Monday, February 21, 2011

This Light Too Shall Change

Time for a change

One minute twenty-four. Eighty-four seconds. That's the time, on average, it takes the stoplight to detect my bicycle wheels, and turn green. I've sat through that 84 seconds in winter's cold and Arizona's summer heat. I've had SUVs and diesel trucks idling around me, convertibles with jazz warbling, and other cars with the boom boom boom of bass. I've seen cyclists roll up to the red light, filter through the waiting cars, and weave out across the cross-traffic. Quite often, I see car drivers pull up talking on their cell phones, checking their watches, and nervously inching forward. Makeup application in the rearview. Shouting at the kids in the backseat of the minivan. Delivery truck drivers turning right and barely pausing at the red. Cell phone appointment book yellow sticky scrawled directions you can't read list gotta get gotta go where's that bill she's waiting for this check. All this and more.

Eighty-four seconds. I've seen impatience grow into anger. Shouting skyward at the light that will not change. One guy banging on his steering wheel out of frustration. Brother, I wanted to say to him, it's just a little less than a minute and a half, it always changes. One woman (hey, I'm on a bicycle, the world is open 360 degrees all around me and I check it all out, OK?) with her head in her hands, cigarette smoke wreathing out the barely cracked window. Lots of conference calls on the way into the office. Real estate deals. Grocery pickups. Usually late, often in a hurry, time time time. It's the light's fault.

On the other hand, there are the chill doggies with their heads hanging out the back window, taking in the morning air, tongue hanging out, nose twitching to apprehend the wild universe of odor swirling around the sunrise streets. Along for the ride. I speak to them and they wag their tails.

One minute twenty-four. I've seen that be more than time enough for impatience to blossom into full-on anger. But: at what? A stoplight? A timing box? A detection loop? The blind stupid luck of catching the red light? Brother, sister, neighbor, friend, fellow user of the streets, I'm here to tell you, this light too shall change. I check up on it every morning, me and my aluminum bicycle rims parked right between the narrow space between the detection loops. 

Be calm. Look around. At the date palms waving in the breeze, and the brilliant sunshine and blue sky, perhaps at the crazy peach-faced lovebirds that sing their heads off with the sheer exuberance of bird-being. The bunny munching the grass. Your eighty-four seconds of patience ensures successful, cooperative use of the public transportation system. Relax, be civil and contemplative. Take the pulse of the morning around you, the slow, rhythmic throb of the city awakening, be a center of stillness in the midst of the crazy manic rush. Like the guy on the bicycle waiting for the light. Still. Smiling. Calm. It's really only a moment. But if you lose it, if you let your anger loose, the results may last much longer. So take it easy. Here, I'll go through it with you. I started my stopwatch. 20 seconds to go. Almost there. Green. Get up. Go ride.



  1. You KNOW it's a long light when you time it and get an average. I vary my route to avoid such as those. It is a positive aspect of a flat place like North Texas.

  2. Silly humans. Hurry up with blinders on. For what? We all still get to the same place some just sooner than others.
    I was going to get out and do great wonders earlier this morning but after reading this I decided to watch the sun making moving shadows through the tree tops just a little longer.

  3. But the light will sense my rage be frightened into changing.
    Change Now!
    On a different note, ever try some rare earth magnets under your frame?
    Motobike dudes swear by them.

  4. Indeed, it is shocking how quickly people can become impatient. Fortunately, I have very few stoplights along my commute routes, and none of them are very long.

  5. Oh, I'm sooo guilty!

    Once turned LEFT on a red light at about midnight after waiting through maybe 3-4 signal changes (there was little traffic that night) and was in such a hurry I failed to notice the TWO police cars that were patiently waiting for the light behind me! I was so pathetic they let me off and maybe I've learned my lesson!

    "This Light Too Shall Change" is my new mantra! (LOL)

    Fortunately, most of my bicycle riding is done in rural areas and (for the most part) I stay out of trouble!

    I'll try the mantra, as well, when that d@^^ rottweiller down the road spots will guarantee its efficacy, I'm sure.

    Enjoyed your post here, John. Excellent!

  6. Steve, I would rate this more of a medium-length light. Nothing to get impatient over, certainly.

    placid casual, thanks!

    OldFool I watched the video of the birds in the tree on your blog, that's the ticket.

    limom the skeptic in me doubts that magnets work. The tinkerer wants to try it, though.

    Apertome, I find myself disappointed with impatience, including my own. All spare moments can be used for some profit or purpose, when you are in them.

    cloudhidden, welcome to my mantra. I wonder if your turn wouldn't fit into the "non-functional light" category. Once I determine that the signal is not functioning (not detecting me), say through a signal change, or my favorite, the signal change tease, I proceed when safe to do so. In rural areas, you face what I think of as the Nigerian Scoff: driving through a deserted county in the midwest with a Nigerian buddy in the passenger seat, I made a full and legal stop at a four-way. It was plain to see there was no one else for a mile in any direction. He couldn't stop laughing at my foolishness.

  7. Unfortunately way too many of the lights where I ride will only change if there is a car in front of me. If I am first to the light the car behind me can't get close to the sensor to trigger the light.

  8. opusthepoet that's a different story, and a bummer, but I think the principle still applies. Like you mention in your recent Sunday post, bicycles end up being first to the light many times. Here in Arizona, if no cars come AND I don't trigger the light, it's a non-functional light, and I'll go through it, sometimes including timing it, or observing a signal change cycle which clearly excludes my direction. But man, if cars do show up after you, and you feel like doing that shuffle-waddle outta the way to have someone trigger the signal, well, it's hard feeling graceful and free when you're waddle-shuffling a bicycle in a busy intersection with cars idling all around you.


Please feel free to comment here, almost anything goes, except for obvious spam or blatantly illegal or objectionable material. Spammers may be subject to public ridicule, scorn, or outright shaming, and the companies represented in spam shall earn disrepute and ire for each occurrence.