New Year’s Paranoia

Cars make me paranoid, but I wasn’t always like this.

Once upon a time I was happy to hop in the car and drive just about anywhere, but now that I know how dangerous driving can be, I think twice.

To feed teenagers last night we ordered a pizza for delivery; two it turned out. I hesitated at first, but went along with the idea; it was early still. Later when our 21 year-old came home with twenty of his friends, pizza delivery came up again.

“It’s bad karma,” I objected, “We’re putting the delivery kid on the road on a bad night.”

It must have made my wife think twice; besides, the youngsters were more interested in beer than food.

But how did I get so paranoid? The family car seems innocuous to so many. What happened to me?

I started riding a bicycle again.

Perhaps because I’d taken the better part of 35 years away from the bike, the reunion was intoxicating. I loved riding my bike and soon discovered what a great place my neighborhood is for riding. Yes, cars had to be watched out for, but it seemed safe enough.

Haunting memories of twisted motorists, I’ve filed most of those away; they only bother me for a day or so, the really bad ones. My awareness of this current affliction is more deep-seated.

Humans love to rationalize, so let me peel this onion.

Of course, I’ve stuffed my head with bike advocacy articles, stories, blogs and books. Try reading Carjacked and see what it does to your sense of well-being behind the wheel.

More recently I’ve been knocking off a chapter at a time, Suburban Nation, the Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream. It’s doing its part. I’m newly aware of how we’re all screwed by suburbia, especially when I consider local life here in Newport Beach and Irvine, hey, Laguna Beach, too. I wanna blame The Irvine Company, but it’s happened everywhere across the country. The automobile facilitated sprawl and now we’re stuck with the consequences. Worse yet, there’s no way out, not in our lifetime.

Yes, it’s time for a mid-day alcoholic beverage. The oft-effect of depression will likely be counteracted the way I’m feeling.

Rotterdam's got the right idea: separated bike paths

Rotterdam’s got the right idea: separated bike paths

But it’s one thing to read, or even to listen, but first-hand experience, that leaves more of a mark. My mind immediately jumps to the time together with Tom Godefrooij in Utrecht in November. What did he say to make me so jumpy?

Simple things like, “Mixing high speed cars and bicycles is dangerous.” But it had a delayed effect; it’s one thing to sit at his knee as he describes the Dutch safety consciousness, then to see it for myself, in 4 different cities across the Netherlands. The delayed effect didn’t trigger the paranoia until I was home for a few days, not until my new Dutch eyes saw the conditions of our bicycle infrastructure here in Orange County. Too many familiar routes begin to look dangerous to this Dutch tourist.

Cars off your elbow, flying by. Mom’s in SUVs, distracted by wailing kids, like that black Mercedes on Coast Hwy in CdM last week — she didn’t just miss me as she passed me on the Sharrows — I swear she never even saw me and I’m here today out of sheer luck.

But possibly the single biggest impact on my heebie jeebies is Ted Rogers. On his bikingInLA blog he’s been writing for days about how too many motorists are driving half-blitzed this time of year — riding defensively doesn’t seem like enough of a shield to me.

I talked to my sister this morning. If I had confessed these feelings of anxiety, I know what she would say, “Stop reading those books; stop reading that blog!”

Maybe I could, with the books, but try to look away after following bikingInLA for a year or so. Ted chronicles many aspects of bicycle life here in the Southland, but it’s his seemingly never ending posts of fatalities that’s hard to turn away from. Is it the “that could’ve been me” syndrome that brings me back?

Ted tracks and tallies the more macabre aspects of riding a bike. His count is set to zero for the moment.

While I ponder all these contributors to my present mental health I think I’ll get on my bike and go for a ride…

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