I find as I pedal
my way through life, that many people see my riding a bike as an opportunity
for humor, I'm not sure why. If I snub people for making simple wise cracks,
I have given them the impression that cyclists are humorless individuals.
They are not going to be as friendly with the next cyclist. Even careful
explanations are no good. It's much better to respond to one witty remark
with another one. All they really want is a little entertainment anyway.
There are certain
places where you encounter non-cyclists where they are more likely than
others to say something. When I stop at a gas station, someone is sure
to ask me how much gas I want, sometimes the gas station attendant. I have
been known to give him my pint gas bottle and say, "Fill 'er up!" to his
surprise. If someone says, "I didn't know bikes use gasoline," I reply,
"Well, the last pint lasted me 500 miles." If they ask me what kind of
mileage I get, I say that I get seven miles to a banana. Sometimes people
tell me I need a motor for "that thing." My reply here is not exactly witty,
I say, "I have a damn fine motor on this thing; I have come X miles already today."
The grocery store/restaurant
is another place where humor comes in handy. When I am wolfing down
a whole loaf of bread, a large hoagie, or something like that, someone's
sure to say, "Are you going to eat all that?" And I reply, "Well, I have
to have something in my stomach between breakfast and lunch." If someone
asks me, "Why do you wear such funny clothes," I say, "It's a good way
to start a conversation."
Of course, it's
necessary to make a distinction between a witty remark and a true question.
If the person really wants to know about my clothes, I explain.
Sometimes the remark
is not witty, but the reply is a jolt to the asker. At a motel, someone
might ask me, "Where are you going to put your bike tonight? It's not safe
outside." And I tell him/her I'm going to put it in my room, something
that he/she had never thought of. Or if someone asks me, "Where do you
stay for the night; just pull off the road somewhere? (the implication
is that I am sleeping in a ditch), I might describe my last camping site
in all its glory. Didn't pay a cent either.
Another time for
witty comments is when the person is giving road directions. Thirty odd
years ago when returning from Canada, I got the remark, "It's downhill
all the way" from every person I met, I think. Usually, I would just say
something like, "Funny my knees don't feel it." Or, "Well, I guess I won't
have to pedal any more." Another common statement for people to make is
that "it's five minutes away." People don't like to be corrected, so now
I say, "Well, I better pedal pretty fast then," and they laugh at themselves.
Sometimes I encounter construction along the road; usually the flagmen
warn me against speeding, and I overseriously agree to watch myself, but
they are always very helpful too.
Keeping a handy
wit is helpful even when people are dead serious. When people say to me,
in all seriousness and not as a threat, "Don't you think you're blocking
traffic when you're riding on your bike," I respond, "Would you rather
pass me traveling on my bike at 15 mph or in my van traveling at five miles
an hour below the speed limit, as I always do?" I win that argument right
away. When I first started riding a bike, my brother tried to convince
me to give it up. He said, "You think people admire you for your long bike
trips and adventures, but really people are laughing at you; they think
you're being childish." I looked at him in all seriousness and said, "Then,
you don't think I should get a Va-room engine for my bike?" (The Va-room
engine was a small imitation motorcycle engine that used a plastic flap
against the spokes for sound.) "Oh, no! cried my brother, "Don't do that;
you can keep riding your bike, but don't get a Va-room engine!"
A little wit goes
a long way. I think people's behavior varies around the country, but the
Southern and country people that I talk to all like this kind of banter.
My relaxed, friendly nature makes me feel at home wherever I go. Sometimes
people say, "Don't you feel lonely," and I respond, "When I meet and talk
with people like you every day, how could I ever be lonely?" People don't
get less friendly as I get farther from home; they get more friendly.