Friday, September 2, 2011

Aren't You Afraid of the Traffic?

As I was heading out for my bike ride this morning I encountered another tenant in the hallway on the main floor of our building. She is very tiny, much older than me, (as are all the other tenants in the building except Heidi), and always ready with a friendly greeting. When I see her, she is usually walking up and down the hallway getting her exercise (using a walker).

I greeted her with a warm, "Good Morning" and she responded in kind. Then she looked at me, smiled and asked, "Going out for your exercise?"


She looked me in the eye and very seriously asked me, "Do you ride on Portage Avenue?" (We live a very short distance from Portage Avenue which is a very busy east-west route in Winnipeg).


"Aren't you afraid of the traffic?"


"I guess you're used to it."

"Well, yeah." I shrugged my shoulders, not knowing what else to say.

She looked at me with questioning eyes trying to understand. "But those drivers are crazy!"

Trying to make light of it I responded, "I have a large presence. Drivers make an effort to avoid hitting me so they don't seriously damage their vehicles."

She failed to see the humour in what I said but another fellow walking by started grinning and chuckling as he carried on with whatever he was doing.

We wished one another a pleasant day and went on our separate ways.

As I was riding, her question, "Aren't you afraid of the traffic?" kept running through my mind. I thought about it and asked myself, "Why not?"

I suppose I am used to it, but I think it's more than that. I have always ridden a bicycle since I learned ride at age 5 or 6.  For most of the 1980's and 1990's I didn't own a car. So I either rode my bike or I rode the bus. I preferred the bike over using public transit. There was a stretch of about 6 or 7 years where I rode my bike summer and winter. When my kids were small I used to take them both on my bicycle with me. I had one child seat (purchased in Germany) mounted on the front of my bike and another behind me. I rode in traffic all the time, even downtown. It really didn't seem like a big deal to me.

I used my bike to go grocery shopping, and when I had my own business tuning & repairing pianos I often rode my bike to my appointments. I once carried a complete piano action home on my bike to work on it and then carried it back to put it back into the piano. I still like to use my bike to go shopping and run errands. I have baskets on the back of my bike that allow me to transport a fair size load. When I was in high school one of my friends and I would go for lengthy rides on summer evenings. We rode out to Bird's Hill Park; we rode to Lockport a few times and generally just explored the city for hours on end. My father often had me ride out to our church cemetery in Springstein , Manitoba to look after the flowers he had planted on my still-born sister's grave. The longest bicycle trip I ever took in one day was when I rode from my paternal grandparents' home in Hanover, Germany to my other grandparents' home in Hamburg, Germany; a total distance of somewhere between 180 and 190 kilometers. Come to think of it, I went on a lot of interesting and sometimes lengthy bike rides when I was in Germany in 1973/74. The wildest experience was making a wrong turn and ending up on the Autobahn (no bikes allowed). I actually did that twice. There were a lot of horns blaring at me until I found an exit to get off the motorway. In some ways it was an exhilarating experience. Although I've had some moments on the road that had my heart beating much faster than normal, riding in heavy traffic never bothered me.

There were a couple of years in the late 1990's where I didn't ride a bike because my bike had broken down from so much use and was no longer worth fixing. It was cheaper to buy a new bike. I had gotten a car which I needed for my work and I saw no point in buying a bicycle; until my kids came to visit me one summer. (They lived in Mississauga, Ontario with their mother from 1996 until 2001). Then I bought 3 bikes so we could go riding together. Last summer I only went bike riding once. I had injured my knee and the one time I went for a ride I didn't think I was going to make it home. Turns out I had torn cartilage in my knee and I spent most of the summer and early fall on crutches. My knee has healed up and now I ride my bike again.

When I was younger I didn't worry about traffic - I just rode! I still don't worry about traffic but am far more cautious and aware of what vehicles are doing around me. I shake my head at the rants by cyclists and motorists that are often in the newspaper. Some people go so far as to say that bicycles shouldn't be allowed on the road. Some cyclists complain that motorists are a menace. I think everyone should take a hard look at themselves and what they are doing.

I ride differently than I did when I was younger. Physically I am very out of shape so I don't tear along the street as fast as I can go. I also have a healthier respect for the risks of riding my bike on busy roads. When I ride I focus on what's going on around me. I don't listen to music. I try to anticipate what other people on the road are going to do. In my experience I find most motorists are courteous and respectful and give me room. I try to be courteous and respectful in return. Occasionally I share the road with people who don't seem to have a clue about anything around them, They just seem to be on auto-pilot, their minds somewhere else. I simply try to stay out of their way and watch that they don't cut me off or run me off the road. Every once in a while I have to deal with a motorist that is just nasty. They're often road hogs who deliberately leave me no room on the road. I just let them go. Even if I catch up to them at a traffic light I stay behind them. If I'm patient enough they will soon be so far ahead of me that I no longer have to deal with them. I have used the sidewalk when there were too many potholes in the narrow space motor vehicles allow me on the road but I try to keep that to a minimum. I strive to stay calm and  relaxed but I have to confess that the occasional colourful word does get past my teeth and lips. But I don't yell or make rude gestures at motorists. That's just dumb! And it could result in some undesirable consequences.

Maybe I've gotten a little wiser as I have gotten older.

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