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Thursday, September 27th, 2007

near-death experiences, lane sharing, and Erik Estrada

Lane-sharing is legal in California, or at least officially tolerated, because otherwise they couldn’t have filmed all those awesome two-shots of Ponch and Jon.

I did a fair amount of lane-sharing when I owned a motorbike. I commuted from the City to Oracleville, as I’ve noted previously in a story that’s probably a lot more entertaining than this one will be. And for 10 months I was doing 80 miles a day, to Palo Alto and back. No way I could have survived that drive at the pace of the cagers. I’d still be out there right now, hoping to get home in time for some distant-future dinner.

My mindset when I began lane-sharing was basically, I’m about to be killed. Certainly that felt true for the first couple weeks.

Once I’d gotten more comfortable and a little more skilled, I settled into a more-relaxed mindset: with a little luck, I’ll probably survive.

Yes, most people driving cars are really that bad. I saw a guy eating cereal one time. With milk.

So, when the one driver out of 100 would see me coming and ease his car slightly out of my path, the feeling of gratitude was immense. These few people had granted me a brief reprieve from the near-certainty that I was moments from exercising the “dismemberment” clause of my life insurance policy.

It didn’t take much effort: they checked their rearview, and then adjusted the steering wheel about a half a degree. They’d slide their cars a foot or so away from the edge of the lane, not so much giving me space to pass, but simply telling me they weren’t going to try to clip me if I did.

I always waved as I passed. It was a simple thing, but motorcyclists do it to each other all the time — from the cross-country BMW pilots to the skinny guys sitting six feet in the air on Enduros, I’d get a little wave of solidarity, part shared celebration of the open air, part acknowledgement of survival against considerable odds. It was a friendly and welcoming thing, a gesture of fellowship that I was glad to extend to any cager who had pulled his head out of his tailpipe long enough not to run me over, at least for once.

I liked the feeling of connection across a distributed community, but also I liked the idea that maybe some of those people in cars would pull over for the next biker too, if only to earn another wave. Yeah, it was a tall order, retraining the 600 million drivers on California’s roads, one at a time, but I figured I had 80 miles a day in which to do it.

Fast-forward a bunch of years and a couple of career changes… I haven’t ridden or even owned a motorbike in three years, and I only commute once in a while, but I’m still conscious of all the motorcyclists fighting the good fight between lanes 1 and 2 on the highway. I see them coming, I slide a little further left… but not once has any of them waved at me.

(It’s a lack of foresight, guys, I’m telling you. I must have gotten to at least 10 of the 600 million in my day. You need to pick up where I left off!)

So today I’m trapped in my cage, lamenting my sorry condition (no A/C, no CD, and my standby driving tape is warbling like a vinyl record that got left in the sun) when I see a new commute-time readout above the road, predicting that the remaining few miles to the bridge will consume 27 minutes of my life. I could sense the mass evaporation of attention around me as all the other drivers stared slack-jawed at the sign as if believing they’d misread the number… 27 more minutes?!

Cars that stop being actively driven tend to continue at speed in whatever direction they were already pointing, lane markers be damned, so the biker on the slick new FZ1 who was approaching from behind was no doubt thinking OMGWTFBBQ and wondering if his health insurance would cover full dental reconstruction.

But I’d seen him coming, and I slid over far enough to give him a place to ride for the couple seconds it took everyone else to swerve back between the white lines.

He didn’t wave when he passed, but he nodded in a sort of strangled way. I understood his response. I wouldn’t have taken a hand of the bars either.

Tags: commute, motorbike, lane-sharing, chips
posted to channel: Personal
updated: 2008-02-01 13:46:09

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