Have you ever seen the 1950 Disney short starring Goofy as Mr. Walker/Mr. Wheeler? Goofy is mild-mannered, polite, conscientious Mr. Walker – until he gets in his car. Then he becomes angry, aggressive, rude Mr. Wheeler. It’s pretty hilarious how, in 1950, when mass, obsessive automobile ownership was in its infancy, even Disney knew how things were with people behind the wheel of a car.
Okay, maybe I wasn’t that bad, but a chance to drive to Shepherdstown, WV, in a rental car last weekend showed a side of me that only seems to come out in a car. The Mechanic was a bit surprised at the words coming out of my mouth, words I rarely ever use. In my defense, transitioning from a bicycle rider to a car driver is not an easy thing for me to do!
We went to Shepherdstown to do wedding planning stuff, and enjoyed perfect weather and the on-the-verge-of-peak-fall-colors countryside.
We enjoyed the farmers market, the Bavarian Inn, the Blue Moon Cafe, and the Sweet Shop Bakery, favorite haunts that are all being incorporated into our wedding. It was a lovely day.
Nevertheless, we still actually had to get there. I drove, and found myself reacting to things on the road as if I was on my bicycle. The first incident came when we were going up a hill, and the car in front of me started slowing down. “Don’t make me slow down going uphill!” I yelled. Any cyclist knows that if you have to slow down, or stop, going uphill, it’s not easy getting started again. And yet… I was in a car…. not a problem here. Oops.
Another time was driving down the steep grade on 9 into West Virginia. Seeing the steep downhill, I automatically wanted to upshift onto the big ring… but that wasn’t really an option. It’s not as if I reached for the gear shifter, but my brain thought it sooner than I could physically react. I didn’t have a choice! Then there was the first time I went over the railroad tracks. What, do you slow down when you bike over railroad tracks?! Okay, maybe a bit, but no, I just kept going! The Mechanic just shook his head while I said, “Oops” again. I managed to slow down a bit for the next one I saw. I wasn’t exactly Mrs. Wheeler, the female Goofy, but I did have a few moments…
A Twitter conversation the next day proved that I am not alone in my inability to transition smoothly between vehicles. I can only assume that people who rarely ride bikes instinctively react like car drivers when they are out for their Sunday jaunts. And maybe this is one of the problems with shared use roadways and transportation habits. We all know how you get out of a habit when you don’t do something regularly, sort of the way I know I’m losing my German language skills since I’m not really practicing (vielleicht uebe ich mein Deutsch hier, beim Blogpost…).
If we can convince more people to spend more time getting around by bicycle on the weekends, will it make them better drivers? Possibly. It might make them more aware of bicycles on the roads around them, I think. So maybe our tactic should be focused more on encouraging everyone to bike those short 3-mile trips on weekends, rather than commuting to work. Maybe once they get used to bicycle behavior, it will lead to awareness as drivers, and eventually even bicycle commuters. No guarantee, of course, but I’d rather be on the road with a car driver who bicycles regularly on the weekends and knows to look out for me, than someone who hates cyclists and refuses to share the road. No one really wants to be a Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler, do they?