Sunday, July 09, 2006

Bozone Alert!

It's a rite of summer. When the weather conditions cooperate, the Tulsa area experiences another bozone alert.

I'm not talking about ozone. That happens when an atmospheric 'cap' traps pollutants at ground level. Bozone is similar in that it occurs at ground level, but the atmospheric conditions are slightly different. A bozone alert most commonly happens when the temperatures cool sufficiently to allow motorists to roll their windows down. Normally, daytime temperatures here are in the mid-90s in July, but the recent mild weather has brought cooler, drier air that produced temperatures only in the 80s.

Bozone alert conditions can be highly localized. Ozone affects the entire region, but bozone can occur in an area of a mile or less. Motorists have some arcane sense that allows them to detect minute traces of bozone, and they often sound their horns as a warning to everyone in the area. A short toot warns of a low concentration, while a long blast denotes a higher one. As yet, there's no explanation for this ability. It seems to come naturally once someone possesses a driver's license. As cyclists, we should be grateful because motorists serve as our equivalent of a canary in a coalmine.

Sometimes there isn't a horn to provide a warning of a bozone alert area. I'm thinking of a crest along my commute route. Now and then, a motorist will overtake and pass me right at the crest, despite not being able to see if there's any on-coming traffic. Surely that's a bozone alert area. For that matter, any two-lane road where motorists pass a cyclist by driving into on-coming traffic must be a bozone alert area too.

For some strange reason, bozone alert areas are usually widely separated from intersections. A speeding car may sound a horn, or the driver may shout the traditional "Get the #%$@ off the road!" which is a linguistic derivation of the ancient Phoenician expression that loosely translates as "Dear me, those shorts are stunningly attractive!" Yet when they near an intersection where a cyclist could properly thank them for sounding an alert, they remain silent. The only explanation is that bozone concentrations do not occur when one road crosses another and traffic has to stop for a red light.

Another unexplained phenomenon is the effect a nearby police car has on bozone. It seems that bozone formation is almost totally suppressed when a cop is in close proximity to a cyclist, though to be fair, some police cars produce their own highly concentrated bozone in a tightly confined area. There's no way to predict which effect will occur, but anecdotal accounts seem to indicate that county sheriffs deputies experience a higher incidence of bozone concentrations.

Cyclists themselves are capable of producing bozone alerts, of course. Wrong way riders and those who routinely ignore traffic lights and simple traffic law hear a cacophony of horns. Just like those county sheriffs deputies, some cyclists seem to carry a bozone alert along as they travel. It truly is a mystery.

As for the impact of bozone on health, opinions differ greatly. Some cyclists believe that bozone represents a significant health risk. Others think that its primary effect is on those canary-in-a-coal-mine motorists. As yet, no definitive scientific research has been conducted. However, if anyone wants to send large sums of cash, preferably in unmarked bills, I may consider doing the basic research myself. And don’t send counterfeit money this time! It wasn’t funny!


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