Liz Ray has Mad Throttle

Getting rear-ended and other misadventures...

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Event Horizon Asphalt

Not even light could escape the infinite nothing and its unrelenting gravitational pull.  In its yawning maw, I could see only darkness as I pushed hard left to avoid a fork-bending careen into the bleak chasm of oblivion.  Feeling cheated, the cosmic abyss could only lie in wait to ambush an unsuspecting victim.

Was I scooting by the accretion disk of Cygus-1 today?  Nope — just down Delaware Avenue — where I had to dodge the event horizons of countless potholes, lest my scooter and I be catapulted into wreckage.

Some cities honor the quant notion that roads should be smooth, well-maintained thoroughfares that permit safe and expeditious travel.

Not my town.

My city recognizes that overcoming hardship strengthens character — and that conquering adversity builds self-esteem.  (The more adversity, the better.)  And to help ensure that no citizen suffers from a dearth of personal-growth opportunities, my city provides a broad array of potholes, depressions, and miscellaneous road voids.  To be sure, filling potholes would be a paternalistic over-reach by city government run amok.  There’s no telling where such behavior could lead.  Drunk on power, a pot-hole-filling municipality might further oppress its citizenry by plowing snow or providing good schools.  Thus, our unfilled asphalt singularities stand as symbols of our individual liberty and a staunch reminder than freedom has not perished from this earth.

(Glory, glory, hallelujah, etc., etc., blah, blah.)

Nonetheless, with all the opportunities for personal growth, redemption, and enlightenment that I get from other areas of my strife — I mean, life — it would be OK for illumination to relent when I’m trying to scoot home with at least most of a dozen eggs.

A particularly remarkable aspect of potholes around here is their tremendous diversity.  Like black holes, potholes come in a range of sizes.  Scientists classify black holes as stellar, intermediate, and super-massive.  I classify potholes as: Shit, Oh, Shit!, and Holy Shit!!  While black holes are borne of collapsed stars, potholes are borne of collapsed infrastructure.  Since our infrastructure was put in place at the same time as the transcontinental railroad, it collapses a lot.  (Horace Greeley probably told people to “Go west,” in order to get away from all our water main breaks — which erupt throughout the city like the fountains at the Bellagio.  If I had more time, I’d figure out how to synchronize our water main breaks with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture or something.)

Not satisfied with having “regular” potholes, Philadelphia pioneered the notion of the Manhole-Pothole hybrid.  This chimera results when an attempt to repave a street somehow manages to leave manhole covers that are six inches below the surface of the roadway.  These beasts can never be filled in (lest the manhole be blocked) — with the result being a shiny, new street that is littered with a series of scooter-eating death traps at periodic intervals.  (We can hardly blame the city for these — it’s not like the city already knew where all these manholes were or anything.  Most likely the manholes spontaneously generated and tunneled into the road like bot flies.)

Coveting Yellowstone’s infamous Death Gulch, Philadelphia has also innovated its own take on that concept (i.e., the potgulch).  When ravines are carved into a road to repair some something-or-other that lives underneath, we leave the channel in the middle of the street.  Because, well, why not.

The Milky Way is believed to contain a few hundred million black holes.  I estimate that Philadelphia contains about that many potholes, probably a few more.

OK, OK, a lot more.

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.

By the Way, I Just Cut You Off…

A long time ago, I enrolled in a class devoted to a fascinating aspect of anthropological study.  It was called “Driver’s Ed.”

First, some general background.

Society has determined (for its own protection, self-preservation, and orderly maintenance) that certain individuals cannot legally purchase alcohol or tobacco, participate in the election of governing officials, serve on a jury, make a will, own land, sue or be sued, or open a bank account in their own name.  We call these powerless whelps “minors” aka: “People Under 18 Years Old.”  Neuroscience provides ample evidence to justify the oppressive treatment of these outcasts: the brains of such individuals have yet to develop completely.  And there is no telling what type of violence and anarchy would ensue if we allowed cerebrally-half-baked sixteen-year-olds to maintain savings accounts or prepare a will.

(I for one feel much safer knowing that our system of laws protects me from such terrible threats.)

Remarkably, however, these same individuals who are barred from willy-nilly running around drafting Trust and Estates documents can — with minimal training, limited practice, and negligible skill — hop into a four-wheeled death machine and go about their merry way.  (Given how some teenagers drive, we might want to revisit their ability to draft wills.  But, not my circus, not my monkeys, as the Polish would say.)

