In lore and film, if not in reality, White Panel Trucks are the devil. As people who own or drive full-size vans that lack windows south of the two front seats are the rapists, kidnappers and, crazed bomb-carrying-terrorists of many a movie (as well as a few real-life incidents) it’s easy to understand why I felt a touch of trepidation when said vehicle passed me as I cycled along a back street, slowed, pulled over, rolled down the driver side window and the driver extended a hand that motioned me to come hither. Laughing to myself I thought, “Isn’t this exactly what my mother warned me about when I was a youngster?”
Though thoughts of psychopathic, Neo-Nazi, “It puts on the lotion or it gets the hose,” rapist-kidnappers-murderers flitted through my mind my real fear was that the driver would ask me for directions. Even though I was 200 metres from the bicycle shop where I have worked since December 2017 I still have no idea what lies where in the environs surrounding 1377 NW Maynard Road, Cary, North Carolina and I felt certain that he’d ask me a question that would stump me. (Yeah, yeah, it’s 2020, who asks for directions anymore? Well, more people than you’d think and my twenty-eight years of driving experience before Google Maps existed has given me ample experience with being completely incapable of providing directions to wayward wanderers to reinforce my certainty that any inquiry concerning the locale of XYZ would result in me declaring, “Idaknow!”)
One of my mother’s favorite expressions was, “Discretion is the better part of valor,” but as my wife will tell you I’ve never been very discrete so in response to the drivers twirling, come hither, Medusa fingers I pulled up next to the full-sized van and stopped a suitable Social Distance pair of metres, aka six feet, away.
Inside the van a younger than I, but still middle-aged white man, emitted the words, “Hey, hey,” from his unmasked maw as he pulsated his left hand quickly toward and away from me, “hey,” he added, completing his trinity of staccato single syllables, “sorry to pull you over. I just wanted to know if, if, you know? If you’ve heard about the guy who died while wearing a face-mask while running? He like, went for a two mile run and like died because of lack of oxygen so, so, I just wanted to make sure you knew, ya know? About the masks? I mean, I’m not anti-mask! I wear a mask in public! I just, I just wanted you to know that you probably shouldn’t wear one when you, you know? Exercise?”
Understanding immediately that the driver had stopped out of concern for my well-being and now faced a possible backlash from a face-mask extremists I responded with, “Ah, no, no I hadn’t heard that, but it’s okay, I’m not really exercising. I’m just test riding a bike? I work at the bike shop right behind us?”
“Yeah? Yeah? Okay, okay,” he replied quickly, still seemingly in distress as he continued on his mission of mercy and edification. “I love bikes! I love riding mine, I just, I just, I just wanted you to know? To be safe? About the masks and exercise, ya know?”
“Thank you,” I replied, nodding, “I appreciate it, but I’m really not exercising. I’m just test riding a bike. I work like, literally a tenth of a mile from here and I’m just out test riding. I rode to work with no mask on this morning like I do pretty much every day, so it’s cool. I appreciate you looking out for me.”
“Okay. Okay, good. I just saw you and thought about the guy having a heart attack because he couldn’t get enough oxygen with his mask on and I wanted, I wanted, well, you know. To make sure you were safe.”
“I do know. Thanks. I appreciate the warning.”
“Okay. Alright. Cool. Have a good day!”
“You too. Be safe.”
“Yeah! You too.”
I greatly appreciated the driver’s intention. I cycle seven days a week, twelve months a year and while I follow COVID protections like wearing a face mask, keeping Social Distance, and washing my hands far more frequently than I did prior to February of this year I do not wear a mask when cycling on the mean suburban streets of Cary, North Carolina. I googled my White Panel Van’s driver’s contention concerning heart attacks and exercise while wearing face-masks and the correlation was pretty sketchy. The CDC states:
People who are engaged in high intensity activities, like running, may not be able to wear a cloth face covering if it causes difficulty breathing. If unable to wear a cloth face covering, consider conducting the activity in a location with greater ventilation and air exchange (for instance, outdoors versus indoors) and where it is possible to maintain physical distance from others.
I also got a kick out of my benefactor telling me he’s not anti-mask because face masks are mandatory in Raleigh and Cary, North Carolina. Sad world when we have to worry that doing the right thing such as looking out for one another can be viewed as a political statement rather than a testament and act of love and humanity.
Keep riding and stay safe!