Riding in the Dark

Seven o’clock at night.  The sun set about an hour before and clouds are building across the sky, blocking out any suggestion of moonlight or starlight.

I’m cold and exhausted and feeling mildly sick, alternating between craving a Tropical Smoothie Peaches and Silk with Splenda smoothie and a seriously hot shower, like the hot water is turned all the way up hot shower.

I’m definitely not feeling well if I want both of those at the same time.  Well, no, I don’t want my smoothie in the shower.  But before the shower.  After the shower.  Both before and after the shower.  I don’t care.  Just bring me a smoothie.  Which isn’t going to happen because I haven’t asked and I’m not about to call up my husband who is at Boy Scouts with our son.

I’m driving the back roads home because, right now, the idea of driving on a congested, four-lane highway with headlights streaming into my eyes while staring at the red lights surrounding me is so overly-stimulating that my head throbs just a little more.

I just want to go home.  Find my way to the top of the stairs, take my shower, drink cold water as a substitute for my smoothie, curl under the blankets, possibly not write but at least think about writing, watch television, read the Bible, go to sleep.  In that order.  Unless sleep wants to come first which is perfectly fine by me.

I didn’t sleep last night.  Between not being able to sleep and the cat deciding that three o’clock was a good time to talk to me about how she needs attention and then my husband snoring loudly (and I mean LOUDLY) immediately after I tossed the cat outside (I was not in the mood for paying attention to the cat.  I was in the mood for paying attention to the shadow-puppet show on the inside of my eyelids).  Sleep and I did not have a good relationship last night.

So, I’m driving home from dropping my son off at Boy Scouts and I’m on a narrow backroad.  And just after a narrow turn, the car directly in front of me suddenly slows and turns on its the hazard lights.

I slow down, come to a crawl, turn on my hazards because the car in front of me turned on its hazards because the car in front of it (two in front of me) has its hazards on.  And for some reason, I convince myself that a law somewhere dictates that if a person is following a car with its hazard lights blinking, then all subsequent cars must do the same.

The first car in the line (the original hazard light blinker mobile) is driving incredibly slow.  Like single digits slow.  And my mind wanders over excuses….

Flat tire?

Brake problems?

And as we edge through a turn, I realize that just in front of the original hazard light blinking car is a bicyclist.

All I can ponder is why the initial car won’t pass the bicyclist.  Is it because we are on a “blind” curve (not blind given that since it is night, we can see headlights to the horizon on this road) and the car doesn’t want to take a chance of getting into an accident?

Make sense.  But, no.  The turn is gone and we are still crawling down a road that has a posted 35 mile per hour speed limit sign.

We are still crawling and I figure that maybe the original car hazard light blinker must be deliberately following the cyclist.  This thought cements when the original car pulls over to the side of the road, still following the cyclist.

We are supposed to pass the car.  But the car I am following (the second in the line of traffic) isn’t moving and my patience is waning.  My head is pounding and the shower I want to take isn’t arriving any closer, and if I continue to drive at this speed, I might not be home for an hour (no exaggeration).

Thankfully, the car directly in front of me passes the car/cyclist pair.  I slide in behind the pair and wait for a car in the opposite lane to pass.  My moment arrives.  I hit the gas, slide up a gear, and move past the car.

In its headlights is a young boy, maybe middle school at the oldest, steadily pedaling his way home.

This is no adult training for some competition.

This is a child riding home on a dark night while the rain is trying to spit out of the sky.

In a flash, my emotions diverge into two very different responses.

What the hell is that parent thinking?


That’s kind of a cool parent.

Complete and utter opposites and I am so tired I really don’t have the ability to rationalize either of my responses, but I know this will be my blog post for the night and that I will be writing even though I just want to go to bed.

So I am reclining in my bed, my feet shoved deep under my blankets, warm thanks to my wide-open hot shower, and I keep seeing that young boy in his gray plaid jacket riding on his bike and his parent following at a snail’s pace, the headlights illuminating the child’s path as they both go home.

In Germany, this wouldn’t be as much of a problem.  Bike paths and pedestrian lanes are everywhere, running parallel to every major road so that any city is pretty accessible.  But where I live, the narrow backroads are merely an invitation to bicycling disasters, especially at night when incautious people drive at high speeds and are not looking out for children riding in dark clothing and with insufficient reflectors.

What in the world was that parent thinking?

Was this an agreement between the parent and the child?  A rite of passage?  A test of courage?

The parent was driving an SUV, a vehicle suggestive of girth and hauling capacity, something in which the bike could be stowed and the child safely taken home.

At the same time…..

At the same time.  As I sit here and once more reflect on the image of a young boy riding his bike in the opaque darkness, the only suggestion of a person being on the road was the parents’ blinking hazard lights, I have a harder time reconciling myself to the parents’ decisions.

I believe in holding my children responsible for their decisions.

But I also know the temerity and precarious balance that exists with a child on the road.  Once, when I was driving in my tiny, one-third-of-a-mile-long neighborhood, a neighbor was walking behind his daughter as she rode her bike for what must have been a first time type of an experience.

Her tiny legs pedaled furiously and she wavered unsteadily from side to side.

I immediately slowed my speed, went to a crawl, slid into the middle of the road to give the child as much space as possible.

I was doing everything right.

And then, just as I was about to slowly pass her, she suddenly jerked to the left, in my direction, and fell.

Just as the truck I was driving was coming abreast of her.

My heart plummeted into my throat.  I slammed on the brakes, put the vehicle into park, turned off the keys, lurched out of the vehicle.

She was fine.  Her father was sprinting towards us and I smiled and called out my reassurances, trying to sound friendly when I wanted to scream at him.

Why is your daughter on the road when she doesn’t know how to ride?

He held her steady while I pulled away and drove home with trembling hands.  I parked my truck, pulled my children out of the vehicle, and held them close to me.

We were safe.

I wonder at the other parent’s anxiety, the parent following his/her son home as he rides through a heavy, misty darkness.  And I wonder if maybe a rite of passage couldn’t have waited.  If maybe they couldn’t have left his bike somewhere, chained up, and taken the chance of it being stolen so that he could ride in a warm car on his way home.

Sometimes, lessons don’t have to be learned, risks don’t have to be taken, and the hazard lights don’t need to be used.


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