USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘road’
general
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ghost Bikes

The informant (J) is a 22 year old college graduate who just started his first real job. He got into bicycling during the summer of 2012 when he was renting a room in Sunnyvale, California near his summer internship. Though he had had bikes prior to that summer, he began to rely on his bike exclusively for the 8 mile round-trip to his workplace from his rented room. He borrowed a bike from his mother’s friend but eventually bought his own once he got his first couple paychecks. He purchased a mid-end road bike and quickly got wrapped up in the biking communities on sites like reddit.com/r/bicycling. Though his commute was short, the threat of being hit by cars is always on the top of serious bicyclists’ minds, especially when cycling in the street. I first asked about his biking knowledge when I encountered a white bike chained to a pole near Union Station in Los Angeles, California. He learned about this from the people he talks to on the internet about biking, since none of his real-life friends like to ride in the same way he does. He had heard of the practice before he saw his first ghost bike. The following is a paraphrase of the information he gave me regarding the practice.

“The white bikes are called ghost bikes. They get put up when a cyclist dies on the road. They just find a bike and paint it white before chaining it to a pole or something near the spot the cyclist was killed. They usually get put up by the friends of the cyclists, if they know about the ghost bikes, but they can also be put up by random cyclists if they hear about the accident and are familiar with the idea. At first, there are usually pictures and candles and stuff along with the bike but the bike usually stays there longer than all that stuff. They do have to chain the bike to something or assholes will steal the bike even though it’s basically like one of those crosses they put on the side of the road when some dies in a car accident or a shooting or something like that. Luckily, I’ve never known anyone personally who died while cycling so I haven’t had to put one up, but I definitely notice when I see one. It’s a little weird to see one. It’s supposed to tell the drivers to be careful and watch the road”

The practice of putting up ghost bikes highlights the struggle felt between drivers and cyclists. There is tension between the two groups because a little tap won’t hurt a car, but can kill a cyclist easily, a fact that is often forgotten by those driving cars. Often, cars don’t even STOP when they hit a cyclist. The ghost bikes are a reminder that cyclists do get killed when drivers aren’t careful, both to the drivers and to the cyclists. It seems like a reminder to cyclists that even if they do everything “right,” things can still go very, very wrong. I think it unifies the cyclists under the pretense that they need to raise awareness so that other cyclists don’t suffer the same fate. The people who put these bikes up identify themselves as cyclists and the use of the bike to remember the death is representative of that. Though putting up a ghost bike is not something people want to have to do, it can serve to honor the life of the deceased by existing long after their death.

Initiations
Legends

Headlight Gang Initiation

Item:

Me: “So if you don’t believe it, why not go and just try it and see what happens?”

Informant: “Yeah but if I’m wrong that’s going to be really shitty.”

In Florida, if you see an old, beat up car driving on the freeway at night with it’s lights off, don’t flash your high beams to signal it. According to the informant’s high school friends, members of gangs purposefully drive around in these conditions to bait high beam flashing. Once someone flashes their lights to try to tell the gang car to turn its lights on at night, that person is marked. What this means is that the members of the gang will drop back and follow the person to their destination. Once there, the gang member(s) shoot and kill the person. It is a form of gang initiation.

 

Context:

The informant said this was the distinct scenario his friends described. He said they had heard it for a few years and heard of at least one instance of it happening. While he himself saw no truth to the urban legend, he stated he would not like to go looking for trouble by driving at night and flashing his brights at cars.

 

Analysis:

This is an urban legend and fear that seems to be very widespread. I personally have heard similar instances of this story in Los Angeles, with variation. It’s well-recognized by many states, and almost entirely shown to not have truth behind it. While it’s hard in some cases of road or gang violence to determine exactly what the inciting event was, many reports have been issued saying this type of initiation ritual is not real. It’s a pretty strong example of how something like an urban legend actually puts a lot of people in danger — should someone be driving around without lights on, they endanger other drivers at night. Not reminding that person of their lights being off because of a fear like this could very possibly result in negative consequences for that driver and other people. For information on more instances of the story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headlight_flashing#Urban_legend

