Liz Ray has Mad Throttle

Getting rear-ended and other misadventures...

Category: Uncategorized (page 2 of 2)

Saturday Night Kung-Fu (or “Pedestrians: They Must Be Stopped”)

It was after midnight on Saturday when the Film Festival showing of SPL-2: A Time For Consequences got out.  The film is a stunning 2015 martial-arts epic that stars Tony Jaa and Wu Jing.  The badass extravaganza culminates in a fight scene that seemed to have run at least 40 minutes and must have taken 12,000 people about five years to create.  The movie reaffirms my stereotypical belief that everyone in Asia (the film is set in Hong Kong and Thailand) is a man in his 30s who, for no particular reason, in addition to his day-job, also happens to be a ninja.  (If I ever visit Hong Kong, it will be tremendously disappointing to discover that people don’t settle disputes by resorting to a monumental martial-arts showdown in the middle of the street.)

The film’s grand finale was an appropriate prologue to the epic battle that I myself would face trying to scoot home on a Saturday night in the city.  (My epic battle involved a lot less ninjitsu, but if I had had access to any throwing stars, a katana, or nunchucks, I’d have figured out how to use them.  What’s there to know, really?  The pointy ends go towards the people who piss you off.)

Not being a complete idiot, I knew that traffic would be bad.  I was expecting the standard bunch of drunken lunatics, driving like rabid hyenas in SUVs — the size of which would outstrip the operator’s meager special-relations skills.  I was not expecting every street west of Broad and north of Spruce to be at a stand-still.  Two choices presented themselves:

Option A: Start my engine, pull into the street, and wait for Godot.

(My love of absurdist plays notwithstanding, Option A didn’t seem like the way to go.)

Option B seemed better: Keep the engine off and walk the bike until I found a clear street.  After all, walking at a rate of 3.5 mph is faster than sitting at a rate of 0.0 mph.  (I even double checked the math on this: D = (R)(T), so T = D/R.  Having a zero in the denominator results in some sort of bad effect, like the Universe coming to an end or the Earth careening into the Sun.)

And who in their right mind wouldn’t get out of the way of a vehicle being pushed down the sidewalk?

As it turns out: Everyone.

I briefly considered trying to get around people, but then said The Hell With That and plowed down the sidewalk with the same blasé sense of entitlement that everyone else had.  Glee quickly replaced Guilt, as I pushed the large, obvious machine in a straight line and watched people struggle with the Herculean task of summoning sufficient cognitive function and motor skill to negotiate the situation.  Taking a single step to the left or right would have been an adequate solution, because the sidewalk did not abut any significant hazards (e.g., a river of fiery volcanic lava, a tank of man-eating sharks, or a car moving at a rate of speed greater than 0.001 mph).  Some questioned my right to be on the sidewalk, wherein I pointed out that — with the engine off — I really just had a very large purse with a headlight and two wheels.  Nevertheless, people grappled with what to do and a select few distinguished themselves by figuring out how to share the sidewalk.

Faced with these anthropological data, I could come to only one conclusion:

Pedestrians Must Be Licensed.  Yes, like drivers, lawyers, electricians, doctors, airplane pilots, and aestheticians, people should be required to demonstrate that they have a certain minimum level of Pedestrian-Related Skills.

Sadly, not everyone has what it takes to be a pedestrian.  As a threshold matter, a would-be pedestrian must be able to Think.  This criterion alone would likely eliminate 95% of people from consideration.  (An entire industry would need to be developed to haul non-thinkers around in rickshaws or wheelbarrows.)  Candidates would also need to be able to maintain an average sustained speed of 3.5-to-4.0 mph and reliably travel in a straight line.  The ability to look where you are going and to distinguish between red lights and green lights is also key.  And the general sense that walking out in front of on-coming vehicles is bad would also be needed.

A License To Pedestrian could be suspended or revoked for offenses like Walking While Stupid; Walking While Annoying; Walking Under the Influence; and/or Walking While Being a Dude-Brah.

Simply put: Being a pedestrian is not a right, it’s a privilege.

