Nathan Hansen's column: Can't we all just get along?
There are a lot of things in the world I don’t understand. It’s a mystery to me how homing pigeons keep finding their way home without Google Maps, or why Jeopardy players have to answer in the form of a question. And for the life of me I will never grasp the ongoing popularity of lite beer, although I’m sure it says something unflattering about humanity.
Still, of all the mysteries in the universe, the one that confounds me the most is the blind rage some people experience whenever they see a person on a bicycle.
Admittedly, that last one is a personal issue. I ride my bike a lot. Over the years I’ve been honked at, sworn at and swerved at, all for doing nothing more than choosing to pedal my way around town in stretchy shorts.
On more than one occasion, people I know and like have joked about running over people on bicycles, hit-and-runs involving people on bikes apparently being the rare occasion when it’s OK to laugh about seriously injuring or murdering another human being.
Nobody ever says, “So, I saw someone out walking their dog the other day and I totally thought about shooting him in the face.” At least not without raising a few eyebrows.
I was out riding with my brother a couple of years ago. We were stopped at a stoplight when a guy in a pick-up truck yelled, “Hey (homophobic slur that rhymes with stags)! Keep riding bikes, (ignorant comment that rhymes with gym bags). He closed with an enthusiastic, “Whoo!” and sped off as the light changed. I couldn’t see into the truck, but I can’t help but imagine he and whatever buddy he was riding with high fived as they drove away.
Then they probably went and had a lite beer.
My most recent experience with bike-related road rage was a couple of weeks ago. I was near the end of a post-work ride, coming to the top of a hill. There is a median in that part of the road, and while there is enough room for a car to pass someone on a bike, drivers usually opt not to because it’s fairly narrow. I’m OK with that. Given the choice, I prefer that drivers err on the side of not running me over.
By the time the median ended and the driving lane widened again, three cars had stacked up behind me. Two passed and went on their way. It was a pretty simple process.
The driver of the third vehicle, a big white van with a ladder on top and a logo on the side that looked a little like a radio tower but also a little like male genetalia, passed and then pulled over to the side of the road. He got over so far his tires rubbed against the curb. Then he stopped, which seemed like an odd thing to do in a spot where, curb-rubbing tires or not, he blocked almost an entire lane of traffic. When I went to pass, he pulled away again. He continued on his way at about 12 miles per hour in an area where the speed limit is 25.
I’d pull out to pass and he’d speed up. I’d drop in behind him and he’d slow down or even slam on the brakes. Once, as I tried to pass again, he started drifting left, into the oncoming traffic lane.
Finally, I just started riding as if I was trying to pass. He sped up. It was a system that worked for us both. When it was time for me to turn off, I gave him the finger — not entirely civil, I admit — and went home to call the police. I didn’t really expect them to track him down, but it made me feel better to do it.
I don’t understand this particular driver’s motivation. If he was mad I slowed him down, slowing to a crawl in front of me seems like an odd way to handle things. Maybe he was just admiring my shorts.
There are certainly bikers who are jerks on the road. Just like there are jerks on cars and jerks on foot and jerks on Razer scooters. Maybe especially on Razer scooters.
We all have to get along on the road, though. It really shouldn’t be that big a mystery.