Last evening I was cycling down a country thoroughfare called Bliss Road (you’ll see the irony soon) during the opening miles of a 31-mile ride. The road crosses a bridge over Interstate 88 and one lane is closed to trafficto repair frost-related pockmarks in the road surface. The bridge needs to be closed on one side in order for the construction crew workers to do their job.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve ridden through the construction zone at least ten times. The route down Bliss leads to a number of options for 20-40 mile rides.
White line fever
On Bliss and many other roads, I often ride with my tires outside the white line. I don’t trust that people driving will abide by the law requiring them to give cyclists a full three feet when passing. Most people can’t seem to separate hazards that way. They seem unable to judge how to avoid an oncoming car when they are passing a bicyclist. Perhaps it’s not in their genetic makeup to figure it out. Instead, they attempt to race by in a burst of speed as if that excuses or lessens the impact of their portent.
I stay out of trouble for the most part while riding this way. It takes some decent bike-handling skills to use the 12-18″ of road margin rather than riding on the main road surface. Still, that’s not good enough for some motorists. They honk or buzz me anyway.
As I approached the Interstate bridge the light was red and cars were coming across the one-lane passage from the other direction. That meant traffic on our side was backed up about ten vehicles waiting for the light to turn green. So I slowed and rode gingerly up the road margin past the cars toward the front of the line. I did this for a simple reason: to get to the other side safely.
As I approached the row of cars I noted that there was a large gap between the two vehicles near the stop light and the other eight cars in line. As I neared the front of this group, I saw there was a blue Corvette positioned as if the driver wasn’t sure where he should be on the road. The Vette then shifted its wheels and jerked a bit to the right as I rolled up the side of the road. “Hmmm,” I thought to myself, “He might be moving.” So I slowed even further and was going less than five miles an hour when I rolled past his passenger side window, which was wide open.
“Hey!” the guy inside the Vette shouted. Then he started gesticulating at the cars up ahead on the road.
Here’s where our worlds divided. My plan going forward was to avoid blocking traffic as a cyclist by heading up there and slipping past the light to cross the bridge just inside the line of cones separating the traffic lane from the construction work. That way I would not hold anyone up, and no one would miss their opportunity to get through the light. Waiting for cyclists in situations like that really pisses people off. I knew this corridor existed because I’d ridden across that bridge the day before. Even without traffic present, that is where I rode my bike. Because it’s safer.
But the Corvette Guy seemed eager to push my buttons on the issue before I even got there. His little dodge move with his Blue Corvette seemed an attempt block me or force me to stop. Perhaps he’d seen make the turn onto Bliss Road a half mile back, and did not care for my presence on the road in the first place. Whatever his motivations or the source of his angst, he was clearly ready for a confrontation of some sort to prove his point. Whatever that was.
Courtesy and the lack of it
I made for the other side of the bridge without interfering with any of the cars in line. I reached the other side before the lead vehicles passed. Then came a quiet pause as the rest of the cars caught up. That meant the approach of the Blue Corvette.
The driver rolled up next to me and the first words out his mouth were a loud “Fuck you!” He was driving slowly next to me, holding up the traffic behind him as he shouted more invectives and insults at me. I kept up my pace as he rolled along at what was now 20 mph on a downhill. He kept on yelling and was leaning over the passenger seat pointing at me. His dirty old trucker hat was perched on his head and a prodigious white beard spilled down to where the crease of his chest met his bulging gut. A pair of large-aviator glasses covered his eyes.
Threats and intimidation
He pulled ahead of me in his car until he could pull over in the turn lane of a subdivision. His brake lights were blinking on and off and other cars swerved to go around him. I eased my bike out onto the road surface to roll on past. What was he planning to do, I wondered?
It seemed his logic must have told him that I should have waited far back in line with the rest of the cars rather than riding past them to go across the bridge under construction.
By that point, I looked at that situation as a danger both to myself and the other drivers on the road. Just then his intentions got dire: “I’m following you!” he screamed. “I’m gonna follow you wherever you go!”
In that regard I already had him outfoxed and out-calculated. He was absolutely keen on showing me “Who’s boss” on the highway, and I was keen on ridding myself of an angry old dude with whom I should have had no quarrel. I’d done nothing that inconvenienced him in any way. Had I slowed him down? Caused him to have to swerve in any manner? Created any danger to his car or his person? None of the above.
So his angry tirade was about something else. Perhaps I was witnessing a campaign to teach me that “his rights” were being violated by my presence on the road. I
And maybe I could have avoided the situation by letting him have his anger to himself and not yelled, “Yeah, Fuck you” right back to him in his car. I should have turned the other cheek. No doubt. But from long experience, I know that even if I’d remained silent, he might still have pulled over in front of me to get out of his car and yell. I’ve seen it many times over the last twenty years. His actions were calculated to intimidate and project some deep-seated anger on the world. This particular cyclist happened to ride into the perceived path of his trajectory.
