ON THE AVENUES: In My Merry Oldsmobile.


“C’mon you stupid motherfucker, keep going – fuck that pussy bicycle rider.”

The voice emanating from behind the wheel of the spluttering, battered and duct-taped SUV sounded like a toxic cocktail of bubbling midsummer’s tar, job site mud, finely aged horse manure and industrial solvent.

I’d been casually waved through the intersection at the 4-way stop by the attentive fellow piloting the pickup in front of the SUV, managing to pedal only a few feet before the abrasive vowel movement commenced, punctuated by blasts on the horn, and quite likely to have included murky rim shots off a spittoon had someone thought to install one in the middle of the street.

At any rate, the furious driver passed up the opportunity to turn right and chase me down Culbertson, preferring to continue honking and screaming about those “fucking cunt bicycles” for a long block, until the obscenities became muffled by the tall brick walls of the old Robinson-Nugent building.

True story.

Wait – did I mention that the driver screaming at me was female? Alas, I’ve always had this effect on the ladies.

Welcome back, cyclist!

Less than 20 miles into the recent revival of a very small sliver of my former two-wheeled habit, my aching derriere may have been in pre-season scrimmage mode, but already New Albany’s internally-combusted denizens of non-calmed, automobile-centric streets were in peak mid-season blind rage.

It’s been quite a while, but there were occasions during my previous life on a bike when objects were thrown in my direction, and drivers displayed a nonchalant eagerness to run me off the road. Far worse has happened to others, as in this horrible account of automotive entitlement in an article about the way potential safety improvements are routinely blocked and averted by auto manufacturers.

The Life-Saving Car Technology No One Wants, by David Zipper (CityLab)

“Early in the morning of August 10, 2019, a man in a Dodge Charger drove along Miami’s MacArthur Causeway. Encountering traffic, he swerved onto the shoulder and accelerated to 100 miles per hour — more than double the speed limit. That’s when he slammed into a man riding his bicycle. The force of the impact was so powerful that the rider was decapitated. The driver had been inebriated at the time of the crash, according to police who spent five months investigating the hit-and-run.

“The cyclist’s death that night was one of an estimated 38,800 that occurred on American streets last year. Pedestrians and cyclists accounted for 8,800 of those fatalities — 23% of the total, up from 6,300 in 2010, when they comprised just 17%. During that period, fatalities for automobile occupants fell.

“In other words, America’s roads are getting safer if you’re inside an automobile, and more deadly if you’re outside of one.

Can someone help me understand exactly what it is about access to an automobile that brings out the very worst in people?

Two months ago when the peaceful and powerful Black Lives Matter protests began nightly in Louisville, I lost count of the simply stunning number of times that an on-line diatribe along the lines of “kill them all and let God sort them out” included a snarky reference to Greg Fischer as “Mayor Bike Lane.”

Admittedly, Fischer was flailing, although for polar opposite reasons. Still, just think about it for a moment.

There at the confluence of novel pandemic and historical racism, with fear, loathing and various viciously sociopathic buttons being pushed, ones dating back to the arrival of the first colonists in North America, the perennially weak-minded among us were frantically googling their own points of reference in search of opprobrium to heap on Fischer, and they landed almost immediately on bike lanes, wild-eyed and foaming at the mouth about the way these libtard obstacles to automotive pre-eminence ostensibly add one, maybe even two minutes to a typical trip across town by their car – perhaps even worse, compelling them to occasionally glance away from their mobile devices and pay attention to what they’re doing.

Again, the dulcet tones: “C’mon you stupid motherfucker, keep going – fuck that pussy bicycle rider.”

This is merely one manifestation of automobile supremacy, which not only is a form of imperialism (defined as “the practice, or advocacy of extending power and dominion”), but surely is the last remaining form of blatant imperialism almost entirely absent social stigma.

As a cyclist once noted, “We’ve gotta be perfect. If a negligent driver kills someone, people see it as a necessary evil. But if a cyclist runs a red light, or a scooter hops onto a sidewalk alongside a busy street, we are just jerks driving crazy little vehicles with no regard for the law.”

