“Be Careful,” He Said

“Be careful”: always good advice. But it’s also rather ironic advice, when it comes from a driver who previously just turned aggressively into the flow of traffic.

Here’s what went down, and why I was left shaking my head at the audacity of that motorist chastising me.

I was riding through downtown Kirkland, like I do most nights (hooray, 520 bridge! You’ve changed my commute forever!). Like most nights, traffic backed up through Kirkland, so as I rode in the bike lane I passed lots of vehicles on the right. It’s the way the bike lane works. I don’t love passing on the right, and when I do I’m always on high alert, looking for vehicles pulling to the right for whatever reason.

Kirkland’s setup is one I particularly don’t love: Sidewalk, then parallel parking lane, then bike lane, then traffic lane. This means cars constantly cross the bike lane to park, but drivers aren’t looking for us, so we have to be extra-cautious. Also, it’s a wonderful recipe for getting doored by drivers who swing their doors wide open without checking for a bike going by. Nevertheless, the world is imperfect, and many streets have that layout.

So I was cruising along, carefully passing vehicles on the right, when I got to downtown Kirkland. The bike lane ends when you get into the little section of road lined with shops and businesses, but there’s enough of a gap between the parallel parking strip and the driving lane that I can get by — again, with heightened caution. I continued passing vehicles, but more slowly because there are also more intersections, and intersections are the really dangerous part of any ride.

And, unsurprisingly, a car turned right just ahead of me. It was coming from a road on the right-hand side and turned onto my road, cutting into the flow of traffic rather aggressively. There wasn’t exactly a gap in traffic where he turned, but in the grand tradition of Masshole drivers (I don’t know if he’s from Massachusetts, but it’s a move I first noticed there), he made a gap. Washington drivers being what they are, the next guy in line just made room for him and let it go. I was approaching that intersection and I slowed down, but wasn’t really impacted.

I did, however, make a mental note to watch that driver. One aggressive move could mean other unpredictable moves.

Maybe a block later, as I was riding along past that very vehicle, the road hits a T and the lanes split into a left-turn lane and a right-turn lane. Very few people turn right; the vast majority–call it 99%–turn left, at least during that time of day.

Of course, there’s always the maverick who’s gotta do something different, and this driver was no exception. Just as I was riding past him on his right, he started moving right to get into the turn lane. I was directly next to him, with nowhere to go. Surprise! Except I wasn’t really surprised, because he just seemed like that kind of guy.

I braked, he saw me and braked, and I rode past out of the way. But as he went by me, he rolled down his window and said, “Be careful,” –not in a mean or angry way, for which I was grateful, but in a chastising way, for which I was not. I immediately shot back, “You too,” and he drove off. I  hope he heard me, because I really feel that was about the best comeback I could’ve offered, barring a whole discussion on bikes in traffic.

“Be careful.” It’s good advice. I ride through hairy messes in downtown Seattle every day, weaving through traffic to take advantage of the fact I’m small and able to squeeze through gaps. But there’s risk, too, and the fact is that it’s easy to become complacent about safety when I ride the same roads every day. The infrastructure isn’t optimized for cycling safety, so it’s up to me to make myself very visible and remain highly alert to any possible hazards.

And hopefully the day won’t come when one of those *&^!#%^&*$#@! Uber drivers on Dexter clobbers me. I have a special place in my heart for Uber drivers. It’s a place a lot like a Sarlac pit, where they’ll be digested for 1,000 years.

Anyway. Time to hit the road!

Good Guys/Bad Guys Tag

Having a kid in kindergarten is reminding me of this simple way of looking at the world: there are good guys, there are bad guys, and there’s no in between. No mixed motivations, no ambiguous actions, no questionable qualities. Good guys do good things, bad guys do bad things, and that’s that.

Except we invented a game this weekend that kind of mixes the two. Here’s how it works:

Setup: There are two teams in the running and tagging game. Players are divided into either good guys or bad guys at the start of the game. Each team is trying to convert all the other players to their team type by tagging each other.

Goal: Good guys want to turn all the bad guys into good guys, and vice versa.

Game play: Players convert an opposing team member by tagging. For example, when a good guy tags a bad guy, the bad guy becomes good. The new good guy then has the new goal of converting former teammates, other bad guys, into good guys. This works both ways.

  • If players tag one another simultaneously, they swap roles.
  • No tagging above the neck or anywhere on the head or face.
  • Two players of the same role, touching each other, are protected against one player of the other role. For example, if two bad guys are holding hands and one good guy touches them, they remain bad. In that case, nothing happens to the good guy unless one of the bad guys tags him.
  • Tagging hands by slapping hands doesn’t count. It has to be an arm, leg, or body tag. (This rule remains under development.)
  • Good guys tag with right hands, keeping their left hands behind their bags. Similarly, bad guys tag with their left hands, keeping right hands behind their backs. This makes it easier to know who’s who.

The team that ends up converting all the other players first wins.

So the interesting thing about this game, to me, is the ambiguity. When we played we never really knew who won, because eventually everyone is converted to the same role, but by then you’re all on the same team, so it’s like you’ve all won.

