Another thing I’ve long meant to blog about: car diapers. I wonder whether they exist outside Park Slope. In how many American neighborhoods do parallel parking, overprotectiveness, and automobile vanity co-exist? The car diaper is a large sheet of rubber that is draped over a car’s rear fender in order to protect it from the scratches and scrapes incidental to parallel parking. They aren’t called car diapers, of course, by their purveyors. Indeed they seem to have sort of self-consciously aggressive names, like “Bumper Bully” and “De-Fender.” But car diapers is what they look like. Some are attached by shutting them half in and half out of the trunk, so they flop over the fender, usually with a cut-out so that the license plate remains visible. A driver rarely scrapes up another car’s rear fender while parallel parking, because one always has a clear view of the other car’s rear fender. It’s one’s own rear fender that one scrapes, by misjudging the distance behind. So a car diaper is a responsible and civic thing to own—an admission of one’s incontinence as a driver, or anyway, as a parallel parker. Still.
To be fair, I am in no position to make fun of car diapers, seeing as how I am an inveterate user of book condoms, also known by the trade name Brodart Just-a-Fold III Archival Covers.
Probably I am willing to mock car diapers because of the same character flaws that have made me a cyclist. So while I am bashing car culture, I might as well throw in this observation: On the streets of Park Slope, the most dangerous driving seems to occur when drivers are in the throes of the illusion that they are “catching up.” To explain: If a driver feels that a safe and pleasant speed on a residential street is 15 miles an hour, but an obstacle (such as a double-parked delivery van) temporarily forces the driver to slow down or even stop, he often responds, once he has passed the obstacle, by “catching up.” That is, he suddenly accelerates to thirty miles an hour, and holds that speed for half a block or more. What he is “catching up” to is where he thinks his car would be if he hadn’t been forced to slow down. It wasn’t his choice to slow down; it was (and I am rankly indulging here in a fantasy of driver’s psychology, which isn’t such a stretch for me because I, too, drive) somehow unfair that he had to slow down. By revving the engine, he expresses his anger at this injustice and recovers for himself the timespace that the universe, in the form of a double-parked delivery van, had tried to take from him. On a bicycle, too, I suppose, one might try to “catch up” to one’s fantasy-unobstructed self after an obstacle, but I don’t think it happens very often. I don’t find myself ever doing it, maybe because it would take a burst of muscle power that isn’t generally available. In a car, though, the engine is always ready to give you more speed than is safe; the cost of “catching up” in a car isn’t to one’s energy supply as a human organism; it takes the form of an added hazard to oneself and to those who have the misfortune to be sharing the street with you while you’re doing it. Car drivers, become more zen! You are where you are. You do not have to catch up to where you think you are.
To be fair and balanced, now that I have dissed place-anxious drivers, I will say a few words about a similar risky and unpleasant habit among my fellow bikers. This long-harbored meme goes in my head by the name of, How Fixies Cause Global Warming. Not really, of course, or anyway, not by very much, but let me explain. What I am objecting to is a practice that has been well described by Bike Snob NYC: when a hipster on a fixie comes to a busy intersection, he does not stop on the near side of the pedestrian crosswalk and wait for the light to change. Oh no, he considers that the momentum that he has built up in his bicycle is too precious to squander by stopping, so he passes over the pedestrian crosswalk and then, just inside the intersection, circles back and forth, in a sort of flattened figure 8 pattern, hoping against hope that there will be a break in the crosswise traffic that will allow him to sneak through. When he does find such a break in the traffic, I sigh with relief. He is gone from my life, at least until I catch up to him at the next intersection. When he doesn’t find a break, however, he himself becomes a considerable obstacle. He almost always finishes his flattened-figure-8 performance with his bike stationary after all and positioned sideways, blocking my path into the intersection. He almost never realizes when the light has finally turned green, because (1) he is too far into the intersection to have a proper view of the traffic light, and (2) he is too “street” to pay any attention to traffic lights generally. So when the light turns green and I’m ready to go, he’s sideways, in my way, and squinting in the wrong direction. And the final aggravation: when he does start moving, because he’s on a fixie, he’s starting his bike in the equivalent of seventh gear or whatever, and he . . . moves . . . the . . . ped- . . . -als . . . ve- . . . -ry . . . slow- . . . -ly . . . . If he had a real bicycle, with some low gears and some high ones, he would be able to start quickly from a full stop, and get out of my way.
The reason momentum is so precious to fixie-riders isn’t because they have a better grasp of physics than other people, nor necessarily because they’re in worse physical condition, but because it’s hard to start riding a bike in seventh gear from a full stop. So fixie riders try not to stop at all, and they end up cluttering intersections whose lights have turned green. Once this is understood, it is a short step to realizing that the decision to forgo gears must be a tremendous waste of human energy generally, and any waste of energy, even the energy generated by hipsters eating power bars, is a contribution to global warming, so fixies cause global warming. Q.E.D. (As I admitted before, not by very much. But, you know, some.)