Elevator Statement

Jack Johnson catches Stanley Ketchel sleeping in 1909.

The last snowfall hit Milwaukee like an upper cut from Jack Johnson.  Despite DPW’s best efforts, it seemed to come when we had our guard down during the night.  Salt trucks were seasoning the streets in my neighborhood well before the snow arrived, so it looked like we were ready. I got up at 4:45 am so I had time to shovel our corner sidewalk before making breakfast for my daughter.  When I went out, there was no evidence that a plow had been down our street or any of the side streets in our neighborhood.  Even 60th Street, a major arterial, did not look to  good.

By the time Liz and I pedaled off for work, nothing had changed.  We both had to stick to the arterial streets to get to work.  I seemed like the plows had only made one pass down most of the arterials I took to work.  None of the shoulders were clear, so I had to ride out in the motor vehicle travel lane.  Traffic is light when I head to work, so it was not a problem.  At one point a plow was gaining on me as I headed east on Highland.  I hopped off my bike and stepped onto the sidewalk to let him do his work rather than try to plow around me.  This also allowed me to follow a freshly plowed shoulder from 27th Street east to 12th, sweet.

I passed three cars stuck in the snow on my way in, so it seemed the storm was rougher on those who chose four wheels over two.  When I pulled into the lower parking garage at work, I was the third bike there at 6:55 am.  The commute took me a little longer, but it was not a big deal.  I rode the elevator up with a senior drafting tech from the floor below me.  I don’t know him very well, but our paths do cross on the occasional project.  He gave me that head to toe look and snarked “You didn’t ride in today did you?” 

Despite the tone in his voice, I tried to stay positive, “Sure, it was a little slow on the side streets, but not too bad.”  He snarked again, “Yeah, except for all the cars that had to watch out for you.”  This comment caught me off guard, but I still remained positive about my ride, saying “Oh it was pretty easy, I saw three cars stuck in the snow at the ends of their driveway. I just pick my bike up and carry it over the bigger piles of plowdrift.”  Perhaps he hates snow, because he complained “That’s what they get for being lazy and not shoveling.”

I confess I had been caught off-balance in this conversation since he said “Yeah, except for all the cars that had to watch out for you.” The whole time we were in the elevator, I couldn’t stop wondering what he meant. When don’t motorists have to watch out so they don’t hit bicyclists?  Is it unreasonable to expect people driving cars to be careful?  Was he implying I was swerving all over the road?  Or was there an underlying belief that drivers really should not be expected to have to be careful.

I think that behind his statement was the fundamental belief among many motorists that they have a right to expect a free-flowing commute.  Like anything that slows them down,  changes their route or requires that they use their brakes or even think about driving is a broken promise. It might be a traffic jam caused by “some a-hole who doesn’t know how to drive,” by some “crazy bicyclist,” some “pedestrian with a death wish,” etc. People are supposed to be able to get in, turn the key, crank up the radio, eat breakfast and make a couple of phone calls on the way to work.  That is the deal they signed up for when they bought their car and when that doesn’t play out, they get annoyed or even enraged.

What do you think?  Am I reading too much into a little elevator conversation on a snowy day or was there the implication that I was irresponsible in some way?

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About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
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19 Responses to Elevator Statement

  1. Russell says:

    Don’t cars have to look out for other cars too? And pedestrians and trucks and buses and more cars and more pedestrians and loose dogs and snow drifts and potholes and firetrucks and squirrels and….well you get the point.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. When don’t you have to be careful? But people manage to hit about 3,000 light poles every year in Milwaukee, and those are behind the curb. Maybe there are lots of people who don’t pay attention.

