Thursday, October 20, 2011

The kindness of strangers

I ran to meet Mavis outside my office today only to discover her front tire was deflated. On closer inspection, I found the black cap on the tire valve was missing and I spent a couple minutes searching the concrete to no success. I compared it to the back tire's valve and finally realized the inner valve part was also gone. The inner valve part that is secured by screw nuts (harrr) that were still intact, meaning the parts didn't pop off while I was riding but were taken.

You may ask, what kind of depraved individual takes the valve from someone's bike tire? A royal asshole of the highest fucking order, that's who. In Vancouver if you chain your bike to a post by its wheel, your bike frame and the non-chained wheel are likely to go missing. In Japan, where small acts of passive aggression are everything, I guess they just steal the valve part, which still leaves you fucked.

After practically carrying my bike to the nearest bike shop and getting new parts, I managed to eek out a couple of hot tears as I rounded the imperial palace, feeling betrayed and angry at Tokyo. Had my transgressions while seated on Mavis's brown throne amounted to being stranded with a deflated tire and was this my bike karma? I wracked my brain to think of any altercations I'd gotten into in the Kaisha's vicinity but came up blank. I tend to be particularly careful in the blocks around work and save my one-phrase admonishments for idiots closer to home...

I tried to picture what the person who messes with someone's bike in broad daylight and in a populous area looks like. I came up with an ill-fitting suited man with a mosaic where his face should be. Like footage from a cop show.

I'm tired of biking, love it though I do. I refuse to go back to the train but with the increase in bikes after the earthquake and Tokyo's generally piss poor accommodations for bikers, it's exhausting to constantly come up against pedestrians, cars and other bikes. Earlier this year as I was riding across a pedestrian crossing, a salaryman (sorry, no better word for him) came riding along in the car lane not bothering to stop and see if anyone was coming out from the curb (and, ahem, ignoring the red light he should heed if he wants to act like a car). He blindsided me and banged into the side of my bike, somehow managing to stay upright, and pedaled off without a word. I was so taken by surprise I didn't have time to shout anything at him but have since come up with a few choice phrases, naturally. I later found that he'd hit the part of my bike where my light's mechanism is and I couldn't turn off that light for months.

I'm the victim in these stories, in case I didn't make that abundantly clear, but what about my own wrongdoings? They are not nil, try as I might to be a considerate person on the road and sidewalk. Last night, in fact, coming home on my usual route I was coming up a wide one-way road that expects two-way bike traffic judging by an intersection light only bikes can see. I feel that if you are going against the car traffic by bike, you should not make bikes going in the cars' direction move for you - you are the one who can see the oncoming cars and to force an oncoming bike out into that is not very nice. On a number of occasions I have come to an almost chicken-like state with bikers who want me to move into the car traffic so they can bike down the street against it. I sometimes can't be bothered enforcing my superior biking etiquette but it's begun to fuck me right off as of late. It's very similar to the issue I've had as a pedestrian with men in particular, who want me to get out of their way and will come to a complete halt until I do so. It makes me unreasonably stabby when this happens, mostly because I want to know what the hell went wrong with these people to cause them to act with such uninvited hostility (and to a woman no less, feminism be damned) that I have yet to find elsewhere.

So last night I slowed my bike to a halt during one of these cock size competitions and told the guy it was a one-way street (admittedly weak argument but points for flawlessly remembering and executing the word for "one-way street"). As I pushed off he tried to rebut this charge by telling me my light should be on (it normally would be but had been out of order for 24 hrs). I rode off feeling very pissay.

Go on and tell me I'm a jaded foreigner who should just shut the fuck up or get out. Don't worry, I'm working on one of the two. I love you ardently, Tokyo, but these "encounters" (not to be confused with what you can arrange on Craigslist) turn me into a high blood pressured bitch on wheels who secretly says really nasty stuff about this host country's people without moving my lips. I don't like feeling this much anger.

I don't know what will lessen the stress of commuting by bike in Tokyo other than designated bike lanes. You're either in the gutter being hedged in by cars or on a crowded sidewalk feared and resented by pedestrians. I hate pedestrians when I'm biking and I hate bikers when I'm walking; we weren't meant to co-exist on the sidewalk and I will just throw it out there that places like China do it (god forbid) much better with huge bike lanes in their metropolises. I don't want to be the bad guy on a bike scaring people who think I don't see them or accidentally grazing arms when a walker suddenly changes course.

As for the lowest of the bunch, the people who steal bike valves and leave trash in bike baskets (too numerous to count), I will try to quash my anger and trust that the Karma of Mavis will work its magic.