Thursday, October 6, 2016

What's the opposite of microaggression?

Crossing Billings Bridge this morning, I was in the middle of the outside lane. It's a four-lane bridge, with sharrows painted on the outer lanes, but it's wide enough that if you ride along the sharrows some drivers will still think they can squeeze by you, so I always claim the full lane. 

I had cars behind me, but I figured the drivers wouldn't mind, since I was still going faster than all the cars lined up bumper to bumper in the inside lane. (Just after the bridge the outside lane goes over to parking.) I was just thinking how it was kind of ironic that I was going faster than all the cars and had the lane to myself when -- 

-- Someone in a white Golf suddenly pulled out of the lineup and nearly right into me, cutting me off. 

"Whoa! WHOA!" I shouted at the top of my lungs (the only way to make a noise loud enough that you have a hope of a driver hearing you), first as I saw the car begin to turn and then as I realized it wasn't going to stop and I swerved and braked a bit. The car continued on, and I did the large, arm-sweeping "what the hell, man?" gesture, but kept pedalling along behind him.

He turned right onto Riverdale just past the bridge, and as that was where I was going to turn anyway, so did I, thinking, now that guy probably thinks I'm trying to chase him down. 

And then he slowed down, and pulled over to the side of the road. 

A few things went through my mind. First, here he was doing something else I couldn't interpret. Was he parking? Pulling over temporarily? What was he going to do next, and could I get clear of him before he did whatever it was? Second, I saw his window rolled down and thought: ah shit, he's going to try to bawl me out because he thinks I wasn't supposed to be in the middle of the lane or something, and this is going to be one of those stupid yelling matches. Third, I thought: well, okay, but I need to say something, right? 

Anyway, the window was down, so I stopped beside him. Not caring if I was jamming up the cars behind me or anything. They could wait or go around: presumably they'd seen what had just happened between the two of us back on the bridge. And the driver looked up at me through the open window and said, "I'm so sorry."

Which was unexpected, I'll admit. I'd been bracing for all the usual recriminations.

"I'm really sorry," he said again, "It scared me too. I honestly didn't see you till I heard you yell, and then there was nothing I could do about it. The sun just blinded me and I shouldn't have pulled out like that."

I assured him that I was okay - I was, after all. I'd seen him start to turn so I'd had time to react: he hadn't even really scared me as much as he'd clearly scared himself. It was all a lot more sudden for him, after all. And, being aware that we were stopped in the middle of the street, I said thanks and yes, I was fine, and to have a good day. And really, I wanted to say more. I wanted to tell him that I hoped the rest of his day was utterly confrontation-free, and that I wished him nothing but good people and kind interactions, in return for his having stopped to talk to me. But all I really said was something like, "Have a great day, man," as I got rolling again.

So, to that guy: thanks. Genuinely, thank you. For the kindness of stopping to speak to me, and for reminding me that it's very possible, in those cases where I shout, gesture, and mutter, "asshole," at someone for cutting me off or whatever, that maybe that person actually drives away feeling remorse for their moment of thoughtlessness, and just doesn't have the presence of mind - or the opportunity - to pull over and try to apologize. 

1 comment:

  1. I find this so often actually. You get that fight/flight/shut-down instinct and your body prepares for the confrontation instinctually before you realise that most people are really good. The reason the bike lanes/rules exist is because the majority of society approves of cycling of and wants cyclists to be safe. If you look for it, you see the good nature in Ottawa easily twenty times more often than you see the aggressive driver that crowds the bike lane/shoulder as they blow by.

    Thanks for this message, too much of our bike culture is revolving around the car vs bike war rather than the people & people striving for betterment.