At the same time, you’ve probably swapped roles so many times, you loyalties aren’t even to any particular role–just to tagging people of the other role.

I feel like this game is creepily like real life in so many ways. The shifting loyalties; the looking out for your own interests and then the team’s, when they coincide; the never being sure someone’s still on your team; the bring able to team up again weaker individuals — it’s a pretty cynical way of seeing the world, true, but not necessarily untrue.


Can you spot what’s missing in this picture?

If you said, “something to cover those cold-looking knees,” you’d be right!

I forgot my regular knee warmers, but thankfully it didn’t rain (!), so I got by okay riding home with bare knees. As I did so, I tried and failed to remember the last time I had bare legs on a bike ride. Probably September.

Settle Down That Worry

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worry into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, things fitting together for good, will come and settle you down. -Philippians 4:6-7

I’ve been memorizing and meditating on that verse during my bus rides to work. I need that reminder these days.

One thing very cool was the moon last night. It’s been so cloudy and wet that we haven’t seen anything other than clouds in the sky for…I can’t remember. But last night the clouds cleared for a bit, giving a view of the “blue harvest moon.” It was beautiful as I rode across Lake Washington, and I got some glimpses on my way through Kirkland.

Sadly, we didn’t get to see any of the lunar eclipse, but I’m thankful to have seen any of it.

Lemonade in January

I got another flat tire on the 520 trail part of my ride yesterday evening. That’s two flats in six days, not that I’m counting. They were both in the rear tire, so you might think they were related, and in a way they were. But the first flat was a slow leak from some small thing that poked a tiny hole, and I was able to ride on it for a couple miles as it went flat (and as I fruitlessly hoped it wasn’t going flat). The second one, last night, was a 1/4″ to 1/2″ long slit that emptied my tube in no time flat (so to speak).

I say they’re related because together they tell me it’s time for a new tire.

I changed my flat, again appreciating the well lit nature of the 520 bridge path, but riding along I could feel the tube bulging and going lump lump lump as the wheel turned.

So, once again, I stopped at the bike shop. This time I got a new tire, and since it was time anyway, a new chain too. They also threw my cassette into an ultrasonic bath, which was super cool. If it didn’t cost like $700 I’d consider getting one myself!

That did give me the idea of using an old Sonicare toothbrush on the cassette, though. Much cheaper and I wouldn’t have to disassemble anything. Could be messy, though…

Anyway, I eventually got rolling again but didn’t get home until after 7, thanks to all the shenanigans. I was a little damp, but for a day that featured continual rain from dawn to dusk, I was fortunate. The rain actually tapered off by the time I got going, and it was one of my drier rides this month.

Anyway, I’m thinking of last night’s mishap as lemons, and my getting a replacement tire and chain (and clean cassette) as the lemonade. Still… Hopefully from here on out I have uneventful commutes for a while.


Have you heard the joke about Seattle that goes, “I visited Seattle for two weeks and it only rained twice – once for 10 days and once for four days.” Since November, I think that’s been pretty accurate. My rain garden should be super happy right about now.

The funny thing is, looking around the bus, very few people are dressed for rain. They’re all going to work, wearing business or business casual attire, with nice shoes and no Gore Tex to be seen. Newcomers here think we don’t go in for umbrellas, but every single person in line at my bus stop had one. In short, taking away the dark gray, soggy exterior, the people on my bus could be commuting in San Francisco or New York (although I’d expect more overcoats, scarfs, and gloves for the latter).

I, on the other hand, am absolutely a product of my environment. I’m in a neon pink waterproof bike jacket, weather my work clothes beneath — but I chose synthetic black pants that push the limits of our dress code because they dry out quickly. I’ve got on booties, gloves, and ear covers. As a bicycle commuter, I think I may experience the weather more directly that any other commuters (unless someone walks, I suppose — boy would that be nice, close enough to walk to work). Even waiting at a bus stop in the rain, while wet, doesn’t involve being out in the weather for as long and intensely as I am when commuting.

Hence the bizarre gear.

Indeed, I’m one of those things that is not like the others today. Actually, that’s true every day. I’m not good at fitting in, especially regarding clothes and appearance.

That’s okay. My clothes remain functional and within acceptable parameters.

Now it’s time to go back out into the soaking wet. If you don’t hear from me again, over probably grown gills and turned into a fish.

How Diet Choices Are Like Religious Choices: Evaluating “The Gluten Lie”

Y’all know I’m pretty passionate about science. And I care a lot about food and healthy eating choices.

Well, I’ve been reading a book called The Gluten Lie (please pay no attention to the stupid clickbait title), and although I haven’t finished it, I’m finding it interesting so far. The book is written buy a guy who studies religions, meaning he’s used to evaluating cultural beliefs and myths, and looking for patterns in those areas. He brings this interesting perspective to the field of nutrition.

What this means is that, while he does allude to scientific research, he’s not presenting rock-solid scientific arguments with tons of research studies backing up his discussion points. For example, he discusses the current cultural fad of thinking gluten is “bad” for you and that all people would be healthier avoiding gluten. While he does offer some counter-research and some investigation of why those claims probably aren’t accurate, he isn’t trying to completely dismantle the claims of people advocating low- or no-gluten diets. Instead, he explores historical context for avoiding grains and how we came to hold this belief — and he calls on the reader to acknowledge that it is, in fact, a belief, ultimately taken on faith.

