I’ve had all manner of weird encounters during my bike commutes.
Something about the intersection (see what I did there?) of motorist and cyclist tends to bring out the odd in some folks. From insults and even the occasional compliment to batteries and beverages, I’ve had all sorts of things thrown my way, but one encounter in particular stands out.
I was riding home. A little over a mile from my house, I turned onto a somewhat busy residential side street that’s a popular alternative to Sixth Street for students traveling to and from Free State High.
Not long after making the turn, I was quickly overtaken by a half dozen or so cars that, judging by the type and volume of music wafting from the windows and the baby-faced visages peering over the steering wheels, I assumed to be piloted by the first wave of teens fleeing the end of the school day.
All of the cars passed me unremarkably. Perhaps a few were a hair inside the lawful three-feet-to-pass margin, and maybe a couple were flirting with the high end of the speed limit, but I didn’t really notice anything terribly untoward.
Another car, however, poked along behind me, and its driver made no move to pass.
After trailing me for a couple of blocks, it pulled alongside, and I commenced to fretting. The passenger window went down, and the driver – a woman I estimated to be a few years older than I – leaned over the seat and gestured in my direction. She also attempted to say something, but a combination of road noise and Doppler Effect made it unintelligible.
I gave a little half wave and pedaled along until a car approaching us from up ahead forced the driver to slow and pull in behind me again.
Once the way cleared, she again pulled alongside and continued her gesturing and unintelligible garbling. Again I half waved. She returned the gesture and accelerated.
Much to my surprise, however, she abruptly slowed, then jammed on the brakes as she angled her car toward the curb, essentially forcing me to stop or steer around her.
Wary of a confrontation but eager to see the encounter end, I rolled to a stop and glanced about for a friendly face or at least a witness who would be able to describe my soon-to-be-assailant to the proper authorities.
Seeing none, I quickly devised an exit strategy, leaned over to make eye contact with the driver and braced myself for what I was sure was to be a screed about nuisance cyclists.
“That was pretty dangerous, don’t you think?” the agitated woman asked.
“Dangerous? I’m not sure what you mean.”
“I mean, that was quite dangerous, don’t you think?” she asked again, getting even more worked up. "Back there."
“I don’t know about dangerous, I … “
“Well, I thought it looked awfully dangerous,” said the woman, the one with her car angled against the curb, blocking the lane so she could vent to a hapless cyclist. In the middle of the road.
I was gearing up to assert my right to use the road and suggest perhaps we all could share the roadway peaceably, when the driver surprised me.
“I mean, they were driving too fast. They came so close to you. And their music was sooooo loud! That’s so dangerous …”
Finally, because the only thing slower than me on a bike is a thought in my head, I realized this woman wasn’t ranting about me but about those infernal kids and their rock ’n’ roll music.
“Well,” I said, “they were going a little fast, but … ”
I didn’t get a chance to finish.
The window went up, and just as abruptly as she used her car as a rolling road block, the woman popped a quick three-point turn and drove away, still – as far as I could tell – ranting.
The whole encounter made me a bit uncomfortable. I can’t imagine how I would have felt if her wrath had been directed at me.