I’m always a little hesitant to relay stories like this because it makes riding seem so much scarier than it really is. There are a few things you should keep in mind as you read such stories from me. For one, I ride in the heart of rush hour, Monday through Friday, things are bound to happen. Two, I sometimes go for many months and a thousand miles without a single bad interaction. Lastly, even though I’m not sure why, I seem to enjoy a good confrontation and might even possibly, if I’m honest with myself, be on the look out for them.
Confronting a driver is really not a smart thing to do. It is rarely a good interaction. I have done it several times with mixed results. On the extreme end of what could go wrong, I could end up being shot in the face by some raging lunatic willing to escalate the situation more than I am. Most often, my adversaries probably leave the situations thinking I’m not only an idiot for being on the road riding in the first place but now they also think I’m just a big argumentative jerk. They may even attribute my abrasiveness to every other bike they encounter from now on and that would be a loss for cycling advocacy. I really do try, and for the most part I am successful, to maintain a passive outlook on other vehicles. I try to see them as big mobile obstacles in my path. Some are aggressive and some are docile. I try to act like it makes no difference to me what they do or say as long as I make it home to my family alive. But other times, cars will do something so aggressive and idiotic that I just can’t contain myself and I have to chase them down and say something. This is what happened last Thursday.
I was riding past the high school near our house which is always a great place to find a bad driver. I was pedaling slightly uphill, but still traveling fast, about to pass the entrance to the front of the high school when a van began to pass me. I watched him approach from behind in my handlebar mirror. He left a nice wide space between us, most people do and I greatly appreciate it. I stay alert whenever cars are anywhere near me. They have a tendency to make erratic moves and if you aren’t ready you may get caught in the crossfire. The trouble started as his rear bumper began to pass when he suddenly turns hard to the right across my path while simultaneously slamming on his brakes to keep his van from flipping over trying to make a hard turn at 30 mph. I slam on my brakes and turn with him into the driveway to keep myself from slamming into the side of his van. I did what I often do when running or riding and a car cuts close enough to me to reach out and touch it, I spit on his window and yelled, “What the hell?” Spitting on cars is not a great habit. I know this . . . but . . .well . . . okay there are no excuses for such childish behavior but he did almost kill me. If it makes it any better I rarely actually hit the cars with my spit.
He continued on into the circle drive to the front of the high school while I took a deep breath and turned back out on the road. And that’s when I was hit by the ignorant but oh so compelling voices of testosterone, the voice that whispers into a man’s ear at such times. “Are you going to let him get away with that? You know he did that on purpose just to make you mad!” I was hearing this conversation as I was just about to ride past the exit side of the circle drive where the van was now parked at the curb waiting to pick someone up. In a blurry haze from the adrenaline still coursing through me from the close call, I turned into the exit side of the driveway and rode towards the van. He needed to know I’m not the kind of guy who will just sit back and let him try to kill me.
As I rode toward the van I had my first chance to size up the driver. By this I mean apply all the general stereotypes that came to mind. The van was an old beat up mini-van with a logo advertising an auto mechanic. Great, this kind of guy probably thinks bikes on the road should be illegal and anyone riding one is gay. As I get closer, I could see he was a strongly built male which instantly put me more on guard than if it were say, an overweight older lady. He was going to be trouble for sure and he might even be tough enough to make it challenging. I almost had second thoughts and considered just riding past, settling for the evil eye encounter instead of a full ear full version. I pulled to a stop just in front of his door so he couldn’t hit me with it when he jumped out for the confrontation I knew was about to ensue. I think this is the first time he even noticed that I was coming for him. He looked up at me with the same look they all do when I get to their window, shocked and surprised. His first thought must have been, “How did this guy on a bike just catch me?” However, when he finally opened the door, it was me that was taken aback.
I am never quite satisfied with the words I choose in the heat of the moment. I always think of the perfect witty and clever things to say about 20 minutes later when my temper has cooled and I have replayed the situation in my head 100 times over. Unfortunately, in a confrontation like this there is no time to sit and wait for exactly the right thing to say so you have to shoot from the hip. As soon as he opened his door I led with, “Nice turn, dude! You couldn’t wait 2 more seconds?” While not my smoothest and most scathing opening, I did manage to control my breathing this time as usually I am so out of breath from trying to catch them they probably don't even understand me. This is when the part I was not expecting happened. He replies with, “I’m so sorry! I knew right after I did it that I had cut you off and I really apologize. I saw your light and everything. I should have waited. I’m really so sorry!” Way to kill the moment, man! He seemed totally sincere. He looked and sounded truly apologetic. He was admitting fault and didn’t offer excuses. Now I really didn’t know what to say or do. It instantly diffused the situation. I ended up telling him thanks for understanding my position and we parted ways with a handshake. Okay, so not all confrontations end badly. I wish they all ended by peacefully validating me like this one did.
I’m not sure why I feel the need to chase some people down to let them know how they offended me. I have never chased someone down in my car to tell them they just cut me off. I suppose it’s because you are so much more vulnerable on the bike than you are when you are encased in the steel and glass of your car that you take such slights more personally. Because of this event, I have to wonder about other times I have gotten so angry about the boneheaded move of some car. Could it be they are simply accidents and not an intentional insult to my right to the road? Even if they are, does that matter? Safe to say, me chasing them down and getting in their face is not the best way to handle it. At least it makes good blog fodder.
Week of May 2 - Bike 80, Run 35, D 10, U 5