A Salmon in My Bike Lane

Standing up for bike commuters everywhere.

By Ethan Wolff-Mann for Five O’ Clock, a Harry’s Magazine

There’s a man on a bicycle careening towards me. I’m also on a bike, and we are playing a nonconsensual game of chicken as he rides the wrong way down a one-way path. Lacking a bell, I clear my throat, which is only marginally better than mumbling a wounded “one way.” Neither option really protects you; the latter sort of protects your dignity.

Recently, I started saying “one way” in Spanish (“sentido contrario”) to some of the delivery guys salmoning up the bike lane, which has at least netted a few chuckles. I find myself channeling Javier Bardem when I say it so that it doesn’t sound so chinless, like a fifth-grader tattling because he couldn’t handle the situation himself.

I’ve been here in New York a year, and I try to follow the rules: stopping at lights, riding in the bike lane — but what do you do when cop cars, the blue arbiters of justice, constantly block the bike lane? Maybe I shouldn’t follow the rules. I’ve heard rule-followers wake up as 45 year-old dead-ended middle managers, and I really don’t think that’s for me.

I discard the terrible analogy. Traffic laws are nothing like society’s “guidelines.” I will get to my destination despite stopping at lights. Well, unless I get smoked by another cyclist.

All morning I dream of telling the cyclists I dodge that their salmoning hurts cycling and hampers our unification against New York’s deadly stampede of un-policed speeding automobiles. Later I go down to Prince Street for Halal, justified by the calories I torched on my sweaty commute. I cross the street and a thin man with wild black hair on an old Jamis mountain bike swerves through the crosswalk around me up a one-way bike lane.

I know this man! For the first time, the dangerous salmon is not faceless. It’s that prominent Canadian journalist who is often accused of over-simplification. Finally, I can tell a real-life wild salmon how I really feel. Rushing back to my computer, I compose a triumphant tweet — a “friendly” reminder to shape up. Then I realize that my tweet is nothing more than an addressed bottle tossed into the sea, just another ignored mumble of “one way,” tossed into thin air.