Chlorinating the Gene Pool

Chlorinating the Gene Pool

Chlorinating the Gene Pool

While I will probably never make the short list for membership in MENSA, I do hope that I possess enough common sense to avoid some of the truly through-provoking behavior that I see on display every winter along the streets of Ann Arbor. Given the locale, you would think that the population in general would also possess such common sense. But, admittedly, you’re always going to have outliers in one direction or the other. But that doesn’t account for the number of people I see running or cycling in the dark without a stitch of reflective clothing.

While Ann Arbor is hardly an urban metropolis, we do have a number of streets that have a healthy amount of vehicular traffic every morning and evening. And while some of these streets do have bike lanes, they’re really more for show (or to isolate the target) than for functionality. Most runners stick to the sidewalks, of course, although some do prefer the asphalt - especially when the sidewalks are (ironically) filled with cyclists. But sidewalk or no, it’s still awfully hard to detect a dark-clothed pedestrian until you are within a few feet of him.

The “ghost runner” phenomenon has been a pet peeve of mine for years. I realize that not everyone has the money to purchase one of those high-tech illuminate reflective jackets that light up like the Las Vegas strip, but how about at least a $10 reflective safety vest from Meijer? No, I don’t really like them much, either, and yes, they do get kind of slimy after a few sweaty long runs, but I’d rather deal with a little of my own slime than several weeks in the hospital. For those who argue that they pay attention to their surroundings and are on the lookout for approaching vehicles, I say, how fortunate that you will never, ever become distracted during your run and fail to notice the car being driven by the person who is late to work, is trying to call his boss on the cell phone, and hasn’t had a chance to finish his morning coffee. How nice it must be to live such a charmed life. In a collision between a human and an auto, my money’s on the auto. I’ve never taken a physics course, but this one seems like a no-brainer.

The invention of the Walkman (and subsequent devices) has exponentially increased this risk. I’m not a big fan of running with iPods or Nanos anyway because I think they invite a false sense of security and distract people from their surroundings. Although I’ve heard countless runners argue to the contrary, I wish I had a dollar for every iPod-clad person whom I’ve scared out of her wits when I cruise by from behind - even if I’ve announced my impending approach in advance. For those who argue that it’s just as easy to get lost in one’s thoughts, I agree, but one’s thoughts usually do not involve ear buds that mute external noise. Drowning out the voices in your head - that’s a different issue.

I usually refer to ghost runners/cyclists as “Darwin Award Nominees.” The Darwin Awards “commemorate those who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it.” ( Previous winners include the two guys who decided test their physical endurance by hanging from a freeway overpass, the guy who tried to weld a chain to a live grenade, and the guy who peered inside a rocket launching tube to see where all the pretty fireworks were coming from. While running or cycling in dark clothing isn’t nearly as entertaining, the end result can be the same: Tragedy. And while the Darwin Awards take a humorous approach to idiotic behavior, the outcomes are far from humorous, not only for “Darwinista” herself, but also for any unfortunate soul who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don’t want to be the person who accidentally kills some kid’s father. I don’t want to be the person who permanently cripples some former college athlete. I don’t want to lay awake at night with the vision of a body falling in front of my headlights.

Many years ago, my grandfather accidentally hit a child who had run into the street to chase his baseball. The kid darted out from behind a parked car and my grandfather had no time to react. The child survived but was permanently disabled. Even though he wasn’t at fault, my grandfather - himself the father of ten - never drove again. I sometimes wonder how long it took before the sound of the child’s body hitting his fender faded away. Maybe it never did.

So please, people, think before you act. Think about your responsibility to yourself and to the people you love. Think about strangers whose lives may be shattered forever by your behavior. A slimy reflective vest is a small price to pay to avoid improving our gene pool.