Tuesday, October 30, 2012

On Hit-and-Run Motorists and Vexing Healthcare "Service"

Picture my Sunday morning: I set out on my trusty bicycle facing a crisp and relatively bright (considering the lateness of the season) ride from Somerville to Jamaica Plain around eight thirty in the morning. I've grown used to the six miles, enjoying the same commute six or even seven times each week.

I don't typically encounter any variety of trouble any more noteworthy than the standard rage-addled motorists behaving selfishly and foolishly with their two-ton death machines that any road-user encounters routinely on a daily basis. This especially beautiful autumn day, however, was to be a somewhat of an exception.

Over the river and through the...congested rush-hour traffic of downtown Boston, I meandered happily along. I would not say I was well-rested, but I certainly had my awareness about me and I am a very careful cyclist in general.

As my waxy readers are well aware, I am an enthusiastic proponent of safe and responsible cycling, which gives me an edge over my more foolhardy and reckless cyclist brethren as far as staying alive on the streets are concerned.

However, as I mentioned, this was to be a rather special day; there are some traffic events that you simply cannot quite hold an influence over. To my surprise, I was about to discover one.

Just past the Mass Ave T stop, where the sharrows turn into an actual bike lane, I found myself pedaling merrily along as a car overtook me rather closely on my left. As a cyclist who actively avoids getting doored, I tend to stay to the left side of the bike lane when riding past an endless stretch of parked cars (which one may easily find at any time of day on this particular portion of Mass Ave). For this reason, it's not that unusual for me to find cars passing me on the left within arm's reach.

Unfortunately, as this particularly gifted motorist almost finished passing me, they inexplicably swerved to the right--directly into the bike lane. They successfully rammed into the rather large rack on the front of my bicycle with the rear-end of their car, and I instantly went down. Hard.

As I fell to the pavement, I suppose my main concern was trying to fall in as reasonable a manner as I could manage without seriously hurting myself. I wouldn't say I did a great job, but I certainly survived; I think that is testament to my effort, if nothing else.

This effort, however, distracted me from noticing the license plate of the car--as they drove away without even stopping to see if I was dead or alive. Fortunately for me, the cars behind me managed to stop; otherwise it is not likely I would not be writing these waxy words you see before you.

A kind onlooker from the sidewalk rushed between the parked cars on the side of the road to help me to my feet, and asked the obligatory, "Are you okay?" I certainly had no idea at the time, as I was a bit rattled. I had fallen on my knee pretty hard and it was throbbing like a mother, but naturally I claimed I was fine.

She helped me walk my freshly-mangled bicycle to the sidewalk as I limped beside her, and asked if she should call an ambulance. I told her "No, no...I've got my phone right here. I'm fine." I pulled it out of my pocket and began to dial; she eventually walked away.

My leg felt pretty terrible, but there was no way in hell I was getting inside an ambulance.

I was actually calling my workplace as she walked away, and when they picked up I described why I just wasn't in a good position to make it in today. They told me since I was in an accident and was hurt, I needed a doctor's note claiming I was able to work without restrictions before I could return.

As I don't have a doctor (I know, I know: shame on me), I would have to take a trip to the dreaded ER.

I called my friend Josh, who agreed to collect my mangled bicycle and self with a vehicle we would both fit inside. He gave me a lift home, where I dropped off the misshapen ride, and onward we ventured to the hospital.

The staff at the hospital was somewhat accommodating for the most part, ushering me in right away and getting me into an especially ugly hospital gown to ensure my humiliation would be rather thorough. Josh waited patiently in the chair next to my hospital bed, where I sat somewhat anxiously. Hospitals give me anxiety.

The doctor finally joined us, and it was evident he was pissed off about something before he even stepped foot in the room. He rifled off a few routine questions regarding what happened in a somewhat irritated manner before finally asking the clincher: "Were you wearing a helmet?"

As my waxy readership is aware, I choose not to wear a helmet while cycling. Naturally, I answered his question: "No."

"You were not wearing a helmet?!" the doctor exclaimed, somewhat perturbed.

"No, I wasn't. I don't wear a helmet."

"You don't wear a helmet?!"

"You see, it's my knee that's actually injured," I offered, pointing toward the affected knee. "Not my head. I didn't hit my head. My head is fine."

"But you weren't wearing a helmet?"

At this point, the pissed-off-for-no-discernible-reason doctor was aggravating me. He was getting kind of annoying, and I didn't feel like going into all the reasons I have for not wearing a helmet.

"No, I wasn't wearing a stupid helmet. I don't see how that's a relevant question," I remarked, pointing again to my knee.

"You don't see how it's a relevant question?!" my doctor raged. He was clearly infuriated by my statement somehow. He shouted on for a while, and told me if I didn't change my tone he would call security and have me escorted from the building.

"Listen, dude," I said, trying to figure out if this asshole was worth my time or not, "I need a doctor's note that says I can return to work 'without restrictions'. Are you willing to write the note for me or not?"

"I will not write the note!" he exclaimed. "I'm calling security now! You're outta here!"

My friend Josh, observing the whole interaction, simply shook his head and waited as I pulled off the fantastically ugly hospital gown and put my normal clothes back on, grimacing in pain the whole while with my somewhat busted body parts that the hospital chose not to even examine because of a helmet argument.

As if like clockwork, two rent-a-cops showed up the moment I had my shoelaces tied and walked Josh and I out of the hospital to the tune of Josh telling me, "Why didn't you just tell him you were wearing a helmet? Why does everything have to be a public service announcement with you?"

The next day, I visited another hospital to get the doctor's note. The woman at reception asked me a bunch of questions about where I live and blah blah blah, and "Were you wearing a bicycle helmet?"

"I sure was," I said.

They brought me into a patient room were a nurse asked me what happened, am I okay, what is hurting, and "Were you wearing a helmet?"

"I sure was."

The doctor finally came in. He pressed on my knee here and there, and pressed on my back, and listened to his stethoscope as I took deep breaths for what seemed like forever. Finally, he asked me: "Were you wearing a helmet?"

"I sure was, sir."

A second nurse came in and joined the doctor (I have no idea why), and looked me over. She asked a few questions I had already answered, and then pulled the trump card: "Were you wearing a helmet?"

"I sure was."

"Oh, good thing...good thing."

"Yes ma'am; I never leave home without it."

A few minutes later, I had my doctor's note, and I've been working happily since.

I still have to build a new wheel for my bike (the rim is in the mail), but I have a "number two" I've been riding and that'll be just fine for now.

What's the moral of the story? If nothing else, take away this: as always, never trust the healthcare industry with anything, ever. Ever. Ever.

You may even have to lie to get the treatment you deserve. As a general rule of thumb, any seemingly innocuous question they might ask that has nothing to do with anything should be answered with whatever answer you suspect they might prefer. Otherwise, they may just go ahead and call security to have you extracted from the hospital.

If the doctor asks you, "Do you wear a completely worthless piece of Styrofoam on your head while you ride?" he only wants to hear one answer. Give it to him please; otherwise he may neglect to look at the knee you may have seriously injured.

Thanks for reading, waxy readers. Try to be healthy, and certainly try to be safe out there. Take it from me: there is no mercy from the cold and clueless world that surrounds us, and your doctor likely has no idea what you are talking about.

