A Nurse with a Gun

Thursday, June 05, 2008

On Biking, Packing, and Flying

A bicyclist is dead after a drunk driver smashed into the pack of cyclists riding in the third annual Bike Tour Matamoros-Playa Bagdad in Brownsville, Texas on Sunday morning. Click for uncropped version of photoAlejandro Alvarez was pronounced dead at the scene. At least four people remained hospitalized Monday.

The driver, Juan Campos, was driving drunk, and claims to have fallen asleep at the wheel. He was returning from an all night drinking binge with his girlfriend on Playa Bagdad, according to Mexican authorities. He somehow managed to swing his 1989 Gran Marquis around the event's police escort before slamming into a dozen bicyclists. In the uncropped version of the photo, it looks like it wasn't too difficult. Click the photo at left to see for yourself.

I was reflecting on that horrific incident (I won't call it an accident) as I went about my morning ride. We had a light case load at the hospital and I had asked to be off as a result. After making certain that there was no need for my presence in any cases this morning, I set out on the Armstrong one speed I had built. The air was refreshingly cool, and I was wearing a bright orange jersey and a bicycle helmet. I had reflectors and blinky lights. It was not enough.

I could have been flattened by an absent minded woman backing out of her driveway while applying her cosmetics. She never saw me until she was in the street with me stopped, glaring at her. I could have been crushed by the high school kid who made a wrong turn down a one way street and then swerved into the bike lane to avoid oncoming traffic. Finally, the barking and drooling dog that ran out with a territorial vengeance could have driven me towards death in traffic. Somehow I survived. I do not think it was by happenstance.

Bicyclists could learn a lot from those who carry guns. Not surprisingly, bicyclists often look condescendingly towards those who take self defense seriously. Instead of seeing themselves as somehow above the need, they should consider taking some practical tools from the concealed carrier's toolbox. And I don't mean a gun.

The successful long term concealed carrier survives not because he carries a gun, but because he practices avoidance. Those who simply strap on a hogleg without modifying aggressive behavior will find themselves sooner or later incarcerated or dead. All too often, bicyclists are passive aggressive on the road. They scream, shake fists, whine and form Critical Mass rides to claim their piece of the road. All the while, drivers blithely steer their two ton vehicles around, beside and sometimes over and through them.

If bicyclists were truly the evolved creatures they like to envision themselves as, they would realize that an encounter with a 50 mile per hour 3000 pound torpedo is one which they will lose. The only answer is avoidance of the accident. Because of the disparity of force, the onus is upon the bicyclist to survive.

Another painful realization many cyclists learn in intensive care units is that the police arrive to mop up the mess and clear the streets. They are not there to save you. They are not there to preserve your rights. They do not have a bag of justice to sprinkle over scenes of bent cromoly and broken bones. They are there to gather evidence. They are there to re-establish the flow of orderly traffic. That is the reality, and if bicyclists do not accept it, more Ghost Bikes will be chained to street signs.

Pilots have a lot to offer bicyclists as well. Wise pilots personally inspect their aircraft prior to each flight. They know they can not step out of a failed aircraft and walk home. Likewise, a bicyclist who has a failure of his ride in traffic will likely not walk home. There is an old saying among those who take to the skies.....There are old pilots, there are bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots. It is true. The pilot who constantly pushes the outside of the envelope will sooner or later find himself too far outside it to squeeze back in. Then he must rapidly sort through an escalating array of algorithms in a widening dance with disaster. Finally, pilots learn to think and react beyond the nose of their aircraft. Bicyclists must learn to think and react far beyond the front wheel of their bike. If they fail to recognize the impending threats of unaware drivers wielding moving blockades and crushing weights, if they fail to appreciate the benefit of preplanning a route, and if they fail to understand the role of luck, both good and bad, then the cyclist will soon or later come face to face with Reality. Reality is an inflexible bitch of a mistress that will not be ignored or denied. Her partner, Physics, is blind to all the wails for civic justice and cyclist progress. Together, Reality and Physics are going to have their way.

In the end, it is up to the bicyclist to decide for himself whether he wants to take effective control of his survival, or become a once shrill but now silenced martyr to the realities of the road.

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Blogger nature223 said...

when I was towing for a living it never failed to amaze me how many careless jerks HAD to drink...HAD to drive..just HAD too,they HAD to hang onto the keys,even when others offered a ride home.
and they HAD heard so many times on radio,tv,and newspapers...eventually they'd be caught and HAD to show up in court.
and sometimes,...sometimes they killed somebody,or themselves.
and that didnt have to been a HAD

10:54 AM  
Anonymous beth said...

I was wondering how everything would tie together

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Will said...

Looks obvious that the police unit dodged the drunk, since he is already in opposing lanes of the road. Maybe they need to borrow something with a little more mass, for escort duties. Like a D7 Cat bulldozer. Worthless escort driver. Might as well have been on a bicycle himself, since he wasn't willing to run interference.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Ed Skinner said...

Well said. Bravo.

1:42 PM  
Blogger the pawnbroker said...

xavier, our little central fla town of sebring attracts cycling clubs...you know, the seriously attired types, and they invariably choose street lanes to the bike paths that encircle the city and connect to the state park.

yes, they have every legal right to occupy their lane, but as you say, placing the onus of one's safety in the hands of others of questionable competence, concern, and control is a perfect way to prove that you are right...dead right.


9:38 PM  
Blogger shooter said...

They should pull that officer's badge for dodging the drunk. Oh wait, this is Mexico...the brass are gonna promote him to police chief and send him to whatever province just had theirs shot by the Zetas.

No sense of selfless sacrifice there. He just swerved to avoid getting hurt or scratching the paint. In a litigious society, someone might think to put his name up front on the civil suit soon to come. Right next to the drunk and his family.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was thinking along the same lines as will. We get this all the time across the river in Portland, a lot of the cyclists have been fed an idea(l) and don't want to take responsibility for their own safety. They might have had the right of way, but that only helps in the civil suite.

11:09 PM  
Blogger phlegmfatale said...

Chilling photograph.
Having begun less than a year ago, I must say my awareness and preparedness is dramatically different since I began practicing shooting.

8:19 AM  
Anonymous Will said...

Drunks don't go by a clock when they drink. 6am, start of the morning commute in Silicon Valley, and drunks are already on the road.
I'm thinking that if we can't shoot them, they should be sentenced to forever after ride a moped. That way they can live in fear of everything that moves on the road. And no penalties if you hit them, if so much as a drop of booze is found in them.

11:39 PM  
Blogger E said...

holy wow.
who said there's safety in numbers?

That ghost bike pic is a the Manhattan side of the Manhattan Bridge (to B'klyn) at its frightful terminus on Canal Street. I walked by it (the bike) on Friday night. There's another on the west side greenway, where apparently a drunk motorist drove up the separated bike path and killed a cyclist.
Even when you think you're safe you have to be vigilant.


8:46 AM  
Anonymous Mike Harbour said...


Good post; my sentiments exactly. BTW and FWIW, this is why I ride a mountain bike!

Mike Harbour
Helena, Montana

9:50 AM  

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