There are a couple stories about which I’ve been holding out on you. One involves an incident last weekend with a gutter snipe driver who calculatedly attempted to run four of us cyclists off the road.
Why do I call the driver who drove within four inches of our group of four single line cyclists a gutter snipe? Because he acted like a scruffy and badly behaved child who spends most of their time on the street. In fact his beat up, rusty white Econoline van was audible behind us for more than a half mile. One of our group intoned, “Better move over. There’s a hot rod behind us.”
We weren’t 200 meters into the ride when the van pulled up next to me as the last rider in slow line. His front bumper was four inches from my body and bike when he gunned the engine for all it was worth. The van shot forward with a loud backfire as he strafed our entire line. All of us shouted in alarm. Our lead rider, who happens to be the fastest sprinter among the group, reacted quickly and took off in pursuit. He read the license plate before the van got too far ahead going 40-50 miles an hour on a 35 mph road.
Make no mistake. It was intentional. It was dangerous. It was loud. It was close. It was early morning. It was not possibly an accident. It was unlawful. It was malicious. It was symbolic. It was emblematic. It was horrifying. It was frightening. It was nasty. And it was real.
Open season, open roads
I wrote last week about the fractiousness of society and how there seems to be a growing intolerance for cyclists on the road. It’s not everyone who drives that is a problem of course. There are far more courteous drivers. There are far more courteous cyclists. It’s the bad ones who egregiously flaunt the law.
The real problem is the grey area where perceptions meet reality. Last weekend a group of us rode our bikes in Wisconsin west of Madison. The roads there on a Sunday morning are not busy at all. A few cars typically pass you on the country roads. Some might have to wait a few seconds before a hill, and most don’t seem to mind.
Yet it’s easy to forget that you’re on a public road when you’re in a group. The riding gets easy going downhill and people swing out into the lane for safety and room to pass. But if a car is approaching from behind, cyclists simply look like a random obstacle and discourteous to boot. The relative speed between a car going fifty and a cyclist going 25-30 mph is still quite pronounced.
Which is what made it interesting that there was a white vehicle trailing our group for a segment of the road. It is very likely they were capturing video of our riding habits on their phone. Evidence against cyclists perhaps in the war over who owns the road?
It’s an overall interesting phenomenon, this idea that one person has more right to the road than another. It’s all very random if you think about it, or perhaps not. At this point it might pay to consider the lyrics of the Todd Rundgren song Emperor of the Highway:
I am the emperor of the highway
I wield the universal will
One might chance to overlook on my divineness
Unless I’m sitting in the Imperial Poupe de Ville
I am the emperor of the highway
Strapped with foolish mortals such as these
I need never indicate my intentions
I can stop and go and turn just as I please
For I am the emperor of the highway
But sometimes, stuff happens
Several weeks ago while driving to a late lunch with relatives on a Sunday afternoon, we were in the far left lane of a busy Route 64 near Maywood, Illinois when a vehicle in the lane to the right of us swung over and sideswiped my car. Wham, and wham again.
The driver pulled ahead of us then and we were stopped at a light. “I don’t think he knows that he hit you,” my companion Sue observed. So she got out of our car and walked up to knock on the window. She asked him to pull over at the next light and we met in a parking lot.
He got out of his vehicle and proceeded to pour out his life story to me. “My wife is in Gottlieb,” he explained, a hospital just back the road. “She’s been on her back for six weeks. I don’t know if she’s going to live. I lost my first wife to breast cancer and my second wife to heart disease. I had a stroke back in December.” Then his voice trailed off.
Obviously distracted, the man was also 85 years old and possibly hard of hearing. But he was doing his best to deal with a lot of different consequences in life.
His insurance covered the repairs on my vehicle, which were just completed yesterday. Fortunately no one in the incident was hurt. I felt really bad for the man in his circumstance. I’ve been through the hospital stuff and the loss of a wife due to cancer. I know how life can throw you curves and sideswipe you when you least expect it.
Which makes the war over cycling on the roads all the more painful and random to consider. What makes people so selfish that they cannot be considerate for a very brief encounter on the road? It’s a deep form of sociopathy that has infected a world that has ostensibly pulled together in the wake of tragic events in the past.
All it takes is the pressure of money and politics and selfish greed to bring out disaffection in souls that are torn by the notions of competition in life. Politicians sense this need within a segment of the populace and appeal to the darker side of human beings. They hope to leverage it to their own advantage when elections come along. Then people seeking only to embrace the winning side go along to get along. They join parties and never look back even when said party is working against everything that is good for them in life.
Religions point fingers at other religions and races point fingers at other races. Even sexual orientation and gender become focuses for ostracization by political and religious gutter snipes.
That’s right, you know who they are. They are the ones buzzing others off the road in a rage of political and righteous furor. They care not who they hurt. They care only that their taxes go down and their net worth goes up. They hate anything that smacks of compassion for the weak or different in society. It galls them that people don’t look and act exactly like them. It ticks them off that people question the suppositions and assumptions they make even when those beliefs are clearly discriminatory. It angers so many that they might have to sacrifice some small advantage in life. They cannot imagine giving up some level of authority or wealth they have gained for themselves in this world.
Then there are those who are plain pissed off and disaffected. Lost in a place where their lives make no sense, they seek reason to get back at the world any way they can. These are the people who grab guns and go on shooting sprees. Others drink or drug themselves into oblivion. Still others channel their hatred and rise to positions of political power where they content themselves with driving others into the gutter.
Weakness as a strength
Then you encounter those who, in moments of real weakness and need, demonstrate the call for compassion in this world. Actually that is all of us. In our moments of weakness and failure we hope only that people will be kind and merciful in forgiving our mistakes.
At the same time, we have a call to push for justice. If anyone knows how to investigate the license plate number of the man who dangerously buzzed us last weekend, let me know. I plan to report it to the police of course. We’ll see what comes of that.
This is not vengeance we seek. That man is simply a danger to society. All of society. There is no limit to that kind of anger and false righteousness. We would be wise to recognize it even in the people clamoring for our votes, or else the nation itself could get sideswiped by the gutter snipes whose egos, ideologies and hairdos are a bumper crop of bald aggression.