Sympathy for the Salmon

You see a bike rider riding where a bike shouldn’t be ridden, or in a manner contrary to your refined sense of cycling civility. What do you think?

If you’re like me, you’re a judgmental rage turd before you catch yourself, and you calm yourself with the mantra, “They’re not in a car. That’s a good start.”

Sometimes when I’m driving a car — Especially when I’m in a car with the windows rolled up — I will yell inside the soundproof metal cocoon, Get off the freakin’ sidewalk! There’s a bike lane right there — just for you. RIGHT THERE!

Worst of all, perhaps, are ignoramuses “salmoning” on the sidewalk. Here’s a video of me doing it (and not ironically).

Flagstaff Sidewalk Salmon
What a jerk! (Behind the wheel, that is.)

Well, you may be an exemplary bicyclist, but you are probably a schmuck in some other realm of civil life to which you haven’t given much thought.

Let me tell you a story.

Not long ago, at the end of a long day of subways, buses and multi-stop discount air travel, I’d reached Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. I managed to miss the last flight of the night from Phoenix to Flagstaff. I started calling around for a hotel that was (a) cheap, (b) with vacancy, and (c) a free shuttle service. I struck out repeatedly, and the clock ticked past midnight.

Then I remembered the Internet. I reckoned that somewhere on the Web, there must be a page that recommends good places to sleep in Sky Harbor — quiet spots, with chairs that aren’t divided by arm rests. I only had seven hours to kill. I did not expect deep REM sleep.

So I Googled, and struck gold.

There is indeed a Web site dedicated to the practice of sleeping in airports. This site informed me of a large family bathroom with a bed — a bed! Not only that, but privacy, a locking door, and the ability to turn out the lights.

Airport Family Bathroom
All the comforts of prison.

It was 1:30 AM when I found this haven. It was everything the Web site said it would be, plus it was sparkly clean. I was very proud of my resourcefulness. The terminal was vacant except for one TSA guy standing at the end of the concourse.

Before moving in, I looked at the monitors showing the next departures and arrivals at this terminal. I figured it would be at least 5:30 AM before anyone with a poopy-pants kid might need this room. I set my phone alarm for 5 AM, locked the door, and turned out the light.

Through the night I heard the muffled voice of Julie Staley-Rodriguez, my old friend and the voice of Sky Harbor. Julie makes Sky Harbor “America’s Friendliest Airport ” as she delivers cheery prerecorded tips to travelers, whether the travelers are there or not. Curled up on that vinyl-covered mattress, the airport felt friendly indeed.

At about 5:15 AM, I was up, teeth brushed, and ready to go. I emerged to an empty hallway — no mom or dad with a stroller anxiously waiting to use the room. I caught my flight and headed home.

I couldn’t wait to tell Julie, and I did.

That bed? She told me it’s actually a changing table for adults who need use… incontinence products. “Im happy that you noticed how clean our restrooms are,” is the best thing Julie had to say about my triumphant night’s rest.

It turns out I’m a schmuck, and monumentally ignorant about the needs of aging travelers and adults with disabilities. After a long flight — perhaps a redeye — some adults and/or their caregivers are desperately looking for a comfortable, private place to change clothing.

Julie Rodriguez
Julie Rodriguez: “I’ll hold him down and you can kick him, okay?” | Photo: Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport

Of course that consideration never occurred to me. It’s not part of my world (yet).

Apparently abuse of special needs facilities is a problem at Sky Harbor, and perhaps other airports. Julie was able to contact the owners of the aforementioned Website and they took down the page directing sleepy-headed travelers to this bathroom.

So those people bicycling on the sidewalk and committing other crimes against cycling, perhaps they are newly-minted bike commuters. They haven’t given it much thought — not nearly the amount of thought given to it by those of us who read and write bike blogs. They don’t deserve even the stifled rage I have felt toward them.

I try to remember the self satisfaction I felt lying on that big changing pad. That satisfaction is as unwarranted as salmoning on the sidewalk (in most cases). But that self satisfaction is a starting point, and it can open minds to a more conscientious approach to bicycling. Let’s keep our reprimands gentle, if not to ourselves.

Ted Johnson lives in Flagstaff, Arizona. Follow his hardly-ever-about-bikes blogging at Half-Hearted Fanatic, and tweeting at @TedJohnsonIII.

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