Because, as he points out, nutrition research is incredibly difficult. How do you run a controlled study on what people eat? How do you get a statistically meaningful number of people to let you control every molecule of what they put into their mouths every day, probably for years? Alternatively, when you ask people to self-report what they’ve eaten, who wants to admit they ate a dozen 2″-square brownies after dinner when they could simply round down to a half-dozen 1″ brownies? Or if people aren’t intentionally lying, they aren’t remembering accurately: How many brownies was it, again? and how big were they?

So when people object to all the conflicting reports we hear about different foods — are eggs full of dangerous cholesterol, or are they actually healthful protein packages? — they’re right. Recommendations are constantly changing. That’s because, honestly, researchers don’t know. Add to this the fact that many news articles tend to take cautious scientific statements like “There was a statistically significant correlation between consumption of eggs and slightly increased HDL cholesterol, which may contribute to heart disease,” and turn it into “Eggs cause heart attacks!” and you’ve certainly got a recipe for setting the general public up for disillusionment and distrust of mainstream experts.

Okay, let’s take that, and then ask, “How do people decide what to eat?” If it’s not based on serious, rigorous science, what’s the basis for deciding what to put in our pie holes when it’s not pie?

Belief. Myth. Stories.

“You are what you eat,” for example. We scoff at the idea that eating a (ahem) part of a tiger could make a man more virile (a belief held in Asia), but we still think eating high-fat foods will make us fat. Uh, nope; that’s actually excess calories. Eating a piece of bacon or bread with real butter on it isn’t more likely to make you fat than eating an equivalent amount of other calories — at least, there’s no research demonstrating that yet.

Yet this belief that eating fat makes you fat has persisted from the time of the ancient Greeks to today. I grew up eating nonfat everything, including nonfat frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, margarine instead of butter, and seeing my parents showing every evidence of obsessively avoiding fat. And look what it’s brought us: Gross fake substitutes and mountains of guilt over indulging in “sinful pleasures.”

Oh, yes, notice the religious language there? The author points out that we use quite a few religious terms when talking about food, such as the way we talk about “good” and “bad” foods rather than “nutritious/healthy” or “non-nutritious/unhealthy” foods.

Another common belief he discusses is that food and eating were healthier in the past. He calls it the “paradise past,” where we think that the way people ate at some point in history–be it 10,000 years ago or 100–is better than today, and that people in that time lived healthier lives because of their mythical perfect diets. The funny thing is that this belief has been around for a long time. When people 100 years ago said diets need to go back to a healthier past diet, what does that mean for us today claiming that diets 100 years ago were the ideal we should strive for?

That idea of an eating “paradise past” ties in not only with the idea of the Paleo diet’s claim that we haven’t “evolved” to eat grains, but also the suspicion of “chemicals” in our food, the mistrust of GMO foods, and the whole “only use ingredients your great-grandmother would recognize” claim. (Good thing it doesn’t say “grandmother,” or else we might be going back to the 1950s era of lime Jell-O mixed with canned spinach and topped with whipped cream and grapes. It’s all green!)

He doesn’t call this out specifically, but all this got me thinking about how people really do treat food choices like a religion. Ever talked to someone who’s on the Paleo diet? They have the evangelistic zeal of a Mormon missionary: Boy do they know they’re right and want to convert you to their thinking. They aren’t alone; many people, when you scratch the surface, hold equally powerful beliefs around food. Similarly, the rules and rituals around food and the avoiding of specific foods parallels religious behavior in many ways.

Most of all, like when a person believes in a certain religion, no amount of counter-evidence is going to change the believer’s mind. They know they feel better when they cut out gluten (never mind the other lifestyle changes that may have contributed), and that’s much more powerful than a discussion of the nocebo effect and sociogenic illness. Plus, once you buy into a specific diet or food belief system, it becomes a fundamental part of how you think of yourself. It’s incredibly hard to ask someone to then evaluate that decision in a cool, rational way.

What does all this mean?

Well, I haven’t finished the book yet, so I don’t know how the author wraps it up. But it reminds me of a few things:

  1. Respect other people’s food choices, even if I think they’re ridiculous. Odds are I’m making dietary decisions on an equally flimsy foundation.
  2. Don’t worry too much about the exact foods I’m eating. Instead, eat in moderation when I’m hungry, and choose foods that have high nutritional value: Carbs for energy, protein for building muscle, and vitamins and minerals my body needs to be healthy. Try not to obsess about avoiding certain things or adding in certain things because of some study that claims sugar causes Alzheimer’s or something.
  3. Don’t try to change anyone’s mind about food. This ultimately is a matter of faith, not subject to rational analysis and evaluation. In fact, maybe food is another topic like religion and politics, best left untouched in the workplace and at family gatherings.

That’s most of what I’ve got so far. There’s more, but I’ll save it for another day. I’d love to hear what y’all think about all this.