The Two Most Important Words in Biking Today
I don’t hate cars. I don’t hate the heavy old Volvo that drove me to the hospital to deliver my first son, the oversized SUV that took me to birth my second son, or the big new SUV that helped rush him and me to the emergency room two years later when he cut the top off his finger. I don’t hate the cars that have delivered me safely to happy events, helped me move, taken me to far-flung weekends of skiing, and hiking, and even antiquing cross country. I don’t hate cars.
And yet, I sort of do. I hate the car that killed my little brother when I was six and he was four. I hate the vehicle that killed Katie Rickson last week as she rode home from Portland State University. I hate the cars that drive too fast and kill people and the cars that idle too long and spew their nasty stink constantly into the cool NW air. I do hate cars, too.
How to reconcile the not-hate with the hate? Every day when my son and his dad get out on their bikes in the morning, I call out “Cycle safely!” and close my eyes and draw light, white silhouettes around the two of them as they set out. Every day (or so) I call out to my elder son as he hastily (always hastily) pulls his bike from the shed, “Where’s your helmet?” and help him find it. Everyday I get on my bike and roll away from my house and hope that it will be a day that neither I nor anyone I know will have a bad encounter with cars.
There are no guarantees. Now every day I also think of Katherine Rickson, crushed and caught under her own bicycle, ending her life on a small patch of road I cross each time I’m downtown. And now every day my husband thinks of his colleague Josh, who barreled down a hill in a helmet, overcorrected when applying force to his spanking new disc brakes, and now lies at OHSU, breathing on his own but in a coma-like state.
Not every day, but some days, I think what it would be like to have an adult brother.
And the only way I can make sense of it all, to not grow too afraid to get on my bike, to not give up and give in and buy some supposedly safe steel-reinforced old or new Volvo, is to summon the two words most important words in biking. “Thank you,” I call out, loudly, as a big SUV stops for me and an old man’s hand waves me across the intersection. “Thank you,” I wave at the car that patiently stops and stays and waits until all the other cars stop and wait so that my son can roll his bike across afternoon traffic on our way home from school. “Thanks alot,” I’ll mutter, ruefully, as a car pulls too far past the stopping line and into my road space before it sees me and actually comes to a full halt.
These thank you’s are not to a benevolent God that has thus far spared me from serious accident injuries (though if he or she is up there watching over me, I’m thankful for that, too). These thanks are something much more banal and yet much more important. We all want a safe world, all of us, a world where kids get to school alright and get home alright, too, where dads and moms who leave for work in the morning come home safe that night.
Since there are cars and there are bikes, and there are pedestrians, too, thank you are the magic words fostering accommodation in building the world we all want. Not just ‘thank you for not killing me’ but ‘thank you for accommodating me’. Hopefully I can return the favor.