Out on ‘The Road’: Trust, luck and kindness

You hop on your bike and head into the street. Does it cross your mind how you are trusting your life to hundreds of people every day? People you have never met.

You are trusting that:

  1. they are not trying to eat a doughnut, become distracted and run you over;
  2. they keep their eyes on the road and concentrate when it’s dark or pouring rain;
  3. they obey that red light;
  4. they aren’t stone drunk;
  5. they don’t have a heart attack, fall unconscious, and veer across the bike lane before crashing into a tree — as happened last year to a motorist on a road I ride every day, about 30 minutes before I came pedaling down that very bike lane;
  6. they aren’t deranged and try to run you down for fun.

Sometimes I think it’s a thin thread, trust. I guess that’s because all of these things do happen from time to time.

Maybe trust is the wrong word. Maybe it’s luck. Maybe we’re just assuming we’ll be lucky enough not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Still, to take a chance on the odds means you do have to trust most people who are out there driving a car.

A few years ago I read the novel “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. For me, the central question the book raised was: Where does kindness come from? Where does our humanity come from?

McCarthy puts his characters into the most horrific situation you can imagine. It’s a post-apocalyptic world: No food. No institutions. No order. No bike lane enforcement. And in that world, some people become pure animals. Actually, cannibals. But some of the characters hold on to their humanity, their compassion, their kindness.

It was, simultaneously, the most bleak and most hopeful book I can remember reading. It was bleak for obvious reasons. It was hopeful because the story ultimately reveals a faith in the goodness of humanity. At least some of humanity.

Where the hell is this going, you ask?

Well, I think anyone who takes to the streets on a bicycle also must carry with them — in a milk crate, perhaps — a similar faith in the basic trustworthiness of humanity. Even the most militant of cyclists — no matter how angry at cars and drivers they may seem to be — must have such a faith. No matter how careless you think that guy driving and talking on his cell phone is being. No matter how defensively you ride. You still trust in the humanity of the motorists who are sailing past you. You have to. Or you wouldn’t be out there.

4 thoughts on “Out on ‘The Road’: Trust, luck and kindness

  1. Great post.

    I believe it’s trust as much as possible, but also do the verify part. Make eye contact when you can, be as visible as possible, expect the unexpected, and above all, remember that even when you are in the right, you are the bug to their windshield.

    Sincere education of motorists is helpful if you can find a willing ear. This kind of riding, no matter how skilled or cool, is not: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmHRnA780WM

    1. Ah, yes, trust and verify. Wasn’t expecting a Reaganism. But then I just learned that Reagan actually cribbed that saying … it’s supposedly a Russian expression.

      Interesting video. Yeah, but not so good for the larger “share the road” campaign. Thanks for the link.

  2. I suppose the way I look at it is more like an insistence or an assertion. Almost a command. Yes, you WILL stop at that stop sign, no you will NOT hit me, etc. As if I ran the universe. I don’t, but I would stake my life on these assertions. ;-)

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