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I Feel Your Rage

by Ted Johnson

Somebody yelled at me from a car this week. I’m pretty sure he was yelling at me. It happened so quickly.

I was heading down a hill, preparing for a left turn. I checked the traffic behind me with my rear-view mirror. I moved out of the bike lane, into the main lane, and toward the left turn lane. A brown SUV going the opposite direction had just pulled out of the driveway on my trajectory, leading into an apartment complex that I cut through almost every day.

And as the SUV passed me, I heard a hostile, Doppler-shifted voice yell, Get the fu@&remafdr…..!

That’s what it sounded like to me, anyway.

In a flash, I concluded that he was yelling at me because I was a cyclist with the audacity to be in the middle of a lane. And had I heard him clearly, I decided what he had said would have been, Get the f!@k out of the road. And in that same flash, I became angry.

And it stuck with me for the next couple of days. Scenarios ran through my mind ranging from:

Find the guy, and calmly say, “Sorry. I didn’t quite get that. Were you saying something to me?”

to:

Find the guy’s car and put a big rock through the windshield.

And while I’m observing these involuntary fantasies play out in my head, another part of my brain was thinking…

This never happens to you. Imagine how you’d feel if you were one of those people who take this kind of hostility nearly every day. Other cyclists deal with actual in-their-face aggression from drivers. Other cyclists have vehicles used as weapons against them. You’re obsessing about teaching some guy a lesson, and you don’t even know for sure if his unintelligible utterance was directed at you. You’re a big baby.

There are many articles on the Web about how to deal with aggressive drivers. And I think all of them boil down to this: Keep your cathartic violent fantasies at bay, remain calm and polite.

In decades of commuting by bike, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been yelled at from a car. I have to wonder what it would do to my soul and my behavior to have these experiences more often — monthly, weekly, or daily.

When I was in The Peace Corps in Cameroon, the slang word for “white man” was sarra. Even after two years in the country, I never got used to hearing it. For awhile, I would confront people who used it. Or I would reply with the slang word for “idiot.” (That word is butuku, if you are interested.) During a particularly rough period of culture shock, I would find myself not wanting to leave my house, just so I wouldn’t inevitably hear that word. At some point, I realized that my reaction to the word was my decision, and that an angry reaction had consequences. I would fume for days after a confrontation that I initiated. And I don’t think it was very effective on the people I confronted anyway. So even though I never achieved enlightened indifference to the word, I learned that it was best to just ignore it.

And that’s exactly the advice given by this Web site in our article, Commuting 101: How to react to aggressive or angry drivers. Ignore it. As if it were easy.

Having been the bike-commuting beneficiary of several good biking cities throughout my life, I’m just not used to it. And when I heard an unintelligible bark from a motorist, I was angry before I could put my emotional guard up, and the fuming had begun. I have not developed the mental discipline and restraint against rudeness from motorists that some of you have learned. And it makes me sad to know there must be days that you just want to freakin’ drive in order to have a break from it.

So yesterday afternoon, I rode over to Home Depot. It took me awhile to find the bike rack. When I found it, it was placed about the width of a bike from the shopping cart return. This meant a single bike could create a de-facto gate and block any other bike from using the rack — or from being removed the rack. The one bike already in the rack was not only blocking almost the entire rack, but it had that stolen-seat-and-abandoned look about it.

Home Depot Bike Rack

The internal dialogue started.

Don’t these butukus realize that this is hardly better than having no rack at all?

I went into the store and found the items I came for. As I was checking out, I asked the cashier, “Is your manager available?”

Uh oh. Am I going to turn into Crazy Angry Cyclist Man again?

While I was waiting for the manager, an employee asked me about my Ridekick trailer. We were still chatting when the manager arrived. Not to be mean, but she looked like someone who could use some bike commuting. She was kind of chunky.*

Look at her. She’s going to be totally unsympathetic to an adult who rides a bike. She will perceive me as a kook who thinks he deserves unreasonable accommodations.

Contained in that thought are the complexities of one who has been made to feel marginalized, while at the same time the same mind is committing the same crime against someone from another marginalized group.

She joined the conversation about the Ridekick. She’d seen it out front too.

