Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Bicycle versus SUV

The Santa Fe New Mexican printed my letter to the editor apologizing, once again, to the owner of the black SUV that I clipped with my bicycle basket.  I further offered to stop by with some black touch up paint.  That's all that I'm able to do.  I worry, though, that I might end up touching up half the bumpers of black SUVs in the city, or else I'll get a call from him saying that he had to pay $1800 to replace his bumper because of a possible scratch.

The letter to the editor format did not give me enough room to tell the whole story, and I think it is a story that raises some interesting observations and interesting questions.

The city built the St. Francis Trail along the side of St. Francis Drive, a busy, eight lane road that runs through the middle of the city.  It connects to the trail system on my side of St. Francis by a new tunnel, and it's very nice having a tunnel to go under the road rather than having to wait at the light to cross with traffic.  The St. Francis Trail is set off from the road quite a ways, so it isn't exactly that most dreaded of bicycle facilities, the sidepath.  In general, I like it well enough, though I have other friends who are bicycle advocates who feel it is useless at best.

Its main problem is that it crosses Siringo Road at an intersection.  Mid-block crossings are much safer for bike trails.  There is also a high school located just up Siringo, so the traffic is very busy, and most drivers don't exactly follow the law.  I've almost gotten myself hit several times, because I've been checking to make sure the right turning traffic is going to yield to me when I cross when the light turns green, (are they supposed to?  it's really not clear), and I've pulled out because I think they're waiting for me, and I want to get out of their way as quickly as possible, when actually the oncoming traffic that is turning left has not stopped for their red light.

The crosswalk that serves as a trail crossing passes through a median that runs down the middle of the road.  Frequently, drivers pull over the crosswalk, which is illegal, but no one seems to be aware of where they are in the road anyway.  The other day, I was waiting for the light to change, and a black SUV pulled all the way over the crosswalk.  To me, it looked like a overtly aggressive act.  I was waiting right there!  In hindsight, he probably didn't even notice.  The way he was parked left me a tiny two foot wide strip of pavement between the median and his vehicle, and I then had to cut back straight so I didn't drift out into the cross-traffic.

"It's tight," I thought, "but I think I can make it."

I had forgotten, temporarily, about my folding WALD bike basket, which I had my backpack in.  I felt it bump against the SUV when I went pass.

"Whew, I'm still upright," I thought.

The driver laid on his horn.

Somehow he caught up to me in the intersection where the trail ends.  I was going straight on Galisteo, and he was next to me in the left turn lane.

"Hey, are you the asshole that damaged my car!"  He shouted.

"I apologize for bumping into your car, but you were all the way over the crosswalk.  I went around you as safely as I could."  I said.

"Is that all you have to say?  Is that all you have to say?!"  he shouted.

"Yes," I repeated.  "I apologize."

"It's not like we bumped into each other in the store.  You caused monetary damage to my car!  You caused monetary damage to my car!"

I was amazed at the level of stress I caused him.  He had to do some fancy driving to catch up to me.  He was heading in the complete opposite direction when I bumped him.  Now, here he was shouting at me about monetary damage.  I was going to offer him the $5 I had in my wallet, but the light turned green.  I'm really not sure what he wanted or why he was so angry, (and I was disappointed that he did not apologize for illegally pulling over the crosswalk, though not surprised).

I sent a letter to the editor of the newspaper as soon as I got to work offering to come by with some touchup paint.  Partly, it is a sincere offer to take responsibility for whatever scratch might have occurred.  Partly, it was to counter any stories he might be telling about reckless, dangerous, asshole bicyclists.  I was very polite and calm during our exchange, and it was an accident.

Here's my takeaway.  I realize that I expect drivers to be assholes, (just like drivers expect bicyclists to be assholes).  If I had proceeded calmly toward him and pointed out that he was in the crosswalk, he may very well have backed up out of the way.  I often have drivers notice me and back up of their own accord.  Most drivers are very decent people who don't have an axe to grind against people riding their bicycles.  I had pre-judged this person as an aggressive jerk who pulled over the crosswalk without a second thought as to who might be using it.  I didn't give him a chance to do the right thing.  I could have been much calmer at the outset.  If I had to wait for another cycle of the light, it wouldn't have killed me.  People often act exactly as we expect them to act.  We should work harder at expecting people to be kind, magnanimous, and beautiful.

