Riding Her Bike

This—any day like this—is why she adores every transference of the seasons. She doesn’t have a favorite. She loves each one for its unique nature. But she also loves when the qualities of one season infiltrate another. Today is such … Continue reading

I Think Therefore I Rant: Just Stop

When did it become so difficult for people to just stop? Everyone is always in a rush to cram more doing into his/her day, and as a result society is growing increasingly impatient. This has long been affecting how people … Continue reading

Those People

I fell off my bike earlier this week. Actually, I technically fell on my bike. The ground was uneven (and perhaps there was an oil slick), and before I knew it my bike had capsized with me on top of it, but still sliding forward. (Thanks a lot momentum!) Fortunately I wasn’t seriously hurt. Even though my palms, arms, and hips slid across the pavement, my hands were protected by my biking gloves, and I was wearing long sleeves and pants. No abrasions, just tenderness and swelling where my hipbone contacted the ground and my ankle to upper shin hit and slid along one of my bike’s pedals.

The fall felt like it was happening in slow motion—slow enough for me to experience it and have a lot of “Am I really about to fall? Oh no!” thoughts, but not slow enough for me to prevent it. Once on the ground, I quickly tried to get myself up and out of the way of any oncoming cars. Fortunately, I had slid towards the curb and there wasn’t a lot of traffic. As I stood and searched my body for blood and then my bike for damage, I recalled how my husband and I had run to the aid of a deliveryman when we saw him fall off his bicycle. There had been heavy rain that day, and he’d mistaken a severe pothole for a harmless puddle.

After my fall, I looked around to see if anyone was showing concern for me. I saw plenty of people, but with the exception of one woman who made peripheral eye contact with me, everyone acted oblivious to (or unaffected by) my accident.

The street wasn’t teeming with people, but there was enough foot traffic that I expected someone to notice and respond to the black woman in a hot pink track jacket that went sliding across the pavement on top of her bright blue bicycle with yellow tires. When I received no sympathetic questions or helping hands, my first thought (and I’m not proud of it) was, “I can’t believe none of those people came to help me. Is it because I’m not one of them? Is it because I’m black? Those people are heartless. Those people are racist. I bet I would have gotten a more sympathetic response in another neighborhood—one with a different demographic.”

In that moment, I realized how easy it is to generalize and find oneself following a line of negatively biased thinking based on assumptions. It just takes one experience explained from a prejudiced perspective to lay the foundation for bigotry and make a situation us versus them. I was letting the actions of a small slice of a population color my view of the whole group. I recognized myself as a minority in that situation and let that explain my experience as opposed to looking for alternative likelihoods.

As part of my second round of thoughts, I remembered that the men of that particular group don’t touch women they aren’t related to. And perhaps the women, most with children in tow, didn’t want to abandon a youngster to help an adult. Perhaps if I’d stayed down someone would have come to help, but I’d gotten up relatively quickly.

Having looked myself over, I realized I wasn’t gravely injured, and since my bike was still functional, I gingerly remounted and pedaled away slowly—apprehensively and wondering what had really just happened. Had anyone felt any concern or sympathy?

Maybe no one helped me because I didn’t appear to need help. Or maybe, just maybe, they consciously or unconsciously didn’t want to help someone like me—black, female, and/or not of their religion. Perhaps I was one of “those people” in their eyes. You know how those people can be. Best to not get involved with one of them.

Whatever the reason, the part is not the whole. The actions of a few cannot be used to stand for those of the group. I had to remind myself of those truths. Even within a seemingly homogenous population—whether it’s dominated by one culture, ethnicity, or religion—there is diversity. It is unfair to extrapolate what the viewpoints or behaviors of all will be based on those of a few. All I really know is that whoever witnessed my fall didn’t come to my aide. As for the characteristics or attitudes of “those people” as a group, my experience doesn’t give me permission to assume.

What Would You Do?

What would you do if your wallet fell onto the subway tracks? I thought I knew the answer to that question until it happened to me.