Finally I said, “I was wondering if you’d noticed that the bike rack isn’t very usable because it’s placed so close to the shopping carts.”

“It’s not anchored to the ground, is it?”

“I hadn’t noticed.”

“That’s in a temporary location. We are redoing our parking lot, and that will be relocated to a better spot.”

“I’m glad to know you are thinking about that. Thanks.”

And three days of fuming was extinguished.


*Ms. Manager, if you ever read this, I mention your physical attribute not to make fun of you, but to illustrate the unfair and reflexive societal bias that was evoked in my infected mind. I’m working on it.

 
The Chariot Summer Sale - 2013

32 Responses to “I Feel Your Rage”

  1. Karen says:

    Glad your Home Depot experience turned out well in the end.

    As for rude motorists,I find it helpful to respond in a way that is opposite of that the he (and, let’s face it, it’s almost always a “he”)expects. This usually involves a minimalist response communicating disinterest. Since it’s safe to assume people who feel the need to yell obscenities at cyclist suffer from sexual inadequacy, blowing a kiss to the offending motorist and then checking my watch says “You bore me” more loudly than any scream. I think this type of response is uniquely suited to the female cyclist but I’m sure there is some sort of male equivalent, involving channeling one’s inner Steve McQueen.

  2. Kevin Love says:

    Ignore threats of violence from someone in control of a lethal weapon??? That’s spectacularly bad advice. Around here, threatening or intimidating someone with a weapon, such as a motor vehicle, constitutes the crime of “Assault with a Weapon.” Depending upon the nature of the threat, charges of “Uttering a Death Threat” may also be laid.

    I presume that similar criminal charges apply in other areas.

    Good advice is to call the police RIGHT AWAY. When they arrest the criminal car driver and take him away to jail, then we are all much safer.

  3. BluesCat says:

    Kevin Love – Unfortunately, there are a lot of cities in the U.S. where even the COPS don’t think cyclists belong out there in the roadway. Reporting an aggressive driver may wind up being more hassle than it’s worth. And confronting such a person out in the wild is probably not the smartest thing to do.

    I will admit, though, that there was an instance where I DID confront a driver who cut me off.

    It gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling.

    Karen – I wonder if the Biker Scowl would work for a guy? Naw, usually you do that from the saddle of a Harley, and you look like you’ve just left the front gate of The Joint.

  4. Karen says:

    I have no problem reporting an aggressive driver and have done so in the past. Definitely, I would if someone through something at me or deliberately tried to hit me with his vehicle. If someone is only yelling at me but not threatening me in any other way, I doubt the police would do anything with it and I prefer to not give such incidences more time than they deserve.

  5. Kevin Love says:

    BluesCat,
    In the Jim Crow era, there were lots of police officers who cheered on the lynch mobs. That problem was fixed.

    Lets face facts: We are talking about violent, dangerous criminals who belong in jail to protect public safety.

    Police officers who fail to uphold the law in the face of violent, dangerous criminals need to be severely disciplined to ensure that they either uphold the law or else they experience unemployment.

    Plenty of 1960′s era black people thought that it was “more hassle than it’s worth” to fight against Jim Crow. Fortunately, enough people did fight that things changed.

    Fundamentally, if we tolerage being victimized by violent, dangerous criminals then guess what the future has to hold: Continuing to be victimized by violent, dangerous criminals.

  6. Dr. M says:

    You are right. I can count on one hand the number of times that I have been yelled at by a motorist. Mostly teen guys trying to punk a girl off her bike by screaming out the window.
    You can’t legislate / litigate ever idiot action but I do run a video camera on my commuter bike…just in case. I also have a 105 decible horn so that yells back pretty nicely.
    In the many years I’ve been on the road, I’ve found most drivers to be courteous while others may just be having a bad day. Rachetting up the aggression level of a rude word or obscene yell is neither wise or prudent when the other guy has a 2,000 lbs weapon at his disposal. So chill. Imagine their rumps getting fatter while their wallets slim down due to high gas prices. Two things us cyclists don’t have to worry about.

