By Christopher Cudworth
I get the whole “hate cyclists” thing. I really do. There are times when I get angry at where cyclists choose to ride on the road. But rather than run them down, I want to get out and help them better understand how to ride single file on busy, narrow roads. It’s not hard.
At the same time we all wish people better knew how to separate hazards while driving on the road. This scene from Planes, Trains and Automobiles illustrates the worst case scenario.That moment when Steve Martin realizes they really are driving the “wrong way” is classic. Not only are they going the wrong way, they completely fail to separate hazards on the road! In fact they pile right between two trucks.
The scary thing about that clip is that it isn’t far from the truth with many people. Rather than think ahead to an approaching situation they bear down on and barrel through expecting the “other guy” to make room. The ability to separate hazards seems to have been forgotten since Driver’s Ed class.
Either people just don’t care how they drive, or think they know better how to drive, or they use the road as their personal palette for expression of all sorts of emotions.
It’s no small truth the fear poor driving decisions can create. When the SUV-Jeep Like Thingy buzzed me I screamed obscenities aloud. The aggression was disturbing. But not surprising.
Because I’ve seen it so many times before. The Cultural Divide. That space between liberal society where resources are shared and the segment that believes “I’ve got mine so get out of the way” has gotten broader and wider.
There are reasons. Cyclists and runners and swimmers tend to be an urban or suburban bunch. Not necessarily liberal, mind you, other than the fact that they believe sharing the road is generally a good thing.
But just try riding your bike on rural roads where pickup trucks rule and people don’t really want to see your lycra kit with pretty patterns on it. Never mind the shaved legs and all. It’s a Cultural Divide.
Now for some background: I grew up as a hick kid. There’s still a lot of hick in me to this day. It has been swept over to the liberal side in the sense that I’m a birder and an environmentalist. I’m only a casual fisherman these days, and not anti-hunting. By my roots come from fishing, hunting and knocking around the woods getting dirty.
All that backwoods stuff kept my worldview rather earthy all the way through my teens. My parents were farmers and I grew up kicking shit around a barn in Upstate New York.
When we moved to Illinois I still went to school with farm kids at a little high school in the cornfields. Yet many of my classmates were also from wealthy families recently moved to the country from the city of Chicago. And one day while standing there in the middle of the football field waiting for my turn to do the long jump, one of my track teammates walked up to me and said this: “Cudworth, you’re a hayseed.”
And in many ways, he was right. I still preferred knocking around the woods to experimenting with the urban habits of some of my classmates, which notably included powerful bongs and street drugs. Here’s the funny truth: I was a hick athlete who didn’t want to try any of that stuff.
Didn’t even have my first beer until I was a junior in high school. Can still recall the harsh rip of cold Stroh’s beer going down my throat. Then another. Then we were running around outside stupid and drunk as kids will do.
But it didn’t make me any smarter. Or sophisticated.
Sense of wonder
As the years went by my hickdom transmogrified. In college I still spent hours hiking the backwoods of Decorah, Iowa. Those wild hills were so beautiful and mysterious I began to write about them as well as paint the wildlife I saw day in and day out. That’s where I built on my sense of wonder at nature.
So I was still a hick of sorts.
That brand of hickdom has not entirely left my soul. I still love the outdoors. Camping. Riding trails. Running fields.
The country brand
However I’m not a hick in the sense that I love country music, dress in camouflage and drive a pickup. That seems to be the message of how to behave when you shop at Gander Mountain.
To me that all feels like affectation. It has nothing to do with any of the experiences I had on the farm growing up. When I went fishing with my brothers in the Susquehanna River near Bainbridge, we sang Beatles songs to each other. Even a song snippet from the Revolver album was enough to make us smile.
Though we spent hours in the field, none of my birding buddies ever liked country music. In fact my best mentor in the field was a biology teacher with a sophisticated grasp of music and a beautiful voice. He sang in church, a fact I did not learn until his funeral. Then it made me cry. Most of what I learned from him in the field, other than new bird species, was a great library of dirty jokes.
So I suppose there’s a real gap of sorts when it comes to interests and tastes. And perhaps there’s more than one kind of hick in this world. Or hayseed. Whatever you want to call it. I’m one still. I admit it.
I still find it disturbing to go shopping at Gander Mountain and be subjected to that brand of music that seems so regressively dim-witted. The twang and harangue, you might call it, rife with that ugly brand of false patriotism that confuses God and country so easily. As far as I’m concerned, America is only exceptional in one way: a segment of our population has always fought for individual equality in terms of race, gender and orientation. To me that’s the purpose of the Constitution and all it’s Amendments, plain and simple.
One cannot make generalisms about whether that’s true with Gander Mountain customers or night. Fishing and hunting obviously attract diversity. Outdoor sports are enjoyed by blacks and Asians and Indians and other Indians as well.
It does make me wonder; if country music and camouflage seem to be the dog-whistle hallmarks for outdoor sports like hunting and fishing, what is the music and symbol for those of us in the more urban sports of running, riding and swimming?
No better symbols
She’s right. We proclaim our identities one way or another.
Which probably doesn’t help the road wars any. When it comes to identities, the human race is always measuring each other up as “the other” in an attempt to grab some social advantage. Some argue that’s the entire enterprise of politics. Those who succeed in getting elected artfully pit one group of people against another to earn votes. They leave the divides intact in time for the next election. Then they add more fuel to the fire. That’s how America got where it is today. We’ve allowed ourselves to be duped into fighting with each other while the politicians and wealthy oligarchs gobble up the money.
It has made the world a much harsher place.
One wonders however, if at that moment when a driver actually or accidentally strikes a cyclist or pedestrian out of aggression, if there isn’t at least some shock of recognition and hiccup of humanity that runs through them after they’ve just run over another human being.
The blood is just like their own. The limbs. The exposed bone. The lurching breaths and pain. The ambulance and the lights and the gathering crowd. This is it. You’ve done it now. The anger makes no sense even after the point is made. Suddenly The Other is one and the same.
And any other viewpoint is a crying shame.