Guest Commentary

Considering how some motorists treat bicyclists, we just don't get it

Five of us are pedaling southeast on Old Spanish Trail. We're in the bike lane. Linda is furthest left, on the line separating our lane from automobiles. There's hardly any traffic; she's not in anyone's way.

A guy in a pickup skims by her, his mirror missing her by 6 inches, startling and scaring her. He continues up the road, where he is stopped by a red light.

I drop behind my four friends at the light. They prudently ignore the guy in the truck. I stop next to his passenger window and greet him cheerily. "Good morning, sir," I say. I smile. He looks at me. "You passed pretty close to that young lady," I say, nodding toward Linda. The man points his finger at the bike lane.

He was trying to show us the error of our cycling ways. We were lost, but now we're found. That's where we should have been--in the bike lane. He nearly hit Linda to instruct her in proper lane use.

"Thanks for looking out for us, sir," I say. "We appreciate your concern for our safety. You're a pretty nice guy, huh?"

He begins swearing at me, and I ask him why he's speaking to me so harshly. After all, I tell him, I haven't been mean, not at all. He tells me I'm pushing the limit, hinting that something awful might happen.

"What are you gonna do?" I ask. "Swear at me again?" He does.

"Maybe," I say, "you're not as nice a guy as I thought." He says he's not nice, and that I, the villain in the piece, am on thin ice on Old Spanish Trail. I wish him a fine day.

The light changes. He drives off into the distance. I hope he stays there.

After my chat with the driver, three of the other riders drop back a bit. My friend Jay and I pedal side by side in the bike lane.

"Jay," I ask, "was I out of line speaking to the thoughtful motorist? He was only trying to show us our place. Maybe I should have ignored the guy ..."

We discuss the options. We could have said nothing and pretended that the guy hadn't endangered Linda. We could have explained to him that even a minor brush with his truck could injure or kill her. We could have swore or gestured at him, or banged on the side of his truck.

We agree there was no reaching the guy. But I hadn't spoken to him thinking I might reach him; I did it because swallowing his contempt would have made my stomach hurt.

We agree that the guy justified his harassment by pointing out that wicked Linda had been at the edge of the bike lane; well-behaved cyclists hug the curb. He decided she deserved a wakeup call from his truck.

"Jay," I say, "that guy barely missed Linda with his huge truck. What if he'd shot a one-ounce bullet at Linda and barely missed? If Linda shouted, demanding to know why he'd do such a thing, would he then be the offended party?

"Why do people do these things? Why are they so hostile and quick to take offense? How can they be so sure they're right? Why would they endanger a cyclist to make a point?"

Jay says, "I don't know. I don't know why this guy or anyone would act that way. I often feel that there are things people understand that I just don't get. I feel that way with motorists and other times, too. Everyone understands but me. I just don't get it.

"I'm a grownup guy," he says. "I'm reasonably intelligent. I've been to college, owned homes, held responsible jobs and paid taxes. I should understand how things work. But often," Jay says, "I don't understand. I don't get it.

"I don't understand why working people support policies that favor the rich. I don't understand why abortion is evil baby-slaying, but capital punishment and war are good. I don't understand how gay marriage threatens anything or anyone.

"I don't know why it's patriotic to build weapons to blow up the world a hundred times over but universal medical care is un-American.

"I don't understand why that guy tried to scare Linda."

We're bright guys, Jay and I. We've been to school and worked demanding jobs. We try, honest we do. We just don't get it.