To get where I'm going, I often have to navigate some of the busiest intersections in Washington County. It's not fun. I'm a supporter of bike lanes, and bike lanes are fairly plentiful around here, but the plain fact of the matter is that sticking a lane at the side of a busy street doesn't necessarily make it safer for anybody, least of all the cyclist. Depending on traffic patterns, time of day, weather, etc., sometimes all a bike lane does is make it easier to predict where the accident will happen.
That being said, I do have a couple of things working for me. Cyclists have the advantage of being able to hear traffic, as well as see it. (Wear your iPhone's ear buds while you ride if you want; not me. Also, as most cyclists will attest, this advantage does not extend to having hybrid cars coming up behind you; they're dangerously quiet.) A second advantage is my trusty bike mirror, which I've used regularly for years and can't imagine riding in traffic without.
(Actually, I have a third thing working for me, if you count relentless paranoia in traffic, but that one really doesn't advance the present story.)
The thing is, the mirror -- which clips onto the temple shaft of my glasses --may look sort of odd to the bystander, but for the wearer it's no different than the rear-view mirror in your car: When you're using it, you focus on it immediately and unconsciously. When you're not using it, you don't even notice it's there.
Which is why I usually forget I'm wearing it when I go into a store. It's not that uncommon for me to be walking down, say, the frozen vegetables aisle and notice people staring surreptitiously, their eyes darting at me, then darting away. For a long time, it was sort of a Barry White moment. I would stand a little straighter, toss my head back, tuck my helmet under my arm military-style, get a certain swagger in my step. You know.
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Uh-huh. That's right. We got it together, didn't we?
Yes, it was a wonderful feeling, until the day the needle scratched across the record and I realized, Oh, damn -- they're just staring at the stupid mirror.
This was a serious let-down. All that time I was thinking Uh-huh, that's right, and they were thinking, Good lord, who let that cyborg geezer into the building?
All of which leads up to me stopping in at the local megafood place late yesterday afternoon and deciding, as I walked in the sliding doors, to take the damned mirror off and stuff it in my jacket pocket for once. The good news: No sidelong cyborg stares. The bad news: Somewhere in the store, filled with shoppers, I apparently dragged the mirror out of my pocket and onto the floor, where it got kicked under a display, or trampled under foot, or pocketed by some other shopper, or whatever.
I backtracked through the store but didn't find it. Lost and Found had nothing.
Faced with the prospect of making it home, in rush hour, in the dark, in a slight drizzle, without the mirror, I went straight to a bike shop a couple of blocks away and bought a new one.
And rather than risk losing this one by taking it off next time, I'm leaving it on. Stare if you want.
Uh-huh. That's right.