The Tragedy of MISS
(Image from McMorr on Flickr)
Recently, I read about the danger faced by cyclists and motorists on a narrow, winding road outside of Nashville. Some homeowners want cyclists banned. It's too dangerous to pass slow-moving bicyclists because motorists have to cross the road's centerline. What happens if there's an on-coming school bus or a station wagon full of nuns? The almost Pavlovian imperative to pass, regardless of the consequences, might require impaling the front end of a bus with a speeding Chevy Suburban, causing wide spread carnage and the end of civilization as we know it.
Conventional wisdom holds that cyclists have no place in traffic. They should not be on the streets - period. Most of those who insist that cycling is too dangerous are not themselves bicyclists. And while I appreciate the terribly exaggerated difficulty of passing something as small and slow as a bicycle and rider, I'm obviously opposed to a ban. We could ask these motorists if their driving skills are so abysmal as to constitute a threat to everyone else in the immediate vicinity. But no, when evaluating their own driving, Americans believe that they're ALL above average.
With the onset of spring, we can expect to see the usual crop of anti-cycling letters appear on editorial pages. Often, they begin with “I ride a bicycle too, but...” then go on to complain that bicyclists ignore stop signs or they should stay on the sidewalk. And why would anyone wear those silly clothes?
“Only gays wear clothes like that!” In the common imagination, 'gay' means someone is not truly masculine. On the schoolyard, 'sissy' is an equivalent pejorative, so cycling on the road then becomes an extremely dangerous activity performed by a bunch of sissies in spandex. Sissies are not generally known for their risk-taking behavior, a behavior more commonly associated only with real manly-men, yet the apparent cognitive dissonance goes unrecognized. (Now, as for female cyclists, I'm not sure how the 'gayness' epithet works and frankly, it makes my head hurt to think about it, so I'll simply ignore the whole issue.)
Perhaps there's an explanation for the inclusion of such polar opposites in one common stereotype despite the logical absurdity.
I've concluded that the very act of driving a motor vehicle induces a kind of schizophrenia. In fact, it has a name - Motoring Induced Schizophrenic Syndrome or MISS for short. These people cannot distinguish between reality and the lurid fantasies playing out in their heads. "You may be right," they scold cyclists, "but you'll be DEAD right." MISS sufferers can quote imaginary traffic law with genuine authority, saying things like, "Bicycles cannot legally be operated on city streets," "Bicycles have to stay on the sidewalk," or "Bicycles have to be ridden within 3 feet of the curb." They almost always solemnly intone, "It's the law!" after one of these statements.
It's sad, really, because they're otherwise rational people. Exposure to motor vehicles has had an enormous negative impact on their cognitive ability. MISS is found almost uniformly across the age spectrum and is independent of exposure time. Its etiology is unknown. MISS sufferers can recover if they receive extensive therapy supplemented by a drug regimen consisting of powerful laxatives. The drugs have a dual purpose, limiting driving exposure on one hand, while helping to clear the patient's thought processes on the other.
So the next time someone yells, “Get up on the sidewalk!” just give him a friendly wave and remember that he's suffering from a kind of mental constipation.