Draining the Lizard: The Scaly Scales of Justice

Like most of my fellow Americans, I do my best to keep my head buried either in the sand or else in the recesses of my own posterior, depending upon availability and space. Sure, this is partially due to apathy, but it's also an essential survival instinct. This is especially true of cycling, because if you pay too much attention to how bad you have it as a cyclist in this country you'll either become a vigilante or else resolve to never touch a bicycle again.

But no matter how resolutely you avert your eyes, you're eventually going to see something infuriating, and for me it was this brief posting on sarcastic local news blog Gothamist:

Reading about someone getting killed is upsetting enough, but then I made the big mistake of looking at the comments. Blog comments about fatal bicycle accidents are like a glimpse into our collective national super-ego, and they are very revealing as to just how profoundly stupid we are. For example, the first one was this:

I don't drive along side trucks. Why would you bike beside one?

Hopefully this person gets shot walking out of his house one day so someone can post a comment that says, "I don't ride my bike past guns. Why would you walk in front of one?"

More revealing of what idiots we are though was this one:

I do both regularly and the bikers i encounter while driving dont' have much respect for the power of a car. I get the sense that they think they're on equal footing in regards to the road and it's not the case. A tap from a car can kill you and you're not always visible. It's really annoying to watch because there are so many potential accidents waiting to happen.

Someone is dead here, and these are the conclusions people are drawing? That victims are merely "potential accidents" with nobody to blame but themselves? Sure, cyclists should ride intelligently, but having respect for the power of a car is the driver's job. If they lack that respect then the car should be taken from them. Cyclists are "on equal footing in regards to the road." Saying they're not is like saying women should have more respect for the Park Slope Groper, and that they're wrong to think they're on equal footing with men.

Amazingly though, the comment above accurately reflects how a great many people think. It's fascinating how readily we've come to accept this notion that we must have respect for a car's "power," as though it's some force of nature beyond all human control. Sure, someone who goes into the wilderness, starts poking grizzlys with a stick, and then gets eaten should maybe have a little more respect for the power of the bear, but that's a different scenario. Oddly though, if a bear is just doing its bear thing and kills somebody we'll go out of our way to destroy the bear. Yet if a human being kills somebody with a car we just charge them $42 and blame the victim.

So why is this? Why does something made by human hands that we pay lots of money for and register with the government and obtain a license in order to operate suddenly become this unstoppable beast once it's out on the open road? And more importantly, why are we so accepting of this, as though it's an inevitability, and as though it's common sense that a human being in a car should be afforded all manner of privileges and protections that another human being is not, and that everybody else should just get out of the way?

I was considerably vexed by all these questions until I read something that, while depressing, was strangely comforting. It was actually that Vanity Fair article I mentioned awhile back, which contains a description of Arnold Schwarzenegger's barbarian riding style. The article is about the dire financial situation in California, and in it a neuroscientist at UCLA explains why Americans are so bad with money:

In academic papers and a popular book, American Mania, Whybrow argues, in effect, that human beings are neurologically ill-designed to be modern Americans. The human brain evolved over hundreds of thousands of years in an environment defined by scarcity. It was not designed, at least originally, for an environment of extreme abundance. "Human beings are wandering around with brains that are fabulously limited," he says cheerfully. "We've got the core of the average lizard."

Basically, we make stupid decisions because we are lizards:

The succession of financial bubbles, and the amassing of personal and public debt, Whybrow views as simply an expression of the lizard-brained way of life... The boom in trading activity in individual stock portfolios; the spread of legalized gambling; the rise of drug and alcohol addiction--it is all of a piece. Everywhere you turn you see Americans sacrifice their long-term intersts for short-term rewards.

What happens when a society loses its ability to self-regulate, and insists on sacrificing its long-term interest for short-term rewards? How Does the story end? "We could regulate ourselves if we chose to think about it," Whybrow says. "But it does not appear that is what we are going to do."