Background over.  Back to Drivers Ed.

Part of the minimalist, Philip-Glass-esque training that we give immature drivers before lobbing them a set of keys and saying “Have fun; Don’t kill anyone” is Drivers Ed.  I remember my Drivers Ed class fondly.  We sat in a dark, cramped room that smelled just a little bit funny and listened to someone (usually a moonlighting gym teacher) read to us from a “How Not To Kill Yourself or Others While Driving” manual.  And we watched fun movies about how failing to follow the manual’s sound teachings would invariably result in blood-soaked asphalt, bodily mutilation, and/or decapitation.

It was a violent, disturbing homage to Thanatos, which also happened to include some information on how to merge onto freeways, parallel park, and use turn signals.

I recall an entire evening being devoted to the life-saving power of turn signals.  Actuarial longevity hinged on one’s ability to distinguish the turn signal lever from the headlights and windshield wipers.  We even had to learn hand signals for left and right turns, just in case the automobile experienced catastrophic turn-signal failure while out on the road — or (equally importantly) in case we happened to encounter someone who (for whatever reason) had resorted to using such anachronistic miming to communicate directional intent.

And thus we arrive at the key philosophical question that I ponder today:

Given all this education, why is it that no one knows how to use a God damn turn signal?

Some simply dispense with the practice altogether.  I can understand the logic of this — if you are driving along and someone veers into your lane, well, the presence of the interloper should clue you in that his intent was to change lanes.  (Res ipsa locitur.)  Then there are others who simply give one quick flash of a signal before invading.  All I can surmise is that these drivers — if called to testify — want to be able to say truthfully that Yes, they did use their turn signal before changing lanes.  Then there are those who put the turn signal on, jut halfway into the path of oncoming travel, and stop dead in their tracks — waiting for a sign from an oncoming driver or from the Almighty that, yes, the attempt to merge has been detected and the signaler should go ahead and get the hell out of the way now.  And, of course, there are some who forget to switch their turn signals off, condemning those of us behind them to the existential agony of wondering whether the next fork in the road will be “The One.”

But recently while out scooting, I encountered a new specimen.  (Very exciting — like discovering a new type of tree frog in the Amazon.)  I found him on 8th Street.  This fellow turned his signal on after he had already shifted 98% of his vehicle into my lane, left the blinker on long enough to confirm that a lane change had occurred (in case, you know, I had missed it), then turned it off.  Just a little blinking reminder that, “By the way, I just cut you off.”  Or, perhaps he thought that a turn signal is supposed to formally memorialize the fact that a lane change has occurred — like how a Notary Public affixes a seal after an official document has been signed.

Fascinating.

Pulling ahead to investigate who had brazenly thumbed his nose at temporality’s appropriate order, I saw a teenage driver.

Well, using a turn signal after a turn, what harm could come from that?  At least he can’t prepare a revocable trust instrument or living will, because that would be dangerous.

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.

 

 

Can I Use My Invisibility Powers Elsewhere?

Based on empirical observations and anecdotal data collected over a period of several years, I have formulated the following scientific hypothesis: Every scooter and motorcycle comes with a standard-issue Romulan Cloaking Device.

The Case For:

Let us consider the evidence that supports the theory that all scooters and motorcycles come with cloaking devices.  First, there are countless unfortunate examples of cars hitting scooterists and motorcyclists, with drivers mysteriously claiming that they “never saw” the rider.  Second, there are even more countless-er examples of near misses, where cars pull into a rider’s path, cut a rider off, or apply squealing brakes just in time to avoid a collision.  Again, drivers claim that the rider was “invisible.”

Clearly, one scientifically plausible explanation for drivers’ repeated (and arguably constant) inability to see scooters and motorcycles is that the bikes are equipped with a device that bends the path of light as it curves around the bike, thus making the scooter or motorcycle undetectible to the human visual field.   An alternate hypothesis may be that scooters and motorcycles generate such a collosal gravitational pull, that the sheer magnitude of that force is sufficient to bend light’s path.  This second explanation seems less likely, as such a gravitational pull would be expected to disrupt tides and planetary alignments.  Thus, the presence of standard-issue cloaking devices seems more probable.

