Saturday, November 20, 2004

Say What?

Don’t you love it when they yell? Someone in a speeding car going by yells what sounds like “aileron!” or something and then rolls the window up.

“Broccoli stalk!”

“Inna Gadda Da Vida!”

What the hell are they saying?

There’s a little thing called the Doppler Effect. It makes sound do weird things when the source of the sound or the listener is moving at a high rate of speed. Add wind noise, motor noise and so many people’s mush mouth delivery. They only have a half a second to get their point across. Yet still they try.

Is it encouragement or criticism? Unless they accompany it with a digital gesture or a thrown object, I can’t tell.

Something about a person on a bike just says “captive audience” to these public speakers. They’re inspired to share something with the world just because they saw a cyclist.

“Albert egg-timer!”

“Get the fuzz off the toad!”

Now that last one I can decipher.

I would much rather hear a yell than a horn blast at close range. The automobile horn was designed to convey alarm and disapproval. It’s like a fanfare of trumpets to announce the arrival of a majestic middle finger. Horns are put on cars to tick other people off. We use them to anger the people who have angered us.

Thrown objects also send a message. Frequently the message is “Don’t quit your day job and sign up for pitching camp, Buttercup.” But the marksman intends to send more of a threat. Sometimes the missile connects, damaging the bicyclist as the thrower intended. Intent counts for a lot with me.

Motorist harassment seems to peak in the spring and fall. In spring, cyclists are out there retraining the motoring public to expect to see people on bikes. In the fall, frustrated teenagers are back in school, days are getting shorter, schedules are getting more full as school and business settle down after summer’s hiatus.

Fall is the time for broken glass. I attribute this to young adults chafing against the restraints that school and work bring after summer’s freedom. In all my years of riding I have always seen some kind of increase in the number of broken bottles in September.

You can do a lot of amateur anthropology and sociology from a bike. The human parade goes by in all its uninhibited glory. You can step aside from the hurtling roller coaster of tailgating maniacs and just watch them work out on each other. Feel the love.

Cyclists have figured out that the journey is the destination. Do you really get more out of life if you have to get somewhere as fast as you can so you can hurry up and do something there so you can get back out on the road and hurry somewhere else? And all you leave behind you, echoing in the breeze is the mysterious word “aileron.”

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