Suddenly, it all made sense to me--of course our lizard brains want the cars, which deliver the short-term reward of travel without physical effort. And of course we want the biggest, plushest cars we can possibly wrangle and spend ourselves into, and once we've succeeded in doing so it follows naturally that we'd resent anybody or anything that impedes our effortless forward progress. Sure, this involves sacrificing long-term interests such as our financial well-being and our good credit and our ability to cross the street without getting flattened, but according to Whybrow we're not really even able to conceive of that--at least until something really awful happens to us, or we die.

Of course, as I read this, I did my best to ignore the fact that I was doing so in "Vanity Fair," a magazine bursting with ads for useless luxury goods and literally reeking of expensive fragrances. This was easy to do, since having recently attained "Full Douche" I'm a master of cognitive dissonance.

Anyway, it's a dire state of affairs to be sure, but I suppose until now much of my frustration came from disappointment in my fellow human beings. At least now I realize we're not human beings but lizards, so I know not to expect so much in the first place.

But what if you persist in refusing to surrender and know your place as a cyclist among the lizard-brained? Sadly, you have only two choices:

1) Be an "outlaw;"


2) Be one of those smug people who memorizes traffic statutes, wears a camera on his head, and tries confound police officers, as in this video that came to me by means of the Twitter:

Sadly, neither of these options is for me. As a father of 17 children I'm far too old, tired, and uncool to be an outlaw. And as for becoming one of those helmet cam-wearing amateur lawyer types, I've never been very good at confronting authority figures. Plus, I live in New York, where the above scenario tends to play out out like this:

And so I just ride, savoring the good days, doing my best to avoid trouble, and keeping in mind that when it does strike the Motor-Vehicular Industrial Complex will somehow find a way to punish me.

Then, when I get to where I'm going, I watch everybody's favorite TV show, "Ushi & The Family," which features an entertaining interview with The Frandy Schleck starting at about 14:10:

Frank, it turns out, is the funny one:

And, lest we forget, there's one kind of bicycle that Americans are comfortable with, and that's the beach cruiser:

When I spotted this on Craigslist I thought this was an actual Landshark, but the paint was not nearly horrendous enough. I was rather compelled by the post though:

Date: 2011-10-19, 7:23AM EDT
Reply to: [deleted]

Be the envy of the Boardwalk with this Limited Collectors Addition Land Shark Lager Beach Crusier Bicycle $110.00. Brand New/ Has never seen the boardwalk Single speed w/ coasting brakes. White wall tires . This bike could become a collectors item as only approximately 1100 of these bikes were manufactured. . Great for everyday commuting to work/school in style. A beer collectors dream bike. Great for restaurant/bar decor. 100% functional bicycle, can use at summer beach house or home by the lake.

Terms of sale as follows... Cash only, You pick up at my house. Respond to this ad and be sure to include your phone # with the area code and a good time to contact you. I will call you back. Sorry, I will not respond to emails/questions that do not include a good phone # that I can call you at. Any emails with out a phone # and area code will be deleted. There are too many spammers out there looking for email addresses.

Deliver of the bike is possible for a reasonable addition delivery charge but the bike and delivery fee must be paid for advance as stated above.

If you see this ad the bike is still available. I will remove the ad when the bike is sold.

In particular, I was intrigued by the claim that it had "never seen the boardwalk," and I wondered if boardwalks are to beach cruisers as velodromes are to track bikes. Presumably at some beach somewhere there are a bunch of people with sunburns and zinc oxide on their noses talking about all those damn "fakenbeach" riders will never ride their bikes on the boardwalk. Meanwhile, the "fakenbeach" riders all talk about how they can't wait to hit the boardwalk one day, if only they had enough time/the city would build them one/hadn't lost that eBay auction for those "vintage" Jams.

At least you won't get hit by a car on the beach. Well, actually you might. I'm only surprised someone didn't blame the victim for not wearing enough sunblock.

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