Sympathy for the Salmon

You see a bike rider riding where a bike shouldn’t be ridden, or in a manner contrary to your refined sense of cycling civility. What do you think?

If you’re like me, you’re a judgmental rage turd before you catch yourself, and you calm yourself with the mantra, “They’re not in a car. That’s a good start.”

Sometimes when I’m driving a car — Especially when I’m in a car with the windows rolled up — I will yell inside the soundproof metal cocoon, Get off the freakin’ sidewalk! There’s a bike lane right there — just for you. RIGHT THERE!

Worst of all, perhaps, are ignoramuses “salmoning” on the sidewalk. Here’s a video of me doing it (and not ironically).

Flagstaff Sidewalk Salmon
What a jerk! (Behind the wheel, that is.)

Well, you may be an exemplary bicyclist, but you are probably a schmuck in some other realm of civil life to which you haven’t given much thought.

Let me tell you a story.

Not long ago, at the end of a long day of subways, buses and multi-stop discount air travel, I’d reached Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. I managed to miss the last flight of the night from Phoenix to Flagstaff. I started calling around for a hotel that was (a) cheap, (b) with vacancy, and (c) a free shuttle service. I struck out repeatedly, and the clock ticked past midnight.

Then I remembered the Internet. I reckoned that somewhere on the Web, there must be a page that recommends good places to sleep in Sky Harbor — quiet spots, with chairs that aren’t divided by arm rests. I only had seven hours to kill. I did not expect deep REM sleep.

So I Googled, and struck gold.

There is indeed a Web site dedicated to the practice of sleeping in airports. This site informed me of a large family bathroom with a bed — a bed! Not only that, but privacy, a locking door, and the ability to turn out the lights.

Airport Family Bathroom
All the comforts of prison.

It was 1:30 AM when I found this haven. It was everything the Web site said it would be, plus it was sparkly clean. I was very proud of my resourcefulness. The terminal was vacant except for one TSA guy standing at the end of the concourse.

Before moving in, I looked at the monitors showing the next departures and arrivals at this terminal. I figured it would be at least 5:30 AM before anyone with a poopy-pants kid might need this room. I set my phone alarm for 5 AM, locked the door, and turned out the light.

Through the night I heard the muffled voice of Julie Staley-Rodriguez, my old friend and the voice of Sky Harbor. Julie makes Sky Harbor “America’s Friendliest Airport ” as she delivers cheery prerecorded tips to travelers, whether the travelers are there or not. Curled up on that vinyl-covered mattress, the airport felt friendly indeed.

At about 5:15 AM, I was up, teeth brushed, and ready to go. I emerged to an empty hallway — no mom or dad with a stroller anxiously waiting to use the room. I caught my flight and headed home.

I couldn’t wait to tell Julie, and I did.

That bed? She told me it’s actually a changing table for adults who need use… incontinence products. “Im happy that you noticed how clean our restrooms are,” is the best thing Julie had to say about my triumphant night’s rest.

It turns out I’m a schmuck, and monumentally ignorant about the needs of aging travelers and adults with disabilities. After a long flight — perhaps a redeye — some adults and/or their caregivers are desperately looking for a comfortable, private place to change clothing.

Julie Rodriguez
Julie Rodriguez: “I’ll hold him down and you can kick him, okay?” | Photo: Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport

Of course that consideration never occurred to me. It’s not part of my world (yet).

Apparently abuse of special needs facilities is a problem at Sky Harbor, and perhaps other airports. Julie was able to contact the owners of the aforementioned Website and they took down the page directing sleepy-headed travelers to this bathroom.

So those people bicycling on the sidewalk and committing other crimes against cycling, perhaps they are newly-minted bike commuters. They haven’t given it much thought — not nearly the amount of thought given to it by those of us who read and write bike blogs. They don’t deserve even the stifled rage I have felt toward them.

I try to remember the self satisfaction I felt lying on that big changing pad. That satisfaction is as unwarranted as salmoning on the sidewalk (in most cases). But that self satisfaction is a starting point, and it can open minds to a more conscientious approach to bicycling. Let’s keep our reprimands gentle, if not to ourselves.

Ted Johnson lives in Flagstaff, Arizona. Follow his hardly-ever-about-bikes blogging at Half-Hearted Fanatic, and tweeting at @TedJohnsonIII.

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8 thoughts on “Sympathy for the Salmon”

  1. I once took my young daughter into that family restroom when she was too little to go into public restrooms by herself. We had to wait a few minutes for access to the room, and when the door opened, two airport employees, one male and one female, both young and seemingly in good health, emerged with sheepish looks on their faces. I suspect that restroom sees use for myriad purposes beyond those originally intended.

  2. Good story, Ted. I think we’ve all been caught being a lot less slick than we thought we were.

    I bike lanes might be improved for the time being with arrows indicating the direction and perhaps some signage. It seems obvious to me that salmoning is dangerous but many of us grew up taught to bike against traffic because it was thought to be “safer” to see what is coming toward you. Maybe we need to account for a learning curve.

  3. Kevin Love says:

    The number of people riding on the sidewalks in The Netherlands is approximately zero. I won’t say it never happens, but I sure have not seen it.

    This leads to the prediction that adequate cycling infrastructure would eliminate sidewalk cycling here also.

    As long as people have to choose between riding on the sidewalk and playing tag with two-ton lethal weapons, guess which choice will be made?

  4. BluesCat says:

    Ted, ‘member: Sometimes yer forced by LAW to do it: Sidewalk Salmoning: It’s The Law.

  5. Tim Sherman says:

    It’s UPSTREAM it’s really UPSTREAM!

  6. John M. Hammer says:

    Unless I’m on a bike myself and the other cyclist is in my lane traveling on the wrong side of the road and headed straight for me, I either ignore it or nod as we pass. Almost every time I’ve pointed out that the other guy is doing something dangerous and/or illegal, I’ve gotten a response that was less than gratified and civil. So I tend to just keep my trap shut although my inner monologue can get colorful.

    When I pass a child riding without a helmet but with a parent nearby, I’ll mention to the parent the NY law that requires children to wear helmets and, if they don’t have an immediate negative reaction, I’ll tell them about the free helmet program for adults and children.

    If I’m walking on the sidewalk with one of my elderly relatives and some adult cyclist is barreling toward us expecting us to get out of the way or yelling at us/blasting his horn from behind, I’ll just keep walking and wait for the cyclist to decide to get himself out of the way. If I’m alone I’ll step out of the way. If he’s not traveling too fast I’ll mention that riding on the sidewalk is illegal – surprisingly, some say they didn’t know – but as above it’s usually not worth starting something that might escalate with a person who’s already proven he’s an inconsiderate jerk.

    I’m more concerned about the delivery guys on their electric scooters who are all over the place around here and who ignore all traffic rules, ride on the sidewalk when it pleases them, and yet are somehow identified as “cyclists” and so make the rest of us look bad.

  7. RM says:

    I live where hardly anyone walks on the sidewalks and there are zero bike lanes. Riding on the sidewalk is the most sensible choice on a busy road.

  8. Scotter says:

    I pretty much don’t care what other bikers do, unless they’re going to run into me. I mostly worry what the motorized vehicles are doing. I routinely salmon (thx be to bikesnob nyc for the term) on the sidewalk for a short distance depending on the route home I take. It’s the safest option in that section. Luckily, in the city I live in it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk, except in the downtown area, and there’s nothing that says which direction you have to ride.

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