Dodging taxis: spiritual enlightenment downtown
Well my Guardian Angel was certainly looking out for me this morning.
I was sailing into work along King Street and was just a block away from my destination. I had deftly navigated through the thick metal morning rush.
Just a minute or two earlier I had seen one fast racer cyclist wipe out while crossing the wet streetcar tracks in front of Mountain Equipment Co-op. He immediately said, "I'm fine" to passerbys' queries.
Close call. My fat road tires made it easier for me to cross streetcar tracks - less chance of getting wedged in them - but the secret to surviving downtown streets is to take your crossing of tracks at something close to 90 degree angles. The closer you are to perpendicular cross, the safer you are.
The other main risk from downtown streets comes from drivers not paying attention to the fast moving cycling whipping by them.
Not just drivers, though. Their passengers are a source of worry too.
If I've learned anything, it's to give wide berth to cars that might be turning. I'll habitually pass on the left - carefully! - when I see a right turn signal on.
Which is exactly what I did at University. Only the guy turning right didn't make his turn, and kept going straight.
Fine, whatever - I was already in front of him. One obstacle down. So very close to my destination.
At the risk of indulging in a delicious game of second guessing, I figure that 'false alarm' from the non-turn lulled me into not approaching my next hazard as carefully as I should have.
A taxi was in the right lane, stuck in traffic, with its right turn signal on.
Well, he can't turn right because the next street is one-way and he can't move forward anyway.
Woe to the cyclist who stops their thought pattern with that logic.
I didn't peer through the back window to see if there was a passenger in there.
There was. And he didn't turn back to see if I was coming.
With a whoosh the door popped open, and I was about a second away from slamming into it.
What happened after took place so quickly, I later had to use logic to deduce what had happened - I don't think my brain was processing the experience fast enough given how quickly the encounter flashed
If I had made serious physical contact head-on with the taxi - note the careful choice of words - there would've definitely been a mark on either the car, my bike, or myself.
After all, my handle bars have ‘tusks’ mounted on them, which would easily smash the taxi’s window should they make contact. If they were to not bend back while hitting the car, they might even save my hands.
That scenario did not come to pass, though. Instead, I blared on my bike's powerful air horn - perhaps too late, but perhaps not - and immediately dodged to the right.
Before the incident, I hadn't honked my bike horn preemptively because I saw the open window in the taxi and thought that I would be a jerk for blaring the horn in the passenger's ear. I hadn’t even considered the fact that I was entering a moment of rather extreme danger.
All that child's play taking sharp turns by leaning in to them suddenly paid rich dividends - an funny term to use, I suppose, considering I was basically across the street from the Toronto Stock Exchange - and I leaped off my bike with more nimbleness than I thought myself capable of.
Realize that although I have strong brakes on my bike, but it's physically impossible to immediately come to a dead stop, so I made a running dismount, hopping along the sidewalk and somehow holding onto my bike, angling it down under the car door.
What I don't know is whether the shocked passenger managed to pull the door closed or whether the 45 degree angle of rear passenger doors afforded me enough clearance to sail under unscathed.
With the stunning realization that I survived the encounter with nary a scratch, I found myself literally whirling around to come to a stop, slowly sitting down on the hood of the taxi to catch myself and stop the bizarre morning street ballet.
It would be cool to watch a video of the incident, I'm sure.
If you were watching a video, you would likely expect a sudden explosion of “WTF was that?” or some other equally emotional outburst. I've seen a lot of road rage on the streets. I'm sure that I, as a driver, have been one to be irrationally upset by poor driving on the roads. And if anyone has an excuse to get upset, it's a person who just got a "Door Prize". Despite this fabulous stroke of success in the midst of potential misfortune, many would still feel obliged to scream and curse. Or at least be gleeful that they survived.
But I just felt calm.
I think a calm reaction shocks people as much as the Door Prize itself. The careless taxi passenger did seem surprised - or perhaps he was still in shock - when he saw me achieving what can best be described as a zen-like state of calm usually reserved for those who devote a significant amount of time to silent meditation.
I reached this mini-motorway nirvana by careening almost mystically around that open rear door.
It's funny, my friend Lawrence finds that the best place to experience dialogue with God “is in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, free of iPods and street noise.”
And he's completely correct, really. Aside from simply being right, there's a lot of logic and merit in his approach. Not the least being the fact that it is accompanied by an infinitesimally low risk of getting maimed or killed.
Of course, being the stubborn "I'll do it my way" kind of person, I have to do things differently. I have to bear witness - it was like an epiphany! - in the middle of the morning rush, fuelled by a delirious rush of adrenaline.
The complete lack of pain gave me an subconscious but immediate 'thumbs up' sign that everything was okay. It was funny. As soon as I realized that I was okay, it was the
material object - my bike - which consumed my concerns. Was it okay? My silly act of spinning my bike's front wheel in the air to see if it was bent - it wasn't - proved that everyone had to be fine. Both my body and my other material possession made it through unharmed. But getting hung up on the state of my bike immediately felt silly. With my sudden and rather unexpected feeling of calm, the obsessive need to care for material objects felt immature, childish, and totally unnecessary. I finished my little bike check-up routine quickly, in an attempt to kill that feeling of selfishness as fast as possible. But despite the unease, the act itself did have a small benefit - it helped me focus my thoughts.
Everything’s okay, I thought to myself. I didn’t damage the poor taxi driver’s car. His passenger didn’t hurt me. I got a scare and a rush, but ultimately I can at least pull an amusing story out of it - and learn a lesson for next time.
I chose not to yell at the taxi passenger. It's funny how differently I imagine the whole morning would've turned out had I become hostile. The man apologized profusely, of course, explaining that he was giving a goodbye kiss to his 'girl', before 'kicking open' the door without looking. I thanked him for his apology, recognized the fact that I had survived rather well, felt bad for giving him such a fright, politely wished that he would look check for bikes in the future before opening doors, and shook his hand, wishing him well.
I hopped on my bike, rode the last block to the office, and then did a few laps of the courtyard flipping gears up and down. I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins as I did my basic diagnostic check, to see if all the gears were still functioning. Another mechanistic approach to calming down, I suppose. Meditation through bike riding? Why not.
Everything seemed to be fine. And it would be on the ride home too at the end of the day - the proof being that I'm still here and able to write about it.
And so I closed up this little saga by locking up and headed upstairs, ready to face the rest another day with, hopefully, a renewed sense of purpose to life in general. What that purpose is exactly wasn't clear at the time, but I figure I can think about that some more without weaving through traffic.
Maybe I'll take the Martin Goodman trail along the lake next time.