I've written plenty on this blog about dealing with traffic -- on being a cyclist in a car-eats-bike world. Whether it's angry drivers who insist on blasting their horn as they pass, or impatient drivers who think nothing of putting cyclists at risk to save a few seconds, or simply arguing with idiots who've convinced themselves that it's cyclists who are the problem, "sharing the road" has been the subject of a lot of posts.
Anybody who rides on the roads as much as I do (and probably most Retrogrouch readers) can probably tell "war stories" all day long. Ken Burns should do a documentary. Whether it's due to driver inattention/distraction, ignorance, "cluelessness," impatience, or even sadistic malice, I've had plenty of close calls with drivers (and been hit once).
I never had one of these close calls when I've been the driver of a car, but if I did ever somehow put a cyclist at serious risk, I'd like to think that I'd feel pretty bad about it. I mean, wouldn't that be a natural reaction? When faced with the fact that we may have come very close to injuring someone with our car, particularly if it was through our own negligence or fault, wouldn't one expect any humane person to feel at the very least embarrassed, if not horrified? In my experience as a cyclist, that is not the reaction I usually see from drivers.
Usually, just the fact that I reacted to them by yelling out (even if it's just yelling to save my skin), a lot of the drivers I encounter go into full-out road rage mode. Some will lay on the horn and give me "the finger." Others will scream out some profanities. The real psychos will threaten to "finish the job" next time they see me. Remember the bastard I wrote about in my last post about traffic roundabouts? "YOU GODD*MNED A**HOLE. I SHOULD'VE F**ING KILLED YOU!" is something I've heard more often than anyone should.
All this makes what happened to me yesterday so much more unexpected.
I was riding home from work along a 2-lane backroad, keeping up a pretty good pace of around 20 mph. Coming up on my left was a side street where I saw a car wanting to make a left turn. Just as I got to the intersection, the guy pulled out and was heading right for me. It was pretty obvious he didn't see me, and he was essentially planning on moving right into the physical space I was occupying. Of course I was slowing and getting over to the right as far as I could go while at the same time I was screaming at the driver "HEY! WATCH WHERE YOU'RE GOING!!"
I was still intact, but mad as hell and I yelled some things at the back of his car as he drove off. Before I knew it, I saw the guy pulling over, and I immediately thought, "Oh great - here we go again." I was fully expecting the driver to start screaming threats and insults or something. Maybe he was going to try to start a fistfight (yes, that has happened).
What happened next shocked the hell out of me.
When I got up to where the driver had stopped, and he was getting out of his car, I could see that he was looking pretty sheepish as he stepped in my direction.
"Hey man - I'm really sorry about that back there. You OK?"
. . . (shock and disbelief) . . .
"Yeah - I'm fine. I'll get over it. Thanks."
Normally after I have one of these near misses, and the drivers act like complete @$$holes, I end up fuming all the rest of my ride. Not this time, though. It's amazing how somebody simply acknowledging that they screwed up and saying "Sorry" (and actually meaning it) can make such a difference. Too bad it's such a rare thing.
Anyhow - as if to prove that the balance of the car-bike universe hasn't shifted in some truly positive way, just this morning I had an oncoming car make a left turn directly in front of me. His car literally passed about three feet off my front wheel. In shock and surprise, I yelled out "HEY!" (just "HEY" - nothing more). The driver, whose window was open, yelled back "WATCH WHERE YOU'RE GOING @$$HOLE!"
All is right with the world.