Ghost Bikes and Childish Behavior
Every urban cyclist has had, at some point during their cycling life, a rather unwelcome vision. People describe it differently, but the most prosaic say, “ your life flashes before your eyes.” For cyclists, these flashes are concluded by the image of a plain white bicycle chained to a rusty lamp post or dented guard rail. These are “ghost bikes” – modest monuments to the people who’ve been killed while rushing to work on a rainy morning or pedaling back from visiting friends. There, in the middle of traffic islands or at the neglected, dusty corner of an intersection, they slowly fuse with the concrete and asphalt and pose unanswered questions to bored motorists sitting in traffic.
There’s always a twinge of guilt that accompanies admitting when one has acted like a child, so please believe I’m not bragging when I say that I beat up a taxi driver and smashed up his car over the weekend. It’s a childish business when we feel that we have no other means of expression – it’s a failure of language, of self-control, of maturity. I ripped open his door and threw a few punches at his face, which was already twisted with whatever curses he was preparing to throw out at me. A couple connected. He shrunk back when more of my friends approached his car and I slammed the door shut on his outstretched arm, ripped off his taxi sign and smashed it on the window. My friend Patrick ran up and ripped open the door again and threw a few more punches. Patrick was a little late to the fray, as thirty seconds before he had nearly been pinned under the wheels of the same driver’s car.
I won’t apologize to anyone but my friends who were there with me, even though they applauded my hysterics and laughed about it hours later over beers. For no apparent reason, the taxi driver ran Patrick into a row of parked cars while we were all riding together down a quiet road in the center of town. When Patrick picked up his bike and tried to cross over to the sidewalk to get out of the driver’s way, the man accelerated into him, knocking him back onto the street. That’s when I jumped in.
In the past years, I’ve been appalled by the growing, uncharacteristic aggressiveness of drivers in Prague. More and more people lose their tempers, honk horns, cut each other off, even jump out of their cars to confront each other over a few meters of asphalt gained or lost. Once a bizarre rarity I thought only happened on the gridlocked freeways of the United States, road rage, against all logic and reason, has found a home here – in a city where the average commuter spends perhaps ½ an hour daily in traffic. A city, by the way, which boasts one of the most affordable, efficient and well-designed public transport networks in the world. It’s laughable and shameful; sitting in gridlock is an inconvenience to be suffered willingly in exchange for the mere status of arriving to a full parking lot in your own car.
By now, news has probably spread among the taxi “mafia” of a rogue gang of cyclists. If anything, my outburst probably made the daily ride that much more dangerous for all cyclists in this city. As I said, I’m not going to apologize to anyone aside from my friends, but I would like to make an offer to the driver of the car we vandalized: if you can explain why you felt it was your right to intentionally run a cyclist off the road and then threaten his life with your automobile, I will buy you a new taxi sign. It’s that simple, really. Contact any of the publications where this is printed and offer your explanation. They will contact me and I will deliver a shiny new taxi sign to them for you.
In the meantime, I hope you’re haunted by the experience of having your car smashed while you cower inside, fearing for your safety while some maniac screams at you in English. I hope you instinctively lock your door and are afraid in your own city. I hope you think twice before using your car as a weapon again. However, I truly doubt any of that will happen until you start shuddering at the sight of little white taxi signs glued to smashed guard rails and hanging from signal poles. How disgraceful that it would take such extremes to convince people emboldened by a ton and a half of steel that the rest of us sharing the roads in this city are living human beings.