  2. Michael Callovi says:

    It seems like your co-worker doesn’t seem to care much for anything that doesn’t fit his mold. Those too lazy to shovel are just as deserving of his disdain as those who don’t choose to drive their cars. His comments seem to indicate that he is a person who groups everyone into categories. Everyone who fails to shovel is lazy. There is no one on a bicycle who obeys the rules of the road. I can’t say if your co-worker is the type of person who bases these notions and categories on first impressions or careful observation, but I would guess it’s on what sticks out. It’s not the bicyclist who stops at a red light that gets your attention – it is the one who rides right through. It’s not the clear driveway that catches your eye – it’s the one still clogged with snow. And while I can’t speak for this person, I know that when I don’t shovel it’s because I don’t feel like it. So I can relate to how a person might project that onto others. But when I see my neighbor hobbling to the sidewalk on crutches I feel like an ass for assuming that it’s laziness.

    I wouldn’t read too much into it. I’ve always known you to take the high road, Dave, and this is another perfect time to do so. Maybe your co-worker was the only person on his block who got up to shovel and he was just a little frustrated that no one else had taken the time to do their civic duty. Maybe the only bicyclist he saw on his commute this morning ran through a stop sign because (s)he couldn’t stop safely. Unless this unfortunate individual followed you the entire distance of your ride to work this morning and is basing his comments on how he observed you riding, I wouldn’t sweat it. It’s one person’s opinion.

    But let it be a reminder to us all that each of us is an ambassador to all of cycling and until we are seen as the rule and not the exception, we still have work to do.

    -Safe Journey

    • daveschlabowske says:

      I don’t know this guy well enough to judge his tone. He works on a different floor and has never been in a meeting with me. Maybe he was having a bad day. I did see him in the stairwell today and he looked grouchy again. I still said hello. Kill em with kindness. I get all sorts of negative comments, but for some reason that comment struck me as particularly odd and telling.

  3. Bill Sell says:

    Entitlement. It’s a disease. I met Ms. Entitlement at a campfire and she went on (and on) about the bump outs on North Ave. because she believes that cities should be built around cars, whether keeping them moving at speed, or parking them at convenience. Nevermind the two principles bump into each other.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Yeah, I used to punch back. Now I try to get all zen about it. Like the Zen master faced by the sword-wielding warrior who expounds “I’m the one who can run you through without batting an eye.” To which the master replies “I am the one who can let you run me through without batting an eye.”

  4. mr. king says:

    you would think that someone who KNOWS you are a cyclist would be a bit more tactful about what they are saying when it comes to commenting but i have found that again and again BECAUSE i am the only cyclist that friends may know then i become the target for every “dumb-crazy-erradict-unsafe-a-hole-on-a-bike” feeling that they may have. it stings a lot like stanley taking that punch. it makes me want to punch back.

  5. Dave Steele says:

    Comments like that always seem to happen in elevators. People feel the need to break the awkward silence with chatter while riding in an elevator. They look for the most obvious thing to bring up. If you’re wearing a Brewers cap, they might mention Rickie Weeks’ contract extension. If it’s apparent that you rode your bike, they bring that up. Every single time.

    What people don’t seem to understand is that while they talk about biking maybe once every three months, we talk about it 35 times a day, every single day. I don’t really mind talking about biking, but I do mind being a curiosity. Usually these conversations are one-sided, with one person asking questions (“Aren’t you scared to ride? What about snow and ice?”) and the other answering. I prefer two-way conversations where both parties ask questions and there’s some meaningful interaction.

    My dream is that one day showing up someplace on a bike will be as worthy of mention as showing up in a car. Until then, I guess I have to accept being seen as “weird” or “eccentric” as the price I have to pay for choosing to live how I want to. Until then, I will do my best to stay positive and deftly change the subject from biking to something else.

    “How about those Brewers?”

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Maybe I will start responding with a question about how they got to work. “Did you drive to work again?”

      • Casey Foltz says:

        I like that, treat them like driving is the “weird” thing. Throw in a few questions:

        Wow, don’t you worry about all the other cars on the road?
        It’s pretty dangerous, do you wear a helmet?
        Why do ALL drivers feel it’s necessary to speed and run stop lights?
        You drive every day, even when it snows?

