“Get A Life”
While riding my bicycle, I see a man step into the street in front of me. I swing around him—I don’t slow so he can pass. He sees me roll close, and when he is within earshot he says, “Get a light.” Either that, or he says, “Get a life.”
I’m in a hurry. I have a twenty-minute ride before I get to the bridge. It’s dark already, but my red taillight is on. I can’t see it, but it must be blinking in a steady strobe pattern, warning drivers to stay back.
The man couldn’t have seen my taillight—he’s wrong that I need one. As for a life, maybe I need to get one. Maybe I should find a way not to have to ride my bike everywhere, in daylight and darkness, in good weather and bad. Maybe that’s what this ticked-off man was trying to tell me.
I come to an intersection where the avenue forks. I want to go straight, but doing so would mean cutting in front of any vehicle behind me. The traffic lights don’t work in concert here: The green shows on one side of the street before it signals “Go” on the other side. I roll ahead anyway, but when I reach the median, I can’t go any farther. Traffic passes in front of me, so I end up in the middle of the street, in a traffic lane. A package-delivery truck comes up beside me, and the driver yells out his open door, “Red light, man!”
A woman rolls toward me, ringing her bell. She’s working her handlebar button frantically. “Get out of my way!” she yells.
A man on a bicycle passes me from behind and heads toward the woman. When he gets next to her, he reaches out and says, “Wrong way!”
“Don’t touch me!” she says.
Minutes later, I hear the squawk of a siren behind me, then see the blue and red lights of a police car. I hear through a loudspeaker, “Pull over,” but I don’t think it means me—there are plenty of other vehicles on the street.
I make it about a block before the police car comes to a stop ahead of me.
I ride my bicycle around the cruiser, and it quickly gives chase. “Stop right there,” the driver says through his open window.
I park on the street as the officer approaches. “You went through a red light,” he says. “Why did you do that?”
I have no doubt I ran the light, but I don’t know why. Maybe I was looking for oncoming traffic, not at the light. But I don’t want to start a conversation. Any exchange might seem rude, and rudeness would lead to arrest, detainment, and penalty.
“I didn’t realize I went through until you told me,” I say.
“Do you have ID?” the officer asks.
I must not be responding quickly enough, so he says sharply, “ID! Ten hut!”
I come to attention and give him my driver’s license and a card with a photo.
“Do you have two licenses? Is one of these fake?”
“No, one is not a license.”
“Wait here,” he says as he gets back into his car.
Rain is falling as I step onto the sidewalk. My bike balances on its kickstand. Cars pass the police car obediently.
I’m sure I’ll get a ticket, not only for running a red light, but for responding to an order too slowly. I’m guessing the fine will be hundreds of dollars. I could appeal, but I would have to go to court. Which court would that be? Does the local traffic court have a bicycle division? Will the judge be on my side? The cops won’t change their story, and the judge might think that everything a cop says is true.
The arresting officer returns and says, “Your record is clean, so I’m letting you go.”
I stop at every red light on the route to the bridge. I have to cover about three miles before I reach the ramp. The traffic lights slow me down, though I’m still in a hurry.
On the bridge, there are no intersections. I cannot be stopped for proceeding illegally. But the hill is steep. I pedal slowly as I approach the first platform. I almost cannot move forward, but I don’t stop. Near the top of the ramp someone has painted graffiti on the pavement: “Sarah2, Marry Me,” with a superscript “2.” I don’t know what the “2” means. Is this the second Sarah to receive a proposal? Or is she Sarah Squared? Maybe she is a super Sarah. On the other side of the peak, sadder words are spaced at even intervals: “Entropy,” “Self-Obsession,” “Mediocrity,” “Boredom,” “Conflict,” “Revolution.”
I’m coasting fast as I approach the exit, faster than the cars in their lane beside me. I squeeze the brake handles, then release them. I do not use the “death grip”—the motion that would engage the brakes at the risk of my life. The path narrows as I come to the street. I have to get through a space in a wall and ease over a bump. When I pass through the last obstacle, I will be more or less home.