Borrowed Time

We were making spaghetti sauce, and had gotten to the point of adding the seasonings when we discovered that we didn’t have all the herbs we needed. It was late and the stores were closed, so I went next door to try and borrow some …

Well, no.

What I’m really borrowing is the time since around 9 HST on the morning of 26 October, when Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba came within inches of becoming a somewhat large and rather messy hood ornament. That car pretty much had me dead to rights. And I don’t mean the 300-pages-and-a-book-deal, Kim Harrison / Charlaine Harris kind of dead, either.

If you live in southeast O‘ahu and wish to get to Chaminade University or the University of Hawai‘i at Mânoa by bicycle, you have a choice of routes.

You can take Waialae Avenue. Or …

You can take Waialae Avenue.

That’s because, between the mountains of southeastern O‘ahu and the deep blue sea, there is room for exactly one east-west road, the Kalaniana‘ole Highway. Which is almost as wide as its name. That one road morphs abruptly into the eastern end of O‘ahu’s (ahem) Interstate Highway System, from which bicycles are verboten. From this trap, there is but a single escape.

Waialae Avenue.

Which passes through a shopping mall, then rises 160 feet in two stages to the crest of a hill, which marks the beginning of a mile-long business district, at the end of which are the Chaminade and UH-Mânoa campuses along with two private high schools.

City planners, of course, recognized the needs of the bike riders who had no choice but to take this route to some of the busiest places in town, and designed the road with wide berms for the required riding lanes. Right?

Silly malihini.

The berms, where they exist at all, are narrow and full of potholes, drains, and other obstacles. Bicycles are, according to the rules of the road, vehicles just like buses, semis, and Hummers, so the sidewalks are legally off-limits. Not that it matters, because, at several places along Waialae Avenue, there are no sidewalks. Including one location, with neither berm nor sidewalk, in which traffic coming from the left (me) must merge with traffic coming from the right – at 60 mph straight off the (ahem) Interstate. All of this at a 10% grade going uphill.

The sidewalks that are in place are frequently narrow, even rougher than the street pavement (sometimes, they are mere dirt tracks) and are full of pedestrians and cyclists who either have never heard of the road rules or choose to ignore them. Pedestrians have died from being run over by bicyclists on sidewalks. Crede expertum: I lost a scientific colleague in precisely this way.

I am told that, in the vicinity of the UH-Mânoa campus, special road rules legalize bicycle operation on the sidewalks. See “pedestrians have died”, supra. My bike remains on the street, riding with the flow of traffic, like the vehicle it is in law and in fact. And where I am safer among the cars than among the heedless riders and wanderers on the sidewalks.

At least, that’s what I thought I was.

Have I mentioned yet that Honolulu is officially acknowledged to have the worst rush-hour traffic in the United States?

Which probably made the driver of the car Koko Head (east)-bound late for class. He – I know it was a ‘he’, I saw the whites of his eyes – saw a tiny gap in ‘Ewa (west)-bound car traffic, and gunned his blue sedan into a left turn across that traffic, into the Chaminade University access road.

And straight at Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba, who had already entered the intersection and was legally entitled to the right of way.

I believe the ‘defensive driving’ program instructors call this kind of thing “dead right”.

I still don’t know how we avoided contact. Some combination of me pedaling for dear life (duh) and his fancy wheel turning. Whatever it was, he’s not having to defend himself against a charge of vehicular homicide.

And I’m writing this blog entry on borrowed time.

I suppose somebody will ask what I’m doing on a bicycle at all, never mind on such a hazardous route as Waialae Avenue. Can’t I afford to drive?

Well, no, I can’t. On a practical level or a philosophical one. You may remember, I once figured out it would cost me around US$14 a day to own a car if it never left the driveway. Last I knew, Hawai‘i was in a recession so bad, the state has had to close the public schools. So how is it that all these people can afford to drive?

