We Ride With Susan

All things considered, I want to live. The pain my loved ones would endure is palpable enough for me to never want to die; although I have no fear of death, the love I have for my family—and, possibly more importantly, that they have for me—gives me a firm sense of self-preservation. While I do have a nagging sense of invincibility (despite having never stepped into oncoming traffic, there have been plenty of other close calls), I know eventually my family and friends will have the option to attend a memorial service of some sort in honor of yours truly. Hopefully not for a very, very long time. Hopefully my parents aren’t here to scatter my ashes.

I don’t want a ghost bike memorial service. I don’t want my parents to fly in to whatever city I’ve been living, to be picked up at the airport by my husband, to find the nearest clean hotel to the area where the incident occurred, to prepare a few sentences to say into a news camera or to a crowd of people they’ve never seen before and probably won’t ever again.

I don’t want my friends to gather in the rain and exchange awkward, “How are you?” “Good! Well, you know, considering…” conversations. I don’t want anyone to catch cold on my behalf, for cops to stand in the road to direct traffic around my ghost white bicycle while cars, enraged behind them, resist the urge to honk as they pass the lone mourner across the street from the vigil, holding a sign that says, “What’s the hurry?”

Susan Hicks was about my age, an academic, friends with my friends. She was following the rules of the road that were made for cars, that drivers of cars throw in cyclists’ faces when other ghost bikes are chained to poles, rules they insist would have saved that life. A driver wasn’t upholding their responsibility as the controller of a 4,000 pound car, and crashed into a car that became one end of a Susan sandwich, along with the car it had smashed her into.

The problem isn’t just this driver, it’s that this is a common problem. That cars honk when I ride my bike 28 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone, because they want to drive 55 miles per hour. That the railway crossings to enter the park are guarded by rail yard workers who yell at us to get on the bike path as we are trying to get on the bike path they are guarding against us. That cars yell at us to get on the sidewalk when there is no sidewalk, and when even if there were one, it’s illegal and dangerous for us to ride on them. That as we’ve tried to ride home from work, or just enjoy a beautiful day, drivers have become incensed, have thrown bottles at us, shot at me with a bb gun, and have swerved their cars purposefully into cyclists, righting their destructive ships at the last minute, laughing at this game they play with our lives. That distracted driving is an epidemic, and many drivers text and drive while speeding, even in residential or business areas. That four lane roads, like the one on which Susan was slaughtered, carve through college campuses and cars swerve recklessly from one lane to another, desperately afraid of getting stuck behind a bus. That these memorials happen everywhere, and the news covers them, meanwhile publishing slanderous articles and letters to the editor calling for more restrictions on cyclists, who are responsible for a scant number of fatalities.

I don’t want my family to come see me in the hospital, or to figure out how to pay off my debts, or what to do with my lousy stuff. I don’t want my sister to have to explain to my nieces that I won’t be able to FaceTime with them anymore. I also don’t want to call my husband’s parents and drop the devastating news that their son was killed. I don’t want to go through his belongings and figure out how much is enough of a keepsake to keep, I don’t want to think about what to do with the house or the cars. I don’t want to have to figure out how to continue on with my lousy, ruined, meaningless life without the love of my life. But I know it’s so, so possible.

And yet, still, people have a place to go, somewhere to be ten minutes ago. We are in the way, and the response to a text is more important than a life.

Indeed, what’s the hurry?

There were over 250 people standing in the rain today near where Susan Hicks was killed (which is incidentally where Critical Mass starts), holding candles and hoping they don’t catch cold. There shouldn’t have been anybody.

Over tea and coffee this morning, my roommate and I talked about our complicated feelings about attending the vigil. How it’s important to be there, but that for many people it isn’t a place to be political, they don’t want politics to be involved. But for a group of people who have been asking for years for a bike lane on that stretch of road, who lost a wonderful young person (though even if she was an asshole and old, it wouldn’t make a difference), it is political. Sadness and Anger go hand and glove. It’s hard to attend a memorial and not be mad that we even need to be doing this, again. It’s a horrible feeling to think that maybe, now that a well-loved academic, a smart and charming white woman, a well-known citizen of Pittsburgh, was killed, things will change. That is a disgusting thought. And as it passed through my raging, sorrowful, idiot brain that wants so much to not be the next one whose name is Sharpied onto a sign next to a white bicycle, the SadMad began to subside, pushed out by the familiar depression that so often takes precedent, and I felt sick to my stomach.