The saying goes, "A gripe is just a gripe unless you have a solution." Well, I hope this isn't the same old gripe. I was riding northbound in Los Angeles on the 5 Freeway at high noon on a Saturday in May, riding in 100-plus-degree weather on a frying V-twin, cutting traffic, trying to get to downtown Los Angeles to meet with buddies at Philippe's, home of the world's best French dip sandwich. On the way, I couldn't help feeling that I was a blood cell riding through a body suffering a massive myocardial infarction. Everything was stopped, everyone on the road was hot and pissed off, and I was late. Cutting traffic in California is still legal, and I was doing it like an Olympic downhill slalom skier dreaming of gold. But what really amazed me is that in that space of 25 miles, four people in their shiny metal boxes saw me coming, and deliberately swerved in my path, trying to send me to the morgue. If that isn't attempted murder, I defy you to tell me what is.
Southern California is a funny place. It's filled with so many incredibly wonderful things that you can keep yourself occupied with and spend your whole life discovering something new everyday and still never see half of it. The hard part is that everyone in the world knows this, and as a result, has moved here. Now it's a wonderful place crammed full of people - like so many rats in a cage - and all of them have to exist together on a freeway designed by over-optimistic engineers back in the '50s.
I understand these people who are trying to kill me. It's roasting hot. They're stuck in an overheated box waiting to blow a radiator hose with nothing but the back of 12,000 SUVs between them and wherever they are going, and here I come, zipping by unhindered, cutting traffic. Heck, even I get jealous when I'm stuck in a car and see a bike go by, and I ride. But I've never felt like I had to kill someone because he got ahead of me on the freeway. Such is not the case for some people on our roads.
I have several friends from out of town who have come to visit and ridden with me on California freeways. From this, I have seen pasty faces come out from under helmets after rides were over and heard many comments like, "Thank God. I'm alive!" I understand it. Many years ago, I can remember being afraid, but I confess that I'm used to it. I expect it and live with it everyday. Thinking back on the ride, I remembered laughing because I didn't even get an adrenaline rush when I had to slam on the brakes and slip into another lane to avoid my demise. My friends out here half-joke about when their accident will happen, not if. We're all numb to the fact that we could be hauled off to the coroner's in a plastic bag just because we ride a motorcycle. It's like running with wolves and knowing that sooner or later you're going to trip or slow down and get eaten.
Thinking about all of this made me wonder if there was anything I could do about the problem. I was fortunate and managed a degree in psychology back in college, so I decided a little experiment was in order. I call it Brian's Carrot and Stick Theorem. Now, when I'm splitting lanes, I make a conscious effort to reward drivers who are paying attention and give me a little room to get through. I acknowledge them with a small wave of the hand - good behavior is rewarded. People who swerve into me are also rewarded. They get the wave minus all but my middle finger - bad behavior receives its own reward. Hopefully they're reminded that they've done something wrong.
Does my theorem work? Maybe just a little or maybe not at all. Certainly nothing could be quantified by my lone efforts. But, if some of you were inclined to apply this experiment along with me, who knows; just maybe, something positive could happen. What if the one time you waved as you went by caused some guy in a car to pay a little more attention and averted an accident? Would taking a second to acknowledge a good deed be worth saving a life?
I don't presume to speak for anyone, and I'm not asking anyone to sign on to a grand sociological experiment, but being relegated to the fact that people are passively or actively trying to kill you and doing nothing about it seems just plain stupid to me. If we don't take care of each other who will? So, if you have a better idea, please tell me, I'm listening. Regardless, if you do try my theorem, please act responsibly. If you act badly, it's reflected on all of us. Until next time, stay safe and may your run with the wolves be long and happy.