A couple of weeks ago, Tailpipe got mental flashbacks to those famous pictures from Tiananmen Square where a lone man stood in the street defying four Chinese Army tanks. That's kind of what it looked like on Fort Lauderdale Beach on the evening of November 30, when bicyclist John Bochino stood in his spandex outfit and bike helmet, playing a game of chicken with a Broward County Transit bus heading north on A1A.
When the bus tried to skirt Bochino to the left, Bochino moved and blocked it. When it tried to pass on the right, Bochino switched back, blocking its path again. "I'm sick of this!" Bochino cried, holding his ten-speed like a shield between himself and the bus. The driver, Bochino claimed, had been "clearly speeding," then swerved into the bike lane and missed Bochino by an inch — something that happens all the time, he says. So Bochino raced to catch up with the bus at a stoplight and jumped in its way.
Tensions between cyclists using county bike lanes and heedless drivers, particularly bus drivers, are always coursing under the surface in South Florida, where motorists tend to think of those narrow beachside lanes as vehicular elbow room. Lately, a lot of cyclers are getting particularly testy. There's only so much diesel smoke you can eat (Tailpipe knows).
"Just about every serious cyclist I know has been hit by a car," vented Bochino, who runs a small manufacturing company. "It really is terrifying to ride around here! People don't realize the laws of the road and that a bicyclist has the same rights as someone in a motor vehicle." He says drivers are supposed to respectfully keep at least three feet away from cyclists, but instead they regularly get pissed, honk, and flick him off. This frustrates him. After all, he's doing the world a favor by putting one less car in traffic, and burning calories instead of fossil fuels.
The bus driver looked like he was tempted to make road kill out of Bochino, but he had no real choice but to throw his machine into park and turn on the hazard lights. He covered up his name tag, closed the doors, and slid his window shut. He refused to answer questions and radioed the dispatch office. Riders on the bus looked pissed.
"I feel bad for them!" Bochino said as the standoff continued. "It's not their fault. Now they're late — all because of this jerk driving like a maniac."
Bochino says he hadn't intended to stage a rare bit of civil disobedience; he was just trying to get a little empathy from the driver. "My philosophy is not to start screaming and get into a person's face," he says. "It's just to ask, 'Do you realize you came very, very close and almost hit me?' I just try to get them to acknowledge riders — and to please be more careful."
Broward County Transit spokeswoman Phyllis Berry acknowledged that drivers in general could use more education about bicyclists' rights, but she says that the proper way of resolving Bochino's conflict would have been to note the bus' route number and file an official complaint. "You gotta be careful who you do road rage with these days!" she warned.
Bochino had assumed a cop would show up to take a report, but after at least 20 minutes, none did. Asked what he'd do if cops gave him the ticket — for obstructing traffic — he decided he'd punished the driver enough, and rode away.
Was he satisfied? "Hell no!" Bochino said. "Because I know it's going to happen again."
Honest, I'm Clean!
It's been almost 15 years since Broward businessman Gonzalo Paternoster attended Hollywood Hills High, but he still remembers the guest speaker in one of his classes there. It was a guy who'd contracted AIDS from a sex partner who didn't disclose his sexually transmitted disease. "If only I'd known..." Paternoster remembers the poor dude saying.
That undying memory prompted Paternoster, now 30 and married with kids, to wake up in the middle of the night with an idea: a system that would allow participants to share — and verify — one another's STD status. On December 1, World AIDS Day, Paternoster launched the Safe Sex Passport.
It works like this: A participant pays $225 to get tested for five common diseases, plus $75 for six months' access to a PIN-protected database that contains the test results. When he meets a potential mate, he gives out an 800 number, plus his account number and password, so the partner can access his results. He can ask his partner to return the favor.
"If people interact with other Safe Sex Passport holders, it would significantly increase their chances of staying safe," Paternoster says. Even people who already have a disease would benefit by limiting their exposure to additional ones, he says.