  6. d'Andre Willis says:

    You’re right about this storm catching us all off guard. Even today – 24 hours after the snow ended – it’s tough out there. I took Farwell this morning in order to have coffee at the Plaza Cafe, and had to take right side of the vehicle lane most of the time because the bike lane is a mess. But the expectation of the motorists was that two full lanes were now open (since the big push last week to finally recover space from the big blizzard opened them up) and many cars zipped by far closer than they should have. Just not willing to slow down a bit. I realized that the timing is key – it wasn’t working to get ahead of the two lanes of traffic at each light the way I usually would do but was better to wait and stay behind the first rush of traffic when the light went green. Another reminder of how blissful the lakefront path is as a commute.

    As for your question…..as we all see when getting a comment like that, some people just believe that there is a behavioral norm outside of which you can’t justify behavior. Makes you want to respond along the lines of “Yeah, except for all the particulates I had to inhale from sharing the roads with cars.” But the high road is probably better. Recently my spouse and I coined the phrase “Entitle Town” for that state of mind…..now I just whisper to myself “ah, I’ve just met another resident of Entitle Town.”

    • daveschlabowske says:

      My commute today was really great. I had bare pavement the entire route. I guess the snow removal was a bit spotty, and it probably had a lot to do with the amount of on-street parking. I like the new phrase, but it could certainly be used to describe recipients of social services as well.

  7. Tim K says:

    Nice post. I get the same kind of comments out here La Crosse for riding all year round, the weather has yet to stop me. The previous posters have covered this pretty much but I thought I would share a recent letter to the editor I wrote in January. I really tried to not seem a total nut job and kept my tone polite. The illuminating and relevant part is the comments from the general public that devolved into calling bicyclist “speed bumps” and of course the obvious sense of entitlement shows through. If you have the stomach you can read it here (click on the discussion tab to read the nasty parts): http://lacrossetribune.com/news/opinion/article_60c634c4-1930-11e0-934f-001cc4c002e0.html

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Sorry, I don’t have the stomach to read online comments in newspapers anymore. Why does anonymity breed hate? That is a nice letter with a positive tone. It shouldn’t be necessary since people on bikes are the vulnerable road user, but I always try to mention that everyone should obey the rules of the road and specifically mention bicyclists shouldn’t run red lights. But even when I do that, there still seem to be plenty of people who still manage to spew vitrol. Since you can’t win with those folks, it just doesn’t pay to read what they have to say. Stay on message, and remain positive and hopefully some people open to new ideas hear what you have to say. Nice job.

      • Dave Steele says:

        My general rule of thumb is that if you make a comment that you don’t want your real name attached to, then the comment probably isn’t worth making (or reading).

  8. Sam Dodge says:

    I can undersand demonizing an enemy during war times. I can understand slinging mud at a political opponent during an election. I can understand people using the First Amendment to express their opinions and thoughts.

    But I can’t understand why what seems to be a vast majority of car-only transportationists seem it’s ok to demonize and hate a group of people who are not causing any harm, not causing traffic issues, not killing thousands of people a year, but are easing traffic congestion, saving fossil fuels, exercising and improving their bodies.

    I don’t get the hate. What do they gain from hating a cyclist besides a false sense of superiority? Don’t they realize that by proclaiming their love of the car they’re aligning themselves with almost everyone else in the US? Or is that the allure, to make sure they’re not part of the scorned minority outsiders?

    Next time you’re talking to someone who thinks cyclists slow them down while driving, tell them to count the seconds they are delayed and compare it to the amount of seconds delayed in a traffic jam or when they’re trying to turn left at an intersection and have to wait for traffic. If they can take those few moments and step outside their selfish, ill-conceived, hatred-filled minds, I think they’ll realize cyclists aren’t the issue.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      There is a whole lot of demonizing going on these days, that’s for sure.

      • Sam Dodge says:

        I occasionally do some demonizing but I keep it to myself, don’t even bother blogging it.

        Though last fall I did have to do some demonization and yell at a parking checker who had no idea what the law was. In my defense, she did try to cause me physical harm by using her jeep as a weapon, so I think was justified.

  9. Still Rollin says:

    In the end efficiency and health rule the day. A comment here or a comment there mean nothing compared to what is gained from a daily ride. Keep rollin!

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