Childhood
general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Ghost Road Less Traveled

Context: It was late one rainy Tuesday night in early November when I first approached my roommate of 3 months [the Informant] to tell me a ghost story. Like most questions proposed to my roommate, when I asked him if he knew any good stories or spirit encounters, I was met with an immediate enthusiasm for the task at hand. The Informant clearly had something he wished to present to me. Wasting very little time at all, my Informant swooped up one of the desk chairs, lowered the lights, and began sharing with me his personal ghost story. As I recorded his audio and movement, the only light in the room came from the soft glow of the LCD display on my video camera and the desk lamp which sat behind the Informant for dramatic effect. The sounds of rain  tapping against the roof and windows of the New Residence Hall could be faintly heard in the distance. What follows is the story as it was presented to me:

Interview Verbatim:

Me: “Start, whenever you are ready.”

Informant: “So, this is a personal story of mine. I was driving to a friend’s house at night, really late. I had all my windows down and uh… and uh… this was like at the point, I think this was like last year because this was the point in my life, where my eyes, my vision was getting worse and so uh… I was not driving with glasses, but uh… I was very close to my grandparent’s house, and I’ve had weird experiences in their house, as well, cause their house is like legitimately haunted. Like they even say it was, they’ve known it from like little kids, like they’d see weird shit in their windows, like people’s faces (looking out) when they were like outside, and apparently they’d bought it like near or like on top of an old Indian burial ground or land, and so that was not ah… not ah… a thrilling point for me. So I’m like literally, I’m like not even a minute like to their house is here ( he holds up a hand to represent the house)  and I’m on the road to go to it, here (holds up another hand to represent his car). So I just see like a, like this fucking thing just like run across the street, while I’m like driving, in my headlights and I’m like ‘Oh fuck!’ and I brake cause I thought, I’m almost certain at this point that it’s a deer, and I hear like a scream and I’m just like, ‘What the fuck is happening?!’ cause I hear like something hit the car, and I hear this like… literally, I thought it was like a baby dear or it sounded to me like a little child had screamed cause it was like, (gets out of chair to make ghost noise) ‘Mmmmeeeeaaaaa!!!’, so I was just like, ‘What the hell was that?!’ (begins to laugh) Hahaha! I freak out because I’m like ‘Did I just kill a deer?’, and I just like get out of the car and there is like literally nothing there. There’s no dent in my car, no trail of any sort, there’s no deer running around, and I’m just like… and I’m just like…’What is happening!’ (holds hands on his head)

Me: “What do you think it was? What you saw, I mean.”

Informant: “I think it was like the ghost of a little Indian child, now that I think about it, because when I think about like the imagery, I didn’t see like a deer. I kind of saw like this blur, like run and it had like a scream which scared the crap out of me, and then I heard a thud, so I thought I hit something and so it freaked me out.”

Me: “Do you think that it had anything to do with you being on top of the Indian burial site or near to the site?”

Informant: “Oh absolutely, without a doubt. I’ve had so many weird experiences on that road.”

Me: “Where is this road?”

Informant: “A place called Fair Oaks, in Texas. And Fair Oaks has been there for like a long time too, so there’s a lot of old land out there. So I wouldn’t be surprised about all the shit that goes on out there.”

Analysis: After hearing this story and reviewing it, I’m not really sure what to make of it. All the pieces are in place in order to create a very frightening experience, but the “skeptic” within me points to this being a simple misidentification. The fact that the Informant prefaced the story by addressing his loss of eyesight seems to indicate that this may just have been a large bird or unknown creature making its way across the road which was not seen clearly. What is, however, very interesting is the sound that supposedly accompanied the apparition, as it crossed the road and the thud he experienced from within the car. This may have possibly been a direct result of him applying the brakes very quickly and having his car jolt to a sudden stop, but it does add some credibility to the encounter. The fact that this encounter directly correlates to the former site of an Indian burial ground also seems to give this experience some validity. The Informant appeared to be shaken from this event and believes this to be evidence of the paranormal.

[geolocation]