Entropy Has Its Place

Last Sunday, I made a glass pumpkin.  Because I don’t have a 2500-degree blast furnace in my house, I had to go elsewhere to make my little gourd.  Because newly minted glass gourds feel every bit like the 2500-degree furnace from whence they come, I had to leave my creation at the glass studio, to cool off under the care and supervision of licensed professionals.  Today, I hopped onto my scooter and headed back to the studio to claim my breakable veggie.

The ride out was uneventful, other than the standard set of cars and trucks that didn’t think that traveling 40 mph in a 25 mph zone was acceptable, and, therefore, tried to run me down.  These folks are always out and about; if they weren’t, I’d probably start to be concerned that there had been an outbreak of some sort of deadly avian flu or something.

The ride back was complicated by the fact that I was now playing transporter to a shatterable squash.  I took the typical precautions that one would take when traveling with handmade glass produce.  It was wrapped in paper, which was placed into a box, which was then wrapped with a large terrycloth towel, which was then placed in the cavity under the seat, which was then further packed with miscellaneous items to absorb any hint of shock.

Then I got onto the bike, and took to the roads — where there were other people.  People who weren’t ferrying glass pumpkins across town.  People with nothing to lose.

Typically, when driving in this town, the best defense is a good offense: Assume everyone is trying to kill you and act accordingly.  Reckless, aggressive driving is more complicated when you’re trying not to break something (other than, you know, your neck).

Next time I do this, I will be sure to hang a large sign on the back of the scooter that says: “I’m carrying a glass pumpkin.  Get the fuck off me.”  (Live and learn.)

You can imagine how this trip went.  I won’t bore you with details.  I will, however, point out an interesting observation that I made.  There are areas of the city — areas that (incidentally) are highly concentrated between the glass studio and my home — where the People In Charge of Painting Lines On the Street have abdicated their post.

I get it; I do.  Lines can be so limiting and confining — very left-brained little things.  Would that we could all cast off the oppressive tyranny of Lines and live carefree and happy in a lineless utopian paradise.

With that said, however, I very much want and need some oppressive tyranny when I’m trying to ride a glass pumpkin across town.  Oh how I longed for the draconian despotism of the Painted Lines today.  Something to command via executive fiat, “You, Reckless Driver Eager To Commit Vehicular Manslaughter, drive over HERE, and NOT over there.  I, the Road Paint, have spoken.”  The alternative (i.e., trusting drivers to responsibly navigate a system of total chaos) is a suboptimal plan.  We accept the rule of Lines at the delicatessen, at the mall, and at movie theaters.  Why abdicate the comforting guidance that they offer when speeding, half-ton motor vehicles are involved??  Such is not the time to thumb one’s nose at authority and luxuriate in open-minded, Bohemian freedom.  Such is the time for the fascistic dictatorship of Lines.

But not in my town.  Road paint costs money.  Entropy is free.

Hurry Up and Wait

The sun was just beginning to set on the last Saturday night in August.  (Yeah, I know, I’ve been MIA.)  Pink streaks mottled the clouds that dotted the sky.  A cool breeze made riding down 12th Street much more pleasant than it had been on other Saturday nights, when I had been out at my part-time job and humidity anchored the city air.  Yes, the warmth of the setting sun and gently gusting wind seemed almost idyllic, as I raced down 12th Street, trying to get a Chipotle burrito delivered within the 60-minute delivery window.

Then, rudely interrupting what might have been a passable evening of minimum-wage work, he appeared.  A black Lincoln Towncar with livery plates, zooming down 12th Street cut me off — not to deliver organs to a dying man or to cure cancer or even to deliver a burrito within a prescribed delivery window.  No, this man had a much higher calling — he needed to supersede me and immediately stop short at a red light.

“You know, random Philadelphia driver who just tried to run me off the road,” I thought to myself, “you’re the one-asshole-too-many-in-my-day today.”  Then I wondered, as a philosophical or anthropological thought experiment: “What makes arriving at a red light a quadrillionth of a second ahead of someone else such a rewarding experience?  Will getting there first make him richer or smarter or his wife better-looking?  Will his life magically suck that much less because he got to enjoy the dented, rusted, looks-like-a-stiff-breeze-will-divorce-it-from-its-moorings traffic light a moment before the rest of the world?  Should I be jealous?  Am I missing something profound?  Have I unwittingly diminished the quality of my life or denied myself existential ecstasy by not mindlessly accelerating into sudden abrupt halts?”

