Pearls Before Swine (PBS) cartoonist Stephan Pastis likes to make fun of cyclists; and why wouldn’t he? We’re easy targets.
Though I cycle a lot I have very little in common with Jeff, the intolerant, egotistical cyclist in “PBS.” He’s fit, lean and fast, while I’m old, slow and crass. While I’ll never be Jeff, there is some overlap between Jeff’s feelings of smug superiority and my own. I’m not fast but I am a bike commuter.
“So smell me!” as my mama used to say.
There are dozens of great reasons to cycle for transportation but today I’m going to focus on the mea culpa factor. I was brought up Roman Catholic. Pre Vatican II, say the Mass in Latin, self-denial and mortification Roman Catholic. If there’s one thing we old-school RC’s know it’s how to suffer, and what’s the point of suffering if you don’t put on a show?
Ever see people self-flagellate? Probably Catholics. How about those leg straps with the hooks that dig into your flesh? Catholic! And, like the Pharisees, we suffer not just to save our souls, but to save yours too! Anybody could go and do penance in solitude but it takes a certain arrogance to do it in public!
And what, pray tell, does any of this have to do with bike commuting? Usually nothing. Bike commuting is a far more pleasant means of getting to and from work than most, but in adverse weather conditions bike commuting can equal a self-denial and mortification renaissance. Today was an adverse weather day.
I have sworn a self-flagellating, mea culpaing, self-denying and mortification oath: I will only let inclement weather keep me from riding my bike to work if I deem the threat to my safety greater than the reward. That pretty much limits my no bike days to icy roads, riding in the rain at night or visibility limited to less than 100 yards. If I have to go to work, I’m a gonna ride and today’s 100% chance of rain was certainly not going to stop me!
This a.m. I slipped out of my garage to the lightest of mists and rode into work without feeling like a fish in a pond. I mean, sure it was raining, but not much! Not hard! Coming home in the afternoon the skies were dripping but I was still fine. I have bright flashing lights front and rear! I have a reflective vest! My feet are bedecked in neon-yellow chartreuse shoe covers and so are my hands. I’m easy to see!
Or at least I should be. I guess the septuagenarian backing out of his driveway couldn’t turn his head enough to see where he was going so he lumbers into the street right in front of me. I holler, loudly but not abusively, and after he startles he pulls back into his driveway, rolls down his window and says, “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.”
I sigh, rein in my tongue and reply, “Yeah. I see that. I’m pretty easy to see though!” I holler with a sharp-tongued softening wave of my hand as I slide by.
Nearly home, I ride the quarter mile on a busier street, turning into my neighborhood without further incident when I make my penultimate turn where I see two soaking wet Latinx laborers performing lawn maintenance in the heavy rain. They see me and their downtrodden faces light up. They call encouragement to me in Spanish and they both flash me a two fingered “V” for victory or peace sign. We laugh and I flash my V to them, finishing my last tenth of a mile, pulling into my garage and leaving the bike to shiver in the cold while I head for a hot bath and leave the trabajadores to their work.
Sometimes cycling under harsh conditions is its own reward.
Vaya con dios!