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Playing the Unicycle Game According to the Vagaries of the Law

August 11, 2012

bike path indicator

bike path indicator

It is a cliché and a banality to say it, but sometimes I feel like laws are just excuses for cops to bully people. This was driven in to me last night as I was riding my unicycle around my neighborhood at 3 AM, which is something I do for cardiovascular exercise as often as I don’t have something better to do at 3 AM….

I do not have much to complain about, since I have been doing this for nearly four years now and the police in my neighborhood stopped me only once. There is no real need for them to stop me EVER, but they remain suspicious of a man riding a unicycle around the neighborhood at 3 AM, I think – as the patrol cars sometimes do slow down to check me out. Maybe they are just being entertained. But not the night they stopped me. And that’s where I get to the meat of this post.

At that time I used to take a number of streets on the unicycle in the opposite sense of the car traffic. I did this because it was the safer way to ride down a narrow suburban street at 3 AM when there are very few cars around my neighborhood. When a car did come, I could see it clearly and quickly get off the road onto the sidewalk to avoid any difficulty or danger with the car passing me.

On this particular night, I saw headlights, I pulled off to the sidewalk and I continued toward the intersection. There, I saw that the car was that of a cop … in fact, there were four of them in the car. The guy in the driver’s seat called my attention and I rode over to him and got off the unicycle.

“Just because you are not in a car does not mean you can drive the wrong way down the street,” the man said in a threatening tone. “I could charge you for doing that. Just because it’s a contraption like that doesn’t mean you can go where you want.”

“Oh, okay,” I said with genuine surprise. I was surprised at what he was saying, why he might be saying it, and that he was saying it at all. I had not even thought about the legality of riding a unicycle the wrong way down a quiet suburban road.

But then the cop pointed to my helmet and said: “And don’t think that just because you’re wearing a helmet that you’re safe. If you fall down you will still hurt yourself.”

bike path traffic sign

bike path traffic sign

This too was said in a threatening tone. I had only recently started wearing a helmet, by the way, after riding a unicycle since I was 15 years old. But now I will not ride without one, after I DID fall with the helmet once and hit my head – it was like a backwards belly flop (I had been riding backwards up the street in the direction of the car traffic and I got distracted) and I smashed the rear of my head and was very, very pleased I had the helmet, and did not hurt myself. But now the cop was invading my own private territory, and I realized that he was stepping over the line of what was right and just, and I responded just as sharply to him:

“I am 50 years old, I just lost my wife to cancer at the age of 43 and I have two teenage children to take care of,” I said, “and I need to keep my body in good physical shape and I hate exercise. This is my only way to exercise AND have fun, and no one is going to stop me from doing it.”

The man’s tone changed quickly, he said, “Yeah, well, don’t go the wrong way down a one-way street, you’ll get to your destination just as quickly taking it the right way.”

Obviously he had entirely missed the point of why I took it in the opposite sense…for safety, not to get back home quickly.

He quickly rolled up his window and drove off without another word, and I watched dumbfounded as he drove through the red light at the next intersection without stopping! IE, breaking the fucking law in a car just after telling me I was doing the same and shouldn’t!

So now, let’s fast-forward this post two years later to last night: In recent months my entire neighborhood has had bicycle lanes painted on the roads and I had been very pissed off because since the incident with the cops, I had found myself a great 4 to 5 kilometer circuit that I took, all of which ran in the correct sense of the traffic – as the cops wanted. Well, guess what? I had noticed that the new bicycle lanes all seemed to run in the contrary sense of my personal circuit, all heading into traffic…ie, going the same direction that the cops had accused me of breaking the law with.

I was very happy with my circuit and pissed off that these bike lanes seemed to give me no chance at another logical and cool around-the-neighborhood circuit until last night it suddenly occurred to me that all I had to do was to do exactly the same circuit I had been doing for years, but go in the opposite sense – i.e., face on into the traffic just as the bike lanes did – and I would have the same circuit but now I would not be doing something illegal.

So it was that I realized that, indeed, there had been a 360 degree about-face in what constitutes safe and legal, and here now the same police would no doubt come after me and fine me and accuse me of breaking the law for NOT driving down the lanes in the opposite direction of car traffic.

I laughed to myself and realized the irony of it all. Oh, and I still have to get off the street occasionally when I see a car coming my way because these bicycle lanes are pure fantasy on some of these streets that are just far too narrow to permit a car and a bike – or unicycle – from passing through at the same time.

Still, I’m also still a little confused as to whether I really should be allowed on a path for two wheels with just one…. Oh the trials of being slightly different in life!!!!

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