  7. Chris A-L says:

    I’m always sort of more surprised than anything that someone would yell at me. Almost getting hit will get me pretty mad, but being yelled at, I can’t find that too much of a bother. I think I generally turn my head and get a quizzical expression. I have had to engage in conversations where I explain that ‘share the road’ means ‘share the lane.’ But mostly I have to worry about the almost getting hit and the beauty and stuff.

    –Chris

    • Ted Johnson says:

      Disclosure: Chris is a friend of mine.

      Chris: I think it must be said that the “Getting yelled at” problem. Some people are more prickly and reactive by nature than others, and for me, non reaction is very much a learned behavior, and mental discipline in need of constant renewal. You, sir, are a prince of civility. You got mad at me once that I know of, and it took you about three weeks to say something about it. I’m still sorry about that.

      My absolute guru and role model of how to deal with jerks is my friend Gregory, a Cameroonian I met while in Peace Corps. As the owner of a small business, he would deal with aggressive jerks every day — people who wanted a better price, people who were just mean my nature, bona-fide crazies who wandered in off the street. Watching deal with these people with kindness, humor, and a smile was like watching someone use a supernatural power that I lack. I still draw on memories of him when jerks start to get the best of me.

  8. Jay Swift says:

    If I get yelled at by a motorist you bet that I yell back at them. I say things like “the sky is BLUE!!!” or “chickens lay EGGS!!!” and smile with a big grin. Most of them have no response and you can watch their brains spiral into infinite loops…

    If I am confronted with any true aggressive driving though, like a car getting far too close for comfort in a way that seems intentional, I usually either find a new course to work (living in a city makes moving over one block easy) or I just hop off the bike and wait on the sidewalk for a couple of minutes. I can easily waste 3 or 5 minutes playing with me email on my smartphone while I wait for the angry drivers to disperse.

  9. Ted Johnson says:

    Yesterday I went to the same Home Depot and noticed that the abandoned bike had been removed. The manager had told me she thought that bike had been out there for about a month, so maybe my conversation had something to do with her decision to unclog the access to the bike rack. There were three bikes locked to the rack, so apparently the decision to make the rack accessible resulted in more use.

  10. BluesCat says:

    Kevin Love – Whoa! Let me clarify my position.

    I do NOT put the Redneck Bullhorn (the cowardly idiot who yells something at me from the security of his car) in the same class as the Vehicular Terrorist. A VT is a clown who PURPOSELY tries to run me off the road or commits some other criminal act on the roadway which has the potential to cause, or actually DOES cause, harm to me or others. If I egg on the Bullhorn in some way (i.e. by rightfully informing him that he has needle points on BOTH of his heads), and he devolves into a VT, as I understand the laws of the state of Arizona if he injures or kills me — or another person — then MY acts could well be considered “mitigating circumstances” when the court is deciding what sort of punishment to mete out. I do not want to afford the VT that luxury.

    If some sleaze-bag STARTS OUT as a Vehicular Terrorist, then all bets are off. For instance, if some mouth-breathing-motorist tosses a half-filled can of soda at me as he passes, and I can catch up to him at the next light … we’re probably BOTH going to wind up in jail that day. I’m prepare to accept that, because the way I will lure him into receiving some bruises from me will be a very carefully orchestrated process which will guarantee that the court will eventually find nothing criminal in my actions.

    If I cannot catch up to him, then you can bet I will try my best to get his plate number, I will call the authorities, I will assist with finding witnesses, I will appear in court and I will do EVERYTHING else I can think of to make sure he gets his just deserts.

  11. Casey says:

    I’ve always found that the disappointed head shake is one of the best ways to shame drivers into not acting like assholes, assuming they can actually see me. I’ll look at them, sigh and then shake my head very in a very disappointed manner. Somewhere around half of the people I do this to will *literally* hang their head in in shame. It’s totally amazing.

  12. Ray Lovinggood says:

    Ted,
    At least your Home Depot has a rack. I haven’t checked my local Home Depot, but the even closer Lowes doesn’t have a rack. At least not one that I’ve found. I usually end up chaining the bike to a picnic table that is on display up front or the long security cable they use to lock up their lawn equipment.

