Friday, July 28, 2006

(Not) Like Riding a Bicycle

I drove a car today. That was my big news on the phone to Rachel, and she asked, "Wow, how was it?" If the Feds were listening in on that converstation, they probably made a couple of tick marks in the crazy box and went back to watching the ballgame. It had been exactly 10 months since my last drive. Sort of unusual, but I really thought driving a car again would be like going home and eating chicken fried steak--not something I happen to do anymore, but still as natural as going right leg first into my pants. After all, it's not like I grew up in Manhattan without a driver's license. I figure I've driven around 100,000 miles in my lifetime.

Well, as it turns out, driving again was more like going into my pants left leg first. I immediately knew what I was doing and all that, but I was hyperaware of things in a way I sure don't remember. Maybe my first drives were like this; I don't know. This is what I noticed.

1) After a few people in a row gave me weird stares, I realized I was trying to make eye contact with every driver on side streets. If I couldn't, I would slow down and watch them intently, waiting for a move. On bike, it's instinctive that those cars are a potential danger and need to be sized up. In a car, sizing people up is just socially deviant behavior. But, really, who among us is really ready to pull off an evasive maneouver at 50 miles per hour? In a car, we learn to live with a lot of risk. I even hear people say, "Well, at least it would be their fault." On a bike, well, that'd just be stupid.

2) I saw a few (green) traffic lights way late. My eyes were focused low, watching to see what other drivers were doing, watching the curbs and crosswalks. I knew what color the light was by watching the intersection. Only after checking off everything else did I glance up at the light. At bike speed, this works great, and I guess it makes sense. Traffic signals and stopping distance are the least of my worries on bike. I've heard "bringing the focus down" as an argument for roundabouts instead of stoplights, but I only now understand.

3) Those blind spots we get used to as drivers are HUGE. I kept leaning around to see around the windshield pillars. And looking back? Sheesh. I'm definitely spoiled to the bike view.

4) I didn't stop for pedestrians at street corners. Twice. I often get annoyed when drivers do the same to me, whoops. A four lane through downtown with parallel parking is terrible for peds. Why hadn't I noticed that before. There is just too much information for my feeble brain to process, and I'm not that far down the curve. Bulbouts, road diets, lights, clowns on parade--whatever--crossings need something to make peds jump into the foreground. One of the crossings was where our friend Bill was hit. I'm going to be a lot more careful crossing the street.

5) I missed my bike. Maybe it's a sign that I'm a little off-kilter, but I was sort of let down when I crested the big hill and didn't get the rush of a descent. No sweating at lights only to get the cool breeze from moving again. No leaning into corners. It was interesting to drive again after the time off, but that was about enough for one year.

Be safe out there, there's one more nut on the road for a few days.


Anonymous Jim said...

I haven't gone as long as you without driving. I probably get behind the wheel every 100 days or so. And I ride with someone else, maybe every 30 days.

What I notice is the uphills. I see the hill coming, the foot presses the accelerator a little more, and that's it; I'm at the top. Internally, I must be preparing for the climb, and then when it somehow requires no effort, it's a weird feeling.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Jim G said...

When I go for awhile w/o driving, then get behind the wheel, I find myself glancing up and to my left, trying to look in my cycling rear-view mirror that isn't there...

Also, driving feels *fast* at any speed. My reflexes get used to reacting to things at 15-30mph instead of speed vs. car's a little scary at first.

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Tim. said...

Trying to go the speed limit after not driving for a very long time is hard for me. I am always trying be carefull so I can stop in time for unexpected reasons (bikers, animals) and I end up going quite slow. I also find that it seems cars pass me just as fast when I am driving the speed limit in my car as when I am biking. Everyone drives WAY too fast to be driving safe and responsibly. I suspect because they don't often have to be responsible.

6:57 PM  
Anonymous tg said...

this posting is just hilarious. really entertaining but also enlightening, getting that fresh perspective

i hardly drive anymore since i'm working from home these days, and i find that the first couple of miles, i'm SPACED OUT. just too much going on.

luckily i am able to revert quickly to my new-england-bred, teeth-grinding, finger-flipping aggression, so that's a good thing. hee

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Raju said...

Thanks for the nice post.

2:35 AM  

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