Learning.  Pedaled to lunch.  Pedaled to a movie.  A Separation.  Hard to watch.  Very real and very painful.  Leaving the theater, pedaling on a busy narrow two lane, two-way street.  Sharrows and signs Bikes May Use Full Lane all up and down the street.  Signs.  I’d gladly trade them all for a little civility.

Approaching a red light, I came to a stop in the right gutter behind three cars.  The road is narrow enough that even as I waited in the right gutter, there was no room for a car to be beside me without coming within six inches of my left foot.  The car behind me did just that.  I extended my left arm with an open hand and gestured toward the ground to my left, four times, without turning my head or saying a word.  My intended message was a little room please.  The three occupants of the car started yelling at me (helmet mirrors are cool–I feel like a submarine captain scanning the surface for potential dangers).  The light turned green and they passed.  I waited for Lacey to catch up (she was stopped behind three or so cars behind me) and asked her to wait as I watched the car with the yellers recede out of sight.

As soon as they started yelling, I was scared out of my wits.  I couldn’t make out a word, but their tone was of a character that I had not witnessed before.  At least not directed at me.  Maybe in the movies.  I felt good that we were waiting in front of a fire house with all the fire fighters out.  When I was sure the car was long gone, we turned right.  I told Lacey how sketched out I was.  She asked what the people were yelling at and I said I thought it was me.  I am ashamed to admit that she has suffered through this sort of thing with me more than once.  Dozens of times.

We pedaled in silence to the end of the street.  It was a dead end.  We walked our bikes down a steep grass embankment to get to a busy street with an off-street multi-use trail running alone the side of it.  We pedaled on it until it ended, then pedaled on the streets in single file without a word until we got home.

It was a wonderful day that could have continued to be wonderful had I not made that gesture.  The fear is receding, but it is not gone.  It is surely bigger than is warranted, or maybe not.  One doesn’t know, and it is real for me just now.  Eating at my stomach.

I’ve worked so long to not yell at cars.  I have gotten really good at keeping my mouth shut.  I have continued, though, to make gentle gestures when I feel it is helpful.  Not often.  It is rarely warranted.  I’ve done it maybe four times this year.  I think that is going to be my next project.  No gestures.  I am going to pretend I am in a bubble, like a car, and unable to communicate with anyone ever.  Just to be safe, I will swallow my fear and anger.  So that I can enjoy pedaling.  I owe it to myself.  To Lacey.  To Frida.  You have my word.

Thanks for listening.  I am feeling a little better already.  A beer would be nice, though.  Be well.


8 responses to “More

  1. I was once yelled at by a pedestrian for stopping at a red light. They weren’t making fun of me, that happens all the time. They were furious that I had stopped at a red light. I don’t understand people sometimes.

  2. Shirl and I have just read this, we’re both rattled by your experience. I’m so sorry for the fear and vulnerability you may have felt, but Shirley is most effusive on this point and I can’t help agreeing with her sentiment. Cars are dangerous to bikers and defense doesn’t beget offense but for those who are fixin’ for a fight.
    To keep on with what you’re doing has served you well, to change because of feeling rattled discards what has been important to you. And putting yourself in a bubble is more of a liability than you may realize. Being separate from traffic, being untouched by the flow of those heavy machines isn’t going to spare you should they run amok. Some touch of assertion, some bit of aggression need not spoil your calm, your patience.

    Choosing to bike in our imperfect city comes with some costs, and perhaps this assertiveness is a part of that. I don’t think either of us have perfect or even good answers, but heart problems and anxiety are more manageable than bike-car accidents. Shirl and I want you both to be safe, in spirit and body and are both sorry for your day being spoiled, for you guys being so understandably rattled, but mostly for your spirit in biking.

    Please be strong and safe. Don’t forget people around here seem to get crazy when the seasons change.

    • Thanks for your support and thoughtful suggestions. I will keep in mind your input as I try to find a way to pedal among my neighbors that leaves us all enjoying the experience. I am often willing to be the first to blink, as my eyes are the only ones I can reliably control. Maybe I take that too far in some cases. Sigh! Anyway, it is a new day and I feel great. Can’t wait to get out there. Sixty degrees demand to be experienced! Have a great week.

  3. I am so proud of my brave bicycle warrior!

  4. Randal,
    just reading your account gave me the adrenaline jitters. I have had stuff like this happen WAY too often, as well. (Once is too often, but you know what I mean.)

    I would like to second Devon’s comment above. You are doing the right and honourable thing by not yelling at them (something I am trying myself, with mixed success) but we do need to do something to look out for ourselves sometimes. I will yell, for instance, if I am making a left turn on an advance-left-turn light, taking the inside lane as one should, and an automobilist coming the other way is making a right without looking and taking two lanes on the corner, putting us on a collision course.

    I know you are not looking for advice, but the one piece I will give is that what I try to do in that situation is to take the lane rather than pulling over so far to the right. One can always cede the lane again once traffic is rolling and a little more spaced out. True, some folks will still honk or rev in a disconcerting/threatening way, but I think it at least it reduces the possibility of being rubbed into the curb if I can gently assert my presence in a nonconfrontational way.

    Best of luck and don’t ever quit riding,
    Victoria, BC

    • Thanks for your kind words and advice. Much appreciated. Don’t ever hesitate to offer advice. I need it, enjoy it and learn from it all. I think it is great to be able to talk about it and plan a course of action when we are calm and safe and then hope we can call that up when the need arises out there.

      You are absolutely right about taking the lane. It would have prevented the car from getting up on me. I do that often, but not always. It is a read the situation kind of thing, and I am sure it is the same for you. We try to do the right thing at the right time. Some successes. Some not! I think not taking the lane in this case was a fail. Live and learn.

      About the yelling, I agree too. I use my voice as a horn. What I have been working on is training myself to utter non-confrontational sounds. I want loud sounds that alert but that don’t anger. Yo seems to be coming out lately. Not too bad, as they go. In this case, the yelling I was getting really needed no response. Right or not, I was afraid for my life. I was certain that a response would have made things worse.

      Thanks again for your thoughts. Very helpful. I hope you are enjoying your Spring!

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