It happened again Sunday night. I don't know how often this happens to anyone else, but for me, at least, it's every few months. A car will be passing me (usually as I'm chugging up Bank Street, somewhere near Ohio, on that hill south of Billings Bridge) and a guy will shout, loudly and suddenly, out the passenger side window as they pass me. Presumably in an attempt to see me jump, flinch, jerk the handlebars, or otherwise look startled. Apparently this sort of thing is a laff riot with a certain demographic of youngish males.
It doesn't bother me that much, I suppose (it's never actually caused me to have an accident, although I guess there is that risk), except that there is no recourse for me. I can't shout back: by the time I can react they've passed. And shouting back would just amuse them more. All I can do is what my mom told me to do back in elementary school: ignore them. But if you ever tried that tactic in elementary school, you know that even if you know you have the moral high ground you also can't help feeling a little foolish, a little powerless, and a little pissed off while you're ignoring the idiots. And there's no way I can have a conversation with them about why it's not a great idea to race past a cyclist and deliberately try to make her fall. For one thing, it would be pointless: for another, they're already a half mile away.
So I shrug, call them names in my head, and continue on my way. The same when someone cuts me off, buzzes too close, or tries to play "chicken" at an intersection when I've got the right of way. Or yells "Get out of the road!"
There's been a lot of news lately about the website IHollaBack.org getting an Ottawa branch... it's a website where people can post incidents of street harassment. I know that sexual harassment can be way more serious than the kinds of things that happen to me on a bike, but you know, there are similarities. In the worst cases, a cyclist can feel very threatened; in some road rage cases people can even get killed. Although in most of the cases I've been aware of, I just felt angry that the person yelling, driving aggressively, chasing, tailgating, or cutting off the cyclist, felt they had the right to do what they did. The video blog Bike View in Ottawa - because he has a camera mounted on his bike - is like a treasure trove of those kinds of incidents for cyclists (and, also, to be fair, of the joys of riding and good things that also happen.)
Not that you want things like this to happen at all. But it is really nice to know you're not the only one. Because as I'm cranking along, I know I, for one, do not hollaback.