Commuting to work on my bike has brought my competitive spirit back—a quality I thought I left behind on the softball field my senior year in high school. My heart pounds in excitement as I gear up to ride, just like it did when I stepped up to the plate. The ride into Harvard Square means exertion and potential hostile territory as I move in and out of the flow of traffic through the Boston neighborhoods.
I savor the challenge of the road, the required vigilance. I’m one of the only girls out there except for college students on foo-foo bikes, wearing flip-flops. For them, a bike is a frugal means to get from point A to B. Not me. I savor the ride, like to get down and dirty.
Commuting during the summer is a piece a cake, the best of times. I have free reign over the construction-laden bridge into the Square and Bert’s Electric isn’t squeezing me into the orange barrels vying for command of the lane. The driver will have longed passed this way before me, eager to get a jump on his schedule so he could suck down beers and fish in the Charles come three o’clock.
When Labor Day gets behind us, the worst of times, tradesmen aren’t reporting to work early and city bus drivers are laying claim to the asphalt. I’m a part of this, a cog amid congested traffic, obeying the rules of the road and thanking those drivers who are courteous. Courtesy is an act tradesmen do not extend to bike commuters.
And city bus drivers?
I’ve lost count how many times I’ve played chicken with ‘em and won.
One morning on North Harvard Bridge I lay claim to my share of the asphalt by scaling my way in between a Jersey barrier and Stan’s Heating and Cooling. That’s one foot plodding along the van and the other along the barrier, when the driver catches sight of me in the passenger side mirror. He goes wide-eyed as I slap my hand down on the front fender with a “You’re-seriously-blocking-my-right-of-way” expression playing across my face.
It is dangerous out there. Risk is 360. But because I behave on the road—I expect respect. As with the tradesmen that squeeze me off the bridge, when someone moves in on my turf, I feel compelled to take it back. Think of Kathy Bate’s character in Fried Green Tomatoes when she rams the car of the young girls who rob her of a parking space: “Face it girls, I’m older and have more insurance.”
It’s a competition and that’s why I love cycling in the city rather than the country. Who wants to pedal by meadows, breathe clean air, and listen to the calming effect of birdsong? Give me the congestion and pollution of the city streets. Taking risks enable me to handle the challenges that life brings.
Yesterday I encountered bad sportsmanship. At Watertown Yard, I break off the river path and onto the road. I’m up out of the saddle pedaling like hell in the middle of the right lane to catch the green to make a left. But time runs out and the light turns red.
I’m closing in behind a Ford truck when a VW passes me and zips in behind it. This infuriates me, but damn, it’s too bad he leaves a five feet of space between his front end and the truck’s bumper.
Now, what do I have to do?