    In my current home town and the adjacent town, if I’m harrassed by aggressive drivers, I call 911 and tell the operator “This is not an emergency, but a report on an aggressive driver.” I’ve been told the law enforcement wants to track the reports of such incidents. What they do with that information is unknown to me. In about 2.5 years of biking, I’ve had only two instances of drivers acting aggressively with me, and I called 911 for both of them.

    Ray

  13. Joel says:

    Dear Ted,

    As you have mentioned in a previous post, you and I have been in somewhat of a cocoon. We have both been exposed to polite and courteous drivers during a majority of our bicycle usage. This tends to make the outliers much more noticeable and disturbing.

    At the first horn blow or disturbing words, we immediately evaluate our actions and calculate the fault. There are no absolute calculations. There are many drivers who refuse to yield to an ambulance or police vehicle with lights and sirens let alone a bicycle.

    One can only keep the faith. I try to set the example for other cyclists, earn the respect of reasonable vehicle drivers, and arrive at my destination safely.

    Every job that I have worked involved life and death. I cannot be perfect, I just try to keep my imperfections from causing big problems and do my best to help everyone else get home to their families.

    Do not over think the actions of stupid people. Remember, genius is limited but stupidity is not thus handicapped.

    Smile and have a good day!

  14. Kevin Love says:

    All right! Bravo!

    (Sound of hands clapping)

  15. Kevin Love says:

    Ray,

    Why would you consider an aggressive driver not an emergency? Such persons present an immediate and urgent threat of death or serious injury to other people using the road. To me, that’s an emergency that requires the highest priority of emergency response.

    Take a look at this video of dangerous drivers who were “slightly speeding.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y60YQOzNWYE&feature=player_embedded

  16. Jay Swift says:

    Ted,

    Today I made a special trip to my local Home Depot just to see if they had a bike rack… and they don’t! So I went inside and mentioned to the store manager that the county will put a bike rack in front of the store, free of charge, if the manager just asks for one. Without embellishment, the Store Manager called a shift supervisor over and had them fill out a request to the county right then and there! (The county has a webpage where store owners can submit requests for bike racks and I carry a card with the website just in case a store owner ever wonders how to put a rack up for their customers.

    Jay

  17. Jay Swift says:

    Here is some documentation from DC (where I actually live):

    http://ddot.dc.gov/DC/DDOT/Publication%20Files/Services/Parking/rack%20design%20and%20placement.pdf

    and

    http://www.dc.gov/DC/DDOT/On+Your+Street/Bicycles+and+Pedestrians/Bicycles/Bicycle+Parking

    And then here is the website for the Home Depot that I sent them to:

    http://www2.montgomerycountymd.gov/DOT-DTE/BikeWays/BWHome.aspx

    and more specifically

    http://www2.montgomerycountymd.gov/DOT-DTE/Common/Standards/request11.pdf

    I know that the MoCo things say 2011, but they do still accept requests for bike racks on the old forms…

    Its a great system that the DC area has developed. In both DC and Maryland (I don’t know about any of the Virginia counties since I don’t venture there too often), there are laws on the books requiring new businesses to accommodate bicycles if they offer parking! On top of that, if any established businesses want to retrofit to accommodate bicycles, the City or County will provide the racks for them.

    Now if we could just fix the angry drivers… “Oranges have PEELS!!!”

  18. Jeff says:

    Gotta say, so many of you are wiser than I can too often manage. Not often….but enough to be a distinctly different response (for me) than any other anger mgmt situation. I’ve never quite figured out why the anger at a stupid or ignorant or soul-less auto operator seems to fall in a category all it’s own.

    One more interesting thing. Does anyone else see a difference in driver response when we are wheeling about town v. when we’re on fully loaded tour bikes? I sure do. I wonder why the respect phenomena for distance work loses something int he translation to everyday riding.

    Hey. We’re in the saddle. They aren’t.

  19. Ben says:

    I recently bought a trailer and immediately noticed that difference you mention in the respect from motorists. I also notice it in the dead of winter, when it’s clear I’m not just some idiot “playing” on his bike in traffic.

  20. Jeff says:

    That’s interesting, Ben. I too just came out of the saddle; from Redding CA to Las Cruces NM. Not a single ‘event’ in that 1300 miles. Not one. But two such inconsider-acies the next day in town, riding unloaded. Interesting too, the dead of winter observations. You are the hearty bunch, for we don’t see much of that down here in the southern Southwest. So is that respect people offer you a measure of respect….or simply of feeling sorry because they don’t know better?!

