Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Unblocking the path

A different car blocking a bike lane in S.F.
After spending most of the afternoon on hold or talking with representatives of my health care provider, trying to ensure that they weren't going to end my insurance while I wait for my funds to get moved from the wrong account to the right one (I may be writing about the sanity of single-payer healthcare soon), I left for home from the Tenderloin in a somewhat agitated state. I was with my 16-month-old son, who does a lot to lift my spirits, and we were going home by bicycle, which is easily our favorite way to get home, so it seemed I wouldn't be feeling stress for long. We were riding home through Golden Gate Park, which is beautiful no matter what the weather, though the ever-increasing encroachment of parked cars into the bike lane can sometimes be a downer.

I was making plans for dinner and a couple of quick errands as we passed the waterfall, which signals it's time to prepare to turn and leave the park, when I saw it up ahead: there was a car parked right in the bike lane! This wasn't mere encroachment. Half of the car was in the lane, and the other half - well, there was no parking space there, they were basically parked in the bike lane in a section of road that should have no parked cars!

The idea of spitting on the car crossed my mind, as bad an example as that would have set for my son. Then I had a better idea - perhaps they were still in the car (I mean, really, why would they choose to park so badly, and right there?), and I could talk to them about their bad choice - I would try to be assertive but polite, to be understanding but be understood, as I wanted to be on the phone earlier. Oh, good, the driver's side window was open.

As I pulled up, I realized the car was empty. No one to yell at (I mean talk politely to), I thought, that's too bad. Then I looked to see if the driver was close by - maybe they were taking a picture, or something. I stopped and stood holding the bike with my son still on it, and watched as a few people passed by - none of them moved toward the car. Then it occurred to me: maybe this car wasn't parked, maybe it was abandoned. Maybe the driver was sick in the bushes, or worse. I walked my bike back to the waterfall and approached a woman who seemed like she could be the owner of the car.

"Did you see anyone get out of that car up ahead?" I asked. She hadn't, but when I described the car she thought it could be hers, which she had parked a half-mile back. She walked back with me to check it out. She agreed it looked abandoned, and also noticed open compartments, indicating someone searching it for valuables. She thought it was probably stolen, which made sense to me. We decided to call the police. "Are you going to call 911?" she asked. I said "no," it didn't seem like anyone was in immediate danger, so we should call the local police station. "You are so good!" she said; and I felt good.

The woman completed the call to the police, and told me they didn't need anyone to stay with the vehicle, as they had her contact info. She mentioned that this stolen car could easily have been her car instead, and thought the owner would appreciate it being reported found so soon. I would say she thought she had done a good deed, and was grateful that I had brought her into this opportunity to do it.

I rode away grateful myself, not just for having had the chance to be of help, but for having been patient with my initial reaction to seeing the car. Taking the time to notice my feelings about the car, and to then stop to address them, made the space for noticing that there was a different story playing out than the one I first told myself. As we were trying to reach the police, another cyclist struck the car in anger as he rode by - I doubt if he would have wanted to hit the car if he knew it was probably thieves who had left it there.

Years ago, I decided that when drivers honked at me while I was riding my bike safely and legally in traffic, I would assume they were doing so to express appreciation of my stylish clothes or beautiful bike. Whether they were mad or not, I didn't have to get self-righteously mad back. As I headed home from the park, I remembered an insight I gained while witnessing a friend, who I consider to be the wisest person I've met, (and who is likely too modest to want to be credited here): there is not much difference between wisdom and kindness.

I don't think I've ever been so grateful to find a car blocking the bike lane. I hope I can remember this one each time I see a car in the bike lane after today.
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