Thanks for tuning in, waxy readers, and see you next Tuesday!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Henry and D: a Conversation

"Somewhere around here," D thought to himself as he walked along the sidewalk. "I'm getting close."

He had all the time in the world, and he found it a fine day for meandering about instead of just getting right down to business. As he passed by Henry, he nodded an acknowledgement.

"Oh, hello. I know you," Henry offered from his spot on the bench as D passed by.

D stopped for a moment; he had certainly been acknowledged by strangers before, but not very often and he had never quite gotten used to it.

"Hello," he managed to reply. He lingered on the sidewalk for a moment, observing Henry and trying to feel out the exchange.

Henry, extending his hand for a handshake, said, "I'm Henry."
"Oh," said D, automatically offering his hand to respond. "You can call me D."
"Yeah, I know who you are."
"Oh, right..."
"You're pretty famous, you know."
"Right, right."
"Pretty much everyone knows who you are. I've even seen you around, doing your thing."
"Sure, sure," said D, nodding slowly.

A pause settled in between them.

"I've seen you around too," said D after a moment.
"You have?"
"Sure, I see you sometimes riding your bike."
"Oh, no kidding."
"Say, what's with those little hats, anyway?" asked D. "How come bike riders wear those?"
"I dunno...they're practical," Henry replied. "It's a cycling cap."
"Uh huh."
"Like any hat, they keep your hair from blowing all about while you ride, but you can also pull down the brim to keep the sun or the rain out of your eyes."
"How is that different from any other hat with a brim?"
"Well you see," answered Henry, "they're also designed with an aerodynamic shape that keeps them from blowing off of your head in the wind."
"Oh...that's interesting. I never realized that."
"Like, a baseball cap," Henry continued, "was designed to blow off of your head on purpose."
"What do you mean?" asked D. "I've never had a baseball cap blow off of my head."
"Baseball hats worn by players were originally meant to be worn kind of loose. They designed the brim of the hat so that when an outfielder is chasing after a fly ball, looking up at it, the cap will blow off of his head and help him see what's happening with the ball better."
"Interesting," D replied. "...Is that true? Where did you hear that?"
"Oh, I can't really remember," admitted Henry. "I just heard it somewhere and assumed it was true."

"So are you here for me, then?" asked Henry, after a moment.
"Oh, no, no. Not today. Someone else. Someone nearby," D replied, glancing at his watch. "I'm kind of early."
"That's nice."

Another pause lingered for a moment. A cloud obscuring the sun happened to move on just then, offering the sun's light an opportunity to thoroughly illuminate the bench. Henry and D both looked up for a second, as if to see where the light was coming from.

"You wanna sit down?" asked Henry. "I guess you're not in a hurry."
"No, no...I rarely hurry," D replied as he gently pulled up his pants at the knees and sat next to Henry on the bench. "I don't find it hard to be on time without being in a hurry."
"Oh...that's cool; I like that," Henry responded.
"Yeah, sure. I never understood why people rush about so maniacally anyhow." D withdrew a cigarette from somewhere inside his jacket, and with his other hand struck open a lighter. The lighter seemed to come from nowhere, as if he had been holding it there the whole time.
"Me either," Henry nodded as they sat and surveyed the sidewalk before them.
D lit the cigarette.


"So how are you, anyway?" asked Henry, attempting to create small talk.
"Oh...fine, fine...I'm just fine. Thanks for asking. How are you doing?"
"I am also doing fine."
 "Good!" said D with a smile. "That's good to hear. Say, that's a nice shirt; I like that shirt."
"What? Why?" asked Henry, somewhat surprised at the compliment. "I hate this shirt. Just earlier today, I was thinking about how much I hate this shirt. I even decided I am just going to give it to Goodwill after I wash it next."
D paused for a moment, then asked "Why don't you like the shirt? It looks fine. It's a nice shirt. Nice color, nice pattern..."
"I don't like the collar."
"Oh...what's wrong with the collar?" D asked. "The collar is fine. You don't like collars on shirts?"
"No no, I do...it's just...I dunno, the collar is just so big, and and they've tailored it with this gaudily stylish curve to it that won't go away." Henry proceeds to crush down the collar with his hands, demonstrating his proof that the stylish curve does indeed snap right back into the collar once released. "Every time I look in the mirror, I think 'Damn, what's up with that collar? That thing needs to settle down.'" He shrugged. "I guess I prefer a more humble collar, myself."
"Huh. I guess it does have a little something going on, now that you mention it," D acknowledged.
"Yeah, it makes the shirt look ridiculous."
"I still like it."


"So, when are you coming for me then?" Henry asked, looking up to meet D's eyes.
"Ha!" D laughed, showing a grin. "Come on, now; I can't tell you that."
"Why not?"
"I always keep it a surprise," D replied. "I always keep it a surprise, unless someone is asking for me."
"I see. Well, I'm not asking for you."
"I know."


"You make me kind of nervous, really," Henry revealed after another pause. "Nothing personal."
"I make a lot of people nervous," D replied. "I don't get it."
"What? You don't get it?"
"Yeah...why are people so afraid to die?"
"People enjoy living, silly," said Henry. "People want to stay alive. Plus, no one knows what being dead is like, so there is kind of a fear of the unknown."
"Uh huh...interesting,"
"Sometimes you take people before they are ready," Henry continued, "and it makes the whole thing even more sad."
"The way I see it," said D, "Everyone knows I am coming for them sooner or later. It shouldn't come as a shock or surprise. You've had your whole life to get ready for me. It's not my fault you aren't prepared at all when I finally come."
Henry considered this, as the silence that punctuated their exchange returned.


D, after the moment passed, said, "Well, anyway, nice chatting with you," as he arose from the bench.
"Yeah, sure thing," Henry agreed.
"I guess I'll see you around," D predicted as he dropped his cigarette to the ground and squashed it into the pavement with the toe of his shoe.

Henry hesitated, and eventually decided not to reply as he walked away slowly, methodically, and never once looking back.

Henry and D: a Conversation by Jeremy Ross, October 2012. May be used without permission. Please do not plagiarize.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Suspenders: what many would consider the original method of holding one's pants to their waist.

Suspenders are certainly old-school, and are historically more popular with older men than with anyone of the younger generation.

However, in my opinion suspenders have always been a unique and favorable style choice; I like their look, and I wear them with somewhat of a happy feeling knowing I can grow old with them.

Suspenders used to be the stand-by; laborers especially used to rely on them to hold up their pants, and back in the day they were more common than a belt.

Oftentimes, people would use suspenders in conjunction with belts; the suspenders served to hold up a person's pants while the belt served a utility function. John Wayne can be seen in many old westerns with not only suspenders, but one or even two belts. The belts served to hold his gun holsters and other accessories.

Now, wearing a belt in conjunction with suspenders is considered a fashion faux pas, and is normally only considered an acceptable choice if the belt is being used for a utility function.

Appearing to be a laborer fell out of favor at some point, and men switched to the belt exclusively. The belt became a universal accessory, and suspenders grew more obscure as a style choice. They eventually evolved to be somewhat like the conventional bow tie in a necktie world; not necessarily absurd, but certainly somewhat unusual and outdated.

Besides offering a unique style option in a universally belted world, I would go so far as to suggest that suspenders are rather practical. Allow me to explain.