  21. Alison says:

    Ben and Jeff…this made me think, and I believe I’ve seen more examples of this point in the last 2 weeks. I am seeing a slight difference between driver deference when having my rear-rack-mounted pannier bags on my bike vs. just wearing a backpack for my commute. Or maybe the shoulder pains caused by this damn backpack are just making me hallucinate!

  22. Jeff says:

    Allison, I wonder if the panniers of a “real” cyclist elicits a similar kind of respect people give when someone wears a suit instead of blue jeans. Hmmm.

  23. kenneth Bradley says:

    I can and do carry my 45 caliber pistol in a sholder holster people give me room. No matter if it is a decoy gun or the real thing. I get the feeling all drivers see me while packing. It is sad all states do not have a vulerable road user law to protect all of us

  24. Matt Johnson says:

    Ted, I love your story. Amazing what our thoughts do to us. Thanks for sharing it.

  25. janine says:

    I’ll tell you the one thing I can’t let go of…cat calls. We’re in cat call season. I miss my coat.

  26. Brian Ogilvie says:

    That kind of behavior happens to me rarely, fortunately; usually it’s college students. In their case, I just chalk it up to not having completely developed impulse control. (That’s back in western Massachusetts, in the US; this year I have been living in France, and visiting England, and I have never been yelled at and only been honked at once.)

    If someone were to behave in a truly aggressive fashion, though, I’d try to get the plate number, or at least a vehicle description, and report it. The Northampton (Mass.) Cycling Club had a thread on its discussion board a couple years ago about an aggressive pickup driver who had made threats against several cyclists and had threatening anti-cyclist messages in her truck windows. The police tracked her down and had a discussion; apparently that took care of the problem, at least in the short term.

  27. Siouxgeonz says:

    Yesterday a cop went by goin’ the opposite direction on the little residential road I was traversing… and then I passed one… two… three… cop cars on the side of the road. Hmmm…

    Then a car went by and a woman (I’m pretty sure a passenger, not the driver) hollered truly threatening direvtives… and it was with precisely the psychology of the teenager on the bus that snowy January who was trying to get into an all-out brawl with the other lady on the bus, and one of them showed a knife and the other made a big obscene and hostile issue of that and police were brought in to the scene…
    … I wasn’t on a bus, though. I’m thinking that there was probably something going on and she’d been the loser, and now she had to win… if the vehicle so much as slowed down, I’d simply have turned around — the cops were about 100 yards behind.
    However, nobody takes hollering out the window at you as a serious threat… even if you’re femail, and it wasn’t worth raising my blood pressure over (and it didn’t – it was so out of context I sort of observed it like a TV show). I don’t think she was a career VT, though she could have been at that point…

  28. Ken says:

    Some people in a car shouted obscenities at me one day. They got a little freaked out when I caught up with them at the stop light and took a picture of their license plate.

  29. Ted Johnson says:

    Somebody shouted something at me from a car today. Not with the hostility of this previous incident, but with stupidity.

    I caught up to them at a light, I was on their left in the left turn lane. I looked at the driver and said, “Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.”

    “Nothing. We weren’t giving you a hard time. Nice bike.”

    “Thanks,” I said. “Call your moms today. It’s Mothers Day.”

    “Okay.”

  30. snukb says:

    I don’t get shouted at, but I do get honked at a lot. When I dare signal, check, then pull into the left lane for a left turn (or to get out of the way of a righ-turn-only lane) or when I claim a lane with no shoulder (which, I should add, the only two roads like this that I take regularly have two lanes each way) I get honked at every time.

    I really can’t say I blame them. There are only three kinds of common bicyclists around here: kids and can collectors (who bike on the sidewalk) and spandex aero guys (who keep as far to the right as possible and never turn left). As a commuter who practices vehicular cycling, I’m both an oddity and a weird obstacle they aren’t used to dealing with.

    So far, though, they’re only using their horns and I can pretend they are honking at me because they think my bike is so awesome.

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