The thunder started just before 7 this morning. I knew it was coming. I had been up since quarter after five - occasionally going outside to see the dark clouds moving in from the west. I checked the weather radar and confirmed the storms approaching.
The weather was a disappointment, as I was going to ride my bike to work.
So when I heard the first thunder I thought I’d better get moving RIGHT NOW. I quickly threw on some biking clothes, grabbed my helmet, yelled at MSL that I was leaving, and hit the road to beat the rain.
It is only nine blocks from our house to the church and it is all downhill. It’s a sprint, really. The only interruptions are the stop signs at College, Walnut, Tremont, Franklin and Clay Streets. That’s a lot of stop signs in nine blocks.
Bicyclists have a bad reputation when it comes to traffic laws, and they’ve (we’ve) earned it. Enough bicyclists behave as if the rules of the road don’t apply to them that we’ve lost our respect among motorists. It is not uncommon to see cyclists riding the wrong way on one-way streets, or blasting through stop signs. It’s not just impolite, it’s dangerous and it’s illegal.
As a cyclist, I take a bit of pride in my obedience of traffic laws. I won’t ride the wrong way on a one-way street. I clearly signal my turns when I’m riding in traffic. And, I stop at stop signs … at least as well as I do when I’m driving my car. Sometimes it may not be a full, complete stop, but definitely a drastic slowing so that crossing traffic has the full freedom to pass in front of me. I’ll gladly wait my turn. It is my mission as a cyclist to show the motoring world that cyclists aren’t all unpredictable jerks.
Except as I rolled my bike out the back door and onto the patio this morning, the first drops of rain were beginning to fall and the gusty breeze had that “here it comes” feel. I didn’t want to sit in wet clothes all morning, so speed was essential. At the top of the driveway I looked for cross traffic and the street was clear. A few quick pedal strokes had me hauling ass on 9th Street as a nice tailwind pushed me east.
It thundered again as I approached the College Street stop sign where lines of sight aren’t very good. I swiveled my head left, right, left, right, left, right looking for cross traffic. It was clear. As much as I hated doing so, I ran the stop sign. I only had nine blocks to go and I was racing a thunderstorm. I hoped nobody was watching.
I was rolling downhill with a ton of momentum, trying to get to work before it rained any harder. Olive Street doesn’t have a stop sign but I always look carefully at every cross street because I don’t want to get hit. It was clear. Walnut and Iowa and Streets were slow-n-gos, too.
Now, the Cedar Falls Police Department has a few unmarked vehicles that they regularly use for patrol, and one of them is a dark gray, almost black, Ford Explorer. I see it in our neighborhood all the time. I see it parked outside the police station. That Ford Explorer is on the list I keep in my brain of cars to watch out for as I’m on the street.
And I want you to know that I was not out of control - running through stop signs. My bike has powerful brakes and I was never in a position that I couldn’t stop if I had to.
At Tremont Street, I had to. I approached the intersection, and its stop sign, with a full head of steam. Like at all the other intersections, I was looking left, right, left, right, left, right and just as I was about to commit to blowing through the stop sign, there’s a dark gray Ford Explorer coming from the right.
I grabbed handfulls of brake levers and skidded to a stop just behind the stop sign. The Explorer driver stopped, too, because he thought I was going to go in front of him.
It’s called a “trackstand” when you stand there on your pedals, balancing your bike without putting your foot down on the ground. I can do it for a few seconds - sometimes long enough to endure a traffic light sequence.
So I’m trackstanding at the intersection of 9th and Tremont and the Explorer driver and me are staring right at each other. Rain is falling lightly, and it is thundering and I don’t want to be out here when the clouds burst. I just want him to get out of my way so I can get to the church.
I gesture with my head and say “Go” to him. He sits there looking at me, trackstanding in the rain. I can see the CFPD patch on his shoulder. Cops are trained to be the authority … to be the ones in command of a situation … to give orders, not take them. I gesture and “Go” at him a second time and again he continues to just sit there looking at me.
I was pretty sure he was going to want to have a conversation with me - maybe even give me a ticket because we both knew I intended to run that stop sign. I was waiting for all those hidden LEDs to light up and his window to go down.
I can’t hold a trackstand forever, so in an exaggerated way I looked upward to draw his attention to the rain, then I looked right back at him and a third time I said, rather firmly, “Go”.
And he nodded at me, and did.
I sprinted the last three blocks to the church - but stopped fully, completely, legally, at the two remaining stop signs.
One of the things I had to get done early at the office today was to write a short devotion to start our church staff meeting - it was my turn. When I left the house I had no clue what sort of meditation or lesson I would share, and then on the way to work, this whole thing happened and the lesson fell out of the sky with the rain.
By the grace of the officer, I got to work only a little damp and grace is certainly something I can talk about at a church staff meeting. Further, I was fully reminded that obedience isn’t just an expectation, it is a mandate, and we never really get away with anything. Our trespasses do not go unnoticed. When we’re not behaving as we should, those who need to know, eventually will.
So that was my teaching moment for today. If you want to turn it spiritual, do a little googling for Bible verses on grace or obedience and write a short prayer and you'll have yourself a cute little devotional lesson. You're welcome.