The War of the Worlds, Toronto cycling edition
Can you spot the Alien Lunatics? They will be the ones approaching the barrier on Martin Goodman Trail at top speeds from opposite directions, with no humanoid fears of death or dismemberment. (Jake Lakey/Toronto Star File Photo)
Contrary to popular belief, Toronto does not have a war between pedestrians and cyclists.
Nor does Toronto have a war between cyclists and the drivers of motor vehicles.
What Toronto has is a war between Carbon-Based Life Forms and Alien Lunatics.
The aliens — whose ranks include representatives from all three categories of traveller — seem to be winning.
This is unfortunate, because the extraterrestrials among us appear to have little or no understanding of the physical, emotional, or legal properties that govern life on Planet Earth.
They have no clear concept of momentum or gravity, for example, no notion of caution or fear, no ability to anticipate the future, no capacity for empathy, no inkling of the law.
They also seem to be colour blind, unable to distinguish between red and green.
But what do you expect? They are alien lunatics.
(Metaphor alert: Nothing in this article should be taken to mean that Toronto streets are literally being attacked by actual invaders from space. All depictions of aliens in this article are purely figurative — we’re talking about idiot commuters. Try to remain calm and do not call 911. Now, back to our story.)
You will encounter hundreds of alien lunatics on the roads of this city practically every day. They dress and comport themselves as if they were human. Most of the time, you can barely tell the difference — as long as they are standing still.
The trouble starts when they begin to move.
There should be a law against that, and maybe one day there will be, but we’re not there yet.
When alien lunatics begin to move, they expose themselves as what they really are — creatures from some distant solar system sent here to take control of our roads, to cause us grievous bodily harm, and to make it seem that we — pedestrians, cyclists, motorists — are at war with each other.
But we’re not.
The conflict on Toronto’s roads does not pit different modes of conveyance. It pits people with a perceptible brainwave pattern against witless idiots from outer space.
Sometimes the idiots take aim at each other. (Why? Because they’re idiots.)
Consider the Martin Goodman trail stretching west from Bathurst St. along the lake shore.
At intersections along the way, municipal workers have installed metal barriers ostensibly designed to encourage cyclists, in-line skaters, joggers, and other users of the trail to take care at these locations.
They would be wise to do so because there is not really enough space for two travellers proceeding in opposite directions to negotiate the barriers at the same time without dismembering each other.
To avoid such a fate, one traveller or the other — preferably both — needs to conduct a critical velocity-reduction manoeuvre known on Earth as “slowing down.”
That way, they can proceed through the narrow opening one at a time, an arrangement known hereabouts as “taking turns.”
But extraterrestrials do not seem to grasp this notion.
Instead, they approach each other at top speed from opposite directions, racing wildly toward the barrier in a desperate if completely irrational game of chicken, fully expecting that the other party will wimp out first, or else they’ll both be killed in a heart-stopping, bone-crushing collision of flesh, Spandex, and metal.
Some cyclists invariably do wimp out. (Guilty.) Others do not.
This is a sure way of distinguishing Carbon-Based Life Forms from Alien Lunatics.
The CBLFs have a sense of their own mortality — not to mention the mortality of others.
ALs seem to lack this appreciation.
Alien Lunatics also drive cars and love to amuse themselves with playful little procedures such as sneaking up behind an unwitting cyclist before suddenly gunning the engine and roaring past, close enough to the bicycle so that if it strayed from its path by even a few centimetres, the rider would be knocked over and quite possibly killed.
Alien motorists do not seem to understand that a cyclist’s first reaction, when alarmed, is to tense up, or that a bicycle’s first response, when its rider tenses up, is to wobble, perhaps uncontrollably.
Or maybe they do understand. Maybe that’s why alien motorists aim their vehicles so close to cyclists in the first place. In outer space, they probably treat dead Earthlings as trophies. They probably mount their stuffed remains above the kryptonite mantel and tell interminable tales about the good old days of hunting Earth-dwellers in an exotic killing zone called Toronto.
Yes, it is a war out there — a war between sane, sentient creatures, who would recognize Margaret Atwood if they passed her on the street, and psychotic trophy-hunters from a parallel universe, who would not.
Which brings us to pedestrians. They can be trouble, too, especially if they happen to be lobotomized hiking enthusiasts from Alpha Centauri.
They jaywalk. They cross against the lights. They fail to look both ways. They shake their webbed fists at law-abiding terrestrial cyclists and motorists for failing to cede the entirety of the road.
They are the problem — they and their fellow aliens, whether stumbling with their children along the streetcar tracks, careening along the sidewalk on their bicycles, or drag-racing on Jarvis St. in their parents’ cars.
We have seen the enemy — and he is from Pluto.
-Oakland Ross, Feature Writer