I Want My HPV (not. herpes.)

If someone put a gun to my head and asked what the three great loves of my life are, I’d probably… well, crap my pants.

If the assailant continued to stick around even after that, then I’d probably say something like:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday I’m speaking to that last object of my desire. Specifically, to a February 15 GA Voice op-ed piece titled “Cars Aren’t The Problem With Share the Road,” by Melissa Carter. As it were, this single editorial has quickly become to the Atlanta cycling community what a Paula Dean cookbook is to a vegan food festival.

pigletI won’t lie. When I first read the piece, my initial thoughts were not exactly — how shall I say — ladylike. I heart Bikes. I wear my “I WANT HPV” t-shirt with pride (HPV as in Human Powered Vehicle, not herpes). I’m an avid rider and yes, in my ideal universe Atlanta Streets Alive — the bi-annual festival in which major city roadways are shut down to automobiles and opened only to foot or bike traffic — would be the norm.

That said, I’m just sane enough to know how unrealistic that is. After moving to Atlanta, I even bought a car after seven years of being a two-wheeled purist. And I’ll be the first to admit how grateful I am to have said car around should the need arise.

But as much I’d like to print Melissa Carter’s face on a “WANTED” spoke card, she’s not all wrong. She’s just really short-sighted, never more so than in her opening paragraph. There, Carter suggests every traffic jam she’s ever been stuck in “was caused by a bicycle.”

I call bull shitake.

If you can get past that doozy without gagging, Carter does go on to make some valid points. Chief among them:

A “4,000 pound vehicle that can reach speeds well over 100 mph” is not meant to “coexist on the same roads in harmony” with a 30 pound bicycle with an average speed of 20 mph.

I could not agree more. When it was created in 2000, Share the Road was designed to educate “all road users [including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, etc…] about interacting safely in and around large trucks and buses.” (sharetheroadsafely.org). That didn’t mean adding bicycle hand signals to the driver’s Ed curriculum and calling it a day. Obviously infrastructure has to be implemented that creates clear and generous divisions between the two. To say Georgia lacks in that area is a gross understatement.

On the majority of metro Atlanta streets, a bike “lane” is qualified by a white stencil drawing of a helmeted stick figure on two wheels visible right before driving your car over it. Last check, Georgia ranked 23rd in the nation for being bike friendly (League of American Bicyclists).

bikelaneBut nowhere in her article does Carter suggest ways of improving said infrastructure. Rather than being constructive, Carter is openly cynical: The system is flawed and therefore should not exist. That she places no blame whatsoever on the part of cars for the Share the Road debacle is inconceivable. Instead, she holds the “arrogant” cyclist who “flippantly” disobeys traffic laws responsible for sabotaging any real STR potentiality.

Dear Melissa Carter, for every self-righteous cyclist that leans up against your car or whizzes past you in the turn lane — I will raise you two SUV-driving jacktards who intentionally try and run biking-me off the road to compensate for their gherkin-sized genitalia.

 gherkin

Given that she sees bicyclists as the weak link in the STR chain, Carter’s proposed solution is — unsurprisingly — to hold the pedaling population more accountable for their actions. She writes:

“I want everyone who wants to put their bikes on the main road to get a license and a tag. That certainly isn’t a new idea. A similar effort took place last year in Oregon when a proposed ballot measure sought to create a bicycle education program for people who have not taken the Oregon driver’s test. It would also mandate more police enforcement of traffic laws for cyclists… The measure would have required a fee for the endorsement test and registration via a license plate for all bicycles in Oregon.”

I have one word: Portland. If Georgia was anywhere near the stratosphere of Portland in terms of accommodating a safe and amenable car/bike coexistence, then I would be first in line to apply for my bicycle license. As it were, it’s like comparing RadioShack to the Apple store. Georgia is bike-phobia; Portland is bike-phoria.

  • As of a 2012 survey, a whopping 1% of all federal transportation tax money in Georgia was allocated toward bicycle and pedestrian projects. (Altantabike.org) — versus — In 2011, Portland’s mayor Sam Adams allocated 17% of the amount of uncommitted transportation funding to bike projects (The Oregonian)
  • Georgia is ranked 23rd most bike-friendly state in the nation (League of American Bicyclists) — versus — Oregon at 5th
  • Atlanta has 30 miles bicycle lanes — versus — Portland has over 100.

Carter wants bicyclists to get licensed to codify their understanding of traffic laws and hold them accountable for breaking those laws. She fails to acknowledge the other obvious benefit here: The fee for said licenses could go directly into building a solid bike-friendly infrastructure in Georgia.

Once again, Carter is unable to see any way of improving the situation. “I don’t believe in sharing the road,” she yields. I imagine little girl she also had issues sharing her toys with other kids on the playground too.