The shiny back end of the Lincoln silently mocked me.

And I realized that I could endure the Stygian wasteland of being second-in-line at a red light no longer.

With a new-found sense of purpose and direction in my life, I gunned the throttle, veered hard to the left, raced ahead 11 feet, and cut off the jerk in the Lincoln — righteously claiming my place to worship at the feet of that red light.

Then I waited — for Nirvanva to hit me like a thunderbolt — for some quasi-Biblical, life-altering transformation — for all of Life’s mysteries to be laid bare before me as I assumed a mantle of omniscience. My new lease on life had thus to begin, for now I too had sped up and cut someone off to get to an abrupt, pointless stop on 12th Street for no reason.

Nirvana, alas, never came.  Neither did enlightenment or world peace.  The world remained the same warped, Kafkaesque dystopia that it had been five minutes ago — when life was different — when I was only second at the red light.  While Nirvana was running late, an angry Uber driver made his presence known without delay.

The light changed; I raced off.  After all, somewhere in the City of Brotherly Love, a man needed his burrito.

It’s Not A “Toy”

Earlier this week, I toured the Harley-Davidson factory in York, Pennsylvania.  It was amazing to see the gorgeous machines as they were carefully crafted by individuals who seemed genuinely to enjoy what they were doing — helping to bring fine motorcycles into Being.  The factory was a whirring, dizzying symphony of people and technology, working to create beautiful clutch-bearing works-of-art-on-wheels.  (I’d say “on two wheels” but the York factory also manufactures trikes.)  Each motorcycle had to pass a complex array of quality control tests.  An irregularity less than the width of a human hair found in the paint job of a gas tank would doom the imperfect specimen to the recycling bin.  And, even if a seemingly perfect bike passed all the computer-driven quality controls during the final “roll test,” the human riders administering the test could still yank the bike off the line if they determined that something simply didn’t “feel right.” Each new Harley that passed its final inspection was spirited over to the shipping area, to make its journey to a dealership, and eventually, its new rider.  Each bike was magnificent.

Thus, it infuriates me to hear car-drivers derisively refer to motorcycles and scooters as “toys.”  I doubt that anyone in that factory was confused about whether they work for Harley-Davidson or Hasbro.

As an attorney, however, I have been trained to consider an issue from both sides.  Thus, let us consider:

“Are Motorcycles and Scooters Toys?” — The Case For:

[This area has intentionally be left blank, as there is no Case For.  Period.]

 

“Are Motorcycles and Scooters Toys?” — The Case Against:

As far as I can tell, people who believe that motorcycles and scooters are toys rely on the “Well, They’re Not Cars” argument.  As a general point of vehicle identification and classification, I can’t really disagree with that.  Thus, I will concede that motorcycles are, in fact, not cars.

What is less clear, however, is why drivers assume that cars are the only legitimate form of transportation.

We’ve created a world where our choices box us in.  We go to the “right schools” to get the “right jobs” so that we can earn the “right salary.”  We wall ourselves off in offices or cubicles, where we work 12 or 14-hour days to send maximum email correspondence and engineer minimum human interaction.  Our offices and cubicles are situated in concrete towers where “suicide-proof” glass lets us watch the world as it (and Time) go by.  We “settle down,” buy houses, and apply for mortgages; we carefully and systematically add greater responsibilities and more limits to our lives.  Brick by brick and bar by bar, we build our cages, until one day we look out and wonder when and how life became narrow, boring, and monotonous.  When did the imprisonment begin?  When are we up for parole?  Who can we ask to bake us a cake with a file in it?

In our society, the greatest existential question is no longer “Is there life after death,” but rather: Is there life before?

Given these slings and arrows of what I’ll generally call “Life As a Responsible Adult,” when presented with a choice — why choose to drive in a Cage as well?  The decision to ride a motorcycle is a decision to be a modern-day cowboy and ride a powertrain-horse.  It is a choice to embrace feeling the air and the road, and to have an intimate relationship with the world.  Views are not seen from behind windows.  The air is not filtered through vents.  And rain makes you wet.

