She doesn't know I saw her. She snickered as I walked past the counter on my way out of the office, and her coworkers followed with muffled laughs. They didn't know I could see their smirks from a mirror at the end of the hall.
Why were they laughing at me? Rather than leaving the office in the usual dress shirt and tie, I was in my full-fledged "Team Ireland" bike regalia, acquired from E-Bay after numerous auctions. It doesn't exactly fit the mold for appropriate office attire, but it feels pretty good on a bike commute. Bright and colorful outfits make us more visible, reducing accidents. And the clothing wicks away sweat, making the commute a little more comfortable.
I admit it's silly and perhaps sad to see a 54 year old tub like me prance around like a Lance Armstrong wannabe. But I think these women stop laughing when they go to the gas pump. Local school districts aren't laughing when they fuel their buses. Local governments like Nazareth aren't laughing as they go over budget with fuel allocations for police cars and fire engines. And just think, the home heating oil season is just around the corner.
Everyone seems to know why oil and gas prices are rising. Big Oil says its refineries were thrown off line by Hurricane Katrina. Others suggest Big Oil, which has record high profits, is "looting" at the pumps. Some think our well-tanned and well-rested President, who just exempted tanks like the Hummer and Ford Excursion from fuel efficiency standards, is responsible.
These all sound plausible, but are only part of the answer. The simple truth, and one that no wants to face, is we are running out of gas. Oil fields are "maturing," which is Big Oil's way of telling us they are drying up. For every barrel of new oil we discover, we consume two. According to Chevron, we have about enough oil left to last about 30 years. And over the next 30 years, as supply dwindles and demand rises, do you honestly think prices will go down?
There was a time, in the not too distant past, when I could have hopped on a trolley to get to Easton from Nazareth. One left every half hour, and from Easton I could go anywhere. But those days are gone, and local leaders now talk about widening highways and increasing speed limits as a solution to congestion, oblivious to our dwindling supply and their promotion of the very lifestyle that makes more congestion and pollution inevitable. What they are actually doing is driving us at 65 mph right into a depression, which will surely happen as oil prices suck us dry.
I have heard talk of alternative fuels, but that's all it is -- talk. Big Auto, handmaiden to Big Oil, has resisted every attempt to use alternative fuels, increase fuel efficiency, or even make cars lighter with durable materials like carbon fiber. Now I don't know much about solar cells or hydrogen, but do know how to move my legs. So my solution, and it is admittedly a small solution, is to ride my bike to work and on errands. Broken Spoke in Wilson transformed my bike into a BUV (bike utility vehicle) complete with fenders (to stop rain), mirrors, a good lighting system, Kevlar tires that eliminate flats, and panniers (yes, that's a French word) that make it possible for me to carry large loads, including a dress shirt and tie. I've saved about 260 gallons since spring, enough to fill a Nazareth police car 13 times. Not much, but it's a start.
People give me all kinds of reasons why I belong in a car. I'm told it's unsafe to ride a bike in traffic. But statistically, I am much more likely to be involved in a car accident every time I start my jeep. Cyclists and motorists have pretty much the same rights and responsibilities on the roads. In fact, most motorists are downright friendly, especially when I wear my Team Ireland outfit. People also say a bike commute takes too long, but I can travel the 9 miles to work by bike in just a few minutes longer than in a car. And while people use up a gallon of gas looking for a rare parking spot at the courthouse, I can park my bike just about anywhere without being a bother to anyone. I feel the cool breezes from Bushkill Creek and come to work feeling peaceful and relaxed. My blood pressure and weight have both dropped, and visits to the doctor's office have become infrequent.
I don't mean to suggest we must become a nation of cyclists, but we do need to conserve what is left. At a time when over 1880 American soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice over what increasingly appears to be our strategic interest in oil, we are making remarkably few sacrifices ourselves. Supporters of our Iraqi expedition think plugging a yellow ribbon on their SUVs means something. War protesters "sacrifice" by plastering their cars with all kinds of goofy bumper stickers. Both roar off in their cars to each and every demonstration, destroying the environment they are trying so desperately to save.
The older generation, which suffered through both the Great Depression and W.W.II, knows something about sacrifice. It went through fuel rationing and made countless other sacrifices. We could emulate their example, and reduce our materialistic tendencies just a bit. We could carpool or take a bus instead of looking down our noses at "those people" in the other America who silently wait for buses. We might actually learn who are neighbors are and revitalize corner groceries and small farms instead of shopping at warehouses on wheels like Walmart.
Hurricane Katrina, if it teaches us anything, instructs that life as we know it could change in a heartbeat, and our dependence on fossil fuels has made us all just a little too complacent. But I admit I do look goofy in my bike gear