Suspenders are rather comfortable. Where a belt cinches your pants to your waist by binding them as tightly as is tolerable, suspenders do just what their name suggests they do: they suspend your pants.

They hold your pants up while allowing them to remain just as loose as they happen to be. You can even wear oversized pants, and suspenders will allow them to remain at a reasonable height on your waistline. Loose pants are more comfortable, really.

Also, if you are an active person like I am, you have probably experienced the following phenomenon: you are running about doing whatever it is that you do, and your pants continuously sag. Even if your belt is adjusted properly, your pants still tend to sag in this manner.

However, with suspenders your pants never sag this way. Suspenders effectively maintain the height of your pants just by their very nature. There is no need to hike up your loins because your belt has only a mediocre grasp on your blue jeans.

Suspenders: they are not just for old men. They are for anyone that has a preference for comfort or practicality. Suspenders are preferred by waxy grouches all around the world.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cold Advice You Should Stop Bugging People With

Some of you may recognize the following from my Facial Literature rant from a couple days ago:

Amazing how many people feel irresistibly compelled to share their own personal remedies or methods for relief with you when they discover you have a cold. "You know what you need?" they will ask you rhetorically, and after describing their unique prescription they almost always say something along the lines of "I swear by it" or "it works every time."

At first, it seems kind of nice that people

want to help; after hearing this routine about sixty times in two days, it makes you kind of roll your eyes.

I wish I carried around a clipboard, and asked each person who insisted on describing their special tonic of essential oils or lemons or ginger or even hard liquor to write it down on the clipboard.

"I think there is some space on page four," I would say, and then they would understand how tiring it is when people swear you need to buy a bunch of crap to fix your cold (to which there is no cure) when really all you need is extra sleep and water.

I could offer nothing more than a weak and tired half-grin when later that morning at work a coworker asked, "How's your cold?"

"Oh, it's fine," I replied. "Much better. Really, I just have a little lingering congestion in my chest. I'm sure it'll clear up nicely in a few days."

"Oh, you need some Vick's VapoRub!" the coworker blabbered on moronically as my eyes glazed over. "Trust me, it works like a charm. You just rub it on your chest. Vick's VapoRub."

I don't know if anyone else has been exposed to this phenomenon of cold advice overexposure, but one of the main reasons I am glad to be through with my cold is the unwanted suggestions really seemed unrelenting. I didn't know if I could take much more unsanctioned advice.

"Drink tea with a lemon slice"; "Take echinacea with goldenseal"; "Are you drinking enough orange juice?"; "Before bed, put a drop of eucalyptus oil on top of your head, and put a drop on your pillow where you breathe"; "Drink some rum with honey and lime"; "Oscillococcinum!"; "Dress head to toe in wool before you go to bed, and drink a ton of water. You'll just sweat it out"; "Dude, Jack Daniels makes this whiskey with honey in it...that's what you need."

Always, this dubious advice is prefaced by some version of the rhetorical "You know what you need?" question. Without fail, before you have a chance to say "I don't give a flying finch what you are about to say," they are engrossed in a detailed description of some worthless remedy that at some time they believed helped them work their way through a cold.

Just as predictable is the "Trust me: it works every time" line, or some variant thereof, to punctuate their inane council. It's as if they stand to gain something if they persuade you to try their specific technique, or buy the crap that they like to have when they are sick.

What is the reason for this? Why do people feel compelled to dispense their cold-related advice completely unprovoked, while all too often people can't summon up the courage to point out to someone that they have something stuck between their teeth, or even hanging from their nose?

Honestly, the common cold is a pretty strange topic for people to give unwanted advice for. The cold has no cure, and as such the body must work on defeating the virus in it's own way. The concept that a remedy will fix your cold is somewhat misguided.

True, there are things that will aid your body in it's struggle against the troublesome cold: hydration, zinc, sleep, hydration, vitamin C, sleep, and plentiful hydration are all very useful in making sure your body has a chance to work on the issue.

Sure, that is not a complete list. However, I am not compelled to rush out and buy a bunch of expensive supplements that may or may not be effectual when my tried and true method is quite reliable and cheap.

Also, it's important to be able to separate the things that help you get better from the things that help you feel better. For example, I like to drink peppermint tea with honey when I have a cold; it makes me feel better. However, neither peppermint nor honey are helpful in your body's efforts to rid itself of the terrible and vexing cold virus.

While I was sick, I hardly had the gusto to fend off these relentless tidbits of advice from pretty much everyone I encountered. I would just sort of take it, and pretend I appreciated the stupid idea I was just forced to listen to, and nod appreciatively as my malapropos adviser told me they "swear by it."

In the wake of this sea of misinformation, I feel compelled to dispel a few of the more common ideas that seem somewhat pervasive in the compulsive advice-giving community:

  • Antibiotics are not for beating a cold. "I take antibiotics when I get a cold; I don't mess around." This is probably the dumbest thing that I have heard many people tell me about fighting a cold. Not only are antibiotics pretty bad for you (you should avoid taking them unless there is no other realistic option for healing yourself), but they don't even do anything for your cold. A cold is a virus and antibiotics only work against bacterial infections. Even worse, taking antibiotics improperly can breed dangerous antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Using antibiotics for a cold will only make you worse off.

  • Over-the-counter cold medicine is useful in diluting cold symptoms, but it actually makes it harder for your body to heal itself (it has to distract resources from dealing with the cold to deal with the drugs you just took). Use them as sparingly as possible in your quest to abate your suffering.

  • Orange juice is not good for a cold. We all know that orange juice has lots of vitamin C, and I wouldn't argue that vitamin C can be helpful in getting though your cold. However, orange juice is a horrible choice; it is acidic (especially pasteurized, although even fresh-squeezed is still acidic) which causes your body to produce more phlegm--something your body is trying really hard to get rid of. You are throwing a wrench to the cogs by drinking orange juice when you have a cold. Find another vehicle for your precious vitamin C.

  •  Don't force yourself through a difficult workout. Small doses of exercise are fine, if you are feeling up to it. I'm talking about some yoga stretches, a set of push-ups or an easy bike ride. Not a full-on workout at the gym. Getting your blood flowing and your heart pumping can be beneficial, but straining yourself will just force your body to work on healing two things at once. Take it easy.

  • Echinacea is not helpful if you are already sick. Echinacea is an immune system stimulant. It's useful if you feel like you might become sick, but if you're already there then it's too late. By then, your immune system is already going nuts and doesn't really need further provocation. Taking echinacea when you are already sick is like... if your house were ablaze, and the fire department is struggling valiantly to contain the flames with their wildly blasting fire hoses, when all of a sudden you remember: "Oh yeah! I have that fire extinguisher in the kitchen!" It's too late; put the echinacea back in the cupboard.

  • Alcohol is not helping. This is an example of one of those things that might make you feel better, but that hot toddy you're nursing in between nose-blowings is actually distracting from your body's efforts to heal itself. Not only is alcohol tough on some of your key organs, some of which are lending a hand in the quest to vanquish the virus, but even worse is alcohol's dehydrating quality. Remember, hydration is your number one (and free!) asset in getting yourself well again.
Or maybe it's number two; it's possible that sleep is number one.
It doesn't really matter how you rank them, though. You need both, and lots of both, and you don't really need any other hokey nonsense to stifle your sniffle. The cold is a virus, and time is the only cure. You need to let the cold run it's course.

