Most drivers think that most cyclists think that cars stink.
This view comes from the perspective that if people are willing to risk their lives on skinny-tired, self-powered monstrosities that slow down the drivers, the only possible reason must be that cyclists hate cars. But this isn’t necessarily true.
Most cyclists in the US live in places that don’t allow them to escape cars. And if the discussion on one cycling message form that I saw recently is any indication, the heart of a motorhead beats within the chest of many a bike rider. It’s just that most cyclists prefer bicycles to cars, at least for recreation. And most (though not all) cyclists I know not only own cars, they use them to transport their bicycles to ride starts, etc.
I, personally, do not like cars. I would prefer to bicycle everywhere. And I have managed 18-mile round trip commutes for many years. I’ve written about how we could live without automobiles, how we could construct neighborhoods that are not slaves to the car. But even I own a car (an infamous apple- (“cyber”-) green 2000 VW Beetle, better known as the Y2K Bug). I do not like cars, and I try to drive only when I need to. Or when I’m with someone else. Or when I’m lazy. Or…
But I don’t generally think cars stink. Or I didn’t, until yesterday.
The snow began around mid-day last Friday, and it didn’t stop until my town had 40 inches of snow. The world came to a halt. There were 2-3 feet of snow on the road in front of my house on Saturday morning. People dug their cars out of their driveways, but that was it. The driveways ended at a mound of snow, and there was simply nowhere to put it. So nobody got out of their driveways.
Saturday passed with general neighborhood bonhomie as we helped each other shovel sidewalk trenches, engaged in snowball fights, that sort of thing. Saturday morning you could hear a few snowblowers start up, then die as their users realized that they were useless against that much snow.
Sunday passed in much the same way. Nobody went to church; people met each other in the trenches cut down and across the street, chatted. Our next door neighbors, A & K, are expecting a child this week, so they were a little concerned, but no big deal. We made arrangements to haul K up to the end of the street on a cardboard sheet if need be.
Monday, and not a gasoline engine had run in the neighborhood in days. My son was making money helping people to shovel things clear as the snow packed down into heavier slush in the unseasonable 40-ish temperatures. The air was clean–the closest analogy I can come up with is how the sky looked after 9/11, when all non-military aircraft were grounded for weeks, and the skies were suddenly so clear. It was lovely.
Around 5:00 Monday (yesterday), the first plow came through, and suddenly, it was like a huge block party, neighbors helping neighbors to extend their driveways to the fractional lane cut through the middle of the road by the plow. We moved from driveway to driveway, checking on more elderly residents, chatting about what K was going to name her child (we suggested “Blizzard” as a middle name), and just generally marveling at the snow. We talked about a six-month anniversary block party to celebrate our surviving the snowpocalypse. it was fun.
Then came the test–my spouse and I had to rearrange our cars, so we started them up and, windows open and flashers going (so that we could see behind us and not squash the clearing crew) we backed out and went back in to the driveway. And man, those cars stank.
You can get used to almost anything. I lived near a fire station for years and slept through I don’t know how many alarms. I have been in houses that just smell bad, but whose residents seem not to notice. I know people who live in houses that are pervaded by the bright lights of car dealers. They get used to it. You can get used to anything.
I had gotten used to the smell of cars.
And then, three days without internal combustion engines changed me. I smelled the snow, wood fires, good food. But the scent of petroleum exhausts had fallen from my nostrils. We don’t realize it because we’re so used to it, but cars stink in the literal sense. They smell bad.
The fact that cars stink ought to serve as a warning that we ought not to touch them, or at least, not so much. I for one plan to touch them even less.
Yesterday, I went for a pleasant walk before the snow was cleared. One of the places I walked was the local video store/coffee/wine bar. The clerk did a spit take when I walked in and asked for a copy of The Day After Tomorrow. But I took it home and watched it (again). At the end of the film, after the earth has been ravaged by massive storms and a cyclonic snow storm has covered the Northeast, kicking the planet into a new ice age (heh–like that could ever happen) an astronaut on the ISS looks down and remarks “Have you ever seen the air so clear?”
Hey. Maybe the storm couldn’t do it. Maybe we can.