All the Road’s A-Rage, and We Are Merely Cyclists

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that riding a bicycle on urban streets is a risky proposition in most cities in America. In my city, Austin, Texas, we have a decent amount of bicycle infrastructure. Better than some, worse than others. Amsterdam it’s not, and we still have to contend with all manner of things that could drive one to drink. Number one is drunk or otherwise distracted drivers. And a lot of those people aren’t swigging booze, they’re guzzling down the rage-ahol. And sometimes when things go badly, we cyclists get plenty angry, too. To quote the original Dr. Bruce Banner to the reporter Jack“Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

The first incident that got me thinking about this was a pretty close call. Here’s what I entered into my activity notes in Strava:

Nearly Right Hooked at 25+ Mph, but I Saw It Coming. Not Today, Grim Reaper. Not Today.

Going downhill at night in the newly protected bike lane on Manor Road. Lights on, bright yellow helmet, fast descent, street lights. Asshole in a van was signaling left but there was nowhere to turn. My Spidey Sense told me he was going to turn right and he switched his blinker at the last second and did just that. I had started to brake and even with disc brakes after the rain road was a little moist still, and I started to skid a little. Came very close to hitting him but did not. Thank goodness for my League of Cycling Instructors training (#bikeskillz) and a lot of experience with fucking assholes who are incompetent at driving. Probably drunk or texting or both. For some reason he stopped and sort of turned the van sideways. Well I gave him an earful about how he could not miss me with my lights and my hi-viz helmet how he nearly killed me, etc. He didn’t open his window so I said hey turn around so I can get your license plate, which he did and drove off. I called non-emergency 311 and they transferred me to 911. I have a description and the plate number. Probably nothing will come of it but if they find that guy maybe he has a warrant or outstanding tickets or something and will get a warning. Any moment can be your last, on a bike, in a car, or just sitting watching TV. Which I’m now doing, having just started 6 Feet Under. The Grim Reaper may have tried to get me, but not tonight, dude. Not tonight. Asshole in van with Grim Reaper 0, A Dude Abikes 1 (aka won)!

Normally you’re advised to not even approach a car unless there’s been an actual accident and you’re not hurt. But I was hopped up on adrenalin, and this was a teachable moment. So I taught. I think the lesson was received, if not truly heard. Part of what still gets me hot under the collar about this was the nonchalance and not even defending himself, but also no apology. I’ll never know what was going through that guy’s brain, but fortunately no pieces of metal went through mine.

It did occur to me for a moment that he could be armed. Thanks to our wonderfully pro-gun Republican governor and state, well, everything, we now have open carry, and you don’t even need a license. You can drive a car and kill cyclists (and often seem to get away with it or without much penalty), and you need a license for that. I think rage is really the only appropriate reaction for a thinking person to both shitty drivers and if you’ve noticed any of the mass shootings going on in Texas. But what do I know – I’m just a dumb jock on a bike, right?

Tonight’s ride was another example of how anger can come out when things happen.

Road Rage Rarely Right Response, Except When It Is

A lunging chihuahua that startled me onto a highway service road with speeding traffic coming right at me, an aggressive homeless woman with probably stolen bikes yelling at me, a clueless turd muffin on a scooter passing me too closely without announcing it, and the usual stoopid poopyhead bad drivers made my Monday most maddening. Staying alive to ride another day. Photo of flat from nail is from yesterday.

In this case, an dog that was not really a threat to me but that I could have easily run over lead to me being angry at the owner. I stopped and told him – in Spanish – that his dog was going to get killed. He was nice about it and showed me that the dog, name Junior (pronounced Youn ee or) was actually a smart little boy. He knew to not run out into the street and could even do a fist bump with his paw. When I tried to make friends, he still barked his silly little head off, though. I left with an apology saying, “Descupleme, pero me asusto.”  Excuse me, but he surprised me. I guess there was some rageahol in my water bottle. But it worked out, no bites, no dead dog.

Prior to this I had turned down a dead end street. I saw an RV parked by the side of the road in front of some undeveloped land. On a pallet next to it were half a dozen bikes, and a few looked pretty new. It became obvious that this was a homeless encampment. As I cycled past, a woman came around the front and gave some line about “Hey! Stop looking at my stuff. I don’t come around your house being no peepin’ Tom!”

Welp, that got me going for some reason. I’m very sympathetic to the plight of the homeless, not being too far from becoming one myself sometimes with the high rents in this town. But bike thieves deserve a special circle of hell in Dante’s Purgatory. On Next Door, there are plenty of people getting bikes stolen with screen shots of their security cameras, and some of those bikes have been turning up in homeless camps, so I’m not making this up. So I let her have it: “It’s a free country, and I can look where I like!” And, “Where’d you get them nice looking bikes? Stole ‘em, I bet!” And then when she kept giving me lip I just let some expletives fly. It didn’t occur to say, “You’re on a public street and are expecting privacy? Really? And by the way if you’re homeless, how can you afford half a dozen bicycles that look to be in pretty good condition?” Another sip of the Hulk juice. Strong words exchanged, and life goes on.

The scooter guy was one of many people (on bikes, too) who pass without saying “On your left.” Not announcing yourself with a bell as I do is an easy way to cause a wreck, and a lazy one at that. But I’m a distant third cousin thrice removed from Batman (Ben Affleck is in Austin as I write – a coincidence? I think not!). You can call me…. Fatman. I don’t have the money or toys, but I do have excellent hearing. So I heard the turd muffin approaching me from behind, and as he passed I said loudly and sarcastically, in order to penetrate his thick skull and earbuds (very unsafe!), “ON YOUR RIGHT!” He mumbled something like “Sorry about that,” and I said, “Yeah, right.” Just a nip from the bottle, but by then I was low on the angry juice. He got schooled, and nothing bad happened.

So yeah, I’m not proud of myself when I get angry, but there are times to let it out, like I mentioned:

— nearly getting killed because a driver changed his signal at the last second and didn’t look

— being run into traffic to avoid hitting or getting bit by a dog because of a shitty owner

— bike thieves threatening me the unmitigated gall to look at them and their probably stolen bikes

— people on scooters who don’t know how to pass a bicycle safely and correctly

Obviously, with cars especially, keeping one’s cool would be preferable. And it’s my usual way of doing things. Sometimes, resistance is the correct response to injustice, and anger is one appropriate way to express that. Yelling may be the only way to get through to people and let them know that sharing the road is not only the right thing to do, but it’s the law. There’s no law against being an asshole, but to quote George Costanza in Seinfeld, “Hey! We’re living in a society here!”

How do you communicate with drivers and others who do stupid stuff that might hurt you on your bicycle?

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