On Close Calls

It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others.

John Andrew Holmes

More than one close call this week.


Headed east on Dekalb Ave, an industrial artery street that connects downtown’s  backdoor with nearby Decatur.  It has one of those reversible center lanes, with the “use lane with green arrow” rule.  It was noon, and green arrow lane was active for eastbound.  I was in this lane.  Crossing Krog, there was a pickup truck (the kind with the custom body to carry HVAC equipent) in the far right lane going very slow, with a left turn signal on.  It kind of seemed like it was drifting idly, either undecided about the lane change, or struggling with mechanical issues.  I slowed down and hung back, waiting for him to make the move.  There was some traffic behind me, but not a lot, as this is a weird blind intersection that most know to take slow.  Finally it looked like he was not going to make the lane change, and it seemed safe to pass.  Just as I pulled next to him, he hangs a hard left – almost an attempt at a U-turn (mere feet past the intersection, strange place for a U-turn…) right in front of me.  Thankfully I was going slow enough at this point to make a full stop, with horn.  He full-stops as well, turns to look at me over his shoulder, to reveal that he is talking on a cell phone.  Dirty looks exchanged, I then veer around him and go on my way.

I am amazed at how calm I have found myself in these situations.  No panic response at all, only textbook lizard brain bike control.  But how to avoid this scenario?  This is the second one in a few weeks where I saw the situation, knew that this MIGHT happen if they didn’t see me, but was unable to establish eye contact with the other driver (or other confirmation cue) before committing to the maneuver.  I think this calls for a preemptive horn blip, and I always forget that.  Must train self to use short horn as attention getter.  Thousand of New York cabbies can’t be wrong.


Headed east on Arcado Rd, out in the burbs.  It’s later than rush hour, and dark.  I am first vehicle in the pack leaving the intersection of Rockbridge Road.  I’m going relatively slow, since it was a red light, but accelerating.  Two cars are waiting at the intersection of the next road, coming in from my right.  They have a stop sign.  First car has plenty of time, and takes a right into my lane before I get there with plenty of time & room.  Second car then rolls the stop sign, glancing to her RIGHT as she pulls in front of me to make a LEFT. Classic fake-out move. Cell phone clutched to the ear, once again.  This one resembles more of a panic stop, for me – it was pretty close.  Full hard braking, with a little “should I swerve left or stay in my lane?” wiggle to the left.  We both full-stop, and she then honks at me – (huh?? defensive guilty counter-attack?).  I then crawled around her front bumper, which was fully in my lane, venting my adrenaline using Italian sign language, since she probably couldn’t hear my choice words, and the breath guard in my helmet prevented her from reading my lips.

This one did involve “SHIT THIS MIGHT BE IT” panic for a microsecond – a microsecond before I could feel my brakes grab and recognize my stopping distance is adequate.  Unlike the others, where I subconsciously or consciously half expected something to happen, and was telepathically projecting “dontdoit, dontdoit, dontdoit, OHNOYOUDIDN’T” at them as it happened.  So what can you do about idiots drivers?  Assume idiocy?  Assign part of your awareness spectrum to constantly evaluate the “in-case-they-are-an-idiot” scenario?  I guess that is it.  And keep a finger on the horn button.

I have been surprised, over the past 18 months of daily rain-or-shine motorcycle commuting, at how little driving idiocy I have seen.  By and large people follow the traffic rules, and do what I expect them to do in more than most situations.  Perhaps this comes from the fact that riding a motorcycle is a full-time, full-attention, 360 degree awareness exercise, so you actually notice the 98% normal behaviour as well as the 2% idiocy.  Driving a car is so semi-distracted to begin with, that you only ever notice the idiocy, which makes it seem more like 80/20 or 60/40.

Also, I have become so comfortable – confident, rather – in my handling of the bike and of everyday driving situations, that I have to be careful not to slip in to “I have this situation under control” mode.  Or not to mistake a confident “I have this bike under control” with “I have this situation under control”.


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