The Case Against:

While I like to believe that a cloaking device came standard on my scooters (drivers appear to be equally oblivious to both the 50cc and the 600, despite differences in size, power, and color), I fear that it is unlikely that my purported invisibility can be attributed to quantum mechanics or the temporarly disruption of the space-time continum.  As wonderful as my scooters are, I doubt that the Taiwanese or German engineers that created them figured out how to equip my scoots with the ability to manhandle photons.  (If it were possible, the feature would be better used as a theft-deterrant or to avoid parking tickets.)  I guess there is some small measure of comfort in my hypothesis being disproven, as it would be depressing to think that I own something as cool as not one, but TWO, Romulan Cloaking Devices, and all I seem to be able to do with them is make myself the invisible target of oncoming automobiles.

If Not Cloaking Devices, What Gives?

With the cloaking-device hypothesis on the cutting room floor, I needed to develop an alternative explanation.  So I asked myself again the fundamental question, “Why Don’t Cars See Scooters?”  If the natural path of photons is not affected, what other explanation could there be?  What could drivers be doing in there that completely negates their ability to see a two-wheeled object (and attendant human being) directly in their path?  Even if protecting the sanctity of human life and limb is not your cup of tea, what could be so important that it interferes with driver’s desire to protect the sanctity of their STUFF?  Why would drivers be willing to risk having their cars dented or scratched??

A proposed list of things that drivers might find sufficiently compelling to disrupt their natural desire to protect their cars (i.e., by avoiding hitting things or people) is below.  Mundane explanations (e.g., texting, talking on a cell phone, receiving and/or giving oral sex) have been omitted (because this blog eschews the Mundane).

1. All drivers simultaneously ran out of contact lenses and are on their way to get more.

2. Drivers decided to drive with their eyes closed, to heighten the acuity of their other senses.

3. Drivers are trying to reverse-engineer the code for Google’s page-ranking algorithm in their heads.

4. Drivers are thinking about what to have for dinner.

5.  They all have undiagnosed glaucoma.

6. Drivers are double-checking the equations that account for the planet Mercury’s perihelion orbit.

7. They lost their place while singing 100 bottles of beer on the wall and are trying to remember where they were.

8. They are driving with a brown paper bag over their head.

9.  They just came from staring into a solar eclipse.

10.  Retinas in both eyes detached and they are driving themselves to the ER.

The Last Word: If you drive a car, please look where the hell you are going.  Mercury’s perihelion orbit will still be there when you get home.  And if you ride a bike, remember to look where the hell drivers are going (because they probably aren’t).

She Was Looking At Her Shoes.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, “I was looking at my shoes.”

That’s what she said, after rear-ending me while I was law-abidingly stopped at a red light — as I rode home from my nearly-new 600cc scooter’s *very* *first* service.

Your shoes?? Really? My bike is a hood ornament because of your footwear??

American roadways offer a host of enchanting visages upon which to gaze: rolling hillsides, quaint towns, meandering paths along the ocean or riversides.  Sometimes, (you know, occasionally) drivers might even be tempted to pay attention to other cars or — God forbid — scooterist and motorcyclists. But this lady thought her footwear should command her utmost attention.

Alas, if only the back end of my BMW had piqued La Femme de Footwear’s interest before I became one with her Toyota…

There was no squealing screech of brakes (why stop when you’re looking at your feet?). I did however catch a glipse of her in my sideview mirror moments before impact.

“Oh my God…that car’s not going to stop…”

Followed quickly by: “Oh my God…that car actually just hit me…”

[And now, a brief discussion of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity:]

In the early 1900s, dissatisfied with Newtonian physics, Albert Einstein engaged in a series of thought experiments that considered how someone traveling near the speed of light and a separate, third-party observer might experience the expansion (i.e., slowing) of time. For his efforts, Einstein received the Nobel prize in Physics in 1921.

Last Wednesday, while having no issue with Sir Isaac Newton whatsoever, I *personally* experienced the relative slowing and telescoping of time as I saw Shoe Lady’s Toyota coming at me in my sideview mirror. (I am hopeful that the Nobel Prize committee will be contacting me soon to discuss my significant contribution to theoretical physics.)

[And thus concludes our brief discussion of space-time and special relativity.]

Meanwhile, back at the red light, the force of the impact had been sufficient to impale the tail end of my bike into the Toyota’s grill. So, when Shoe-Looking-At-Lady threw it in reverse, she pulled me along. The combined force of my throttle and her reverse managed to remove her 600cc hood ornament.