My coworker was not as sympathetic toward my side.  She pointed out that people often scratch car doors with their car doors in the parking lot, and it would be nice if people took responsibility.  I've thought about that.  It's kind of irritating when you come out of the store and your car door is scratched, but if someone were to open their door and scratch my car when I was in it, I would expect an apology, but I would feel somewhat embarrassed if they offered me money for touchup paint.  A scratched car door is such a petty thing, it's not worth making a fiscal issue of it.  Cars get scratched.  Who makes a big deal out of a scratched car, unless it was scratched maliciously?

If I had been parked over a crosswalk, (and I have noticed myself doing that occasionally, especially if I am anticipating making a right turn on red), and a bicyclist had bumped into my car trying to get around me, I would have been embarrassed and would have checked to make sure the bicyclist was OK, and would have apologized for being in the crosswalk.  I would worry about my paint being scratched, but not very much.

So, basically, I'm not sure what was going on with that driver.  An apology in return would have been nice.  I'm not sure if I scratched his car.  It's possible with the wire of a WALD basket, and I am truly sorry if I damaged his car because I tried to squeeze past him on the assumption that he was inconsiderate to begin with and probably wouldn't back up out of the way.  I'm happy to buy some black nail polish or touchup paint for him if he calls me based on my letter to the editor. The best I can do in the wake of the incident is work harder not to prejudge drivers and to try to remember I have a basket on the back of my bicycle.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Parenting, Culture, Sugar, Teenagers

I have to say that lately, I have no idea what I want to eat.  I am not, by nature, a fanatic about anything.  I lean strongly toward vegetarianism, though I don't mind eating meat occasionally.  I do feel strongly the ugliness and suffering of factory farming.  I pick up a package of meat in my local grocery store, and it feels like I'm lifting a couple of pounds of blood, loneliness and misery of the cattle coupled with the psychic scars experienced by the people who work as knockers, and the misery of the assembly line butchers.  I'd like to go buy good local meat from the farmer's market - the misery is on nowhere the same scale - but after a few visits, I have to come to terms with the frugal side of my life.  I once bought a chicken at the farmer's market, and it cost $25.  That's not sustainable for most family's budgets.

I have to submerge myself in other writers' fanaticisms if I have any hope of maintaining something like the Paleo diet.  For the past few months, I just have not had the time or the interest or the patience to keep up with Mark's Daily Apple, and Grant is sporadic enough with posting on Eat Bacon Don't Jog that I forget to check over there.  I'm not a great blog reader, (or blog writer as you can tell), to keep up.

I am, however, trying to maintain two things: severely limit the amount of processed sugar I eat, and I'm still fermenting vegetables, kombucha, and yogurt.

My weight has gone up a little bit from its low of 178 after my summer backpacking trip, though that low was largely a result of a deficit of calories in my diet for the week.  I was using backpacking recipes for a home dehydrator.  I was eating a breakfast, some snacks, and a dinner each day.  The writer of the book also added in a hot lunch and a desert.  (Desert? Dessert?  which one do you eat?)  I was eating rice, polenta, and other non-paleo type things, like putting white sugar in my tea, during that trip, and I still lost ten pounds over the course of a week.  That makes me think that it's not strictly elimination of grains and limitation of carbs, and I loosened up quite a bit afterward.

I haven't been weighing myself - I think I'm probably back up to around 190 - but I have been checking my blood pressure.  At last check, it was 103/72.  That's still quite a bit better than the 150/85 average I was running before I started this blog.

I was really thinking about my children when I sat down to write.  They both celebrated birthdays last month.  That involved birthday cake.  Actual birthday cake, from the Chocolate Maven here in town.  It also involved a lot of pizza and Chinese food, because that is what they wanted.  Our daughter is now 16, and our son is 14.

I'm not particularly happy with the day to day eating habits of either of them.  I'm not good at absolutes.  Yes, I put 4 teaspoons of brown sugar in the Pad Thai that I make each week.  Occasionally, I'll eat a sandwich on, gasp, bread.  But if I could magically make any given idea blossom in their minds, it would be to severely limit the amount of processed carbs they eat.  My family has a history of type 2 diabetes and obesity.  Sugar is clearly addictive.

