Embarassing myself with the “shout or smush” response

A brief lesson: If you are going to try a “living deliberately” experiment that involves a category for things to improve at, and if that things to improve at includes “learning how to flip things in a saute pan”, do not try it shirtless while you are making quesadillas and/or sauteing with a heavy amount of oil.


Things I have done today: Kicked a van while on my bicycle, contemplated kicking a cyclist, kicked myself (not physically).

The van-kicking opportunity came on my morning commute. I was in the bicycle lane, which is in between parking spaces on the right and the lane on the left.  About 30 feet ahead of me was another cyclist, and as a van pulled put of a driveway, it took a very wide turn into the bike line, causing a cyclist to quickly dodge it, risking running into a bus that was passing in the lane.

The cyclist did not respond. By this time, I was coming up on the van and the bus as it slowed for a red light. The van decided to take this opportunity to try to nose ahead of the bus. I had nowhere to go, stuck against the side of the bus as I was, which initiated my “shout or be smushed” response. I screamed my favorite epithets-which for dignity’s sake will remain private-and then kicked the side of the van as hard as I could twice.

The driver stopped and looked somewhat bewildered as I drove past glaring. I had kicked the van partially out of anger and mostly out of adrenaline-fueled fear.

I shook it off.. A few moments later as I rolled through a green light, I saw a cyclist come speeding my way with no clear intention of stopping. I flashed back to riding in a group, where sometimes a stiff arm or elbow is all that keeps you upright as people put you in danger. The cyclist begrudgingly slowed as I curved out into the lane. This time I didn’t actually kick, and I was more angry than afraid.

Somewhat ignoring my behavior of 10 minutes past, I rolled my eyes and thought that it was cyclists like that guy who gave us all a bad name, disregarding traffic laws so brazenly that drivers immediately think of cyclists not as “people who ride bicycles” but as “things in their way that blow through red lights unexpectedly”.

Now, this is New York City, where traffic works by its own anarchic rules.  Everybody gets in everybody else’s way, everybody cuts everybody else off.  The difference between a driver complaining about a cyclist cutting him off or asserting his right of way, and a cyclist complaining about a driver doing the same is that the driver’s story does not end “and I was almost killed” (credit to the riding buddy who came up with that).

I made a mistake today, and for that I kick myself.  I was not the good ambassador I strive to be, who  follows traffic laws and represent the cycling community as a mode of transport with legitimate claims to a shared.  I think we all need to give each other a little slack, but I DO NOT believe that extends to life or death situations.  Cyclists are risking more with encroachments into their space, and therefore get to be a bit more sensitive about it (to paraphrase Randy @ RandalPutnam.wordpress.com).

On my way home over the Williamsburg bridge, a barechested man with full beard and jean vest riding a monster bike paused to open a beer.  A better ambassador than I.


About Big Adam

A NYC doorman, a community organizer, wannabe ape, sometimes blogger, sometimes writer, always crossword puzzle incompleter, I will ride bicycles with your papa, dance Bhangra with your mama, take you on dates that cost nada.
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One Response to Embarassing myself with the “shout or smush” response

  1. Nice post. Sadly, it sounds too much like the one I posted today. Why are so many trips spoiled by bad behavior? Who is going to be the Rodney King of the bicycle world?

    By the way, you are one of the best cycling ambassadors I have had the pleasure to pedal with. We all struggle to maintain our cool in the face of danger. Sometimes we lose the fight.

    Both wins and loses are noted by all around, but which events are more likely to be remembered? Ever come home and told your roommate about the 54 super courteous passers you had the pleasure of sharing the road with? Hell no! We talk about the nuts. Funny people, we are. [Insert nervous laughter here.]

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