On a bike, you can still get to work, run errands, and accomplish “Meaningful Tasks.”  You can be a “Responsible Adult” who does “Important Things.”

Nevertheless, on a bike, the journey becomes not about getting-from-point-A-to-point-B, but instead about how you got from Point A to Point B.

On a bike, you can’t text while driving.  You can’t take a conference call.  You can’t wolf down fast food.  Instead, you ride.  You pay attention.  You notice your surroundings.

On a bike, you live.

So, is that the measure of “a toy” — something that brings one fewer wall into our lives?  Something that removes a bar from the cage or sneaks us a file past the prison guard?  If so, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all could play?

 

Livin’ It Up When I’m Goin’ Down

When the doors opened, the Little Voice Inside My Head said, “Wait for the next one.”  But, since I’m typically oblivious even to obvious signs of danger, something as subtle as the Little Voice Inside My Head making a quiet suggestion about an elevator — when I was in a hurry AND illegally parked — didn’t stand a chance.  (It’s remarkable that the Little Voice Inside My Head hasn’t gotten fed up and quit.  Hours are bad; job satisfaction is low; pay is horrible.  It really ought to resign and pursue more fulfilling opportunities — like joining a commune in a schizophrenic’s head or something.)

So, after telling the Little Voice to pound sand, I smooshed myself into the elevator, adding myself to the 13 other people who were already inside.  “L” had already been pressed, so there was nothing to do but wait patiently for the gentle Ping that would signal that the elevator had uneventfully traveled the 15 floors down to the Lobby.

The little Ping never came…

In her stead, Little Ping sent Sudden Jerking Lurch Accompanied By Scary Sound That Signals Imminent Doom (hereinafter, the “Sudden Jerking Doom Lurch”).  Even if you are not an elevator efficionado, someone skilled in elevator mechanics, or even someone who frequently gets trapped in elevators due to bad luck, a family curse, etc., even a stopped-elevator virgin will instantly recognize the Sudden Jerking Doom Lurch.  It’s a visceral recognition.  And it *is* just like what you see in the movies.  One moment you’re mindlessly cruising down the elevator shaft, absent-mindedly waiting to get on with your life.  The next, you’ve experienced abrupt deceleration and a disturbing rattling sensation, and your mindless little journey is unceremoniously replaced by a situation that requires your thought and attention.  Not fair.

(Very few enclosed spaces are designed to comfortably accomodate 14 people on a 90-degree evening with 4000% humidity.  Last night’s elevator was not one of those spaces.)

Now hovering in a state of suspended animation, several of my 13 new friends had interesting and insightful comments to offer on the situation:

New Friend One: “Jesus.  We’ve stopped.”

New Friend Two: “Do you think we should call for help?”

New Friend Three: “I don’t have a signal.”

New Friend Four: “How about hitting the Emergency Button?”

New Friend Five: “Do you think we can pry the doors open, like they do in the movies?” (She was serious, and actually tried, until nearly chipping a nail proved too discouraging an obstacle to overcome.)

New Friend Six: “Hey, Joe, how’s your acid reflux?”

New Friend Seven: “We need to call Keanu Reeves.” [If you don’t recognize this reference to the movie “Speed”, stop reading.  You are beyond my ability to help.]

New Friend Three again: “It’s hot in here.”

In the midst of the commentary, someone did manage to press the emergency button, which opened a series of voice mail prompts — which is EXACTLY what one wants to hear during an emergency…

Eventually, the Front Desk Person for the building responded:

“Hello?”

“Hi, yeah, we’re 14 people stuck in an elevator.”

“I’ll try to find the Maintenance Guy.”

Whereupon, New Friend Eight made the following observation, with which I reluctantly agreed: “It’s Saturday night at 10:30 PM.  The Maintenance Guy is sitting in Upper Darby somewhere drinking a beer.”

Suspecting that Front Desk Person’s ability to conjure up The Maintenance Guy might prove to be sub-optimal, the one New Friend With A Cell Signal (a signal that somehow managed to penetrate an elevator car, inside a shaft, inside a building) dialed 9-1-1.

[Now I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking: “Wait a minute.  This blog is supposed to be about scooters and motorcycles.  How does this story relate to that topic?  I want my money back.  This is fraud.”

