Tuesday, May 8, 2012

May 3, 2012 Mastering the Bus Rack

METRO had started cracking down. I used to get my bike on the subway just ahead of the 4 p.m. deadline, figuring that once I made it past the turnstile I was good. It had worked without a hitch for over a year. But, the week before, I had been accosted at 3:50 by the glaring METRO lady – barring my entry, grilling me as to my destination, and hostilely informing me that I wouldn’t reach it by 4. When I tried the line, “I changed my mind, I’m only going one stop,” she informed me that I could get back on my bike and ride that distance. I told her I didn’t think so, and proceeded through the turnstile. As I feared, the METRO man at East Falls Church handed me the “Bike on the METRO” brochure as I exited, mumbling, “You’re not supposed to be on until 7,” but, thankfully, not subjecting me to additional humiliations.

As a lifelong “people pleaser” who doesn’t like to get yelled at, I sadly realized that my strategy of biking to work and taking my wheels home on the metro would be untenable, as I couldn’t leave the office much ahead of 4:00. I decided it was time to conquer my fear of the bike rack on the bus. I realized I could bike to Rosslyn and take the bus up Lee Highway, all the way home, thereby avoiding the long, grueling uphill climb from Rosslyn: my major deterrent to biking the whole 10 miles home. I reviewed the instructions on the METRO website about three or four times. I consulted my transit-guru at work, who gave me meticulous step-by-step directions on how to get my bike into and out of the rack, even encouraging me by saying, “Most of the bus drivers are really nice. They even helped me put my bike on the first couple times I used it.”

My BikeNav app showed me a shorter route than what I’d been using to get to Rosslyn. As I reached the end of Memorial Bridge I looked for where I could connect to the path that skirts the edge of Arlington Cemetery. The next minute, like a crash test dummy about to meet its demise, a young man went somersaulting through the air, his bike cartwheeling behind him. The good news was that he landed on the broad sidewalk, and not into the rush hour traffic that stops for no one. I slammed on my brakes and ran to him, asking if he was ok. He assured me that he was, although one arm was scraped and bleeding from elbow to wrist, both elbows and knees were raw and painful-looking, and he had unconsciously smeared blood onto his forehead and mouth.

“It’s my fault,” he said, repeatedly, somewhat in shock, I think. “I was going too fast.” Neither of us had a water bottle, and it was a good distance to water in either direction. I vowed to never ride without a water bottle again, and band-aids. He kept repeating, “I’m ok, nothing’s broken,” perhaps to convince himself, as he wiggled his fingers and rotated his wrists. I continued to hover, feeling helpless and motherly. We checked out the bike, which he insisted was fine, and I chided him for riding without a helmet, although his head appeared to be unscathed. He looked to be under 30, drop dead handsome, despite the close-cropped hair that doesn’t appeal to my child-of-the-60s sensibilities, and athletically well-built. We exchanged stories about other crashes. “I’m Will,” he said, shaking my hand, as he finally convinced me that he was going to walk his bike the rest of the way to the baseball game he was rushing to get to and I should take off. He assured me that his buddies would have water and take good care of him.

So, riding with extra caution, I made my way to the Rosslyn bus stop for my first encounter with the bike rack. As I anticipated, I did not get the “nice” bus driver who was inclined to help me. As the website instructions clearly indicated, I placed my bike in the slot closest to the bus. The driver wildly gesticulated through the window and I could see her lips moving, but couldn’t hear a word, so I went around to the door. “Put the bike in the other slot,” she spat out at me. Ever compliant, I removed my bike, turned it around, and placed it in the other slot, worried about facing hostile looks from the bus passengers who had to wait another minute or two for me to complete the maneuver. As I swiped my farecard, I explained to the driver that the website had advised using the proximate slot in the rack, but she insisted I was wrong. I gave her a “whatever” shrug and took my seat. I guess bus passengers are used to waiting, because no one seemed annoyed by the delay, although I tried to avoid eye contact. The next week I got a different driver, who had no objection to my use of the slot closer to the bus.

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