I was riding down to South Keys to see a movie this afternoon. To get there I have to go over a bridge, crossing some train tracks, and it's a bit harrowing on the best day. Right now, in early spring, the whole "bike space" area is coated in grit, broken pavement and mud, so it's a little sketchy to ride on. And traffic along this road usually goes somewhere around 70 or 80 kph. So I was on edge as I headed down the far side of the bridge, and toward the first right turn into the parking lot in front of the big-box strip mall.
And naturally, asI was trying to negotiate the strip of grit and mud, the potholes, and everything else, with cars zipping past me, I was passed by a brown UPS delivery van. He honked his horn: I shrank as he blasted past me, and I shouted, got mad, and gave him the finger as I coasted on down the slope. He cut over and turned right into the parking lot, a little in front of me. I turned right at the same spot, and decided I was going to follow him: guessing, since the van headed off to the back of the strip mall, that he was going somewhere in the mall and I could catch him. I gave chase. For once, I thought, I was going to confront the driver. Make him look the cyclist in the eye and explain himself. Even if it was scary, I was going to do it.
I followed him around behind the mall, and most of the way along its length. He parked, and got out, and started walking, and I kept after him, and then rode up alongside him. "Excuse me, sir," I said, as I got close, and he stopped. "I just had to ask. Why'd you have to honk at me?"
And he explained. He'd seen me, started to move left to give me some room, and some other driver had popped out of his blind spot, and not given him space to get over. "I was thinking, are you nuts? Don't you see the lady on the bike?" he said to me. "So I honked, to tell him to get out of the way so I could move over, but he just didn't," he said.
I felt awful. For assuming that the honk was meant for me. For not having seen what was going on just behind my left shoulder. For not being able to see past the big brown van to the cars on the other side and what they were doing, and mostly for assuming that all interactions are directed - and with hostility - at me. I thanked him for making the effort to give me space, and I went on my way. Chagrined.
Something to remember: it's so easy to assume all drivers are against you. I try to smile and wave at the drivers I see making an effort to give me room, but I don't see all of them. I need to remember how many drivers do see us, and try to give us space, and how many of them we just don't notice, for that very reason: because they gave us space and didn't scare us. How many of them are just as freaked out by the convergence of bikes and cars as we are. And not every honking horn is aimed at us. In fact, assuming the drivers are on our side might make everyone feel a whole lot better.