Sunday, October 31, 2010

Look Alive...

Stay Alive...

Ever wonder what it's like to have a bunch of people want to kill you? It's easy. When you get to the counter at the bank or Post Office, and there's a line of people waiting, just do one or all of these things: Engage the clerk in mindless chatter about nothing, ask questions about things you don't need the answers to now, and then before leaving, rearrange the contents of your purse, wallet or backpack.

When I'm in line somewhere, or riding my bike in traffic, or doing just about anything in the world, I like to attend to the flow of things around me and not get in its way. I think life would be a lot more smooth and enjoyable if everyone did this. I'm not talking about rushing through life or trying to be some kind of hyper-efficient machine. I'm just talking about attending to the flows you are in and not blocking them.

For instance, I'm on a bike. I'm slowly approaching a stop sign at a street that I want to cross. You are in a car approaching my cross street. It's clear that I see you and I'm not speeding up, but I'm not completely stopping either. I'm just slowly approaching the stop sign. Now, if you glance in your mirror and see that there is no one behind you, keep going! You don't have to stop and I don't have to stop. Flow happens. You pass by and I cross the street behind you. (If I have a choice by the way, I always prefer going behind a car to going in front of one.) But if you stop, or slow way down, now we have to go through this little, who's going to go first game of charades. Now if there is a lot of traffic behind you and want to give me a break and you have enough space to stop without being rear-ended, fine. Stop and let me cross. I'll do it quickly as I safely can and the flow can continue. But if it's just you, and you see that I'm hanging back, go first. That's why I'm hanging back, because I'm attending to the flow and thinking, how can we get through this without anyone having to stop. I'm amazed at how reluctant people are to do this, even when I'm motioning with my hand, go, go, go! I want to go behind you not in front of you! There's no one back there! It's just you! Go!

I guess for a motorist stopping and starting is just a matter of pushing the pedal, but for us bicyclists, it's much easier to ride slowly than to stop and start again. When we stop we lose all momentum and have to restore it with our legs, not our engines. Add to that the fact that most motorists are not also bicyclists and don't understand the energy economics of riding a bike, the fact that most motorists are somewhat distracted by their stereos, phones, conversations, and the like, and it's understandable that attending to the flow is not high on their priority list. Still....I sure wish it was!

How many people as they go through their day are even aware of these flows all around them, let alone looking to see how they might be impeding or helping them? I've seen people wait for 30 minutes in line at the Post Office, and then, when it's their turn, forget all about the other people in line and start chatting and asking dumb questions they don't really need the answers to. Or they'll stand in the middle of a busy sidewalk talking on their cell phones. Or worse, they'll cross the street while talking on their cells. Or drive their cars. Or block the aisle at the grocery store while pontificating about their latest guru discovery. I don't care what people do with their own flows, but once you leave the house, if you don't attend to the other flows around you, you will annoy people at best, and endanger their lives, as well as your own, at worst. So look alive and you might stay alive!


  1. Gene, as I car driver I'm always focused on flow. I'll let people in front of me when appropriate, and I always look at freeway on-ramps to see if someone needs in.

    And as a pedestrian, I sometimes wait 10 feet from a crosswalk so 10-20 cars can go by without them all having to stop for me. Once they pass, I walk.

  2. what's worse the unaware customer holding up the line with their idle chatter, or the unaware teller who thinks they need to engage each customer and have a nice chat, or worse yet when the two know each other and need to "catch up".