While she was explaining how her footwear figured into recent events, I was surveying the damage she’d caused. The top case mount was snapped to pieces and the top case that had been added only an hour before was strewn into the street. The left turn signal, brake light, license plate holder, and plate light were smashed to hell. And, as I would eventually learn, the seat locking mechanism had been jammed shut by the force of the blow.

And — if you’re wondering — her shoes were completely unremarkable and not-at-all-worthy-of-being-stared-at-while-operating-a-motor-vehicle.

As I peeled off my helmet, the comedy of errors truly began.

“Oh my God,” Shoe-Lady exclaimed, “you’re a girl? I hit a girl?!?”

“Do you have insurance?” I asked.

“Yes.” she said, and handed me her Medicare card.

After pausing a split second to confirm in my own head that Medicare hadn’t recently begun offering senior citizens automobile liability coverage, I pointed out that she had handed me her Medicare card.

(There was a pause.)

“Do you have CAR insurance? Insurance for the CAR that you HIT me with because you were looking at your SHOES?”

After a few seconds of thumbing through her wallet, Lady Shoe-Gazer suggested that the insurance information must be at home and could she drive home to fetch it.

“No. No you cannot.”

Then she noted — with an odd mixture of pride and glee — that I was her first automobile accident ever!

(Not sharing her enthusiasm, I instead wondered to myself, “Are you an actor?  You can’t really be this stupid.”)

Her Eyes Were Watching Shoes then said she needed to leave because she was late for her dentist appointment.

“I think you missed your dentist appointment when your front grill married my bike.”

She then suggested that I simply ride home. When I pointed at the top case (which was packed with stuff) that lay in the street and asked her where I was supposed to put that, she helpfully suggested that I stick it between my legs (or something).

She then asked why I couldn’t just drive my car home the rest of the way (because I clearly would have thought ahead to park a spare vehicle nearby in the event I was rear-ended).

“This IS my car. You HIT my ‘car.'”

Then she got crabby and pointed out that her Toyota’s grill had been damaged too.

“Yes,” I acknowledged, “because you rear-ended me while I was lawfully stopped for a red light, because — as you admitted — you were LOOKING AT YOUR SHOES!!!!!!!!!”

(This is when two cops thankfully drove by and pulled over.)

It was when the officers asked me for my proof of insurance and registration that I discovered the seat was jammed shut.

“Officer, I can’t give you my registration.”

“Why not, Ma’am?”

“It’s in the bike.”

“So?”

“The seat is jammed shut from the impact — of her hitting me while she was LOOKING AT HER SHOES.”

“Are you sure you’re turning the key the right way?”

Not believing that I really did know how to unlatch my own seat cover, the officer fiddled with it.

(The gas tank valve popped open.  He asked if it was the seat latch.)

As I sobbed, the officer encouraged me to calm down and look at the bright side (i.e., not being dead), as accidents happen.

[And now, a brief discussion of Philosophy:]

Yes.  Accidents happen.  If a bolt of lightning had frightened a rabid puma, prompting it to jump into the lady’s Totoya and maul her as she approached the red light, thus causing her to temporarily lose control of her vehicle as she attempted to fend off the crazed feline — fine, that would have been an ‘accident.’  (Potentially a preventable one, if she had been driving with her windows closed.) Rear-ending someone because you are looking at your shoes is not an event that happens by chance, without apparent or deliberate cause (i.e., not an accident).  Instead, rear-ending someone is the foreseeable result of approaching a red light while allowing your gaze and attention to be captivated by something other than What The Hell Is Going On Right In Front Of You.  Some might even argue that deliberate study of What The Hell Is Going On Right In Front Of You is the first step towards solving many of the world’s problems.

[Thus concludes our brief discussion of Philosophy.]

Meanwhile, Shoe Gazer was still talking about her erstwhile dentist appointment, while I was desperately loooking for melting clocks, phones made of lobsters, or any other evidence that my life had temporarily been replaced by a surrealist fantasy and none of this was actually happening.

“I really am sorry that I was looking at my shoes,” she offered again.

“Dammit,” I thought, “not a temporary surrealist fantasy.  She’s still here.”

And I picked up my non-lobster phone to call for a tow and a lift home.

 

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