Monday, August 20, 2012

Me, mine. Us, them.

I'm at Gasworks, standing atop The Mound (I'm sure it has a real name and that's not it). My companion says, "See that building there, the Columbia Tower? It's the tallest building on the West Coast."

"Huh," I say.

"Yeah, he says. "Taller than anything in SF, San Diego, or even LA."

"Huh," I say. And then an unexpected thing happens: I feel a flash of pride. As if this fact in some way reflects upon me personally, as a denizen of Seattle. As if I had anything to do with it.  Which I didn't.

And yet, there it is, the strange little beast, pinging up inside me, poking a little thumb toward its puffed up little chest, wiggling its hips and squeaking: "Yeah, uh huh, we did that! Us! Not them! Fist-bump!"

This, I gather pensively, staring at the tall building, must be what sports fans feel when their teams win: a sort of senseless, tribal delight that has absolutely no connection to anything they have personally accomplished.

We. Us.

Can't argue with how it feels: powerful, compelling, insidious, pervasive -- tribalism. Wikipedia says: "People have postulated that the human brain is hard-wired towards tribalism due to its evolutionary advantages".

Evolutionary advantages. We win.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Could have been so much worse

Heavy traffic, light turns green, starts moving forward, and a guy in a covered pickup changes lanes left, directly into me on my motorbike.

Signal?  Don't be silly.

When this happens there's not much time. You get one reaction, so choose wisely: a defensive move to get your delicate little self out of the way, or using the beep-beep. (It's only a horn if you have an aftermarket add-on. I don't.)

So I swerve left into the shared turn-lane which is, fortunately, unoccupied. Inside my helmet, I yell and swear loudly.

The Oblivious Moron drives forward. Since I'm going that way anyway, I follow, doing what people who've just had a narrow miss with oncoming traffic and the pavement do: I honk and gesture with my best what-the-hell gesture.  Not, I hasted to add, the F-you gesture, which doesn't make anyone sorry. Do you really want to pick a fight with someone in a truck when you're on a motorbike in the middle of traffic? No, you do not.

From his side mirror I can tell that Mr. Moron sees me gesturing, but he doesn't look very sorry. So I follow with what I have come to view as the universal reprimand, the gesture that us riders resort to.

The slow, disgusted headshake.

Unmistakable in meaning but not so challenging as the F-you gesture, it is often the only thing that tells people what you really think of their sloppy, life-risking driving.

I wear highly reflective yellow and white protective gear. I stand out, day or night. But when I've just survived some OM's inability to see me, I find myself thinking that the head shake is a pretty weak tool for social change.

Then I remember. Years ago I was a passenger in a sportscar being driven by someone who, usually pretty alert, inadvertently moved into a lane already occupied by a motorcycle, who -- like me -- was forced to move left to avoid us.  A minute later the motorcycle pulled up even with us, looked in through the passenger window, and slowly shook his dark, helmeted head.

I still feel bad and I wasn't even driving.

So maybe it works. Or maybe it just works on me.

The bottom line is this: I'm mighty glad that I was in good enough shape after that encounter to be able to shake my head at all. It could have been so much worse.