Last night I was putting in some late night miles — 16.5 to be exact — to beat the heat and keep my stats up, you know, like I do. I approached a red light and came to a stop. Here’s what I wrote in my Strava ride summary: “Wassup, Killah?” Said the man at the bus stop, a descendant of Africa, pleasantly and with no malice, to the dude on the bicycle who is of the Caucasian persuasion. “I’m good, thanks. How ’bout you?” Also good. They then discussed how the weather wasn’t as hot as last night. The light changed, adieus were bid, and the dude rode on, an otherwise lackluster day made. “Huh, I guess I am kinda a killah on a bike!” He pedaled a little harder, his mph a bit faster. So yeah, that happened.
Despite the ominous language, this turned out to be a pleasant exchange. Other interactions have not gone as well. Twice in two years I heard this:
“I’m gonna knock yo’ bitch ass offa that bike!”two random dudes
In one case, a man in a car didn’t like that I was passing him and held him up for like 2 seconds. I looped back and yelled, “Hey, come try it, bro!” Not my best moment, but he didn’t, so that was good. The other occasion was when I passed a guy in a parking lot, and to avoid a speed bump I guess I got too close for his comfort. I didn’t stop to chat but wanted to say, “Hey, my bad, I didn’t know you owned this parking lot.” Usually it’s not a good idea to engage with people having a bad day. They tend to want to share that badness, which is no bueno.
Many conflicts between bicycles and cars, at least here in Austin, Texas, USA where I am, are when people are turning in their car and waiting for me to pass. They are correct to do so, because whoever gets there first and has the light has the right of way. But people are impatient, or late because they didn’t leave early enough and there’s traffic, even in corona times. So often they won’t say anything especially with the AC and tunes blasting and the windows up. But I can see their lips moving, the angry look on their faces, or their minds working, and it’s as good as them yelling, “Hey you, hurry the f@ck up! I got somewhere to be!” My answer, if I had the chance, would be this: “Yeah, so what? And I don’t?”
Sometimes people do get the chance to say something while they’re pulled up along side me, and it’s nice. Usually they refer to Sophie the Fairdale Weekender Archer’s color, and go, “That’s a pretty bike!” I reply, “Thanks, just like me.” That always elicits a chuckle. But more often than not it’s pedestrians or other cyclists who say that. If there’s time and it’s another biker, they’ll ask where I’m headed, where I got the bike, or other harmless chit-chat.
On occasion, I’ll be the one who says random stuff. I’ll never forget the time I was riding behind a woman with a rear rack and some panniers hanging off of it. They looked nice and I was legitimately interested in the cost, weight, rainproof factor, etc. I pulled up alongside her as there was no traffic, trying to judge by her expression if she could take a joke. She did, so said I, “Hi, I just wanted to say that you’ve got a nice rack!” She looked surprised but laughed. I was embarrassed I actually went through with it so instantly followed up with “…there on your bike, the rack, it looks nice.” And so we did talk about where she got it, the price, etc. As pick up lines go, it flopped, and a few other times I considered it but just asked.
“Because even the smallest of words can be the ones to hurt you, or save you.”― Natsuki Takaya
Rarely I’ll get the much-appreciated, “Great job!” or “You can do it!”, accompanied with a thumbs-up and a smile. Those are great, especially while going up a hill. I’ll grimace and try to wave back or gut out a “Thanks.” I remember one time in particular, a brunette woman in a white car, like an Audi or BMW. She was going the other way, and I think may have had to slow down. I recall the section of the street where it was, too. It was not a terribly steep hill, but I’d just been up and down several rises in a row, so I probably looked particularly hot and bothered. She said her words, I looked up and we locked eyes. And I just felt uplifted, that I wasn’t alone, and this random stranger literally helped me, just with two words and a kind gaze.
So the next time you’re out driving your car, or sitting at a bus stop, and see someone on a bicycle, say something nice. Call them “killah” or say “you can do it!”. You never know how much you’ll make their day. And whether you’re on a bicycle, running, rowing, using a walker, or in a wheelchair, who can’t use a little encouragement to make their day a little brighter?
“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
― Lao Tzu
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