Instead, Carter is resigned to the cluster-muck that is GA’s Share the Road; and the best she can hope for is that the bicyclist holding her up in “stand still traffic” has a valid license plate.

I am way more optimistic. While it’s still in its rubbing two sticks together stages of creating a bike-friendly culture, Georgia is light years from where it was ten, twenty years ago. When I was growing up near Atlanta in the late 90s, the only reason you’d see someone on a bike was if their driver’s license was revoked.

Now, we have “road diet” programs and the Beltline. And the most recent coup: At the beginning of this year, Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council approved a $2.47 million overhaul of Georgia’s streets to create “high-quality” bicycle projects, including:

  • Doubling the percentage of people who bike to work from 1.1percent to 2.2 percent
  • Becoming top ten U.S. city for cycling to work and cycling safety
  • Doubling total miles of bicycle lanes/cycle tracks to 60
  • Doubling total miles of linked shared-use paths to 60
  • Securing Silver or Gold Bicycle Friendly Community status from the League of American Cyclists, joining the ranks of Boston and Denver
  • Introducing bicycle sharing program that supports local economy

In the meantime, viva la velocipedes.

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Saaaaaaave Yourself! But Leave Joe Pesci with Me

Let me make one thing perfectly clear. I do NOT condone stalking. A restraining order is NOT the ultimate symbol of affection. No means No. And love does NOT mean never having to say you’re sorry for the severed horse head left on the doorstep.

There is a big difference between perseverance and prowling. The one does not involve hair sniffing or sleep watching with night goggles or tethering oneself to the undercarriage of a car in order to hitch a ride to your “soul mate’s” house.

capefearIt’s good, clean, ole’ fashion courtship. And, after a solid year of wooing Write Club Atlanta, reciting love poems and planting beds of various perennials outside its cyber window — i was finally invited inside!

And there, I was welcomed onto the sacred stage where once a month, the most bad-ass literary event this side of Mars takes place: the WCA Bout. Here’s how it all goes down:

  • 1 week before showtime, you are assigned a topic. In my case — “LIGHT”
  • At the very same time, my contender is assigned an opposing topic; i.e. “DARK”
  • You both have that single week to compose a folktale, yarn, memoir, ode, allegory, recipe, Unabomber manifesto, etc. around your topics.
  • That story, when read aloud, can last no longer than SEVEN minutes. There is an actual timer. It will go off. It is ego-crushingly loud. And you must stop reading or else you will be caned.
  • Opening Night: A brutal round of rock, paper & scissors determines whether you or your opponent reads first.
  • Once both stories are finished, an audience applause-o-meter decides the winner

clapometerOn Jan. 16, 2013 — I, as “LIGHT,” went up against “DARK.” Our moves were even, our talent nose-to-nose, our wit neck-to-neck.

It was Rocky versus Apollo, graham versus honey, Spy versus Spy.

But in the end, the applause-o-meter needle swung in my favor. My ears rung from the thunder-clapping of the crowd; everything moved in slow mo, suddenly I saw my arm being lifted into the air, outside of myself. It was official. I had WON.

Honestly, I never imagined anything could taste sweeter than my dessert nom de plume — the vegan Sunny Bear Sundae.  But I was wrong. Victory, dulce victory, is even better.

So today I’m sharing the story I wrote that earned me the Write Club Atlanta prize of eternal bragging rights: (Illustrations added)

********

LIGHT

I met Eric Hyman — yes HYMAN — in second grade art class. The teacher, Ms. Lee paired us for an exercise to sketch the other person’s eye. After a half-hour, she did a once around the room to take in the results. Then, she doubled back to Eric, grabbed his paper off his desk, and taped it the center of the chalkboard so we could all see.

 “BEHOLD!” she bellowed. “The only work in the entire class to contain this,” she pointed to a little white square Eric had drawn in the lower left corner of my pupil.

“Eric, will you be so kind as to tell everyone what that square is?”

“Uh, sure,” he muttered. “It’s the reflection of light in Nicole’s eye.”

And that’s Eric. Even at 8 years old, he grasped the intricate workings of the universe, smart in the kind of way that can’t be taught.

Not this “SHORT” bus rider. I was wearing a training bra before I fully understood that the sun didn’t actually rise in the day and duck back down at night.

ralphwiggumSomehow, though, from that 2nd grade eye exercise on, Eric and I were inseparable. By fifth grade, I was spending more time at his house than my own. We’d play Nintendo, make fart sounds, prank call people Bart Simpson style, and then when his phone rang, we’d answer,

“BUSTER Hyman, here,” OR

“PAPA Hyman, how may we help you?”

And 3-2-1 collapse into side-splitting hysterics.

