"Get the f*** off the road you f***ing faggot," yelled the young male passenger in a pickup truck overtaking me yesterday as I rode to work.
Because he yelled from behind me I was able to shove my middle finger practically inside his left nostril as the truck passed me. I'm afraid I have not mastered the soft answer that turns away wrath. If I turn the other cheek to someone who strikes me, it's a nether cheek as I moon them.
As is always the case with these manly cowards, he was happy to let his buddy keep driving the truck to carry him safely away from any real confrontation. I was just as happy, too. We exchanged various obscene semaphores until we were too far apart to make out details. Then I settled in to finish the last couple of miles to the shop. Just another day.
Ugly things happen in some riding venues all the time and in all riding venues some of the time. They increase in the summer around here as visitors from less tolerant places bring their prejudices on vacation and tempers fray among the locals because of the massive increase in traffic congestion.
The choice of insult yesterday got me thinking about what bothers bike haters so much. We must represent a threat to their traditional ideas of transportation if they feel we should be persecuted and driven off of the road. If we're allowed to ride it invalidates their lifestyle. They might even be secretly tempted to try it themselves to see what it's like. What if they like it? What if they become one of those nancy-pants bike riders sashaying along the road in their tight shorts? What's it like having that hard, narrow seat between your legs, mile after mile? Hmm... I wonder -- No! Stop! It's wrong! It's unnatural!
If God had meant us to pedal around like that He wouldn't have invented V8 engines. Biking is just wrong.
The wise rider lets the insults flow past as unheeded as the cackling of birds. Act as if nothing has happened. The official reason is that this prevents the confrontation from escalating. The secret reason is that we know the lack of response will actually piss off the attacker more than if we yelled or gestured back at them. We know that all they really want is to get a rise out of us.
By withholding a response we may actually encourage the bike hater to increase his efforts. When I flipped off the jerk yesterday, he leaned out, yelled louder and gesticulated wildly. I was disappointed that he did not actually fall out the side window of the vehicle and smash his ugly face on the pavement, but I can still hope for the future. As it was, he felt affirmed in his manhood, which was all he really wanted anyway, and I got to shift my position and stretch my arms as I made a variety of obscenely suggestive gestures at him. We both actually felt better. It all stayed safely verbal.
Interestingly, the driver of the pickup did not pass particularly closely. He or she may have been mortified at the passenger's misbehavior.
I'll take a yeller any day over a close pass. Someone who squeezes me with a potentially lethal vehicle and doesn't even consider me worth a finger or a curse is much more chilling than someone whose disrespect is respectful enough at least to address me directly. Why thank you, sir and you go f*** yourself too. Have a nice day!
It would be nicer, of course, if we all just got along. The design of our transportation system guarantees that will never happen. Conflict is inevitable between all user groups. Someone will always have to give way to someone else as we flow through the channels made too narrow -- no matter how wide -- by narrow minds thinking of only one user group's needs. Even among the motorists the inadequacies of the system cause accidents and angry confrontations. The relatively slow, vulnerable and exposed pedestrians and pedalers present a tempting target to release frustration at someone socially inferior.