Get to bed, get some rest, and drink a ton of water--even if you're not thirsty.

Trust me, I swear by it; it works every time.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Thoughts on Love

[This poem was written about seven years ago as an offering for my grandparents on their fiftieth wedding anniversary.]

A boy asked his professor about Love and learned that Love is governed by vectors, and Love's path is determined by forces of attraction and repulsion.

The boy asked his friend about Love and learned that Love is boring and foolish, and Love's path is determined by idle minds.

The boy asked his sister about Love and learned that Love is a physical enterprise intended to engross a couple in gratification, and Love's path is determined by a desire for a brief but intimate glimpse of euphoria.

The boy asked a homeless man about Love and learned that Love tears at your heart and stabs at your soul, and Love's path is determined by deception and sorrow.

The boy asked a postman about Love and learned that Love conducts itself with grace and formality, and Love's path is determined by fate.

The boy asked a minister about Love and learned that Love can save us from sin and reserve us a place in heaven, and Love's path is determined by God.

The boy asked a musician about Love and learned that Love is flamboyantly beautiful to the point of being irresistible, and Love's path is determined by incomprehensible emotions.

The boy asked a store clerk about Love and learned that not everyone wants to share their thoughts on Love.

The boy asked a librarian about Love and learned that Love is important for a properly healthy and fulfilling lifestyle, and Love's path is determined by open communication and warm feelings.

The boy asked a soldier about Love and learned that Love is something to pride and defend with every morsel of integrity in your being, and Love's path is determined by the unwritten justice that rules what is right or wrong.

The boy asked a politician about Love and learned that Love is pleasant, and Love's path is determined by similarities in belief and preference.

The boy asked a poet about Love and learned that Love has frivolous peaks and valleys, and Love's path is determined by the dreams of the highest clouds and the despair of the deepest, loneliest caverns.

And finally, the boy encountered a happily aging marriage intertwined with a bond of Love so unshakable and sincere that an impressive half of a century of dedication posted no doubts regarding its purity.

The boy learned of true Love, and learned that if you surrender yourself to the warm embrace of Love, then Love will determine your path.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bottom Feeders and Scavengers: a Blessing to Society

There is a rising subculture in our country and in others which feeds off of the waste of society. Dumpster divers, professional bottle collectors and scrap-heap scavengers all pick through the refuse of others looking to scrape up a little extra cash.

Some people find the presence of these persons somewhat of a nuisance; to many, a person digging through your trash bin is perceived in the same light as a skunk or rodent rummaging around in your waste barrel.

They are pests, and they are undesirables. They should be shooed away, or sprayed with something offensive to usher them out of your precious container of garbage.

Really though, I admire these grungy nocturnal scavengers. I support their cause, and believe they are bettering the world around us by choosing to benefit themselves from society's waste.

We've all seen hobos with massive shopping carts picking bottles and cans from the trash bins to redeem them for the bottle deposit.

In my opinion, this is undeniable proof that the bottle deposit system works, and good for them for helping divert these carelessly discarded resources from the trash and back into the recycling stream where they belong!

Not too long ago, I was at a work-related meeting where they were discussing the pros and cons of automatic bottle collecting machines that accept your bottles and issue a ticket (the redeemer presents the ticket to a cashier inside the store to claim their cash reward). The main problem with these labor-saving machines is they become a hot-spot for "professional bottle collectors." Their presence in a nice store is considered undesirable.

I couldn't help but laugh openly (right in the middle of the meeting), for awarding this practice with such an official and respectable-sounding title. "Professional bottle collectors": awesome.

Nonetheless, I am totally in favor of people meandering about and collecting perfectly good and recyclable bottles and cans, and doing the responsible thing with them.

Imagine what else we could do with a deposit system like this; with a deposit on plastic bags (maybe two cents--that's just my two cents though. [See what I did there?]), we would have not only a greater return on plastic bags from consumers, but even those too careless to recycle their bags for the two cents would likely have their bags plucked from the streets or waste bins to be surrendered for the deposit money.

Deposits like these keep our streets cleaner, and keep monetarily valuable resources in the recycling stream where they can be beneficial, instead of sitting in a landfill for hundreds of years in a completely worthless manner.

Even if you are too lazy and selfish to recycle your own crap, someone else will if it means they can scrape together a couple bucks for doing it.

I personally do not return my bottles to the vendor for the deposit money; I find the practice of redeeming bottles to be very tedious and time-consuming. I just put my bottles out with the rest of my recycling, and I am perfectly happy to pay someone thirty cents to redeem my empty twelve-pack for me. I am very happy that there are people around that are perfectly willing to do it.

Another interesting trend that is growing in popularity is dumpster diving, or Freeganism. Freegans typically visit the dumpsters of grocery stores or restaurants after-hours, when food that is unwanted or has approached the expiration date is discarded.

Grocery stores are forced to throw this food away when the date printed on the package draws near (for liability reasons), and restaurants have copious amounts of prepared meals that get tossed because the diner couldn't finish, or the meal was prepared incorrectly.

However, in a lot of cases it is still perfectly good food. The Freegans rescue the expired or unwanted product from the dumpsters, inspect it to decided if it is still edible, and ultimately bring it home to enjoy a meal. For free.

I think this is wonderful! The tremendous waste our society perpetuates is just completely sick. So much crap gets thrown away all the time that grocery stores build their margins with high throw-away numbers in mind; it's better for them if they over-order and have to throw a few things out than it is to under-order and run out when people are still willing to buy something.

The Freeganism movement helps save some of this perfectly good food from becoming waste.

Is dumpster diving a glorious task? Not really; I think it's pretty gross and I wish they would wear plastic gloves (some do). I certainly won't do it.

But next to composting, it is the most responsible thing I can think of for dealing with the inevitable food waste that an establishment like a grocery store or restaurant produces.

Grocery stores and restaurant owners are obviously resistant to this movement, because they want people to come into the store or restaurant and actually buy this crap. They don't want to throw it out, they want to sell it.

However, it seems to me that the people involved in this movement aren't going to shop/dine there anyhow.

So what's the harm? Let them dig through the trash.

I usually look the other way when someone is rummaging through a trash bin, or a dumpster. I don't want them to feel ashamed by having me watch them, and I am certainly aware that their task at hand is not something they are proud to be doing (there may be some exceptions to that, but those people probably aren't reading my blog anyhow).

Also, I separate my deposit-worthy recycling from the rest of the bin and put it to the side, so the professional bottle collectors will have a mighty easy time scooping them up on recycling day. They always come by the night before a pickup and rummage through the bins anyhow; why not make life easier for them?

I consider the bottom feeders of our culture to be a great blessing to society, and they offer a service that taxpayers do not have to pay for (deposits are paid by the consumer when the consumer voluntarily opts out of the deposit return process).

Keep digging, keep diving, and best of luck out there to you beautiful and under-glorified janitors of society!

I am very likely your biggest fan.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

On annoying cyclist behavior

I love cyclists.

I love watching other people ride their bikes. I love looking at other peoples' bikes, and checking out how they have chosen to set them up. I also get great pleasure from hearing that a fellow cyclist is enjoying their riding experience.

However, like pretty much anyone who steps outside in an urban environment with their eyes open, I frequently see lousy and annoying cyclists exhibiting lousy and annoying cyclist behavior.