When Americans settle into their plush sofas on wheels — all of us, including me — our assumptions of acceptable behavior change every bit as radically as when we savage people on social media.

Imperialism? Very much so. When I drive, it must be recognized and wrestled to the floorboard every single mile. Such are the depths to which automobile supremacy has smothered us all, even those who know better.

Imperialism … because after all, space must be seized to accommodate cars at the expense of non-car users. We demand to warehouse our cars on public ground at no cost to ourselves. We expect cheap fuel and will support seemingly limitless violence (foreign wars, domestic economic coercion) in order to get it.

We’ll also go to any self-delusional length to characterize this addiction as freedom. The list of destructive behaviors is seemingly endless, and yet we’ve made automobile supremacy the basis of civilization at the present time.

To be sure, the first step toward improving conditions for non-drivers of any stripe (walking, biking, using wheelchairs, etc) would be an attitude adjustment on the part of drivers; with lobotomies too expensive, at least being subject to the sort of peer pressure that precludes most of us from urinating on the produce at the supermarket might be a nice start.

There are laws against the bladder hydration of cauliflower, and we could use more of those, too, as they pertain to driver behavior, but only if governmental officials accompany legislation (far-fetched, I know) with enforcement mechanisms … and yes, pie-in-the-sky hasn’t ever been quite this unlikely.

Come to think of it, there’s no way of knowing for certain that my verbal abuser on 8th Street wasn’t a government employee.

Am I right?

During my brief time returned to the saddle, there has been ample time to ponder the way so many Americans misunderstand the whole notion of a bicycle’s uses and utility. Take Nawbany, as the most convenient and representative example.

To survey the actions (and more importantly, non-actions) taken by municipal higher-ups for the past decade or more is to quickly see that as it pertains to their attitude toward bicycles, it’s as if none of them have ever been to a place in America or abroad where people use bicycles to commute and fulfill actual daily tasks (like they’d use a car to achieve), as opposed to riding a bicycle strictly as a recreational conveyance – often, by loading a bicycle onto a bike rack on a vehicle and driving to a place to ride it.

Conversely, in our planet’s genuinely functional bicycle-friendly cities, the idea is to connect one’s front door to a safe route to food, drink, shopping and a haircut in addition to accessing the recreational pathway.

Recall that almost all the pragmatic bicycle infrastructure suggested in Jeff Speck’s street grid plan was stripped from the final version. By equipping most of the historic downtown business district with east-west bike lanes, Speck aimed at helping residents living in the more densely populated districts inside the beltway to transport themselves to downtown amenities by bike instead of car.

It’s conceivable that our movers and shakers grasped this intent, although I doubt it. Simple non-comprehension fits Occam’s paradigm far more logically. Regardless, the conscious decision was made to not pursue genuinely multi-modal transport options, pushing bicycles to the recreational periphery of the city.

The most recent triumphant revelation is a plan to extend the Ohio River Greenway via the levee to the expensive little pocket park next to Silver Creek, where people can store their cars as they pretend to fish for toxic aquatic life while smoking cigarettes and drinking bad light beer.

It’d be a quarter-mile of path, maybe, as well as cute, albeit serving no real constructive purpose as it pertains to people who want to ride their bikes to connect from neighborhoods to the center, presumably because any allowance for the latter would inconvenience drivers. It makes no sense whatever, and I wish someone would explain it to me instead of refusing to discuss it.

However, I’m blackballed; dear reader, might you be acquainted with a journalist of the intrepid sort who might ask these questions of the powers that be?

If so, and if the questions actually are asked some sweet day, can you awaken me when the moment arrives?

I’ll be napping over by that 8th Street spittoon, bicycle chained dutifully to my ankle, waiting for that driver to come past again. She’s really getting an earful this time.

Recent columns:

August 6: ON THE AVENUES: Surrender.

July 30: ON THE AVENUES: Guys.

July 23: ON THE AVENUES: These overdue mask mandates should help us separate the bad actors from the good.

July 16: ON THE AVENUES: Daniil Kharms, Marina Malich, and writing for the drawer about nothing … pre-Seinfeld.