The Attack of the Cars on Bicyclists & Pedestrians

 I made a decision years ago not to drive. I have never needed to drive.  I have never regretted not driving.  I do not have a driver’s license. People find this mysterious. “Were you in an accident?”

 I don’t overexplain, because they will not get it anyway.  “No, it’s because fossil fuel emissions pollute the air.”

According to the EPA, “the transportation sector generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions (27% of 2020 greenhouse gas emissions). Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation primarily come from burning fossil fuel for our cars, trucks, ships, trains, and planes.”

Bicycling, walking, and mass transit are viable alternatives to driving in a city or large town.  Americans, however, regard their cars as giant purses, mechanical nomad tents, or, in the case of the pathological, as weapons.  Raise the price of gas and there will be rioting and weaponizing.

Today I took a bike ride.It was not exactly a beautiful day, but it was below 90 degrees, and there was a breeze.  Good weather for bicycling after what we’ve seen this summer.  I rode along shady, tree-lined streets, and lush green bicycle trails.

And then on the trip home a car tried to kill me.   

At an intersection I looked to the right:  no cars.  I looked to the left:  no cars. “Head on a swivel,” as a friend says. I was about to cross when in my peripheral vision I saw a low-slung dark gray car racing down a short slope. When the driver saw me, he or she accelerated.  I slammed on the brakes and barely had time to yank the bike out of the intersection. I seem to have escaped an attempted hit-and-run in a peaceful park-like neighborhood where there is little traffic, hence no traffic security cameras.

I leaned against my bike and drank most of a bottle of water before continuing.  Perhaps I will write a letter to the state’s bicycling organization. There have been incidents where drivers have deliberately run bicyclists off the road.  And every year bicyclists are killed by drivers.

Here is a heart-rending example of one of the bicycling obits:

“Lorna Moss, age 69, of Sioux Center, was killed when hit from behind on September 3, at 5:53 p.m., on Hickory Avenue, two miles north of Hull, IA. Moss was traveling northbound on a bicycle in the northbound lane on Hickory Avenue. Seth De Jong, age 27, of Doon, IA was driving a 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan northbound on Hickory Avenue behind Moss when he struck the bicycle. Upon further investigation, deputies suspected that De Jong was under the influence of alcohol. De Jong was transported to the Sioux County Jail where he was charged with homicide by vehicle caused by operating while intoxicated and homicide by vehicle caused by reckless driving.”
Aggressive drivers are also dangerous to pedestrians. The other day a friend almost got killed crossing the street.  When the light turned green and the walk sign was on, she stepped into the street.  Suddenly an old beater car turned right almost on top of her, barely missing her, and then broke another law by veering across a traffic lane, narrowly missing another car.
According to Outside magazine, almost 47,000 bicyclists a year are hit by cars in the U.S.  The article informs us, “Cyclist fatalities have been on the rise since 2010 and are now at 30-year highs. Pedestrian crash rates show an almost identical pattern. (Vehicle-occupant deaths, meanwhile, have dropped around 25 percent since peaking in the early 2000s.) According to a 2018 report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the rate of pedestrian involvement in crashes rose 13 percent from 2009 to 2016, accounting for population change. But the percentage of pedestrians killed rose at more than twice that rate.”

 If the weaponization of cars is the new road rage, a syndrome which apparently is on the rise since the pandemic began, I can only speculate that insanity is the primary symptom of American aggression.

Musings on Summer Days & Six Summer Reading Suggestions

The twentieth century was cooler, metaphorically as well as literally.  It used to cool off at night.

But my mother loved her air conditioning:  “Don’t cool the outdoors” was her favorite imperative as people ran in and out.

We found many ways to escape the heat, since we didn’t like AC. We drank lemon Coke at Woolworths, or went to Things and Things and Things for frozen yogurt.  Sometimes we perched on the steps of the limestone buildings on the Pentacrest on the tree-lined campus.  The limestone was cool to the touch on hot days.  On the hottest days, we went to McBride Hall, which had a natural history museum, glass cases of stuffed wild animals lining the halls on three floors. Or we headed to the River Room at the Union, where we could sit all day without buying anything.

  And so as we head into a hot July, let me stop my musings, pray for  cool days, and  celebrate summer with some good escape books.  Here are some suggestions:

1.  I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith.  “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink” is the first sentence of this charming English novel.  The observant narrator, Cassandra Mortmain, writes a lively diary of family life in a run-down castle:  her famous father, author of a Joycean masterpiece,  is either blocked or lazy; her stepmother, Topaz, a former model, communes with nature in the nude;  romantic Rose, the older sister,  longs for romance but knows no men; and the younger brother Thomas is still at school.   Naturally, comic romance drives the plot.  N.B. You can read about Cassandra’s Midsummer’s Eve rites in Chapter XII (p. 199 in the St. Martin’s paperback edition).

2.  The Portable Greek Reader, edited by W. H. Auden.  This anthology of ancient Greek literature, philosophy and history includes excerpts from Hesiod, Homer, Plato, the Greek tragedians, Aristophanes, Thucydides, all of Aeschylus’s Oresteia, but I keep it mainly for Auden’s introduction, which I reread.  I’m surprised by how many of these selections I read in Greek in my youth.  Auden does make a few odd choices, though.  Why include Plato’s little-read Timaeus in its entirety?  But it was fun to reread excerpts from Hesiod, and to rediscover Pindar. 

3.  Margery Allingham’s Flowers for the Judge.  Allingham is one of the greatest Golden Age Detective Novel writers, and I love this one because it is set in a publishing house.  Amateur sleuth Albert Campion, who is rather like Peter Wimsey, is called in when one of the directors is murdered.  The suspect couldn’t possibly have done it. He’s simply too naive.  But then who…?

4.  The Murder of My Aunt, by Richard Hull. In this slight but entertaining Golden Age mystery, published in the British Library Crime Classics series, the crazed narrator, grumpy Edwin Powell, decides to murder his controlling aunt.

5.  The Shivering Sands, by Victoria Holt. In this mediocre 1969 novel, which I read when I was revisiting ’60s Gothics, Caroline investigates the disappearance of her sister, an archaeologist, by taking a job at the estate where she was last seen.  A bit formulaic, and certainly not to be read for style – but the last suspenseful 100 pages are truly Gothic!

6.  Darling Girl, by Liz Michaelski. I read an enthusiastic review of this modern retelling of Peter Pan.  I wish I were enjoying it more. The story is sinister, but it could do with some stylistic dazzle.  The basic plot: Holly Darling, the granddaughter of Wendy Darling – who knew Peter Pan – is a scientist and the CEO of a cosmetics company, with a complicated personal history. She was driving the car when she had an accident that killed her husband and one of her twin sons.  The surviving son has a rare blood condition.  And then her daughter, who has been in a coma for years, disappears.  Even if I don’t finish this, I assure you the daughter’s disappearance will be connected with Peter Pan.

Happy July 4 Weekend Reading!

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