My son, who is one of the most wonderful people I know, can put away more sugar than I would think possible.  I keep white sugar in the house for making kombucha.  I've seen him put 4 or 5 teaspoons of sugar in a cup of coffee.  If I hide the sugar, which I do, he runs through the honey at about the same pace.  We sat on the couch the other day to binge watch the "Back to the Future" movies, and he ate a package of sour patch candies, (not the tiny bag from the front of the store, but a big bag), and an entire bag of flamin' hot potato chips.  At one point he said, "I don't understand it dad, I've been eating all day, and I'm still hungry."  I pointed out what he had been eating, and he rolled his eyes at me.

Watching your children make mistakes is the thing that sucks the most when it comes to parenting.  I love my children soooo much.  Why did I think they would hang on my every word when it came to dietary, (and other life), advice?  I sure as hell didn't listen to my parents when I was growing up.  (I tried to get my son to watch the documentary, "That Sugar Film", that we had rented on Amazon.  He will not have any of it - no Dr. Lustig YouTube videos, no documentary movies on food, no blogs or books on the Paleo diet.  I know he would feel so much better both emotionally and physically if he ate better.  But he refuses, and it's painful to watch what he is doing to himself.

And I don't mean to pick on my son's diet.  My daughter is very fond of baked goods.  She would do much better without them.  I just don't see her on as big of a sugar-fueled emotional and physical roller coaster as I see my son on.  He drags himself around the house like a Zombie until he has a sugar-infused cup of coffee, a box of jelly beans, or a handful of cookies, and then he bounces around smiling for a while, and then I see him collapse.  Yesterday he left the house with a quart of Cranberry Apple juice in a water bottle.  One serving is 8 ounces, so that's four servings, 30 grams of sugar a serving, so he had 120 grams of sugar - that's a little over a half cup of sugar.  A half cup!  He hates it when I point out these calculations.  I doubt that juice lasted very far into the morning. (N.B. I try not to have juice in the house, but we bought some for a party my daughter was having on Halloween.)

What makes it especially difficult, of course, is that trying to eat well is to push against the prevailing culture, and teenagers need to be a part of their culture.  The outcast kid who had to eat tahini and sprout sandwiches on homemade whole wheat bread prepared by his or her hippy dippy parents has even become something of an archetype.  My daughter tells the story of a health class in middle school where the teacher asked whose parents made their own yogurt and only she and one other student raised their hands.

My children love to bake.  That's a nice thing.  But I'm always there in the background going "no, no, no! I am not buying more white flour, white sugar, and chocolate chips."  And then I think, "I loved to make cookies with my Mom.  I must sound like a mad man."  But neither my wife nor I eat cookies.  At best, I'll eat one or two, in an attempt to model restraint, but that leaves the rest of the cookies for my children to tear through.

My son will ask me to buy him some Jelly Beans when I go to the store.  "No!" I scream like a lunatic.  "I'm not buying you that poison."  Then I think, "you know, I sound like a crazy person, buy your son some jelly beans.  One package every now and then isn't going to kill him."  The only thing we have been consistent about is no soda in the house, with the exception, of course, of when they won a 2 liter bottle of soda in some contest in their elementary school.  That's the kind of cultural influences we're up against.

I wish I could say that parenting and diet is a balancing act that we feel centered in.  Unfortunately, it feels more like we're constantly teetering over an abyss, and I fear my children are going to find themselves overweight and diabetic by the time they are in their mid-forties.  Then I remind myself that I pretty much ate the way they are eating when I was a child, and my fondness for cookies, ice cream, and danishes, continued well into my thirties and early forties.  Truth be told, I could still get carried away with a box of Trader Joe's Jo Jo's if I happen to break down and buy a box, which I have done once or twice a year for the past few years.  Lately, I've developed a revulsion to them when I see them in the store.

I can only hope that my children are resilient, and they'll prove to be intelligent in their food choices as they grow older, and that the culture will continue it's march toward less processed carbohydrates.  The idea is certainly in the air these days, though it has not yet hit the streets of the Southwest.

Has anyone out there actually influenced their kids' diets?  "Processed carbohydrates are not good for you little Sally!"  "Oh Papa, you're so right!  Let's have a bowl of sauerkraut instead of that ice cream!"  If so, I'd sure love to hear how you did it.