And I have written that all efforts to thwart anthropogenic global warming are futile unless we start by slashing our use of resources, not by some token Hopen Hagen handwaving amount, but by three-fourths of present-day levels. I wonder if my blue sedan driver is one of those young people who enthusiastically attends “save the planet” rallies, then gets into his car – by himself – and drives home.

Besides. We keep hearing about how fat and unfit We the People are. It has always bothered me that people of a certain lifestyle – including many folk with whom I have worked – drive themselves back and forth from their jobs and then go off to some fancy gym or club “for exercise”. If I need exercise, I get as much of it as possible as part of the job or the commute. Anything else is rubbing it into the faces of those who have no choice about the “exercise” bit; they do it if they wish to eat.

So, in the morning, I will be back on the bicycle, back on Waialae Avenue. If I’m going to be on borrowed time anyway, I may as well see how much my credit will stand.

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.


  1. Glad you’re here posting, pal and glad they named an important road after my dog, even if they got the spelling wrong. I used to commute by bicycle and am on borrowed time a few times over. I now prefer to risk AGW theory rather than the the crumpled noggin theory.

  2. Well, I’m glad you survived, and very glad you’re on your bike.

    When our kids came along, I did the math: between childcare, the higher tax bracket, and buying a second car for me to go to work with, my working would have *cost* us money. I wonder how many people are working without really looking at their alternatives.

    Is Hawaii considering ‘congestion charges’ like London imposed on their city centre? I often thought that perhaps it would be better to offer tax incentives to those who commute in greener ways, but can’t see that happening in times like these.

    I had to laugh at the driving to the gym line—I’ve said that a lot too! How much cheaper would it be, to simpy run to the gym and back home again every day, and never go in at all?

    • No congestion charges, Susan. I don’t even wish to think about the political nightmare such a proposal would be here.

      I am a vehement opponent of all tax incentives, on the principle that they breed a culture of tax avoidance, leading to a breakdown of the system when Joe Bloggs, who lacks the clout or the connections get in among the breaks, or the money for the accountant to figure them all out, revolts against all taxes. Which then puts teachers on furlough and reduces public schools to tarpaper shacks, when and if they get to open. I want a “flat tax”, where everyone pays at the same rate, and there are no exceptions. Then, when someone tries the “give me a tax break or else” extortion, social pressure (what the blooming hell’s your problem, not paying your fair share, mate?!?) has a snowball’s chance of being applied. For things that society really wishes to promote, direct incentives may be used – and, of course, those direct incentives will be far clearer to voters than the smokescreen that most tax incentives amount to.

      How much cheaper would it be, to simpy run to the gym and back home again every day

      Not cheaper at all, in fact it would cost far too much. No style points – which, of course, are all that really matter.

  3. Is the USA still living in the days of National Geographic Chevrolet Impala adverts?
    When I was knee high to a petrol pump and dad owned a backfiring clapped out motor bike and sidecar combination I used to collect the toy cars – the Dinky Cars – a Pontiac Parisienne was one I had. And I remember I was always a little peeved because those American cars were so much bigger and flashier than our little Sunbeam Talbots and Hillman Minxes. Well here we are, 50 years on, and I read in the paper that an old woman is fined $100 in California for crossing the road too slowly … beep beep beeep beep bep beeeep … well that’s progress for you.

  4. Mom, the name Waialae actually means “mud hen” (‘alae) “water” (wai), or “habitat of the Hawai‘ian gallinule“. Some people might think that the bird’s voice approaches screaming. However, the name implies a place of value (source of fresh water), peace, and power, the gallinule considered to be one of the earliest benefactors of humankind in Hawai‘ian mythology. Too bad we’ve ruined it.

    Re: the gym. I grew up on a golf course. Caddying, mowing the grass, raking the traps, etc. For which I was deemed not worthy to play, except late at night and out of sight. Had I applied, they might have accepted me into membership … but with what they were paying us, I could cover their dues or go to college, not both. I went to college. And have since avoided clubs.

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