I spend about 50 minutes a day commuting by bicycle. Like most commuters, I spend much of this time in mentally creative (or creatively mental) activity such as associating road construction sounds with popular speed metal songs from the 90s, or imagining profane dialogues with phone-wielding pedestrians who are hindering me on the sidewalk. And then there’s the Fantaisie de la Tour de France, which usually gets me to work about five minutes faster than usual. In my head I hear the French-accented TV sports announcers watching me go: “Luke at ‘ow ‘ee tuke zat keurve!”
There’s no limit to the productive ideas that go through my head. Here’s an abbreviated list from yesterday:
- Can I get through that light before it turns red? It’s been green a long time.
- Today I’ve got to say something really clever to my colleague in the office next door, especially since I failed to yesterday when I had the chance.
- How does that “Panama” guitar solo go? That Eddie V. H. is unreal.
- Why do giraffes have horns? They seem kind of useless all the way up there.
- Can I get through that light before it turns red? It’s already yellow.
- I think one reason I fit so well into Japanese society is that I can easily shut out unwanted stimuli and stay focused on...hey, to your left, buddy, YOUR left! Two of us can fit on this sidewalk!
- I wish I could get that “Panama” guitar solo out of my head. That Eddie V. H. is annoying as hell.
- Can I get through that light even though it’s already red?
A few weeks ago I tried an experiment to capture more of this fecund yet fleeting cerebral output. I carried an IC recorder and a tiny lapel microphone, expecting to quietly verbalize whatever thoughts came to mind as I rode. While walking out to my bike I thought of whispering something at random to test the volume I’d have to speak at—in public, I couldn’t forget—for the microphone to work. For some reason the first thing that popped into my head was “I see dead people,” from an old Bruce Willis movie. I murmured it three or four times, but didn’t bother checking the level before starting out. All the way home I continued mumbling vaguely toward my left armpit, hoping that at least some of what I said would be discernable in the recording. When I got home I plugged the unit into my stereo and started listening, but that voice at the beginning whispering “dead people” was so creepy that I shut it off and immediately erased the whole recording. I haven’t tried it again since.
My wandering commuter’s mind must affect my riding skills, because I’m probably above average in incidents of unintentional contact with motorized vehicles. “Hit by a car” is the standard way to describe it, although the basketball term “pick and roll” seems like a more accurate description of what usually happens.
One time a scooter rider made his turn too wide on a rainy street and bumped into me along the curb. Fortunately I wasn’t knocked over. We both stopped and stared at each other in our giant cape-like rain ponchos and headgear. He asked me in Japanese if I was OK, and I said “Yeah.” Then I noticed a huge piece of broken plastic on the pavement between us that was the same color as his scooter. I pointed and asked, “Is that yours?” But without even looking at it he waved his hand defensively in front of his face, said “No no!” in English, gunned his scooter engine and escaped as fast as he could. I felt like I had narrowly avoided a painful accident, but he must have felt like he had averted a run-in with Batman. Now there’s a fantasy for my next commute: La patrouille à vélo de Batman.