Samantha called me up this past weekend to tell me she was bored. I call her Samantha because I don’t like using real names in blogs. I’m afraid one of my forty-something followers is going to track her down and poach her. I can’t afford that. She’s British. And she may be just as white and English-speaking as the rest of my good friends, but she’s the closest thing I have to a diversity buddy.
It had been a long winter of meeting friends at bowling alleys, bars, restaurants, bars, fast food joints, and bars. I was surprised when, on this particular day, she suggested that we go for a hike in one of our many nearby state parks. I normally use the term “hike” to describe climbing the staircase in my apartment after work or getting out of a hotel bed to turn off my cell phone alarm clock on the other side of the room. Apparently in the United Kingdom a hike is when you walk long distances, usually up and down large hills in wooded areas, for extended periods of time.
“And what happens when we get to the end of this hike?” I asked over the phone.
“You turn around and walk back the way you came from.” She explained.
“And how many dogs are hunting us?”
“And where is the ancient gold supposed to be buried?”
“There’s no treasure, Eric.” She stated. “Now are we going or not, you daft yank?”
I ended up accepting the invitation, despite how strange it was. I had spent most of the weekend watching YouTube videos and sitting on my couch, enjoying every little dopamine release that came from each Nazi I killed in the new Wolfenstein video game. I could afford to spend a little time doing something European…like walking.
It was Memorial Day weekend, so on the drive to the hiking trail Sam was extra observant when pointing out cultural differences between the U.S. and home. On this particular drive, she was fascinated with the number of people we saw riding motorcycles without helmets on.
“You wouldn’t see that in the U.K.” She explained.
Since arriving in the states last September, she’s used this expression several hundred times to describe everything from flatbed trucks to biscuit sandwiches. But this time she made an observation that I never noticed before, having never been man enough to ride a bike myself. It seemed as though nobody in this area of Ohio was wearing any sort of protective gear. No headgear on the biker pulling out of the gas station on route 43, no headgear on the older couple sharing a ride through downtown Kent, and not a single protective item being worn on the fifteen-person gang pulling into the local bar.
“Maybe it’s fashion.” I suggested.
But I knew this wasn’t the case. Taking the helmet off of a 400 pound, bearded, redneck couple on a bike for style purposes would be the equivalent of putting a pair of Uggs on a pile of cow shit.
“Nah.” Sam said. “They’re idiots for not wearing them, but those helmets are heavy as shite.”
That was probably the reason. Why wear a helmet on a beautiful summer day? You can’t feel the cool breeze in your hair or hear the unmuffled sound of your motor as you roar down the highway. Your vision is somewhat blocked, your head gets sweaty and you can’t get a mouthful of delicious bugs. A helmet might as well be a ball and chain.
“Oh well.” Sam went on. “It’s all Darwinian. These stupid people will kill themselves and natural selection will work its magic.”
What Sam probably didn’t realize is that people who sacrifice safety for comfort most likely don’t use little rubber devices called condoms, thus they reproduce faster than they die off.
The whole discussion brought me back to a book I once read about changing habits. Tasks like losing weight or learning a new language are hard to keep up because people love instant gratification. If you run on the treadmill for an hour and don’t notice any weight loss, it’s not motivating. If you ride a bike with a helmet on and you don’t have a life-threatening accident, what was the point of the helmet? There’s no instant reward for being safe. There’s a no such thing as a Trojan fairy who appears from under the pillow and gives you a candy bar for avoiding Chlamydia.
When we got to the trail, we started walking. When we got to a certain point on the trail we walked some more. Then we continued to walk. This was followed by more walking, a brief pause to look at a map, and then even more walking. My legs began to hurt from becoming stronger. I began to sweat with the intake of Vitamin D. My heart was beating annoyingly fast as my body burned calories. It was miserable.
Then when we decided to turn around and go back the way we came from. Sam suggested we get ice cream when we got to town. That was when my spirits rose, my eyes opened wide, my mouth began to water, and I developed superhuman strength. I began sprinting with reckless disregard…