This past week, a cyclist named Chris Bucchere pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter. In March 2012, he ran several red lights on his bike, hit and killed a 71-year-old pedestrian. Bucchere received three years probation and a thousand hours of community service. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon believes that this will send a message to other cyclists. I doubt it. If Gascon really wants to affect cyclists’ behavior, he should have them spend a few hours walking a dog. More on that in a moment.
As to cyclists, most know the law. Ninety percent—my personal observation—don’t obey it. I walk a lot. I’ve avoided being hurt by anticipating cyclists thinking that both stop signs and red lights mean speed up. Several weeks ago following the Gay Pride parade, Carolyn and I walked to a favorite restaurant—Sweet Maple—on Steiner and Sutter. Two cyclists hurtled down the sidewalk along the east side of Gough Street. We couldn’t see them—an apartment building stood on the corner. They came within a split-second of hitting—and perhaps killing—us.
Then there are drivers. Many isolate themselves with windows up and music blaring. They make phone calls on their cells. And they text. Stop signs? If they stop, they often do so only after entering a crosswalk where pedestrians have the right of way. Then they take off looking left towards oncoming traffic but not right where a pedestrian might be approaching. I can’t tell you how many times vehicles have sped past me, a stop sign prominently displayed, without a clue. A few days ago, the driver of a truck screeched to a halt at a stop sign when he finally saw me on the corner. What? He otherwise would have run it?
Now here’s the thing with dogs—and their owners. Off-leash, some can be a pain. Dogs that is. People, too. But most dog owners seem much more thoughtful than cyclists and drivers. Maybe that’s because they move more slowly; they’re pedestrians, too. But I think what really keeps dog-walkers under control is their immediate, visceral connection to another living being. A person and a dog form a relationship, not a gang.
Dogs calm people. Humans’ blood pressure goes down in their presence. Yes, we know about people who raise fighting dogs—a menace—but they’re only a small minority. When you have a dog, you accept the responsibility for the care and wellbeing of another creature that wants to give love as well as receive it.
I have some personal experience here because Carolyn and I often care for our “grand dog,” Saffy—a Chihuahua-something mix. I never had a dog before. I’m not likely to acquire one now. Yet I’ve experienced this special connection between human and canine. (I write about that in my next novel appearing in February, The Boy Walker.)
I wonder whether cyclists and drivers who habitually ignore pedestrians have dogs. I’m guessing most don’t. That’s too bad. If humans with wheels had special connections with creatures on four paws, they’d probably improve their connections to those on two feet.
I’ll be taking a few weeks off. Look for my next post later in August.
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Read the first three chapters of David’s novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. You’ll also find online ordering links for iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.