These renegade hooligans discredit the value of responsible cycling for the rest of us, and it's no wonder people are quick to judge me as a reckless person simply because I ride a bicycle.

I recently had someone say to me in conversation, "Oh, I'll bet you save a lot of time commuting by bicycle! It must be nice to not have to stop at red lights."

The real kicker is that the person was being completely sincere, and not just making a sarcastic jab at lawless cyclists; there is a disgustingly common misconception that cyclists are somehow immune to the rules of the road, and can meander about as they please with no regard to other road users, pedestrians, or even their own mortality.

I would like to offer an official waxy opinion regarding cyclists who disregard the rules of the road: you suck.

Here are a few things you should not find yourself doing while you cruise along on your two-wheeled wonder:

  • Running red lights. You are using the same road space as cars and pedestrians who are expected to observe the lights, signs and signals that very clearly describe when you are allowed to go, and when you are expected to stop. Your impatience is unjustified, because most traffic lights will have you waiting a maximum of thirty seconds. If you are choosing to travel on a vehicle that tops out at fifteen miles per hour, can't you afford thirty seconds from your life to wait for the stupid light? If for nothing more than the simple sake of not being a dick?
  • Traveling the wrong way down one-way streets. What are you, stupid? You are going to hurt someone, and I hope it's just yourself. It is very likely that thirty yards away is another street that is going the appropriate direction for your intended route of travel. You are inconveniencing all other persons using the street correctly by going the wrong way, and making everyone else adjust to your selfish laziness. Try to at least pretend you are a smart person while you ride your bicycle, even though you are clearly not that bright at all.
  • Traveling the wrong way down a bike lane. This is even worse, because you are endangering cyclists who are actually using the road correctly. A lot of cyclists going the right way don't know how to respond to an idiot barreling straight towards them in the bike lane; best case scenario, they are usually forced to signal out of the lane and go around these offensive bike salmon. I even see bike salmon in the wrong bike lane even if there is a more directionally appropriate bike lane on the opposite side of the road, apparently because they are too lazy and self-absorbed to simply travel on the correct side of the street.
  •  Pulling up in front of other cyclists at the light. I have no idea why this constantly happens. In very few other situations in life does a person feel justified waltzing boldly to the front of the line when they are clearly the last to arrive, but it happens with cyclists at red lights all the time. Cyclists will pull up in front of you, even if it lands them squarely in the middle of a crosswalk or a live intersection. People get absorbed by this mentality that because they are on a bicycle, they have a right to scoot in front of the rest of traffic and wait in the front of the line. But wait, I'm a cyclist too! Take your proper place in the back of the line, you selfish putz.
[The worst offenders are the cyclists who cut in front of you at the light and then proceed to travel much slower than you, forcing you to wait for an opportunity to pass them again. This can turn into a devilishly annoying game of leap-frog, and begs the question: "What the heck is wrong with you?!"]
  •   Trying to pass a bus on the right when they have pulled over to take on passengers. I shouldn't have to explain this one. Don't be lazy: signal out of your lane and pass the bus on the left. Life is hard enough for people that have to take the bus everywhere; they certainly don't need the threat of collision with a cyclist added to their list of woes. If you can't be bothered to pass the bus on the left or it seems too risky with the traffic at hand, just wait a couple seconds behind the bus. It's gonna pass you again anyhow.
  •  Neglecting to slow down or stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk. I constantly encounter pedestrians who appear surprised that I stop for them. They assume that because I am on a bicycle I will ignore their right of way and plow through the crosswalk without any regard. I usually find it necessary to offer a hand gesture asserting the fact that I will allow them to use the crosswalk before I proceed. This is not how it should be! Pedestrians are more vulnerable than even cyclists, and right of way is not dictated by courtesy--it is the law. As a rule of thumb, if you estimate a pedestrian will make it to the crosswalk before you can realistically pass through it, you should slow down or stop to allow them that right. Don't be a dick. It is rare enough for pedestrians to actually use the crosswalk; you should honor their respect for the rules of the road by showing them that you respect them too.
  • Failing to advertise your intentions with proper signaling. If your goal is to instigate a traffic accident, then you are best off forgoing hand signals. For those of us who are not stupid and suicidal, please try to communicate with the other road users before you attempt a traffic maneuver. Shocking as it may seem, most motorists have no idea what the heck you are doing on the road, and have no ability to anticipate your spontaneous swerving throughout the lane. Even if you are just passing a double-parked car, signal out of the lane!
[As an addendum to my post on signaling from a few weeks back, if you are changing lanes from the left to the right, a right-turn signal with the left hand is not appropriate. That is a signal intended to indicate an intention of turning. In this case, point with your right hand. Whenever you are changing lanes (either side), the most appropriate thing you can do is simply point to the road space you anticipate occupying. This is the simplest and most universally understood announcement of your intention when changing lanes.]
  •  Riding on the sidewalk. It is called a sidewalk, not a side-ride. Have some respect for people that are stuck on foot, and keep your darn vehicle on the road. The only exception to this rule is in the case of multi-use trails that feed into sidewalks, where the cyclist is expected to use the crosswalk to cross the roadway in order to continue the trail. If that's not the case, you are just being a dick.
  • Talking on the phone. It's bad enough that motorists do this, but at least they don't completely compromise their ability to operate the brakes of their vehicle by doing it. Try to keep your hands on the handlebars, please. If you simply cannot wait to field your precious phone call, pull your bike to the side of the road. People swerving around the road because they are jamming their hand into their pockets trying to wrestle out a phone call so they can tell homeboy how they aren't up to anything, "just chilling, what's up with you?" deserve whatever clumsy fate they are destined for. You can't work the brake lever if there is a phone in your hand that you are actively holding against the side of your fat head. It's just impossible.
Riding a bicycle can be fun and safe, but the latter is largely dependent on not being a complete moron. Annoying and selfish cyclists will always exist, because annoying and selfish people will always exist, but the fewer of them on the road the better.

Thanks for tuning in for this week's waxy PSA, readers. Remember, before every ride take a moment to check your brakes and the air pressure in your tires, and then pull your head all the way out of your posterior.

Until next week (and hopefully indefinitely after that), try to make sure you are not only just one less car on the road, but also one less idiot as well.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On Poor Memory, and Wonderful People

Some people, despite how many acquaintances they have or how long it's been since they have last seen a friend, can easily recognize and remember people by merely seeing their face.

Others cannot remember anyone at all, even for brief periods of time. [It sucks talking to someone for five minutes, only to suddenly discover that they don't remember who you are and have no idea what you are talking about at all. It happens to me sometimes with 7-Eleven cashiers.]

I myself fall into a special category which is a mix of the two...heavy on the latter.

I remember people I am around all the time, but I sometimes encounter a face that I recognize and can't remember the person.

I've realized I have an inconvenient tenancy to remember people by events that I have experienced with the person rather than what the person looks like. It makes you forget people a lot.

Someone will say, "Wow! So nice to see you again!" I may recognize them, but even if I don't I usually stammer off some awkward response to try to hide the fact that for some reason, I don't remember who they are.

They'll say, "Oh, remember the time when we lived across the street from each other and the fire alarm went off in my building, and you came outside in your pajamas because you thought it was going off in your building?"

All of a sudden, I remember exactly who this person from my past is.

