Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Let's recap my previous blog entry, where I marveled that sharing the busy, urban roads around Detroit hadn't turned out to be the Turnpike of Terrors I had been led to believe it would be; that, in fact, I had found drivers around here to be pretty tolerant and courteous. I posted it Monday morning. Monday evening, at one of the intersections I had found so acceptable, a motorist commenced to run over a cyclist with his pickup truck to, I guess, get the last word in an argument the two were having. It was the front-page story in The Oakland Press this morning.
What does that portend? It should portend close to nothing, but it will look bigger than it is. People will perceive and manufacture controversy and rage and fear, the same way they worry about being murdered by a stranger when the vast majority of homicides are between people who know each other.
I don't get the impression Mr. Driver and Mr. Bicyclist knew each other, but they appeared to be made for each other. The newspaper story says the 61-year-old driver passed the 42-year-old cyclist closely enough that the cyclist felt compelled to inform him of that when he caught up at a traffic light. Words followed; somehow the rhetoric involved cyclist whacking rear-view mirror with a water bottle, cyclist dropping the water bottle, cyclist retrieving the water bottle where it was so convenient to drive a pickup truck (I know; that was not lost on me) into him that the driver backed up and did it twice. I really don't know how these contests are scored, how many points you get for a broken ankle and how many you get for a felonious-assault charge, but we're going to have to call it a draw between losers.
I don't know either guy, and frankly, I can't relate to either. I can try, but they both just took it too far.
Lord knows I sympathize with cyclists. Cars are big and insulated and easy to talk on the phone or text in and easy to make go fast and anonymous and profoundly effective killing machines. People don't drive them with nearly enough awareness of that last part.
But I feel for the drivers, too. Hey, when you're driving someplace, you're usually in a hurry, and the fact is sometimes you have to slow down for a bike. Or a stop sign or a construction barrel or a squirrel. And it's annoying to slow down. I don't know why slowing down for a bike seems to be so especially annoying to some drivers, but I can guess. Maybe we look like we're having that much more fun, but maybe too many of us can ride pretty aggressively ourselves, blowing through stop signs and lights, hogging the road (sometimes you have to assert your position; other times it's just rude) either alone or in big groups (groups are cool, too, but there are obvious time and place issues).
Some very well-meaning civil engineers actually make things worse for a narrow and snobbish-sounding category of cyclists - mine, as it happens - who ride too fast for the bike paths they gave us, so we stick to the road so drivers who don't think it through can wonder why we're not over there slaloming between the skaters and strollers.
Goody. We've established that the road is filled with flawed individuals, making it very much like the rest of the world. How have I survived the better part of four decades on those roads without getting run over by someone trying to prove a point?
First, I'm just lucky. That's also why I don't have Lou Gehrig's Disease, a third-world hometown, or any given celebrity for a parent. Second, I've learned it's not as personal as it looks. Like Napoleon said, there's no logic in blaming malice when there's so much incompetence to go around. Even what looks like malice can be interpreted as extreme social incompetence, really.
It's not that I've never been harassed or threatened or scared or that I've never done anything dumb myself. It's not that I've never wanted to set someone straight. But to me, drivers are another form of weather. Some good, some bad, some types more common in certain areas than in others. With bad weather, you have a choice: You either prepare for it and accept it, or you stay inside and avoid it. Trying to educate a bad driver on the spot is akin to trying to lecture a tornado away from your trailer park.
So there you go. Anyone who saw that road-rage story two days after my peace, love and harmony blog post, well, I'm sticking by my peace, love and harmony claim. And it's nice that those two guys found each other. Cupid-dot-com couldn't have made a better match.
Posted by Jef Mallett at 12:18 PM