Friday, June 15, 2007

A teachable moment...

I was riding home last night, thinking about stopping at the car wash to clean the Bianchi. It's grungy from being ridden in the rain. I really need to put some fenders mudguards on that bike. Cleaning a bike with a pressure washer is easy, provided the spray isn't directly into the hubs or bottom bracket.

But as I was grinding my way up 129th, a few cars stacked up behind me due to oncoming traffic. One of them decided to lay on the horn. Two teenage kids were in a beat up old Ford Ranchero a couple of cars back. When traffic thinned, they came up alongside and the passenger yelled the traditional, “Get up on the sidewalk!” They jetted off.

But God in His infinite mercy, decided to make the traffic light at 86th turn red. OK, maybe it wasn't God. Maybe it was the Public Works department, or it could have been someone in Public Works who only thinks he's God, a fairly common occurrence. This would mean we live in a polytheistic universe ruled by bureaucrats in cheap suits. I don't want to think about that. On the other hand, we could be living in a universe where every detail of our lives is predetermined by an arbitrary god. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.

Anyway, the light turned red. The Ranchero stopped. I grinned as I rode up alongside it. This makes people uneasy for some reason. I suppose they expect that a cyclist will be pissed off and angry, but when a 220 pound guy shows up with a huge smile, they get a little nervous. It's like getting into a minor fender bender and discovering a grinning Tony Soprano getting out of the other car.

I rolled up next to the passenger door. The kid looked shocked that a mere cyclist would have the effrontery to engage in a confrontation. But he rolled the window down. I switched to 'pedantic mode' and did my best Brian Potter impression.

Fellas,” I said, “it's illegal to ride on the sidewalk.”

Whaaaa?” he replied. He stared up in slack-jawed wonder at a big, middle-aged guy leaning down from a bicycle.

It's illegal to ride on the sidewalk. Besides, it's about three times more dangerous than riding on the street.” I held up three fingers for emphasis.

It's illegal?” Obviously, not the sharpest tool in the shed. Maybe he had to take his time counting all those fingers.

Yeah, that's why I don't do that.” The light changed. Both the driver and passenger were staring at me. “It's green. Go-go-go!”

They went. No gestures, no shouts, no honking horn. I'd like to think they were just a little bit better informed about cyclists and that the brief encounter served an educational purpose. Or, on the other hand, maybe they thought they'd just met Tony Soprano on a Bianchi.



Blogger bmike said...

Well, that went better than my recent encounters with teens in cars... which both ended in profanity and posturing with the accelerator and the noise from what always sounds like a broken exhaust... I darted off down a side street to avoid them again at the next intersection.

Nicely done though. I like when the lights play in our favor. I recently annoyed a tow truck (flatbed) driver as I rolled up alongside at nearly every stop light and kept pace between stop signs. He kept looking down and over at me, his annoyance growing at every block.(not that there was any reason we couldn't both be on the same stretch of road) He finally ran a red (while turning left) to get away from me - he put on his magic yellow blinkie light which I guess makes it OK.

I caught him on another side street, as I know the neighborhood and he apparently stuck to main routes. Poor guy was so PO'd I started to get worried he'd either have a coronary or run me over.

6:09 PM  
Blogger Gordy said...

May I one day have the civility to react as you did and not the curse word filled rants I usually do. It doesn't help and I don't feel better either. You actually helped and probably felt better after the encounter. I am in awe.

6:42 AM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Guys, I'm far from perfect (ask my wife!) and I still flip off the occasional dolt. But I figure - why drive MY blood pressure up and shorten my own life? If a motorist wants to 'save' a couple of seconds in traffic, and reaches a slow boil because some pesky cyclist is slowing him down, so much the better. His problem doesn't have to become MY problem.

6:57 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

Oh boy that's like a dream come true1! Actually, the dream would be me being able to cycle faster than their car and waiting for them at the next light before teaching them the rules of the road. That would be the best. I'm envious of your edifying ride. Jealous indeed.

11:55 PM  
Blogger Jett said...

That's just magnificent. Education can occur outside the formal classroom.

Thanks for sharing this with us.

7:23 PM  

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