Apologies get this year's hard feelings out of the way

December 29, 2003|By Kevin Cowherd

TODAY WE BEGIN a new tradition in this space, reflecting back on all those we offended in the past year in the hope of making things right.

No. 1 on the list of the hugely aggrieved: bicyclists, of the hard-core variety.

They complained after a column I wrote about a Lance Armstrong wannabe riding on York Road in Timonium and disrupting traffic.

This was over the busy Labor Day weekend near the state fairgrounds, where, you'll be astonished to know, they just happened to be holding the state fair.

All in all, this did not strike me as a great place to be riding a bike. Plus this dude was riding 3 or 4 feet from the curb, causing motorists in the right lane to veer into the left lane to go around him.

Anyway, as I am not a big fan of seeing bicyclists splattered all over the road or cars slamming into each other - with the requisite airbag-deploying, wailing, and trips to the ER that follow - I wrote that the guy was nuts being out there.

But a lot of bicyclists didn't see it that way.

Scores of them called and e-mailed to say bicyclists have just as much right to the road as motorists, which may be technically true, but ignores the fact that if a 2-ton SUV slams into a 30-pound bike, it will be the bicycle that is launched into a lunar orbit, and not vice versa.

Now, however, I see the error of my ways.

Cyclists, if you insist it's your God-given right to ride on congested highways near the state fairgrounds with thousands of short-tempered motorists, fine, go ahead.

Why should common sense infringe on your recreation

When you gotta ride, you gotta ride.

What was I thinking?

If the bicylists were exercised in 2003, so were the pet owners - at least those who buy Christmas gifts for their pets and take them to see Santa Claus.

I thought this was screwball behavior and wrote about it.

Well. Lots of pet owners disagreed with me. One woman left an angry voice-mail message that went on until the machine cut her off.

Then she called back and left another long message, basically castigating me for being cruel and heartless and blaming me for most of society's ills, including incivility, mad cow disease and the Sept. 11 attacks.

So, lady, help me out here. You didn't like the column, is that it?

Well, this might help. My thinking on this issue has changed completely.

Look, you want to pretend your pets are little people, you want to dress them in little Christmas sweaters and put little reindeer antlers on their heads and have 'em sit in Santa's lap so you can have an 8-by-10 glossy of the whole experience hanging over the mantelpiece, knock yourselves out.

As that great statesman of the streets Rodney King said: Can't we all get along?

In addition to the pet nuts, we also managed to offend the cranky-old-guy readership with a column about those portable basketball hoops in suburban streets.

All across the country, towns were taking steps to ban the hoops because of homeowner complaints about the noise generated by kids playing basketball. Also, the town fathers were upset because the hoops caused damage to snowplows and garbage trucks.

Me, I didn't see what the big deal was. In this day and age, should we really be discouraging kids from playing outdoors?

And getting exercise?

If it's 10 at night and the kids next door are making too much noise playing hoops, I wrote, call the parents and tell 'em to make the little monsters stop. And if that doesn't work, call the cops.

As for the snowplows and garbage trucks, if the drivers of those things are slamming into basketball hoops, maybe it's time to start hiring drivers who can actually drive.

Well, the mail poured in. Mostly from men. Mostly from elderly men.

How do I know they were elderly? Oh, little tip-offs like this: "Dear stupid, a number of us, all World War II vets, were sitting around the senior center discussing your bone-headed column of last Monday ..."

Anyway, that's all water under the dam now, senior fellows.

Because if you don't care that we're raising a generation of fat kids who can't play without a remote or a joystick in their chubby little hands, then guess what? Neither do I! (See how easy these reflection/apology columns can be?)

Finally, it was nice to see we were capable of equal-opportunity offending in this space, since we also managed to tick off a far younger demographic, namely, school kids.

Many took umbrage at a column I wrote about a new study that showed the average kid 12 and under spends just 19 minutes each night on homework.

A few kids insisted they spent way more than 19 minutes a night on homework, sounding like they practically deserved a medal for this.

But most of the mail was from whiny kids who said they lead such busy lives these days - school, Scouts, church group, swim team, blah, blah, blah - that they shouldn't have any homework at all.

Well, you know what, kids?

I've given this matter a great deal of thought. And I think you're right.

Let's get rid of homework altogether.

That way, when you're not in school - or doing Scouts, or the church group, or swim team or whatever - you'll have time for long walks with your parents, or reading a good book, or catching up with your grandparents.

And I can write another column called: Dispatches From Fantasy Land.

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