A few weeks ago, driving out of Key Biscayne early in the morning I nervously avoided two or three packs of bicyclists who were encroaching into the right car lane. After crossing the big bridge and heading east on the Rickenbacker Causeway towards the I-95 ramp, I felt as if I was back in my youth playing a game of dodgeball.
Suddenly, I encountered one cyclist riding not in the right bicycle lane, but a few inches away from my left-side rear-view mirror, in the narrow space located between the cement wall that divides the incoming and outgoing traffic and the white street line that demarcates the end of the left car lane. A few seconds later, three cyclists impulsively and without warning began to cross in front of the outgoing traffic, all the way from the right to the left side of the car lanes.
Finally, my blood pressure went all the way up when I saw yet another cyclist coming directly at me, against traffic, in the narrow space located between the cement wall and the left car lane. These almost daily experiences remind me of the novel titled: Chronicle of a death foretold (Spanish: Cronica de una muerte anunciada) by the Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
In the book, the author describes the story of a young bride who is returned to her family in disgrace on her wedding night because the groom discovers that she is not a virgin. The bride is subjected to an intense interrogation by her deeply embarrassed family members, and as a result accuses a young man named Santiago as the culprit of the degradation.
The bride’s twin brothers vow to avenge the family honor by killing Santiago with a knife and go around town proclaiming their intentions, but no one believes them because they are good people. They leave the proposed murder weapon at the shop of the town’s milk-lady and she reports this to the Police Commissioner, who confiscates the knife and assumes he has completed his duty. However, the twins find another knife. A series of events follow in which no one warns Santiago of the twins’ intentions because, a) they feel it’s none of their business and are busy with other things, or b) they assume someone else has already warned him, or c) they envy him or dislike him and secretly wish him dead, or d) they believe he deserves to be killed.
Even the town priest hesitates to warn Santiago, thinking he has already been warned and that it should be left to the proper authorities to do the warning.
Finally, in the tragic ending Santiago is stabbed to death by the twins in front of his mother’s house while his mother stands on the other side of the door, relieved because she thinks Santiago is inside the house. The novel was loosely based on real events that occurred in an adjacent city near Garcia Marquez’s hometown of Aracataca.
In the case of the cyclists that come to Key Biscayne, the Village has taken strict zoning precautions and has even tightened the rules on drivers. In some of the fatal incidents that have occurred until now, the car drivers were irresponsible, severely intoxicated, or both. However, it seems that it is just a matter of time until an unlucky, responsible driver will be unable to avoid hitting a cyclist who is engaging in daring, daredevil, life-endangering behaviors.
Needless to say, if a cyclist gets hit by a car, it is not only a tragedy for the cyclist and his or her family, but also for the driver. In a previous article in the Islander, I wrote about our Darwinian evolutionary wiring and how in males, strenuous exercise releases hormones and neurotransmitters that prepare the individual for combat, increase his aggression, diminish the feelings of fear and the perception of pain, and provide the individual with pleasurable chemical rewards for engaging the enemy (in this case, cars).
Many attempts have been made to modify the physical environment and to control drivers, but very little has been done to penalize cyclists in order to protect them from their life-endangering behaviors. Perhaps this should be done before we end up with another Chronicle of a death foretold.
Eugenio M. Rothe, M.D. practices psychiatry in Coral Gables and is Professor of Psychiatry and Public Health at the FIU / Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and President-elect of the American Association of Social Psychiatry. He has lived in Key Biscayne for over three decades.