Sunday, October 10, 2010

Setting the Default Switch

My day begins at 3:00 in the morning. And today, by 4:30 I was wishing for a do-over. I was delivering my first load of gasoline at a station in Murphysboro, Illinois when a late-model, Red Ford Focus pulled up near my truck. The driver got out and walked toward me holding out two pairs of shoes.

"Hey Buddy! Will you buy these from me? Twenty dollars."

Startled, I responded that I didn't need them; I said no thanks.

"They're Sketchers! I need gas money." He blurted out.

I was already walking away and repeated my no thanks. He drove off and I immediately began feeling bad. I had said no rather quickly. And once I responded negatively, circumstance and pride combined to keep me from looking further into the matter. I had $19 in my wallet. What if it was legitimate and I'd missed an opportunity to help someone?

My "default switch" is set to NO when I'm approached by a panhandler. It's easier that way. There is no way to check out their story, and I'm usually on the way to somewhere - and need to get there soon.

I remember a similar incident nearly a year ago. A late model Cadillac with 6 middle-aged African Americans - both male and female - stopped at a gas station where I was delivering gas. The driver approached me and asked for gas money; he said they were on the way to Chicago for a funeral and had no money.

"Sure! Just what do you take me for?" The voice in my head said.

I just said no. My default switch decided for me. I suggested that, since it was a Sunday morning, they might try calling a church. Church people would fall all over themselves on a Sunday to help someone. To my surprise, he did just that. I listened as he called two churches and was turned down by both. Before he could call the third one, I hurried over, conscience-stricken, and told him to fill his tank. I went inside and paid for it. I can still remember the look on the cashier's face when I told her I was paying for their gas. Her default switch was set just like mine.

"WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH CYCLING?" You're asking by now (if you haven't already deleted this post).

In every area of life we have a default switch. In long-distance cycling, you have two positions:
QUIT IF YOU NEED TO and DO NOT QUIT. Rule number 1: A rider's choice to quit or DNF an event is entirely his/her own to make. No one else can or should help, and certainly no one has the right to criticize.

Last June, I and others, began a 600 kilometer (375 miles) event that some didn't finish. The heat and the humidity were both in the high nineties that weekend. When one rider in particular packed it in, I can't say that I was surprised. Not because he wasn't a strong rider, he has ridden much longer rides; he is much stronger than I am. But in a conversation a couple of weeks before the event, he had said that he wasn't even sure he would start. He said that he didn't need a full series finish, he had finished plenty of other series. He default switch was set to "QUIT IF YOU NEED TO".

I, on the other hand, had never finished a full series, I wanted to apply for RBA in a year or two and therefore needed the experience and "street cred", and that event was my June event for the R-12 award. I had to finish. My default switch was set to "DO NOT QUIT".

It works the same with any other area of life. Want to quit smoking? Set the default switch to "NO THANK YOU, I DON'T SMOKE". Want to be faithful to your wife when you're out of town? Set the default switch to "NO THANK YOU, I'M HAPPILY MARRIED TO A WONDERFUL WOMAN". Want to lose some weight? Set the default switch to "NO THANK YOU, I'M GOING TO RIDE THE ENDLESS MOUNTAINS 1240 KILOMETER RIDE NEXT YEAR. I DON'T NEED ANY EXTRA WEIGHT ON THE BIKE". See how it works? It's not foolproof, but it can help.

Here's how my day ended. While delivering gas to a station in Christopher, Illinois, I was approached by a scruffy man with no arms. (They had obviously been amputated just below the elbow.)

"Hey Buddy. Can you do me a favor?" He asked as he walked up.

I was ready, this time.

"I might." I replied. "First you tell me what happened to your arms."

He told me that he'd lost his arms to bone cancer. And some of his feet as well. He also had lung cancer from smoking and liver disease from drinking. Then he asked me for a couple of dollars. The surprising thing was that he told me the money was for beer and cigarettes!

"Isn't that the very thing you say is killing you?" I asked.

"Yeah." He replied. "But what difference does it make now?"

I gave him four dollars towards his beer and cigarettes. I was tempted to follow him into the store just to make sure that he didn't spend it on bread and milk. But I decided not to.

A default switch has the power to control your decisions when you have to make one quickly. The setting that you choose is important. I'm not sure what setting I'll use in the future for panhandlers. I get tired of feeling bad. Maybe I'll modify my switch so that I have a third option - "maybe". But in my cycling, I'll try to keep my default switch set to "DO NOT QUIT - EVER" or something similar. This might just be anecdotal, but I've not met anyone who felt bad because they didn't quit.

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