Is This Love?
So there I am, sitting on my bike at Blossom and Winton, enjoying the choicest evening of the year (this despite repeated hysterical warnings of the "thunderstorms with hail!!!" variety screaming from the radio all day--and blue skies at sunset). I'm in the center lane, waiting for the light to change, when I hear a voice from behind.
"Hey, excuse me!"
I turn around, and see a middle-aged guy in a gray sedan (his dog in the seat next to him) leaning halfway out his window.
"Hey, I have a question for you," he says.
"Sure," I say, a little cautiously, since there's usually one of two kinds of questions that follow such an opening. The first is the curious, friendly kind: How far do you ride? Where do you live? What kind of bike is that? How come you're so cool? The second kind of question actually rarely bears answering, mostly beginning with "Hey, why doncha..." and involves many choice phrases better suiting a less family-friendly show than this one. Suffice it to say, this second class asserts that I should not be riding in the road. At this point, I can't tell which kind of question it will be, so I wait and see what's to come.
"This is a serious question--I'm just asking--do you guys go the speed limit?"
Uh-oh. I feel like I've been trapped. He's asking a question he already knows the answer to. Of course I can't go that fast--at least, not on a flat stretch, not to mention an uphill.
I'm also a little more wary now because he referred to "you guys" even though I'm the only cyclist in view right now. But in for a penny, in for a pound, I figure. "Nope, not really," I reply.
"Ok," he says. "Then do you ride 10 miles an hour right in front of me, in the middle of the lane, or do you get over?"
At this point, he must see me start to get a little pissed off, because he quickly adds "I'm asking seriously," for the second time. And I look at him, and I think he really is. He's not looking to cuss me out, because I think he already would have, and most of those brosefs aren't bold enough to do that stopped at a light, anyway. He actually wants to talk this over with me. I think he's a little nervous that he's going to get stuck behind me, and feeling a little burned and a little raw from the last time that happened. Let's face it: no one likes to find themselves going way slow behind a granny, a garbage truck, a tractor, or a cyclist. Hell, I know I hate it when I drive. And this guy, I think he's just trying to suss out his situation.
I'm still not sure whether some hollering will ensue. In my mind, I'm already rehearsing what I might say if it comes to that, all those standard cyclist platitudes--I have as much right to ride in the road as you; New York State law defines bicycles as vehicles and expects us to ride in the street; I'm keeping the sidewalks safe for puppies, babies and old ladies by staying off them, etc. Plus, I might cuss a little, for good measure.
But I figure I won't be the one to start it. I answer him just how he asked me. "I get over to the side of the lane whenever it's safe."
"Whenever it's safe," he repeats. "Ok, cool, man. Thanks." And with that, he leans back into his car, and we proceed to wait out the light. I'm tense, because now I feel I have a point to prove: that I as a cyclist can hold my own in traffic, and that we're considerate of drivers--maybe more so than them of us. (Oops--there goes that "us and them" stuff again. But he started it.)
And the light changes. I'm off, and luckily I had downshifted just before the light, so I crank across the intersection like an overcaffeinated jackrabbit. I even closed the gap on the SUV in front of me--I almost had to wait for it a little as it picked up speed on that little uphill on the east side of Blossom. And, true to promise, I got over to the right, and let my interlocutor pass by on the left.
And what do you know--he honks, and waves over the top of his car. Thanks, he says. He really was just asking. And I just answered back, and then kept my word. No hollering. No cussing. No machista baloney. Just a cyclist and a driver, talking it out. Critical Mass, it wasn't. Just two people working out how to share the road.
So can't we all just get along? Maybe so.
And is this love? Maybe not. But it's a pretty good start.