Here is the clear nexus to scootering: I rode my 50 cc to the building with the defective elevator.  And I was illegally parked, and hoping that I wouldn’t get a parking ticket — you know, if I survived and stuff.]

Meanwhile:

“911.  What is your emergency?”

“Oh, hi, thank God we got through,” said New Friend With a Cell Signal.  “We’re stuck in an elevator.”

“How many of you are there?”

“13.  No, 14.  It’s really hot in here.”

“Is anyone sick?”

“Sick?  Uh. No.”

“What are you doing?” I said, “Tell them someone’s sick!  Tell them we’re all sick.  Tell them we’re DYING for Christ’s sake.”

Too late.

New Friend With a Cell Signal had hung up and reported to the group that the Fire Department would be dispatched.

Yeah, in two hours or something, I thought.  “We all have anxiety about being stuck in here.  Anxiety is a genuine, diagnosable medical condition.  You could have said that we’re sick.”

“Yeah,” chimed in New Friend Nine.  “Hell, I’d shit in the corner if it’d help get us out of here.”

Time passed.

And passed.

And passed some more.

I learned that it was some dude’s birthday in the elevator, and that the elevators in this particular building consistently malfunction (but never this badly), and that I don’t enjoy being stuck in elevators with 13 other people on a Saturday night in 4000% humidity while wearing an armoured riding jacket…

Then, “Hello?  Are you in there?”

“Yes!!  Can you get us out??”

“Uh, yeah.  Uh, the elevator is stuck between floors.”

And I thought, “I’ve seen Speed.  This doesn’t end well…”

The voice continued, “We have to figure out a way to level it out first.  When the elevator levels and the doors open, you should all step out.”

[That last part seemed self-explanatory.  Had the voice ever liberated a trapped elevator only to have the refugees refuse to depart, overwhelmed by Stockholm Syndrome or something?]

And then, the voice disappeared.

“How do you think they level an elevator that is stuck and not moving?” I asked.

“Popeye’s up there with a wrench,” offered New Friend I-Lost-Track-of-the-Number.

Suddenly, the New Friend Standing Behind Me grabbed my shoulder and yanked me backwards.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“By what?”

“Well, for when the Fire Department cuts the doors open.  There might be sparks.”

“The Fire Department is NOT going to cut through the doors with the Jaws of Life.”

“How do you know?”

“My life is not nearly that exciting.”

I’m sorry to report: my life continues to be not nearly that exciting.  Things get anti-climactic from here.  We all continued to sweat.  A lot.  We didn’t need to punch out a tile in the ceiling and climb onto the top of the elevator to escape.  We didn’t need to pry the doors open and climb up to reach an exposed floor while trying to beat the clock as brake cables snapped and dramatic music played.  Keanu Reeves didn’t show up to counter-weight and raise the elevator using a large crane from a neighboring construction site.  And we didn’t plunge to our doom.

We did briefly contemplate starting to sing 100 Bottles of Beer on the wall to see whether rescue people might work faster to make the dreaded tune stop.  But a quick Risk/Benefit calculation revealed that there was greater danger that we’d just be passive-aggressively left in the elevator to die of starvation or heat stroke.

We could do nothing except wait for Elevator-Leveling to take its course.

When the bay doors eventually opened, we all departed the elevator as previously instructed (again, duh).  There were several Fire Department personnel in the lobby holding large metal tools.  One looked like the galaxy’s largest crow bar.  The other two looked like nightmarishly large versions of the things that dental hygenists use to scrape tartar off your teeth (I think the tools are called The Gauger and The Scraper).

We thanked the Fire Department and asked how they had gotten us out.  One of them said, “Oh, we didn’t do anything, actually.  The Maintenance Guy showed up, went upstairs, and did something.”

(Sorry for the use of such technical jargon.  Elevator mechanics lingo is pretty dense.  I mean “did something” — you need a Ph.D. from MIT to parse that.)

Now that I think about it, we WERE in the elevator long enough for someone to put down his beer and drive in from Upper Darby…

And, for those keeping tabs on the key issue in all this (i.e., Did Completely Anonymous Person get a parking ticket?!?):

No.  Praise the God-of-your-choice, she did not.

 

 

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