We weren't close, and we didn't see each other often, but instantly I recall all of the nuances of our past.

I remember her name, and the name of her dog, and that one time her dog got out and I caught it because he jumped up on me and knocked me down (I guess I just held on).

I remember the name of the fruit stand on the corner that we both would buy lemons from because they were only a dime a piece.

I remember how pissed off she would get because I put our trash and recycling on her side of the street for pickup (our side didn't have a sidewalk, and we were supposed to leave ours way around the corner. It was kind of inconvenient to wheel the barrels that far).

Once reminded of the event that connected us, I immediately recalled who she was and why I remembered her.

For me, just seeing a person sometimes gives me nothing more than recognition; I need to be able to connect to an event to actually remember them.

In the future, I estimate that we will all wear stylish hipster glasses (or less sucky glasses, if you prefer) which have the livelihood of our Smartphones manifesting before our very eyes.

All of your Smartphone glory will be implanted into your brain, and you will interact through the technologically-enhanced lenses impregnated in your glasses merely by thinking.

If you are walking on the street or something, the images you see could be displayed peripherally, but it's really a side note; people are so glued to their Smartphones already that they hardly have the ability to look up as they meander into a busy street between crosswalks while traffic is swerving around them.

With these sweet lenses of the future we could have the rest of the functioning world around us as a background to the idiotic virtual life we are so transfixed by; we could at least watch as a sedan plows into us through our translucent Facebook page.

If you have to actively stare at your Smartphone at all times regardless of the boisterous world around you, you don't have a chance without these sweet glasses. And this is about safety, right?

Anyway, once I have those glasses that pull up Facebook pictures of people just by looking at them, I will never again forget who a single person is. That is until I develop Alzheimer's, which is likely inevitable.

Until then, waxy readers...

Who are you, again?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Birthday Blogging Break

As today is my birthday, I am opting for a recess from writing.

I don't feel like writing a post, and gosh darn it today marks my twenty-eighth successful revolution around the blazing sun aboard this rapidly twirling rock with stuff growing like crazy all over it, and I don't have to write a post if I don't want to.

Tune in next Tuesday for a fresh bout of waxy rambling. Until then...happy birthday, to me!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On signaling in traffic

The directional blinker: one of an automobile's more useful interactive features, universally available in any model of car as a standard option.

What really irks me about signaling in traffic is the unforgivable number of road users who simply choose to forgo the practice altogether.

I don't really think the directional blinker in a car could be much easier to use; there it is, a finger's grasp from the steering wheel on the left side.

Even car users who prefer an automatic transmission should have at least their left hand on the steering wheel at all times, making that simple signalling wand oh so easy to use during any and all traffic situations.

I am pretty sure all of us road users realize this convenience is not often utilized. Many motorists (and cyclists) swerve suddenly from lane to lane, assuming no harm will come to them as they display their complete ineptitude on the road.

Is it really that hard? Perhaps they should install directional indicators right on the steering wheel, so completely under-skilled drivers could actuate a signal without even moving their hands.

Unfortunately, this real estate on the steering wheel has typically been occupied by an alternate access point for the car horn, a far less useful traffic device which offers other road users no actual message as far as your intentions on the road are concerned.

As a daily commuting cyclist, my frustrations with non-signaling road users is tremendous.

When I ride next to a car, I observe them carefully to try to figure out what they are doing. Sometimes they are turning right and I plan to travel straight ahead, and I cannot recall a single instance where I was interested in crashing into the side of their car.

Even motorists who turn and look at you, and see you, might still perform their traffic maneuver without signaling. I suppose the expectation is that the cyclist will just...figure it out? I find this phenomenon quite vexing.

I am completely willing to slow down and allow another road user to perform a turn while I wait, but a little warning would be nice! If you don't have a blinker on, I assume you are headed the same way I am.

I have the following message for road users who fail to use a directional signal to describe their intentions in traffic: you suck.

This Proclamation of Suckiness (POS) is not exclusive to motorists; it is a universally applicable description of all road users who perform traffic maneuvers while failing to issue a signal.

While I may have an impartial sense of compassion for fellow cyclists on the road, they are not exempt from the POS.

Cyclists are expected to signal their intentions on the road, and I shouldn't need to explain why it is a practical and realistic thing to do in all situations.

If you are riding a bicycle which renders the practice of simply lifting your left hand from the handlebar for a traffic signal somewhat inconvenient, perhaps you should rethink whether that particular bicycle should be ridden in traffic (by you).

As a side note, I have actually seen a cyclist who displayed a right-turn signal with his right hand (should be displayed with the left), and then proceeded to turn left.

I have only this to say: what an idiot.

The only thing I cannot emphasize enough about this particular cyclist is his idiocy in choosing this unusual traffic signal.

The cyclist's left-hand turn signal (pointing to the left with your outstretched arm) is the easiest and most universally understood traffic signal available to cyclists. Period.

This is fitting, as it is the most dangerous move a cyclist can make on the road.

Instead of opting for this convenient signal, our cyclist in question decided to make up a signal that doesn't even exist at all, and I would not have been surprised if he were flattened by the car behind him on the scene (fortunately, he was not).

And duh: of course he was not wearing a helmet.

I shouldn't have to point out that forcing motorists to interpret your non-existent hand-signal on a bicycle while you are trying to execute a left-hand turn is a very bad idea, and definitely warrants you a POS award.

If you are a new cyclist and are confused about your hand signals, you should keep the following advice in mind:
  • All traffic signals may be made with the left hand. This is especially important if you are making a left-hand turn, which exposes a cyclist to greater risk than less innocuous traffic maneuvers.
  • Signaling a right-hand turn with your right hand is acceptable (and many cyclist prefer it, as motorists are often confused by the right-turn signal), however it may be less visible to some road users in certain conditions as you are usually traveling to the right of traffic. Keep your audience in mind.
If you use our roads like I do, please consider the courteous and obligatory behavior of signaling your intentions to other people on the road.

Some of us are not interested in dying today.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

On bicycle helmets, and why I choose not to wear one

Welcome back, waxy readers! Thank you for forgiving my hiatus; my vacation was every bit as relaxing and refreshing as I had hoped and anticipated it would be.

Those of you who read my vacation announcement probably recall I promised an especially stirring and controversial post upon my return.

And yes, you read the title correctly.

As an avid cyclist (a daily bicycle commuter who participates in about twelve to twenty-five miles of vehicular traffic each day without feeling any sort of temptation to dress myself in spandex and be uncomfortable), I am often asked by other cyclists why I forgo helmet use.

Not wearing a helmet is commonly perceived as the mark of an amateur cyclist who does not take their safety seriously.

Trust me, I take my safety on the road very seriously, and am quite conscious of the danger involved with cycling on the street for long distances in high-traffic areas.

I am very passionate about cyclists being safe in the road. And still I choose not to wear a helmet when I ride.

Why would I make this seemingly irrational choice? Isn't a helmet a practical, essential and potentially life-saving piece of equipment that every cyclist should always wear?

Well, perhaps not. And I say that as someone who actually owns two bicycle helmets. I used to wear them (one at a time) on every single ride, whether I was traveling fifty miles or fifty yards.

Let me clarify something upfront: I am not anti-helmet. I do not advocate for non-helmet use. I do believe a helmet offers you some protection and increases your safety in the event of a crash. I do not deny these various benefits of wearing a helmet.

