Pia Hyppönen - Whose lane is it anyway?
Some summers ago, as an assignment for an online course, I started writing a
blog. One of my last entries, about a week or two after starting the whole thing, was about cycling on the cycle paths of Helsinki where I live. Please don’t ask why I stopped writing that blog, it’s just not my thing. There’s enough superfluous information and opinion out there. For that reason, I am not on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram either. And while I am at it, I confess that for many years I didn’t watch the news on a regular basis and…survived! Why didn’t I watch the news? Because it depressed me. It brought me down and took my will to live. It made me feel powerless, frustrated and scared. I wanted to scream at those big boys and girls in smart suits ‘Grow up! Get real! Is this what your mother taught
As part of recent degree studies, it was recommended to stay up-to-date, and so I started
reading and watching it again. I seriously doubt if watching the news 24/7 helps anybody. Is it possible that it feeds the conflicts we have in ourselves and thus create a perpetual motion machine running on resentment, pride and greed, creating more of it? I still want to scream at the grey boys and girls and I still wonder, who let them out of their sandboxes but I don’t feel so powerless anymore. I suspect that accepting the fact that I can’t change the world, while I can make a difference in my little corner of the universe, explains why I am overall contented. Appreciating the beauty in the world, the helpfulness amongst strangers, smiles between people, all that gives me hope. But I digress. There are of course
things that annoy and knock me off the perch of my serenity. Since this is about labels and walls, I’ll give you an example of a pet label of mine. Tourists. More accurately, tourists on cycle paths. If you are a tourist guide or happen to know one, please pass on the message: strolling, standing or taking photos on a cycle path is dangerous. If you hear the ring of a bell, chances are, a cyclist is approaching at, more or less high speed. Please, please, please do look up, and get out of the way! I know, some cyclists don’t ring. They sneak up close, quietly and quickly from behind and yell something into your ear. I don’t know
what they are shouting, but I have observed this once and wouldn´t be surprised if the tourist in question suffers from multiple auditory and mental traumas. The incident made me feel better about my own conduct, which was much more pedagogical. I used to have the tendency to ring first, and only if people didn’t react, I would shout, passing at full speed, ‘CYCLE PATH!!!’, hoping to develop a combination of Pavlovian reflex and 100th monkey effect. When I told my friends about my cunning strategy, they pointed out, that what I was shouting, sounded like ‘PSYCHOPATH!!!’ and since then they are making fun of me. Upon (self-) reflection I had to admit that not only in terms of getting ‘them’ off the cycle paths, but also in making a peaceful difference in my little corner of the universe, my method could only be described as counterproductive. It obviously didn’t work, or freely quoting Elton John,
they are still standing. My solution to the problem is using a different approach today (including ringing the bell, slowing down, smiling and, if necessary stopping and starting a conversation about the weather) and I find, that I am much less annoyed and feeling crazy that way. That reminds me of a definition of insanity attributed to Einstein, who defined it as doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. Anyway, if you have visited Helsinki during the summers between 2006 and 2015, and wonder why an obviously crazy woman on a bike (on a wet day dressed in a yellow rain suit) called you a psychopath, be assured, it wasn’t about you per se. It was about where you were at that moment in time. Sorry.
If there is no cycle lane, I rarely use the road. I don’t get off my bike either, I keep on cycling on the sidewalk, slaloming through pedestrians. Yes, mea culpa, it is not right, but trust
me, I am careful and when I feel it’s getting unsafe, I get off and push. Sometimes I get shouted at but I think ‘yeah, yeah’ and continue. By now you might have recognized my tendency to apply double-standards. I like it when other people follow rules I do not follow strictly myself.
Anyway, one early autumn night some years ago, I was cycling home after visiting a friend. The cycle lane close to her house had been under construction for the whole summer, during which the opposite sidewalk served also as a cycle path. That day, whilst out with my friend’s dog, my heart filled with happiness when I saw that the works on the cycle path had been completed. That night, on my way home, I cycled on the sidewalk out of pure habit after using it the whole summer. The evening was dark and gloomy, it rained and I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible. Maybe 30 metres in front of me, I saw a middle-
aged man with a small dachshund on a long leash coming towards me. I prepared to slow down and if necessary, get off my bike, but suddenly the man spread his arms like wings and stepped towards me and shouted that I was not going to cycle there!! Who did I think I was? What made me so special? Cycle on the other side!! I shouted back, what business of his it was and made a U-turn to get away from him.
And then I stopped. I turned around and waited for him. I would like to say that I was calm and collected but that would be a lie. We spoke at each other at high volume without listening. How could I explain to him that I wasn’t going to harm him, that it was pure habit after the summer? He came physically too close, I told him not to and he told me unless I was 12 years old, I was not to cycle here. Of course, he was right, he had the law on his side. My feeble response was that I just looked very old for my age,
which he answered with a snort of disdain. I looked at his cute dog and was impressed how quiet he was, I would have expected him to bark as much and as loud as his owner, but the dachshund was the most sensible of all of us. And then, a sudden inspiration turned the stranger’s virtue to shame and my agitation to calm. ‘Where’s your pooh bag?’ ‘Pardon?’ ‘Where is your pooh bag? You should have a pooh
bag. Show me your pooh bag.’
‘What??!?’ ‘I cross the street, if you show me your pooh bag.’
He was flustered, ‘I just used it.’
‘It? Are you telling me you only had one pooh bag with you? That’s taking quite
a risk, isn’t it?’ He fumbled in the pockets of his elegant tailor-made coat and dug up a scrambled receipt, which he, mumbling ‘here it is’, stuffed right back to where he had found it. He was lying! ‘You don’t have a pooh bag, so I am not going to cross the road. Have a good evening.’ and off I cycled on the moral high ground of my sandbox. And what’s the moral of the story?
You tell me.