“Get the fuck off the road!”
-Abraham Lincoln, from the “Gettysburg Address”
Just kidding. This gem was–you guessed it–yelled at me by a guy in a passing car on my ride today as I waited in a turn lane.
Every cyclist has heard someone shout that, or something like it. Unfortunately, unless you live in Amsterdam or Majorca or another cycling paradise, you deal with rude drivers. Hell, I’m sure it happens even in the most shining, glossy, polished, platinum bike-friendly cities. At best, they are angry. At worst, they are a threat to your life.
But there is a second part to this story. As he drove away I aimed a not-quiet “Fuck you!” in the general direction of his quickly receding black sedan. He was already too far away to hear, and with the noise of traffic wouldn’t have heard it unless I was right next to his rolled down window.
After I made the turn and continued riding, I pondered my split-second interaction. First I thought about him, an anonymous angry man who apparently had a problem with me using a public road in a vehicle that wasn’t breathing carbon dioxide into the air. Screw him. How uneducated and unhappy do you have to be to yell at cyclists? What kind of power trip are you on? But those thoughts didn’t lead anywhere, at least anywhere new or interesting. Unfortunately there are assholes on the road, and dealing with them is part of being a cyclist. Being upset about them, without further action (getting involved in advocacy, riding as safely as possible), won’t accomplish anything.
Then I thought about my reaction. And I was ashamed of it. What if he had heard me, if I had said it right to his face? Would it have changed his already-formed opinion of me as a douche in lyrca? Unlikely. It would have only confirmed his opinion, transforming it from baseless to plausible. And he would have carried that opinion around and yelled at the next cyclist he passed, maybe getting a similar reaction, another confirmation of an opinion that began as a mirage.
It would have been much more decent of me, I realized, to say nothing. Or, better yet, to say “Have a nice day, sir,” with a smile on my face. I won’t lie and say this would be a genuine sentiment. It wouldn’t be. But it would have a couple benefits. First, seeing his reaction would be a lot of fun. When people are spoiling for a fight and get the opposite, it throws them off. Their response is either more anger or less anger. Which brings me to the second benefit: the chance of de-escalation. Maybe he would have freaked out and yelled some more. That’s certainly a possibility. But it’s just as likely that he would have felt shame, and reconsidered why exactly he felt the need to yell at a perfectly nice fellow human just out for a bike ride on a beautiful day, and maybe not yelled at the next cyclist.
Problem is, my reaction was so instantaneous. So utterly thoughtless. It escaped my lips before I even fully comprehended the situation, like a shriek in a haunted house or a string of curse words from someone who has just dropped an anvil on their foot. In fact, a couple more times on this very ride, I responded in similar ways to other drivers. Yes, they were being idiots and endangering my life, but still. I need to be more mindful, more measured in my responses. I don’t want to be the person who yells “fuck you” when something happens. I just don’t. I want to either be able to pause and actually think before reacting, or at least to ingrain a new set of instantaneous responses that aren’t so defensive and aggressive. Re-committing to daily meditation would be a good first step.
So, in summary: As cyclists, let’s not act in a way that confirms stereotypes and makes it more likely that people will continue drive in a manner that puts our friends and family at risk. We can be better than that. We are better than that. So the next time someone cuts me off or tells me to ride on the sidewalk (LOL), I’m going to try to do my part.