There are many cyclists who I feel do not control their bicycles very well at all; they swerve all about with no regard to traffic laws or other road users as they barrel down one-way streets the wrong way while simultaneously fielding a phone call and smoking a cigarette in the dark of night with no lights and obviously no self-awareness or common sense.

For these people, yes: I think they should wear a helmet, because the chance of them losing control of their bicycle and crashing is very high, and the chance of them handling the crash well is very low.

In fact, in some cases I think it would be appropriate for the cyclist to be wearing full body armor for each ride, or at least football pads, and the greatest possible thing they could do for their general safety on a bicycle would be to put it away in the basement and walk.

If you observe cyclists regularly like I do, you will probably agree with my observation that most of these cyclists do not wear helmets anyway.

But wait--so what exactly is so bad about helmets?

Well, for starters I think every helmet user should be aware that helmets are not all they are cracked up to be (optional pun joke may be inserted here).

Helmets are ostensibly designed to prevent brain damage in the event of some sort of trauma to the head, but there have been studies that reveal this is not something they are actually capable of.

I am not saying that head injuries do not occur during cyclist crashes.

However, by far the majority of head injuries sustained from cycling accidents (excluding alcohol-related accidents, where the cause of the accident is sometimes more circumstantial) are not serious or life-threatening.

In the case of minor accidents like these, for sure I would say that the damage done is made less severe by using a helmet.

It would be like if you were wearing a helmet while you banged your head on that cabinet door while you were standing up from a kneel; of course a helmet would have been a convenient and certainly comfort-improving thing to be wearing.

Could an injury like this be life-threatening? I suppose it could, but I'm talking bumps to the head here--not concussive force.

In impacts where the head is hit hard enough for the head-owner to suffer a concussion (or worse), the impact and resulting injury will likely be just as severe whether the person is wearing a helmet or not.

This is because bicycle helmets are not that protective. They do undergo mandatory testing for their effectiveness, but the literal test subject is a crash dummy falling from a standing position and landing on the crown of his (or her...?) head.

If you are liable to falling forward onto your head, then you will find wearing a helmet quite effective in reducing your head pain. Probably more effective than even two Excedrin.

However, an impact that is strong enough to seriously damage your head will still seriously damage your head if you are using a helmet. The general conception is that helmets will reduce your injury like some sort of hefty injury tax, but this is not actually the case. Serious impacts are easily transferred though your stylish plastic hat and onto your skull.

The basic idea behind a helmet is that the Styrofoam shell will compress in a collision, absorbing some of the impact of your fall in the compression.

Unfortunately, the powers of absorption these mere inches of plastic are capable of is actually pretty small and easily exceeded during events where you are counting on them to save you.

I really started to think about why we wear helmets as cyclists last December when I saw my first dead cyclist lying in the road.

There he was in the street, with that eery appearance that only a dead person can inspire. The truck driver who hit him stood nearby, obviously uncomfortable with the mortality that he had brought to realization, waiting for help to arrive.

The cyclist's body advertised the eternal peace that it had been forced into where it was before the tires of the truck, crumpled like his bicycle.

His bicycle helmet was still firmly strapped to his head.

I did hear sirens in the background, but learned later that he had unfortunately died immediately after impact with the truck. Why didn't his helmet save him?

Well, for one thing, if you get hit by a car your head isn't the only part of your body that will be affected. You are liable to break any of the other one hundred seventy-eight bones in your body, and you could even be forced to die from painful internal bleeding from a ruptured organ.

Also, if you fall and your head crashes into the pavement with tremendous force, you could still die from a traumatic impact to the head, regardless of whether or not you are wearing a helmet.

Again, I would like to emphasize that I am not anti-helmet.

I am, however, opposed to mandatory helmet use laws. The reason is simple: mandatory helmet use laws have been proven to reduce ridership in places where it has been implemented as a safety measure.

Decreased ridership has a far more dramatic effect on my own safety than a bicycle helmet. With plentiful numbers of cyclists on the road, motorists become more aware of their presence. They are everywhere; seeing a cyclist is not a surprise because they have to share the road with them constantly.

A lot of potential cyclists are not willing to ride when a helmet is mandated. In some cases, they just don't like to wear them--perhaps they are concerned about sullying up their hair, or they find them hot and bulky, or generally uncomfortable.

However, the main reason is the message that is sent to people who haven't started riding a bike but were thinking about it. Once they learn that they must wear a helmet, they are left with the notion that cycling is dangerous.

I will not deny that cycling is dangerous, but it is much less dangerous than piloting a two-ton chariot of steel at three times the speed. In fact, some theorists believe that even reckless cycling is considerably less dangerous than being a pedestrian crossing the roadway between crosswalks (jaywalking).

You rarely see jaywalkers wearing a helmet, or really anyone for the purposes of just walking around. There is this one old guy who pushes around a shopping cart in Somerville collecting bottles and cans from people's recycling bins who does wear a bicycle helmet at all times, but I hardly think people should base their helmet use on whatever philosophy he is subscribing to.

Back to a decrease in ridership: what it means for other cyclists (like myself, or you) is a decreased element of safety on the road, and this makes it the paramount detractor from the success of mandated safety measures for cyclists.

In many cases, mandated helmet use has resulted in a decrease in ridership by over fifty percent. It is somewhat ironic that something prescribed as a safety measure could have such a negative effect on cyclists and their safety.

On top of all of this, in my opinion the worst drawback helmet use provides is an unfortunate phenomenon known as "risk compensation."

In a nutshell, risk compensation and what it has to do with cycling is this: you unconsciously take greater risks while you ride because you are wearing a helmet.

It is a real phenomenon that has been studied at length and has been proven to affect cyclist behavior, and is still being studied further as you read these waxy words.

Cyclists who wear helmets subconsciously subscribe to an unfortunate misunderstanding regarding the protection they are being inferred.

Helmet-wearing riders are less reluctant to take risks they might not ordinarily consider while riding without one, falsely believing that their Styrofoam hat will render them impervious to harm.

This is not a conscious decision cyclists make as they strap the buckle of their stylish headpiece. It happens on an unconscious level, and is rooted in the sense of security that wearing a piece of armor naturally imparts on a person.

Riders who do choose to wear a helmet are quick to dismiss the theory behind compensatory cycling, claiming that they would ride the same way whether they were wearing a helmet or not. I also belonged to this category when I wore a helmet.

However, my experience with compensatory cycling has been telling and firsthand. When I started researching bicycle helmets and was learning about how worthless they are, I one day decided I would no longer wear one anymore.

The first thing that happens to your riding style when you take out your bicycle after deciding to forgo a helmet is you ride much, much more cautiously. All of a sudden, you feel more exposed and vulnerable.

I do not consider this sensation to be a drawback: you should feel exposed and vulnerable on a bicycle because you are exposed and vulnerable on a bicycle, whether you wear a helmet or not.

Not having that thick Styrofoam shell firmly strapped to my head inspired me to be more wary of other road users, and made me a generally more suspicious rider.

I immediately stopped my bad and impatient habit of sneaking through red lights as soon as the coast was clear.

[I don't mind waiting, because everyone (cyclist or not) is expected to wait anyway and I'm not typically in a rush. Your risk is severely minimized if you simply wait at red lights.]

