I dislike near death experiences, especially when I am the one near death, but Proverbs got it right; a kind word does turneth away wrath.
Fridays I usually do a two mile slog before heading to work. “Slog” as in slow jog; we can’t call what I do running anymore. Twenty minutes of knee grinding, ankle popping, foot flattening fun -0h! And don’t forget the occasional back pain!
I prefer to cycle but Friday is garbage day so the big bad garbage truck is prowling the neighborhood streets and since adding me to the mix is a recipe for disaster I usually run Fridays. But not this Friday.
Why did I choose to ride in my neighborhood on garbage day? Because I will be traveling for four days and the only aerobic exercise I will likely have available is running. So, knowing full well that the garbage truck and I really don’t play well together, I made a conscious decision to circle my street for half an hour.
My street is a .97 mile/1.56 kilometer loop that is really three blocks as two side streets effectively create three rectangles that make a loop not quite a mile long. If I turn right out of my driveway and travel counter-clockwise I encounter five intersections but no stop signs. This means that, other than one left turn, I have legal right of way the entire route. Of course, legal right of way has never stopped a collision from occurring, adherence to legal right of way is what prevents crashes. We’ll return to this in a bit.
I’m decked out in my cute little bicycle togs in preparation of starting my morning exercise when I hear the screech of brakes that accompanies garbage trucks at work. “Crap,” I utter.
“What?” Inquires my wife.
“Oh, nothing. I’m just going to go circle the block a few times and the garbage truck is out there. I hate to get in his way.”
“Oh. You’ll be fine. Have fun! Go fast!”
The ‘go fast’ is her pep talk reminding me that I am falling apart and she is not. My wife is aging nicely while I am getting old. We both know this but wisely I’m the only one who’s allowed to bring the subject up directly; she is required to be oblique.
I once loved to cycle but lately I love very little. Having everything I need in life save a purpose I do far too many things because I should rather than because I want to. My once strong passion for cycling has provided me with a stable of mostly unridden bikes. For my neighborhood ride I choose a chaise lounge- a recliner on wheels- aka my recumbent. It is comfortable and stable and a good tool for today’s goal of thirty minutes of accelerated heart rate. I coast to the end of my driveway, turn right and start peddling.
The goal is movement but with a short ride I make a conscious effort to work hard. A nice bench mark for a fat old man is to circle the block in less than three-and-a-half minutes. The air is pleasantly cool and I manage to complete four loops in 13:47, averaging 3:27 per lap. Hooray for me.
Thus far, the garbage truck and I have traveled in opposite directions but the route paradigm that allows the truck to be most efficacious and backtrack as little as possible has him weaving up and down the side streets, so though we have shared the road we have effectively not encountered one another to any significant degree. We are now traveling in the same direction.
I live in a gated community north of Tampa, Florida. The home owners association has many, many restrictions including a ban on street parking. Overnight parking of cars on the street is prohibited; cars are supposed to spend the night in garages or driveways. While this ban is not rigidly enforced it does prevent the street from being filled with parked cars on both sides. There is room for the truck and me to coexist peacefully but not excess room. Greater than usual caution is on the menu.
The garbage truck requires but one person to operate it. It has a large swing arm that reaches out and grabs our regimented, rectangular trash receptacles. The truck’s lag at each home is a scant few seconds and the driver only exits the truck for oddball items requiring hands on assistance.
I see the truck in the distance and know that I will be passing him soon. He comes to a lurching stop at virtually every home while I have no intention of stopping before my ride is complete. I slowly close the gap between us. He stops to make a pickup directly across from the final side street.
I know exactly what he will do next. He will roll forward one truck length, put the truck in reverse, back his unwieldy vehicle into the gap and again reverse course. I know that he will do this because I have seen him do so many times while out running.
Having seen him do this maneuver I am certain of four things: 1) I have plenty of time to get around him before he begins to back up, 2) I have right of way, 3) He will look carefully behind him before he starts to turn around and 4) he will yield right of way to me.
I am wrong on all four counts.
I start to pass his stopped vehicle on the left side and he begins to turn into the gap. I have two choices. Either turn hard to the left or smash into and likely be run over by the truck. I choose the first option.
My recumbent has a sternum high, easily manipulated handlebar. It is designed for comfort, not speed. I push hard on the left hand grip and pedal with as much power as my old man legs can furnish. Applying force to the handlebar in the opposite direction one wishes to turn is called counter-steering and it is very useful when pushing vehicles with two in line wheels to their performance limits. As I counter steer and pedal I am screaming something that sounds a lot like, “Fudging ship, fudging ship, fudging ship!” though those are not the exact words that are exiting my mouth.
The truck and I narrowly miss trying to occupy the same space at the same time. I make the turn and the driver slams on his brakes and peers out of his truck wide eyed. I am excited and full of adrenaline. The words from the driver are apologetic and sincere. My response is to tell him that he has scared the fudging ship out of me, or words to that effect. He assures me that he feels the same way. I insist that my fear was the greater and raise my hand to be high-fived as I pedal slowly by him. We slap palms and I continue on my way.
I knew the risk that I was taking when I passed him but I took it anyway. I had right of way; it was his responsibility to look and wait for traffic and he failed to execute that responsibility. Had he, through word or posture, indicated that the near collision was my fault I am certain that my adrenaline fueled angst would have have transformed to anger and he and I would have exchanged harsh words and I would then have gone on to report the incident to his superiors. The driver’s kind word did indeed turneth away my wrath.
I did four more laps. Despite the small detour and time lapse I managed to complete my eight laps in under twenty-seven-and-a-half minutes. Adrenaline can loan the weak great strength.
As I circled around my block the driver sat in his parked truck. To show solidarity and no hard feelings I waved as I went by. He sat in his stationary truck long enough for me to circle four times. I don’t know if he was that disturbed by my near death experience or if he had to fill out an incident report. Incident- not collision.
Life is full of choices. I chose to ride knowing that the garbage truck and I were not super compatible: To go around the truck even though I knew he would be backing up any second. I also chose to treat the near-miss, near-death experience as one of life’s lessons.
I think I’ll skip cycling when the garbage trucks are out. After all, just because one has a recipe for disaster that doesn’t mean that we have to prepare that dish regularly. Be safe out there!