After high school, life pulled us in different directions. But we still kept in touch. We wrote letters, we’d visit, and use holidays for random cross-country road trips.

And then, somehow after 22 years of being his platonic partner in crime, I started to have this reoccurring dream. In it, Eric and I were — how shall I put this — Slapping The Uglies.

He’d call as usual only now my heart would race and my cheeks would flush and I’d catch myself uttering the most asinine shit like,

“I hear a nasty cold front is moving into the Bay Area.”

Eventually it hit me. Eureka! I had a crush on Eric.

I decided to fly out west to tell him in person. I took a red eye. He took the day after I arrived off work. It was Easter Sunday, and we made a plan to honor our bearded Jewish broheim in HIGH holy style:

joepesciA day hike in Big Basin State park, where we’d test out the newest yield of Eric’s home-grown medical marijuana crop: a strain he named “Joe Pesci.”

By early afternoon, we reached the Pine Mountain ranger station, home to the famous “Buzzards Bluff.”

Elevation: 2,600 feet.

About 20 minutes into the hike and for the next hour, the incline was so steep I could literally reach my hand out and touch the path in front of me.

This was good. I couldn’t even talk if I wanted to.

Must. Conserve. Breath.

And then we made it to the top. We found a sweet little nook carved out of the stone with a panoramic view of the sweeping sequoias. Eric lit his Joe Pesci joint and passed it my way. I took a generous hit, held the smoke in my lungs, and puffed out a burning, tear-filled exhale.

I looked at Eric. In my head I said,

“If not for your friendship, I’d be a BATH SALT SNORTING Juggalo right now.”

juggalo

But what came out was,

“Did.

You ever.

Notice.

How. Feet.

Are like.

Leg. Hands? “

I opted to put a pin in any life-altering revelations until I wasn’t high off my Joe Pesci gourd.

We stayed on Buzzards Bluff long enough for the actual namesakes to return to their nests after a full day of scavenging. Eric and I collected our things, scarfed down the only nourishment we had — a bag of chili cheese bugles and half a bottle of water — and began the descent.

Only this time, the trail marker on the tree in front of us was green, not the RED we followed up. But hey, what’s the difference? Green means go. Green means shortcut.

Our confidence was airtight. We moved in step, enchanted by the scenery before us. I thought of the countless unclaimed tickets for the coat check of regret — forgotten in the folds of some worn-out wallet, torn asunder in washing machines, stuck inside that inconceivably tight side jeans pocket that you can’t even get one finger into.

I rehearsed the lines under my breath:

“I thought you should know that for about a year now, I’ve wanted to kiss you.”

Short. Sweet. Direct.

Okay. Now out loud.

But before I could open my mouth, Eric interrupted,

“I think we’re lost.”

It was like how you don’t feel pain until someone points out that you’re bleeding. The second he said the word “lost,” I started to sense the temperature drop and the night set in. Now, the redwood canopy kept the slightest sliver of starlight at bay.

At first, we used the glow of Eric’s iPhone to guide us — covering as much distance as we could in each, 6-second power window before it shut off again. But eventually, the battery died and we were left in NEAR total darkness. I say “near” because I could still see the 2-by-2-inch luminescent decals on the back of Eric’s New Balance kicks as he stumbled in front of me.

They were my beacons, bouncing like fireflies on a trampoline.

Up, down. Up, down. Follow the New Balance decals. Don’t think about Blair Witch. Don’t think about piercing screams from douchebag Grizzly Man documentary.

Up, down. Up, down. My thighs felt like sandbags. My tongue felt like sawdust. I would’ve set a church on fire for a smoothie.

Up, down. Up, down.

I wanted to curl up inside one of those giant sequoia trunks and go to sleep. I wanted to dream of heaven, where all the unsolved cliffhangers of life were resolved like what the Fuck WAS ‘Lost’ about AND How many licks DOES it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?

I wanted to say,

“Save yourself!”

“But leave Joe Pesci with me.”

And then I saw it. Up ahead. Lights. Little white squares of light flickering in the distance.

“Eric! Cars! “

Up, down, up, down. The New Balance decals bounced furiously as Eric broke out into a run, with me in hot pursuit. We came out onto the road, just below the entrance to Pine Mountain. We darted to Eric’s truck, sitting totally alone in the parking lot.

He turned on the engine. The clock radio flickered 3:17 am. We had been walking non-stop for 12 straight hours. No food. No water. My brain buzzed. I closed my eyes and the last thing I remember saying before passing out was,

“I can’t feel my leg hands”

Because we didn’t die that night.

And this isn’t heaven.

And we’re not granted all the answers to all the cliffhangers.

(Audio podcast of my Jan. 16 reading will be available at http://writeclubatlanta.com/podcasts/)