitting in a desk chair for 8 hours can get rather…. annoying and although I work from home, even before this covid crap started, getting out of the “office” is paramount for my mental and physical state. That is why I like these post working hours rides to clear my head, get the heart rate up (on my own terms), get that cardio, work the muscles and get that most missed item; Fresh air.

I usually get in 20 to 30 miles after work if the wind is agreeable and if actually start my ride before 5:30 p.m. and I don’t hit too many traffic lights. My “usual” loop, gives me all that I want from my rides, flat roads, hills, rolling terrain, descents, nice views and the occasional pot hole to avoid. I also get a variation of road surfaces to push me to go faster or relax. What’s also great about this loop is that I can make it longer or shorter just by adding a turn or removing a turn and still end up finishing on the same closing mile.

Sadly, this loop also includes interaction with those pesky humans and their automobiles we keep hearing about. And near interactions were to be had on this ride. My ride starts off with a nice straight road that slightly descends to sea level for 3 miles and at the end at a traffic light, I make a right and ride around a small neighborhood block that takes be back to the same traffic light where I make another right over a small bridge. This is all waterfront neighborhoods and eventually I will turn into this area as part of the loop.

It is nearly 6 p.m., and although the sun is low in the sky, it is warm and hitting me on my left side, not completely behind me though. So there is no glare oncoming drivers need to worry about, since the trees are creating very long shadows

I make the right turn into this area, generally heading east, on some rough pavement. Side Note: Who the hell is the nit-wit who picks the type of asphalt for roads and says “Let’s use this rough aggregate, it’s cheap, won’t last long and it destroy tires in no time. It’ll leave more tax dollars for a salary increase”. Bastards.  Not more than 1/4 mile into this neighborhood do I have a driver completely oblivious to my presence. As I approach an intersection I see the black Hyundai SUV at the stop sign on the left. I have no stop at the intersection so I continue at pace, right around 18 mph, into a headwind (ah, living near the ocean). As my front wheel passes the corner, the black SUV crosses right in front of me, a bike length in front of me. I estimate the woman’s speed at about 20.

The intersection… danger for who? Photo by Gervyn Louis on Unsplash

Think about that for a moment, I’m moving forward at 18 mph, that’s 26.4 feet per second!!! That means that at the moment that woman’s front bumper was even with my front wheel, my front wheels was roughly 7 feet away. By the time her back bumper was in front of my that distance was less than half that.

She was oblivious to my presence.

As a standard practice, I have a blinking white light on my handlebars and a blinking red light on my seat post. You would think that a blinking light would attract the necessary attention of anyone and for the most part it does.

I yelled an assortment of obscenities that would make a trucker blush and might actually be illegal in some countries, closing with “Open your f*%#$# eyes”! The woman hit her brakes (gee thanks), slowed and I could see her swinging her head around to see what the fuss was all about, but she never stopped.

As a motorcyclist, I likely would have turned around and gone after her and point out her error, give her a good scolding and maybe urinate on her rear wheel for good measure. In the past, I have done so, minus the urination, and most people, majority of which are women, had no idea what they had done. Boggles the mind.

It is why I enjoy highway riding versus local roads.

Fast forward 45 minutes later, I am in yet another neighborhood approaching another intersection. This time the white Honda is coming towards me and has his left signal on, indicating he is going to turn in front of me.  This is one of the most feared actions by motorcyclists as the vast majority of motorcycle crashes with other vehicles happen in this scenario.

Again, moving south at about 18 mph and I enter the intersection, slacker dude with baseball cap on backwards moves forward and turns directly in front of me less than a bike length away. With his head down in his smartphone.

Obscenities fly even more so than before and he didn’t even slowdown. Asshole.

How and why people are so oblivious to the world around them is beyond me. Sure the smartphone is to blame for a lot of it, but generally, it seems as if everyone in a car has no idea what is going on around them. They only see forward, barely. Mirrors? What are those?

I remember back when I was first learning to drive, in Driver Education, IN HIGH SCHOOL, we were taught that the eyes should be scanning everything, all the time. Left to right: Left mirror, forward, gauges, forward, rear-view mirror, forward, right mirror, forward. Notice how the eyes always look forward, notice how mirrors are always checked. I still drive like this, even on the motorcycle, the same thing: Mirror, forward, gauge, forward, mirror, forward. How freaking hard is that? Being aware of your environment is paramount when operating a vehicle. Conversely, being aware of your social media status while operating a moving vehicle, is not paramount.

Hands on the wheel please. Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

Now, we have the introduction of the “Self-Driving Death Machine….er…. car”. What the hell is going on here? Has our society become that lazy and self-absorbed that we have to turn over the operation of a vehicle to the vehicle itself? Are we that concerned about how many likes we get on our Tik-Tok videos, that we can’t even show the slightest interest in where we are going?

When I was a kid many years ago, we dreamed of getting our drivers license and our motorcycle license so we could hit the road and see the world. For some unfathomable reason, looking down is the new up, paying attention to what’s in your hand is more important than paying attention to the things that could kill you or you could kill if you’re NOT paying attention.

I wonder if boaters have to worry about people the same things we do out there?

What’s the answer? I don’t know. But putting driver education back into the schools might be a start. Or requiring aspiring drivers to take a week long class, where they must surrender their smartphones at the door. After three days of intense classroom instruction, only then will they get behind the wheel on a test track with armored vehicles and land mines. And as a closing gesture at graduation, offer them their diploma and smartphone at the same time and they get the crap slapped out of them if they reach for the smartphone first.

Slap Conditioning, I’m all for it. In fact, I think that should be publicly allowed. Anytime some driver does something horrifically stupid, the receiver of said stupidity should have the right to slap the offender. I think “Paying Attention” might be cool again.


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