Today, after about two years in Los Angeles, I’m retiring my bike helmet. I have biked almost twenty miles to work each weekday in the City of Angels. I suppose they call it the “City of Angels” because “City of Potholes and Horrible Drivers” doesn’t look as good on the bumper sticker of the guy cutting you off as he blindly swerves into In-N-Out while texting.
As I hang up my helmet I’d like to… well, first I’d like to clean it. This thing smells horrible. How do you wash a helmet? Is THAT what Helmut Lang does? Washus helmuts? But after I do that I’d like to look back at some of the things I’ve learned as a biker in the country’s most car-centric city.
1. Drivers hate bikers. It’s Us vs. Them out there and I don’t know why. Yes, we bikers run some red lights and yes, we sometimes swerve to miss a giant pothole or an opening car door, but you are IN A STEEL BOX ON WHEELS. If I’m on a bike and make a mistake, I’m eating pavement. So try and take it easy on the “scaring bikers” to teach them a lesson or whatever you are trying to do when you gun your motor past us or purposely drive really close to us, trying to freak us out. This isn’t Death Race. It’s not even the lesser 2008 remake. (Sorry, Jason Statham. I love you, man but c’mon…)
2. Drivers are terrified of bikers. The odd flip side to drivers’ hate is the fact that you are terrified of us. And maybe that’s where the hate comes from: your insecurity around us. You treat us like a physically disabled person you just met and are terrified to look in the eye. You hang behind us for blocks, too scared to drive around at a safe distance and pleasant speed. You don’t understand us. I’m not going down La Brea at 25 miles an hour because I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s going to be OK. Just drive like a sane, defensive driver and we’ll all get along fine.
3. Drivers are selfish. In everything you do, you think of yourself first. Why? What happens when you open that door and adjust that mirror? I’m honestly curious. Because every day I see you run yellow (let’s be honest, red) lights then honk at someone in the crosswalk for having the audacity to be there. You cut people off and yell at THEM! You sneak down a lane you know is closing ahead just to get six cars ahead of other drivers. Why do you think you are better than everyone else? Why don’t the rules of decency exist for you when you are in your car? Is that the stuff you want to teach your kids?
4. Use your goddamn turn signal. If there is one thing that drivers could do to cut down on accidents, near-accidents and dodges with other cars and bikers, it is that little stick attached to your steering wheel. (No, not that one. That’s the wipers. No, not — Forget it. I’ll just show you. Right here. The turn signal.) You must, somewhere deep down in your brain, realize that other people on the road have no idea when you are going to turn, right? You yell at other people when they don’t use theirs but then you don’t either. It’s so simple. It’s right there and takes almost zero effort. Just click the stick up or down when you want to turn. Not as you are doing it, not after you do it. At least a few seconds before you do it. Not just on your “big turns.” Every time. When you switch lanes. When you are in a turn only lane. Even when you think it’s obvious to everyone that you are going to turn. Let the rest of us whose lives depend on it know what you are thinking. And then, for the love of God, turn the damn thing off. You’re not a grandfather (apologies to all the grandfathers on Thought Catalog).
5. Drivers are like dogs. My dog was the nicest, most timid and sweet creature I’ve ever known. But get her in the car and she barked and played tough with other dogs walking on the street. Same thing with drivers. Most of you think you are invincible and untouchable in your car. But remember, I’m on a bike. And LA traffic sucks. I’m going to catch up. And then I can just pull up and you have to confront me like a human being. It’s embarrassing to see you so cowered and scared. Don’t act like an unreachable asshole when you have the chance. Don’t act like you are a god because you’re driving a BMW. Or a Ford Fiesta, for that matter. It’s embarrassing.
OK. That is all. I just bought a car so I’ll see you on the streets. Just a heads up: I’ll be the one swerving into In-N-Out from the far left lane.