Saturday, June 24, 2006

What's wrong with me?

No one can say that today has been boring. And there's even more to come.

The day started slowly. I skipped the walking tour and opted to do laundry, watch a movie and repair my bike (I replaced the fender stays that were damaged when the car hit my bike a few weeks ago).

The plan was to ride to Home Rule (a very cool housewares store) on 14th Street and pick up a folding shopping cart for my mom. After that, I'd go to Tryst for the best cappuccino in town and a bite of lunch. Then, back down the hill to my friend's house for World Cup Soccer watching party.

I got started late and didn't get to Home Rule until after 2pm. Unfortunately, they didn't have what I wanted. I was on my way up the hill to Tryst when I rode right past Busboys and Poets. I haven't been there yet and it was hot and the hill was not looking attractive. Also, while I like the atmosphere at Tryst (beat up couches, free wifi, cooler than thou servers) I've always found it impossible to settle the bill there in a timely fashion. Since I only had an hour to eat, I anticipate a long, painful and annoying exit from Tryst—that is, if I could even find a place to sit.

I ate at Busboys and Poets. The food was ok, the latte was over priced and the place was hoppin'. The staff was extremely nice and sufficiently attentive. They have free internet and I'd go back with the computer another time.

It was past 3pm when I finished lunch and the party started at 2:30pm. No problem. I'd find a store alone the way and pick up a six of something.

For the rest of the story to make sense, I need tell you a bit about my approach to biking in the city. Generally, I follow the rules of the road. Sometimes I bend the rules. I ride in the street, but, if it is dangerous, I will jump temporarily to the sidewalk. I stop at stop signs (sometimes I slow way down and then ride through). I stop at traffic signals (sometimes I ride through when the opposing light turns yellow). Late at night when there is no traffic, I will run lights and stop signs, if I'm confident there are no cars, bikes or pedestrians around. I ride with traffic and I stay as far to the right as possible, but out of the way of car doors. When I get to an intersection, I move to the middle of my lane so that cars turning right don't hit me. I consider myself a good, if not perfect, bike citizen. I try and act in a predictable manner so that cars have no excuse to hit me and are inconvenienced as little as possible by my slow speed. And you better believe I ride slowly.

I was riding west on R ST NW and had just crossed 16th, slightly ahead of the light turning green. There is a bike line on R, making it a particularly dangerous spot for getting slamming by a car turning right—they can cut into the bike line, but the cyclist can't claim the lane to get out of the way. My solution was to cross the intersecting one beat before the cars.

Just as I got through the intersection, someone in a large, black SUV yelled at me, "You can get a ticket for that!"

I answered as they passed me, "Give it to me then!"

I should also note that when I'm on bike I get as foul and aggressive as the worst car driver.

The young women in the SUV yelled something else, which I can't recall.

I answered, "F*ck you, bitch!" Stupid, rude, idiotic. What can I say?

The SUV slowed down and a young woman moved close to the rear passenger window and turned back to look at me, "What did you say? Say that again."

I was only a few yards from the woman and I said, "The light was just about to turn green, that's why I rode through. "

"That's not what you said." I could see that there were three or four young women in the car. They were well-groomed, black and in their mid-twenties. They laughingly conferred about me.

I said, "I always check first. Then I go through."

"That's not what you said. Will you stop and say that again?" Her tone was taunting and aggressive.

"No. I won't stop."

"That's right, you won't."

"I don't want to fight with you."

"I bet you don't!"

I shook my head and they sped up and made it to the end of the block. And stopped. And waited for me. There was no way I could get past them without riding by their open windows and I didn't trust that they wouldn't get out of the car as I passed. I turned into a driveway, made the sidewalk, and rode down the block in the opposite direction. I looked for an alley to duck into, but no such luck. I got to the next block and turned left, staying on the sidewalk. I hate riding on the sidewalk, but the pedestrians kindly let me pass. I said thank you to one man who stopped and let me get by a narrow spot by a tree. He said, "You're welcome."

My heart was racing. I wanted to get inside somewhere as soon as possible. I rounded the block, still on the sidewalk. There was no way they could have followed me since the streets were one way.

I couldn't believe how stupid I'd been. What was I doing picking a fight with SUVs full of people? Was I a coward for not stopping? What a joke. Stopping to fight? About what? Swearing at them? I didn't have any face to save, that's for sure, since I'd already made a fool of myself. I guess those young women wanted to show me who was boss. Since I turned and ran, they won. Good for them!

You'd think that I'd learn my lesson. But on my ride home, when a woman in a red car crowded me out of my space in the lane and made a right turn in front of me, neatly cutting me off, I swore at her, "Goddamnit! You're crowding me out!" The volume was lower than earlier in the day, but I'm pretty sure she heard me. At least I was 100% right, but I don't think that's the point.

Grateful for: not getting myself killed.

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