Lighten Up People
When you are first you face ridicule. Be brave, because if you are going to be first then you are going to stand out. “Seatbelts, in cars? Ridiculous!” “What’s the harm a little lead in gasoline could do, really?” “A safety-bar on my chainsaw? What’ll this nanny state think of next?” pondered Lefty. How often has our society, and we as individuals, trailed the warnings because we dismissed them as silly? “If everybody is still warming up their cars in the garage, then I am too.” The power of conformity…right over the cliff. Be brave, stand out.
I wasn’t shocked but I did notice. All the laborers here were decked in work trousers and shorts with big reflective strips. If their day-glow green or yellow coveralls were bright enough, then the strips guaranteed visibility. Okay, I chalked that up to strong unionization and workplace rules in Norway. Europe, lots of rules.
Then Meghan pointed out all the preschool groups. Flocks of two to five year olds walking here and playing there clad in orange or highlight vests…with reflective strips. Ahh, maybe early childhood socialization to accept the wearing of high visibility work clothes with reflectors? The Scandinavians are clever that way.
I remember my first bike helmet, I was 14. I felt like the only person in Monroe county Wisconsin with a bike helmet, certainly the only kid. I had crashed plenty of times on my bike, why now? I wanted to be a serious biker. I lobbied my parents to drive me all the way to Madison to buy a real road bike from a real shop. Something like all those damn hippies and liberals in Madison would go to – I just channeled my Dad’s inner voice – a store where the workers rode bikes. The opposite of the Shopko or Pamida selection and service for bicycles: Williamson Bicycle Works.
So I bought a real bike, a Schwinn LeTour in red, 21 speeds! To my horror dad tried to haggle the guy for kickstand. I also left with a pair of real biking shorts, you could get them in any color as long as they were black, and a helmet. The helmet has been lost to time, the shorts worn out but I still have the bike-and the receipt. Since that first helmet I have owned many.
If I ride in a car, I use the belt, period. It just wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t. And when I ride a bicycle I wear a helmet. I get the creeps the few times I steal a quick jaunt on two wheels without it. In Norway, I don’t go anywhere without my refleks.
Reflective patches, strips, badges…adorn every person it seems. Refleks are just part of the fashion. Refleks are available in almost any store. Refleks is the right thing to do. Refleks is the law.
On an exploratory run in August I ran past a home with a sign for all the world to see. I took the sign as a distillation of the Norwegian sentiment towards the value of people and how sharply it contrasted with those from America. My translation, “In Norway we have many children, but none to spare.” That is, every child is precious, Norway can’t afford to lose (death) a single one. Given the state of children in America, in my pessimistic moments I envisioned that sign in the States saying, “America has lots of kids, we’ll make more.”
What is the price of human-car collisions? Humans always lose. Refleks are cheap. Refleks don’t need electricity. If “Everybody does it,” then refleks are the thing to do.
My sons have lime vests with refleks, like all the other kids. Ryal came home with schwag from a school presentation – refleks armband. Meghan has her vest. My yellow refleks vest was a treasure I found abandoned in an alley (it was there for 3 days and no one picked it up-fair game).
I brought my original refleks running vest from America, it’s almost 25 years old. The overlay is finally “cool” because no one in Norway has one like it. I bought new straps that I wear at my knees for running. I am going to buy dayglow refleks spats for my running shoes when I get back to Stavanger next week.
I am a nerd, and more (much more) safety conscious than most (I really identified with SNL’s Anal Retentive Chef and Safety Homer). But even I always took an assertive position as a pedestrian or bicyclist in America. I presumed that if I could see your car then you could see me…you better! I rode my bike as if I was a big and visible truck. Of course, when I was driving, I was complaining about walkers and bikers on the road who were too hard to see – you too?
I ran Ironman Wisconsin in 2004; I was skeptical that we really needed to have some reflective pieces on our persons when we were still on the course after sunset. “It’s a closed course for Pete’s sake!” I begrudgingly bought an ankle strap, still have that too despite Lambeau’s attempt to eat it.
In Norway, “Everybody does it.” You wear your refleks for yourself, for motorists, for society…everybody does it. To do otherwise would be to stand out for all the wrong reasons.
I have a challenge for you, to be brave and to stand out: buy and wear reflective garments and accessories. You will be first and passers-by will think you look ridiculous (secretly they will be envious of your courage). Reflective gear practically, “Don’t cost nothing.” Start a trend, encourage your friends, save a life.
I hope to see a surprising proliferation of reflective-wear clad Americans when I return. Please do your part. I have enough crusades that I’m working on. Seriously, lighten up people!
Links to a random assortment of suppliers (I have no financial gain)