Obviously, I don’t know the man’s backstory. Often when you get an opportunity to actually sit down with some folks, especially angry people, their anger toward some facet of the world is truly legitimate. Probably in the past, some cyclist did cut him off in traffic or cause him to hit the brakes. I see that all the time, and I’ve been in my car when cyclists do stupid things in front of me. It makes me angry too, but in a different way. I wish people on bikes truly would wise up. It would help us all.
That said, I’ve made plenty of genuine mistakes on the road. Usually, I gain the motorist’s attention, point to myself, offer a wave of apology and yell out, “I’m sorry! My fault!”
Most people appreciate the admission and forgive the breach on the spot. That’s the truly civil way of doing things. Whenever I make a mistake, and I try to prevent that, I go out of my way to apologize. Because next time that driver encounters a rider like me, they might be a little bit nicer.
But some cyclists really are arrogant. Many do break the law and seem not to care if the rest of the world hates them. The world is full of fucked up people doing fucked up things. I wish that weren’t true for cyclists, but it is.
My backstory is simple. I ride because I like it. I ride because it keeps me healthy. I ride to reduce stress (most days) and ride to have new experiences in new places and make familiar places more interesting. That’s about as deep as it gets.
I’m not riding to purposely piss people off, flaunt laws or show that I somehow rule the road. That’s absurd. I defer to traffic almost 100% of the time because I frankly don’t want to get killed by someone that is not paying attention on the road. Now that people are texting and driving, I’ve had no less than four really close calls in the last year alone. I fear for my life out there some days. That’s disturbing, I’ll admit.
And despite all that deference to traffic, people still assume I’m trying to fuck them over by riding my bike on a public road. They yell things such as, “Get on the bike path!” In fact, most bike paths either don’t go anywhere for very far, are jammed with people, dogs and children, or pass through parks or urban areas where riding your road bike at even a middle pace of 16 mph is a danger to everyone. I ride faster than that. Road bikes are designed to go as fast as you can make them go. And cyclists have that right.
So we ride on the roads. Because that’s what “road bikes” are designed to do. And laws are put in place to govern our access and our rights. America is based on a simple premise on such matters: deal with it or shut the hell up.
Wise and aware
So cyclists are not the ones that are always fucked up and always looking for a fight. Most of us have grown wise and aware in decades of riding. We know and calculate the meaning of our actions. And I maintain that by pulling ahead of traffic on that bridge with room to ride off the actual one-lane access surface I actually saved everyone parked in that line precious time. That’s called being considerate, and nice.
But Mr. Blue Corvette Guy translated that as my version of cutting in line. And as he proved by his behavior, that’s more his problem, not mine. As for his possible anger at the world? About that he needs to talk to God, if he chooses, or at least a good therapist. There is help and forgiveness aplenty in this world if you have the character to admit that you need it.
Through four or five rounds of cat and mouse the Corvette Guy was swerving on and off the road to block my way. That game was getting old and I guessed it might soon turn ugly. After I pedaled up an incline and down a hill, I knew that my time of departure was near.
His car actually got pinned in front of a truck that had seen his antics and was tailgating him to force him on down the road. That meant Blue Corvette Guy could no longer keep his eye on me in his rearview mirror. That must have royally pissed him off. The one thing a vigilante craves is having the target of his ire in sight.
And just like that, I was gone off the road. I’d planned my point of departure at a point where a bike path crossed the road and dove down the trail into Bliss Woods. Goodbye, Mr. Blue Corvette. It’s time for me to fly. Away from you.
Rules of the road
I maintain there are situations while riding a bike that is not clearly defined by law. Instead, they require good human judgment and courtesy. Cyclists encounter many such situations in their travels. Here are just a few:
- When to ride inside the white line, and when to avoid it.
- When to brake and come to a stop when traffic is too heavy for safe riding
- When to ride single file or double for group communication
- How to address stop signs in various neighborhoods where traffic may be absent
- What roads to travel at all; many are not suited for bike riding
I learned a few things from my experience with the Man in the Blue Corvette. Perhaps a short stop would have been helpful to explain, “Hey, I’m going to ride off the road up ahead to avoid holding you up.” I do things like that all the time, gesturing to traffic to let them go through at four-way stops, and the like.
I somewhat regret my Robert DeNiro moment in shouting “Fuck you!” back at the guy. But not entirely. I’ve dealt with bullies in this world long enough to know that the one thing they ultimately understand is defiance in the face of their habitual intimidation. The same holds true with the gaslighters of this world, who try to make you feel crazy about your own reality. And the abusers; domestic, sexual and otherwise, who think it’s their right to take advantage of people mentally and physically to cover up their own insecurities and shameful needs.
I was trying to do a good thing for the other people on the road last night. But as we know, no good deed goes unpunished in this world. I just wonder if the Blue Corvette Guy is still out there driving around, looking for a way to mow me down. I hope I don’t find out someday that he is.