13 June 2015

Being Prepared, Before Uber

As a teenager, I learned bike repair and basic first aid because I wanted to be self-sufficient on the road. 

As a Scout (We were still “Boy Scouts” in those days!), I had to learn first aid to advance from one rank to another, if I recall correctly.  Also, I learned some first aid techniques and lore—some of which contradicted what Scout leaders taught us—in one of my high school Health/Phys Ed classes. 

On the other hand, when it came to bike repair, my education was home-made.  Most of what I learned came from the first edition of the late Tom Cuthbertson’s wonderful Anybody’s Bike BookIf the “For Dummies” series of books existed in those days, ABB could have been part of it:  It began with the assumption that, before you opened the book, you didn’t know the difference between a flat-bladed and Philips screwdriver, let alone a Schraeder and Presta valve.  But Cuthbertson would not have allowed his book to be called Bike Repair For Dummies; he had too much respect for his readers to do that.

Anyway, I wanted to learn bike repair and first aid, among other things, because I wanted to get on my bike one day and pedal some place far away, never to be seen or heard from again by anyone who knew me.  That fantasy came, in part, from being an adolescent and taking some things I read—from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to A Doll’s Houseas well as movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid--perhaps a bit too literally.  To be fair, I must say that I wasn’t suffering the fate of some Dickensian character.  Though I butted heads with my parents, teachers and other authority figures in my life, none were abusive.  However, I also knew that I couldn’t live any of the lives my parents and teachers, or any other adults in my life, envisioned for me, even if I didn’t quite know what sort of life I actually wanted to live.

You might say I wanted to run away.  I suppose I could have done that by joining the circus or the French Foreign Legion.  Believe it or not, I actually thought about giving myself over to the Legion one day when I passed by their recruitment office.  But getting on my bike and riding into the sunset, the fog or whatever else was on the horizon was more appealing. 

Even though I wanted to disappear, I didn’t want to get stranded someplace.  I wanted the power to move out, move away, move forward, move on — all on my own terms, in my own way.  I didn’t want to put myself at the mercy of anyone or anything else in an emergency.

That would mean, of course, having certain skills and tools when I was on my bike.  It would also mean carrying dimes (and, later, quarters, or whatever the local coinage was) for pay telephones—at least, for those places where there was a pay telephone!  By the time I took my first long bike tour, I had those things and some textbook knowledge of Spanish and French—and perhaps even less knowledge than I thought I had about a lot of other things!  But that is the topic of another blog post, perhaps another blog.

I am thinking about all of that now, after the bike ride I took today.  Every inch or centimeter of the route on this day’s ride was one I’d ridden numerous times before; my intent was simply to ride vigorously and enjoy myself on a gorgeous day.  And, yes, I planned on getting home:  After all, I have cats (and myself!) to feed.

I was descending the ramp of the Cross Bay-Veterans MemorialBridge (“the bridge to the Rockaways”) on the Beach Channel side.  I’d pedaled about 80 kilometers (50 miles) and had about another 25 (15) ahead of me. The wind blew at my back, so I expected to be home shortly.

There is a fairly sharp turn in the ramp on the Beach Channel side.  I have long since learned not to yield to the temptation of descending faster than Lindsey Vonn on the Super G at Val d’Isere; there isn’t much room if you have to dodge another cyclist—or, worse, a group of riders—coming in the opposite direction. Even a pedestrian, skater or dogwalker who’s “in the zone” and not paying attention to surroundings can lead to your being entangled. 

However, someone else hadn’t learned those lessons.  Or she simply lost control of her bike; from what I could see, she’d probably never before ridden so fast—or much at all.  When I saw her, she was flat on her back, crying in pain. 

Her boyfriend confirmed my suspicions.  He said she “couldn’t steer out” of the path of the retaining wall she crashed into.  She gasped, “It hurts to breathe”. I immediately suspected a fractured rib—or, judging from the scrapes and bruises on and around her left shoulder, a broken collarbone.  I also feared a possible concussion:  Neither she nor her boyfriend was wearing a helmet.  However, she said she didn’t feel dizzy and, after a few minutes, was able to stand up.  And, from what her boyfriend said, her shoulder, but not her head, hit that wall.

This is not the accident about which I've written today. 

I offered to help:  Call an ambulance, get ice from the bagel shop at the foot of the bridge, whatever else they needed.  “We’re OK,” he said.  I offered her my water bottle, which was about half full.  She drank from it. 

I then glanced at her bike.  The front wheel was a “pretzel”, but there didn’t appear to be any damage to the rest of the bike.  I opened up the front V-brake, which made it possible to move the bike, albeit with some difficulty.  I then apologized for not having a spoke wrench:  Although the wheel couldn’t be salvaged, I explained, at least it would make it easier to push the bike.    I also apologized for not having a wound dressing or other things the bagel shop probably wouldn’t have.  “Oh, don’t worry,” he said.  “We’re glad you stopped”.

They live about halfway between that bridge and my place. I asked if they had a way of getting home.  “We called a friend but he wasn’t home,” he explained.  “But don’t worry—we’ll just call Uber.”

Uber.  Nobody had even thought of such a service back when I was plotting my Great Bike Escape.  The only time I had seen the word “uber” was in one of those books I didn’t understand as well as I thought I did—or, more precisely, understood in the way only an adolescent, with no guidance, can understand it.  For all I know, that just might have been the way Nietzsche wanted it to be understood.

But I digress again.  I told the young man to be sure to remind the Uber-man (or woman) that he and his girlfriend have bikes.  Turns out, the Uber person was driving an SUV.  But he had no idea of where we were; he claimed his GPS couldn’t find it.

If he couldn’t find that, I don’t think any Uber driver—had such a person existed in my youth—could have found the places I thought I might ride to when I left home, my head full of the stuff I’d been taught and the bike repairs I’d learned on my own.  And, even if the driver could find them, he (who almost surely would have been male in those days) would not have wanted to go there, any more than many New York taxi drivers would want to take a big black man who wanted to go to Brownsville.

Finally, the young man called a local car service the girl at the bagel shop counter knew about.  They indeed had a van and said it would be “no problem” to go to the young couple’s apartment.

In some of the places where I’ve ridden, there aren’t car services.  Or bagel shops.  Or, for that matter, bike shops.  Perhaps I wasn’t as ready for them as I thought it was. But I survived and had fun, and I had a great bike ride today.


  1. Another rescue option for cyclists, depending where they are, is AAA bike service. AAA of Southern New England will come get you and your bike and take you home, if needed, up to twice a year. This seems to be one of those things that varies by AAA region, for now, as I know some of the other regions do it, but not all of them. This was only introduced last year, here.

  2. Ailish--That's interesting. I guess AAA is recognizing that increasing numbers of its members are cyclists.

    Great to hear from you again!