The other day I was biking to work when I realized I was running too late to make it solely on my own steam. So I decided to take my bike on the train for part of the way. The lines for the elevator were long, so I carried my bike down the stairs…all three flights of them. Once I’d finally reached the subway platform, I put my metrocard back in my wallet. As I zipped my wallet shut and was going to put it in my backpack it fell from my hands. And as though it were a convict running from the law, my wallet slid across the subway platform and fell down onto the tracks. I stood there motionless for a few seconds, stunned…looking at the tracks…looking at my empty hands…amazed that a wallet could travel so far on its own…wondering why those yellow nubs near the platform’s edge hadn’t caused enough friction to stop my wallet’s escape. I couldn’t believe what had happened, and I stared at my empty hands again hoping to make it un-happen—like maybe if I looked at my hands hard and long enough, I’d see them holding my wallet, and it’s falling on the tracks would turn out to have just been a daydream-nightmare. There was a man standing not too far from me who must have seen everything. As our eyes met, he gave me a “sucks to be you” look and went on with his life.

I looked around in vain for a transit employee. I looked down at my wallet laying on the tracks. The tracks looked remarkably clean…no puddles, no garbage, just my blue wallet looking lonely. I looked down the tracks to see if a train was coming. I knew what I SHOULD do—find a transit worker and ask them for help. But that would mean lugging my bike back up the three flights of stairs, and I didn’t feel like doing that. For a moment I hoped one of the men standing around would just get the wallet for me, but this was not to be a story of chivalry coming to the aid of a damsel in distress. I looked back down at my wallet on the tracks. I looked again to see if a train was coming. I was sweating now, and my brain was racing with contingencies. Should I just leave my bike on the platform and look for help? Someone would probably take it. Should I lug my bike back up to the agent’s booth and get help? But then someone who saw me my wallet fall might jump down and take it before I got back with assistance.

I looked back down at my wallet. I again looked around the platform hoping to see a police officer, a transit worker or to garner the pity of some do-gooder gentleman who would help me. Nothing. I looked again to see if a train was coming. Nothing. So, sweating profusely, I did what I had always thought I wouldn’t. I jumped down onto the tracks to get my wallet. It was easy getting down, but when I turned to get back up (wallet in hand) I saw that I was deeper than I’d anticipated. The top of the platform came to about my armpits. I immediately regretted my decision. What if I couldn’t get back up? What if a train was coming?! My brain starting racing though all the stories I’d heard about people being hit by trains because they tried to get something. Hadn’t I always tsk tsked, “no material thing is worth your life.” Then my thoughts moved on to theoretical teasers for the evening news. How would my sad tale be told? “A woman was killed today by a Manhattan-bound train. She had foolishly jumped down onto the tracks to retrieve her wallet, which, by the way, only had two dollars in it. What a shame.” What was I thinking? I knew the tracks were deeper than they appeared. I knew nothing in my wallet was worth risking my life. But loosing my wallet and having to report lost/stolen and then replace everything or trying to get help with a bike just seemed like too much of a bother at the time. So I did the unwise thing. And now I was almost face to face with a train platform wishing I was taller.

So I dug deep, and then jumped then pulled then dragged myself back onto the platform. By then, the train I needed had arrived on the other set of tracks, so I grabbed my bike and got on it. Again I stood in a state of disbelief. Had I really just done that? I reprimanded myself for doing something so foolish to save 2 dollars and a bunch of change and cards. But then even darker thoughts started coming to me…what had I inadvertently touched? My skin was crawling. Certainly I was now covered in a thin indiscernible layer of rat excrement, subway train track grime, saliva, and homeless man urine.

I also began to wonder at how no one had helped me. Now, I realize it was naïve of me to think anyone would jump down onto the tracks for another person’s wallet. But I am surprised that not one person, upon seeing my five-foot-five head barely clearing the top of the platform, offered a hand to help me back up.