Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Puffy Grubman pulled out of the car wash and tooled his shiny white El Dorado down Holladay Boulevard, just as he did every Tuesday morning. Clenching an unlit cigar confidently between phalanges of perfect dentures, he drew a dead bead on his destination: the bank. I've had close calls with lots of cars, and been actually struck by a few, but not one of them was nicer than Puffy's Caddilac.

Most bicycle/auto collisions result from underestimating the cyclist's speed. The driver, often a member of Puffy's generation, remembers bicycles with a huge front wheel, a tiny rear wheel, and top speeds well under 7mph, and when making a right turn, they treat the bike as they would a mailbox or other static object. The sound of a decelerating engine near one's left knee usually serves as a warning, and evasive maneuvers can be taken. This wasn't the case, though, with Puffy Grubman, whose foot never left the accelerator pedal as he squealed into the bank entrance. In a moment of rare grace, I leaned my shoulder into the Caddy's passenger door, and together we skidded as one, describing an elegant arc into the parking lot. I couldn't believe I'd kept the bike upright, and I wobbled to a halt, my heart beating a polyrhythm that would have raised Tito Puente's eyebrows.

The experience didn't phase Puffy a bit, though, and he strode purposefully into the bank, with me quick on his heels. I burst into a discourse of cruising speeds of modern road bikes and the basics of highway etiquette, when he snapped, “Take a quarter and call somebody who gives a shit!”

I was about to explain that the charge for a local pay phone had actually gone up to 50 cents some ten years ago, when he poked a gelatinous pseudopod into my sternum. “You're not even supposed to have that bicycle on the street! These roads are dedicated for cars, not for bikes. You don't even pay street taxes!”

Puffy didn't have a legal leg to stand on, but I couldn't deny a certain perverse logic to his argument. Holladay Boulevard is indeed paved and maintained by taxes levied on gasoline sales. In effect, I am freeloading by riding my bike on it. My best option was to argue the legal angle, but Puffy resorted to the rhetorical equivalent of covering his ears and shouting, “Blah, blah, blah, blah-blaw! I can't hear you! Blah, blah, blah, blaw!” Eventually I conceded, and exited the bank.

I could see where Puffy came from. He was a proud member of a generation that defeated the Nazis and returned home to raise families and work hard to build an economic system that raised Americans' lives from the dust scrabble existence of his Depression-era youth to today's sweat-free world of air-conditioned riding mowers. His entire experience is one of watching the positive effects of the American Economy, and he feels a responsibility to it, a responsibility that he's always lived up to. He doesn't feel like an anachronism; he won't live to see the collapse of the economic paradigm that he so loves, and in his eyes, people like me will always be irresponsible louts, born into a privilege for which we have no appreciation, and he's not entirely wrong. Still, he thinks the best way to teach us a lesson is to run us down, and I couldn't let that stand.

After an appropriate delay in the parking lot, I returned to Puffy, still in line for a teller. With an amicable slap on the back, I grinned broadly and said to him, sotto voce, “I'll bet it takes you at least a week to figure out what I just did to your car.” He was silent as I walked out.

I told Puffy Grubman the truth, too. I'm sure he's thinking about me right now, just as I'm thinking about him, and he'll be worrying for more than a week before he realizes I didn't touch his stupid car. I know I didn't change his mind about the right of a bicycle to use the street, but next time he may decide that vehicular homicide isn't in his own best interest.
illustration: OVIPOSITION--GIANT ICHNEUMON WASP (2000) Acrylic 20" x 17"


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy to hear that you weren't hurt. How many times do you thing he's been down on his hands and knees looking underneath the caddy.

5:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just glad you weren't roadkill! Great story though. The "greatest generation" were not the greatest parents however, nor were they without true bigotry and intolerance. I've also found that the one's who boast the most about being memebers of that generation are the ones who have the least to brag about.

I of course, as part of the initial post-war boom, have no faults.

6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Usually, in situations like this, I say something to the effect:

"I bike to conserve gasoline. By this, I am making gasoline cheaper for you. What are you doing for me?"

However, I may have scarred a kid for life once in a similar instance. He was sitting in the back seat of a car as his mom cut me off. He got such a glare from me as his mom sped off down the road.

I'm glad you weren't hurt, and it'll add to the number of stories us cyclists have...

8:19 AM  
Blogger Carel Brest van Kempen said...

Clare: My guess is that he's down there right now.
Carl: I've made the same observation about braggarts in general (sorry to brag about it).
Douglas: It probably would have scarred that kid worse to watch his mother run someone over.

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well played, Carel.

9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carel: This is the first time I have ever commented on a blog. Was Puffy Grubman his real name? --your pal, Doug (not his real name)

5:20 PM  
Blogger Carel Brest van Kempen said...

Mike: Aw gosh, it was nothin'.
Doug: (or whatever your name is) Why yes, he lives right around the corner from you.

6:13 PM  

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