No, I’m not talking about a sequel to a classic ’80s martial arts flick. I won’t be fighting any kung-fu masters, mean-ass ninjas or even little guys who fight in the style of the monkey. (If I had made that film, that dude definitely would have won! He was rad!)
No, I’m talking about the deadly game I engage in every weekday morning. I’m talking about my 15-minute bicycle ride to work. Besides, I think that sequel was already made, and made poorly at that.
I’ve done some pretty stupid things that have put my life in danger before. I’ve bungee-jumped through a questionably qualified company in a small Florida panhandle town. I’ve parachuted out of a perfectly good plane. On a few occasions as a young musician, I went home with a girl that I knew, damn well, had high SAT scores. You know, the “Skankoriffically to be Avoided Test.” (Mom, don’t read that last sentence. Molly, SHUT UP!)
Shoot, speaking of danger, I lived in New Orleans for 10 full years, but this sick little voyage I take every morning is an exercise in utter insanity.
This ride is a constant test of will, desire and courage. The perils faced often seem insurmountable, and in the end, the prize — arriving at work — doesn’t often seem worth it.
The ride starts inconspicuously enough with me exiting my apartment complex and merging into oncoming traffic. Nothing too crazy yet. Just dodge a few taxis looking for their morning fares, and into the steady flow of bicycle traffic. It’s a lot like Frogger. You just stay patient and wait for space. To continue the video game analogy, each level increases in difficulty, and greater challenges await.
From my road, Sinan Lu, I take my first left onto Jianguo Lu. Not busier with automobile traffic, but the number of other cyclists begins to increase. It is at red lights that the intense struggle for position occurs among the cyclists. Everyone jockeys for the lead. People on mopeds just assume they have the right-of-way because they’re faster, but then half of them are talking on cell phones and actually travel slower. They still like to test your nerves and grit by honking incessantly. Another dirty trick to watch out for at red lights is the person who leaves his kickstand out when he rides. If you’re not careful, when stopped in close quarters, an extended kickstand can get lodged in your spokes, causing you to be upended. Horrible stuff! I’ve seen it happen.
After a few blocks on Jianguo Lu, it’s a right turn onto Sha’an Xi Bei Lu, the meat of the challenge, where anything can happen and often does. It is here where the automobile traffic becomes a serious hazard to your status of living. A couple rules:
1. Red lights are apparently optional, especially to public buses and speeding taxis.
2. Here, the adage isn’t, “look both ways before crossing the street,” it’s, “look every way, all the time, whether crossing or not.” I was once clipped from behind by a motorcycle, on the sidewalk, nearly breaking my ankle. Look out for cars making unexpected turns from the far lane, or just randomly stopping for no clear reason at all. The bike traffic amps up considerably, and then there’s the sudden appearance of a random couple holding hands, sauntering through the bike lane. They are an unassuming duo, but very dangerous.
Huai Hai Lu is the peak of the journey. It’s a major road, akin to swimming across the Mississippi River (see: Jeff Buckley). Once you’ve passed this, it’s really just a simple crossing of four lanes of oncoming traffic and you’re home free. That is, until the rush-hour traffic journey home at the end of the workday.
For an entire week, I did this twice a day with no brakes. Pretty dumb. I almost died, seriously, like 15 times. The worst was when a public bus doing around 40 mph bumped my back tire, causing me to go into a 30-yard front wheelie. Somehow, I managed to maintain control and, eh, my life. Don’t worry: I got the brakes fixed, but I really should get a bell and a helmet, too.
Contact the writer at