Tread Marks

by Antone P. Braga

“Why not?,” I asked. The bank teller replied, “I don’t know, probably insurance regulations or something.” I exclaimed, “You mean I can ride this bicycle legally on the road, but I can’t pull up at your drive-thru window?!” Well, after a discussion with management it was decided that I could transact my business at the bank’s drive-thru window after all—sort of a special dispensation. It happens that the window opens one hour before the bank doors and I didn’t want to stand around for an hour. Highly irregular and most baffling to the bank. After all I broke with convention. No one had ever questioned the supposed matter of fact policy.

So much of what we do has to do with conventional thought, absent individual thought. As we narrow the scope to suit larger forces, the bounds also surround and restrict straightforward thought. Better to not seek out…rather, submit to convention. I had a discussion with a friend yesterday about the larger forces. It is common knowledge now, big business is controlling more and more of the markets and our lives. A local hardware store closed and the friend lost his job to a much larger hardware-building materials-nursery-home supply store. It seems this larger store can afford to put up loss-leaders in its quest to take over, and the little stores can’t compete. One by one they fold their tents until the large stores can do pretty much as they please. There are many new conventions that pervade our time and most involve big business and government, alone or together dominating the individual. When this common knowledge is brought to the surface it usually gets a shrug. We become helpless, shrinking violets when we postulate helplessness.

The bicycle gives us an opportunity to question convention. Much of our society has difficulty accepting the bike as a means of transportation, albeit the most environment friendly, economical and healthy means known on the planet. Apparently we consider ourselves far too advanced for that sort of thing. I frequent a local community college that is most accommodating, although I have had an occasional rub with convention there too. I usually ride my bike on campus paths that are wider than most sidewalks and commonly carry the occasional maintenance truck, tractor, security guard car, food delivery truck, and other motorized vehicles as well as pedestrian traffic. There are perhaps two or three other bikes on campus so it is a rarity that apparently gave the appearance of a disregard for convention.

As I locked my bicycle one day, a faculty member approached me and said, “Do you know you are not allowed to ride your bicycle on campus?” I said I didn’t know, but after being assured that I broke the rules I decided to look into exactly what rules give preference to motorized vehicles over bicycles on pedestrian walkways. Of course there are none. However, it isn’t easy finding anyone who knows anything on the subject.

My first stop was the police station. The officer on duty informed me that it is against the law to ride a bicycle on a pedestrian sidewalk. There was no doubt in his mind, but just to convince me he called out to his superior, “Sarge, is it illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk?” The sergeant was quick to respond, “Oh yeah, definitely against the law. You can’t ride a bike on the sidewalk.” I explained that I remembered reading an article in the newspaper awhile back saying it was legal and it even went on to explain the proper etiquette when you ride on the sidewalk. The officer passed it off, “You can’t always believe what you read in the newspaper.”

As I left the police station I couldn’t help wonder if anyone had noticed me ride up and park my bike on the sidewalk. I hoped I didn’t get a ticket or arrested for violating public policy. Undaunted, I arrived at the local law library. The librarians were very helpful and before long I found no law applied except the state law that recommends riding your bicycle on the sidewalk as a means to avoid motor vehicle traffic. Of course the pedestrian has the right of way and the bike rider must sound an audible warning when approaching pedestrians if there is any doubt of the rider’s presence.

A few days later an acquaintance on campus asked what became of my investigation into the bicycle law. I explained what I had discovered at the law library and was then taken back by his reaction of drawing in a recoiled, “OOU” (rhymes with you). Apparantly I had struck a blow against all society. I am still somewhat astonished at the preference of myth over fact, although I really shouldn’t be. After all, it is the basic premise of the do-not-rock-the-boat rule. It is bad enough to question authority, though to actually point out that authority is wrong and be able to back it up is pure heresy. We have come to fear treading outside the convention, to exercise objective questioning. As it should be, says political correctness.

It has been several years now since I moved from the city where I frequented the community college and I happened to stop by there recently. I smile when I think of what I saw that can only be described as an amazing development. Near the very area where I previously was reprimanded for riding my bicycle on campus stood a bicycle rack to accomodate those who ride bikes on campus! A small triumph by some standards but a triumph none the less.

I saw something the other morning that had to do with fear and action. At the last moment I noticed a squirrel running directly under my front wheel. I didn’t have time to react, but the squirrel did. It found a higher gear that it did not know it had, became airborne and escaped unscathed. It could have easily been dumbstruck and frozen in fear. Instead, its reaction was forthright and unequivocal. We could all learn a little something from that squirrel running into intimidation at the crossroads.