I suddenly became very conscious of the rules of the road and my role in participating appropriately. I started constantly supervising the other road users around me, trying to anticipate their behavior and decide how it could affect me.

Signaling and making my intentions on the road extremely obvious to everyone else became abundantly important.

I now look at drivers and try to connect with them visually, all but begging them not to kill me with their car because now I am not wearing that stupid plastic hat that wasn't even going to save me anyway.

If you are not a safe cyclist and you choose to forgo traffic laws by gliding down one-way streets the wrong way or coasting right through solid reds at traffic signals, it is nice if you wear a helmet. At the very least, it helps water down the perception other road users have of you as a completely senseless maniac who has no regard for their own safety or the safety of others.

Ultimately, the deciding factor for me in choosing to stop wearing a helmet while cycling was my realization that it was a telling statement about a philosophy that I don't believe in.

Wearing a helmet tells other road users that I believe what I am doing is inherently dangerous and I need protection for my safety.

This is not what I believe; I consider responsible cycling very safe.

Cycling can be a fun, low-risk, heart-healthy and practical way of getting around. It is by far the safest possible way to use the roads. It is good for your body (as long as your saddle is high enough) and it is less detrimental to the environment than using a car or bus.

[Tangential to this, I find it rather annoying when cyclists tote the "greenness" of their bicycle riding and think riding a bike around is somehow making the air cleaner.

Most bicycles and components are made in Taiwan or China, and some nicer stuff in Japan. Even domestically produced components need to be shipped somewhere, unless you are TIG welding your own frames in the basement from iron ore you harvested sustainably from you own back yard in Alaska . I shouldn't need to explain the environmental impact of shipping heavy metal stuff around on a truck or boat.

Also, unless you are pretentious and eager to divest yourself of any free time you might have by lubricating your chain with wax, you have to put oil on it every now and then. And isn't oil what cyclists like to pretend they never use, because they don't drive a car?]

Speaking of sending the wrong message to motorists, I did read of a study which revealed that motorists will afford less road space to cyclists wearing helmets than cyclists without them.

The study also discovered that motorists will drive closer to unhelmeted males on the road than unhelmeted females. In my opinion, this is not telling of female cyclists' ability astride a bicycle so much as it is telling of a common motorist perception of female cyclists.

Cyclists wearing helmets are perceived as less fragile, regardless of their sex, and motorists generally drive closer to them. They are less reluctant to take risks on the road with the cyclist nearby, or put the cyclist into a dangerous situation with their behavior.

I have seen firsthand evidence of this phenomenon, as a person who rides a bicycle both with a helmet and without one.

In fact, I find it amusing when I wear my Tilley hat on bike rides; many motorists give me quite a wide berth!

This is most likely because I look somewhat insane, and they don't know what to expect from me on the road (perhaps I will lash them with my handlebar-mounted authentic Indiana Jones whip that I have installed on all of my Tilley-worthy bicycles).

"But my helmet saved my life!" you hear people say. Many riders claim a broken helmet serves as undeniable proof that their helmet was effective and did offer them protection during their crash. Well, actually that is probably not true either.

Several studies (including those published by the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation) suggest that helmets are quite capable of breaking without effectively absorbing any impact to the skull.

This means that the damage to your head remains pretty much unaffected, despite your broken helmet.

Don't exaggerate the significance of a cracked piece of Styrofoam; it is one of the softest, least durable and most malleable plastics available.

As for me, I still have my two helmets, and I still like them. Here are some conditions where I believe wearing a helmet is appropriate:
  • If it is snowing, or has recently snowed.
  • During any kind of a storm, even a heavy rain shower or wind speeds over thirty miles per hour or so.
  • If you are not yet a skilled cyclist, or are liable to crash in response to an unanticipated traffic event. Included in this category are cyclists who are wielding a burden that renders their bicycle less controllable (shopping bags or unwieldy bike locks hanging precariously from the handlebars, for example), or surpasses the reasonable constraints of their bicycle's design and ability to carry a heavy load.
  • At night time. Let's face it: cycling at night is more dangerous. Lights are an absolute must so motorists can see you and hopefully put forth some effort as far as not killing you goes, but unless your lights provide good illumination of the road it's also much harder to see road hazards that could compromise your control of the bicycle.
If you have a helmet for nighttime rides, it's a good idea to plaster it with reflective tape. Anything that increases your visibility is a plus, and it's dark out so it doesn't really matter how dorky you look.

As a side note, you should strap one of those reflective ankle-strap things around your mittens at night in the winter to offer a visual aid for motorists who you would like to see your hand signals, if your mittens don't already include reflective features (some do).

Why would I say that wearing a helmet during any of those conditions above is somewhat justified, but a skilled and aware cyclist out for a nice summer day ride doesn't need one?

Simple: during the aforementioned conditions, losing control of your bicycle and crashing becomes a realistic possibility. On a normal, dry day it is not (unless you are a bad cyclist, which I have certainly seen my fair share of--helmeted or otherwise. Styrofoam can't fix everything).

Remember: it is highly unlikely a helmet will save you if you are hit by a car.

During low-impact crashes where the cyclist falls (like if you crash your own bike into something, a car door perhaps), it certainly can't hurt to have one on.

In any ride where you can imagine that happening despite your best efforts, a little extra protection is at least as practical as bringing along some tools and a spare tube, or some water, or anything else that it turns out you might need.

Am I anti-helmet? Again: no, I am not. If you feel that wearing a helmet is a practical choice for you, I encourage you to strap one on.

Just try (if it's even possible), to ride as if you were not wearing a helmet at all.

Pretend that you haven't got that plastic armor buckled to your chin, and realize that as a cyclist you are automatically exposed and vulnerable to all kinds of catastrophes, including death, despite your excellent-looking plastic hat.

If you have found this post to be offensive to your personal belief system regarding cyclists and their helmet use, I apologize voluntarily.

However, you should know my intent is not inflammatory, but rather to instigate an open-minded discussion regarding cyclists on the road versus cyclists and their perceived safety on the road.

I would ask only that you do try to take, if nothing more, at least the following from my commentary:
  • Bicycle helmets are not effective in preventing concussive or fatal impact to the head during a crash. Cyclists do die from head injuries, despite wearing one.
  • In the event that a motorist hits you, wearing a bicycle helmet is somewhat like wearing shin guards in a boxing match; true, it can't really hurt to wear them, but the danger you are exposed to is largely targeted at other areas of your body that your choice of armor does not protect.
  • Wearing a bicycle helmet does not make you a safer cyclist. Being a safer cyclist makes you a safer cyclist. Responsible road use and cautious cycling habits will always be more effective in preventing crashes and traffic fatalities than wearing a helmet will ever be.
I think anyone who is cautious enough to wear a helmet should know that they are making a safe choice.

However, we should all try to be ever aware that the bicycle helmet offers very little protection, and it's main function (preventing brain damage) is not something the helmet is actually capable of.

Remember, keeping your head safe with your smarts will be far more effective than trying to protect it with an ineffectual plastic shell of shame forced onto your head by motorists and marketing campaigns that boast of the essential nature of their helmets as an aid in protecting you from the awesome, unmitigated power of their fast and furious cars.

Thanks for tuning in after so long, my wise and waxy readers. Keep that noggin safe, and be sure to check back in next Tuesday for another rambling outburst of waxy goodness.