Although my business card says “writer, printer, developer,” a more accurate description you could give to me, given my myriad pursuits, is “reverse engineer.”
My only skill, really, is being able to look at systems, understand their moving parts, and rearrange, reconfigure, adapt, interject, extend, explain.
By lucky happenstance this happens to be a good skill to have for helping to interpret the world to an autistic son: over my parenting years I’ve been able to help him understand complicated systems like “friendship” and “small talk” and “personal space.” Often, in helping him, I come to understand these systems more myself.
This summer the complicated system I’ve been helping him parse is bicycling, and today he leveled up more than once, sometimes on his own, and sometimes with my help:
- He figured out on his own that if he shifts in to 6th gear he can go really, really fast. But that this takes more effort and requires more frequent water breaks.
- He learned, with my help, that if you are approaching a stop sign it’s better to stop pedaling and slow down by coasting for a bit (as opposed to slamming on the breaks at the very last moment).
- He realized, at my urging, that it’s possible to cycle in the rain. At least light rain. And that you can dry your seat off with a paper towel to avoid getting a wet bum.
His final learning for the day came after we turned right from Sidney Street to Prince Street at the very end of our morning cycle. Prince Street is a busier street than most, and so I cycled along side him to be able to guide him in and to provide a little bit of a buffer between him and vehicle traffic. Shortly after we made the turn an SUV came along behind us and the driver got frustrated that he couldn’t pass us right away.
Philosophically I’m very much of the “the road belongs to bicycles and we allow other vehicles on as a courtesy” school, which, I realize, is not an approach shared by everyone.
But, still, we delayed this SUV by perhaps 5 to 10 seconds. And yet the driver decided that this was a good time to vent his frustration and lay on the horn.
“And that,” I told Oliver, “is what you call an asshole.”
Assholes are an important thing to understand when learning about bicycling–and about the world in general–for they confound the understanding of systems as predictable. As such they are among the hardest of phenomena to explain and to understand: if we assume that everyone is an asshole, we’d never leave the house; if we assume that nobody is an asshole, then we’re in for trouble.
The best we can do is to cycle–and live–boldly, to greet adversity with love, to assert our right to take up the road, and, when things get really hairy, to retreat and let the assholes go on about their assholing.