By Vernon Felton

The doors open and I pin it--accelerating for the hole shot and a clean break from the pack. You either leave `em in the dust right out of the gate or you just wind up eating dust all damn day. Screw that.

At this point, I'm so sure I've gotten the drop on my competitors that I don't even risk a look over my shoulder. But now I also realize I'm coming into the first turn a bit hot, so I slow it down for just a second when--BAM--I get a vicious elbow that sends me into the wall. Oh, hell no. I am not getting passed by a 70-year old woman dragging an oversize Hello Kitty roller bag behind her.

But, hell yes, that's exactly what's happening.

I try to clear my head and recover, but the pack has caught up to me now and I'm getting jostled from all sides. Another senior citizen makes a daring, slashing move, this time, juking from the right, and cuts me off before I can reach the line for the Alaska Airlines ticket counter. The line, I should add, snakes in and out of Terminal 2 for a mile. Maybe a mile and a half. My flight doesn't board for another hour, but make no mistake, I'm screwed.

I never win popularity contests for saying this, but I hate people.

I Don't Know You, But I Hate You
I sound like a lunatic, but bear with me. I don't hate everyone. There are plenty of fantastic human beings roaming this world. Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Pryor--upstanding people, one and all. I just never run into folks of that caliber at the airport or the mall or the post office or the dog park or the....

People in small quantities? People whom you filter and vet, and with whom you find things in common? I'm all good with Homo sapiens on those terms. But you confine a dozen human beings to a small space and--PRESTO--within minutes you've got cannibalism, biological warfare and perfectly-healthy people double-parking in the handicapped zone.

I'm exaggerating, of course, but only just.

Humans are social animals. From the moment we are born we seek emotional contact with others. In fact, the failure to bond and empathize with others is what defines sociopaths; you know, the folks who spend quiet evenings trying to match their new hockey mask with just the right chainsaw. In short, we're supposed to like other people. Still, I often find myself struggling to do so.

My New Best Friend
Today, for example, I wound up sharing a seat on my flight from Seattle with a man I'd never met before. According to Alaska Airlines, he and I had separate seats. He was so large, however, that he literally spilled over into my assigned seat. By the time I came down the aisle, he was already filling both spots and his glare suggested he wasn't going to give up the second seat (the one I'd paid for three months ago) without a fight.


But since I'd coughed up $378 for the seat in question, I squeezed past him and tried to stake my claim. I wound up sitting in his lap for the next two hours. I felt like a 6-year-old being subjected to the longest, creepiest visit with Santa Claus ever. Except this Santa Claus wore a Hawaiian shirt and smelled like Marlboros and pickles. He also kept rolling his eyes and sighing because, you know, I was invading his personal space.

Exception to the Rule
As I cuddled with my new BFF, I began reflecting on the situation. Clearly, I'm not a people person. Clearly, I have anger management issues. None of this came as a huge surprise--I feel this way whenever I'm around hordes of people, but I often forget that I harbor misanthropic tendencies because most of the time, I'm a pretty happy guy and that's because I'm surrounded by other cyclists. At the risk of sounding ridiculously Pollyannaish, cyclists are a pretty cool bunch of people.

I guess everyone can make this same sort of claim about the people who inhabit their social circles. Long-haul truckers probably feel at peace amongst other long-haul truckers. Porn stars feel accepted within circles of other porn stars. Elephant handlers feel a particular kinship with other trainers of pachyderms. We all operate in our circles of comfort; perhaps cycling is just mine. Perhaps. But I think it's something deeper.

I know I'm painting with broad brushstrokes here, but I've spent nearly two decades working in the bike industry and while there are a few people that I might not invite over for Christmas, I've rarely met someone who was outright rude or inconsiderate. Sure, cycling neanderthals exist. Every group has it’s A-holes--the laws of physics demand it--but the pushing, shoving, mouth-breathing sort of behavior that's so common elsewhere in life, is pretty damn rare in cycling circles. Is it that cycling somehow attracts an exceptionally good crowd of people? Maybe. Or maybe the people who are attracted to turning circles for hours on end aren't inherently good, but rather it’s the act of riding your bike that makes you a better person...Perhaps it's simply difficult to be a wanker when you've spent the past two hours pedaling along on a jumbo-version of a child's toy, wind in your hair, feeling free. I know I'm less of a jerk when I've been out for a ride. Maybe the same is true for other people. Maybe what the world needs is more time on a bike.

Me? I just want to get out of this strange man's lap. It's been a long, long day and I miss my bike.