Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Visit To The Dark Side

I had a dentist appointment this morning.

Nothing dark about that, really. My tooth professional doesn't torment me too much, other than that whole "flossing" thing and her gentle, well-meaning insistence that, "maybe someday we'll do something about those two front teeth?" I broke them in a dumb crash about ten years ago (hard cornering plus worn-out indoor trainer tire plus wet leaves equals emergency room visit) and could only afford to have them sort-of fixed. At the time, it looked pretty good. Now, it's becoming one of those "before" pictures in my dentist's waiting room.

No, the Dark Side for me was a (gasp!) conventional suburban car commute. I normally bike to the dentist, but for whatever reason, I talked myself out of it ("It's cold. I'm lazy. The new house is too far from the dentist. I'm lazy.") and made arrangements with my better half to share the car. In one of those "lousy endorsements for a one-car life" moments, that decision entailed:

  • Getting up way earlier than I needed to.
  • Driving said better half to West Des Moines (motto: "Now With Even More Mini-Malls!") for her job.
  • Turning around and heading back into Des Moines proper shortly after 7:30... when every Canyonero-driving suburbanite cube jockey was headed the same way.
Now don't get me wrong. This is still the greater Des Moines area, land of the legendary "15 minutes to anywhere" drive. We don't have a rush hour. Maybe on a bad day, we get "Minneapolis-lite" traffic. But I still felt myself clench up as the density of single-occupant soccer-yachts closed in around me. By the time I'd reached my destination, I was in a noticeably less happy place than where I'd started (and, again, not just because that destination was the dentist's office). It was a far cry from a morning bike commute, where I step off the pedals feeling fresher than I started, even though the traffic gets a lot closer and has a lot better chance of killing me.

Part of the problem, I'll admit, is that I'm not a great driver. As a red-blooded American male, it's hard to fess up to that. But it's true. I don't always know where the corners of my vehicle are. My eyes are bad, and my depth perception is lousy. And -- this one's the bike's fault -- my reaction time is tuned in to 15-20 miles per hour, not three or four times that fast. Yet a trace of that American Male training still tells me that I'm invincible with a wheel in my hand. It's not a good combination.

For the record, cyclists and pedestrians need not worry about the Litany of Terror above... I know my weaknesses and proceed with extra-special caution around all vulnerable human-propelled bretheren (even -- shudder -- that sub-human, wheeled-foot mutant species known as the Rollerblader). But for the rest of you, the subject is armed with a blue Subaru Forester and presumed dangerous. You've been warned.

Next time, I'll suck it up and ride to the dentist, lesson learned. But the drive did serve as a nice reminder of why I live where I do, work where I do, and get around the way I do. And I didn't have any cavities!

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