In a class discussion last Wednesday about cultures of honor (we are reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers) my students asked me if there was anything or anyone that would engender the kind of emotion (rage) that would be required to act out in the way the subjects in the Harlan, Kentucky chapter behaved. Was there something someone could say or do to me that would trigger me. I had to think about this for a while, as I generally avoid that kind of conflict because it makes me uncomfortable, but also because as a woman it is simply too risky to actually address those who act inappropriately towards you in America anymore.
I thought about it for a minute and imagined who could make me feel so angry I wanted to actually do something to them that might be permanently damaging. My former step-mother came to mind because she is a truly Bad Person, but I am trying to let that go, so, nah. Then it hit me: CYCLISTS. My friend Justin has a saying: ‘When I am walking I hate cars; when I am driving I hate pedestrians. But I always hate cyclists’ and as a non driver a third of the sentiment is not relevant to me, but the latter thought: YES.
To be fair, I never really had an opinion on cyclists until I lived in San Francisco. For most of my life I have had a bike, and I have ridden bikes in more cities and countries than I can count. It never really seemed like a “Thing” to me. It was just an activity, or a conduit to one, I suppose.
But since I have been in San Francisco it has come to my attention that the cyclists in this city are the worst examples of people. Now, I am not saying all cyclists are the worst people, but I am definitely saying that all the worst people I have met in San Francisco have been cyclists.
The cyclists in San Francisco act as if they are the most maligned and put upon population that ever lived (puh-leeze), and there are constant outcries about how they are mistreated by cars and public transportation and, well, any one who gets in their way. Which is interesting because they are about the ONLY people you will see yelling at, and accosting, pedestrians, busses, and motor vehicle drivers in this town.
In no particular order here are things I have seen:
- Speeding down crowded sidewalks (and being annoyed that people are on them)
- Chasing down and banging on cars
- I cannot count the broken traffic laws, but mostly it is running lights and I am fairly certain I have yet to see a cyclist stop at a stop sign
- Shoving people out of the way on Bart (trains and escalators and platforms)
- Speeding aggressively close to a pedestrian about to step off a sidewalk and yelling “THAT IS JAYWALKING!”
- People crossing through the bike lanes on foot (I do this in the early mornings on Valencia Street when there is little to no vehicular traffic and limited bike traffic) and a singular rider, rather than negotiating the space, speeds up to ensure proximity and admonishes: “THAT IS NOT A GOOD PLACE TO BE”
- Cyclists knock over kids and elderly people
My favorite is “Bike to Work Day” which brings out hundreds of the most entitled riders you have ever seen. Those of us who keep our eco-footprints small by always using public transportation are not super impressed with your one day of awareness, by the way. Ironically, a majority of these hyper-aggressive individuals not only ignore traffic laws and signs, but they are riding fixed gear bikes, often with no brakes or single brakes, and frequently they are helmet free.
Oh, and in every example I have listed above, the cyclist was a white male.
The most famous event since I have been back in the city was the guy who plowed through a cross walk and killed a man. In spite of the fact that the guy had no remorse, and blogged about the whole things as he was riding for “time” he only received probation and community service. Gross. [Also, white male.]
Now, I realize that the fact that I can list and identify my issues with San Francisco cyclists definitely suggests that the majority of cyclists cannot be this loathsome, and that these assholes must be outliers. But I am not sure that could or should quell my distaste.
In a very interesting turn of events, on the very same Wednesday that I had been having the aforementioned conversation with my students, I had a very unpleasant experience with just the type of cyclist I am speaking of.
I was coming home at what would basically be considered rush hour and arrived at my Bart station at around 6:00 pm. My station is one of the most crowded, and according to Bart information has the greatest number of people walking to and from the station. As we filed out of the train on to the escalator from the platform a white male cyclist, somewhere in his twenties, approximately 6’1″ maybe 180 lbs, in standard tech-bro normcore clothes (jeans that allowed his Oxford boxers to show and a generic shirt and zip up jacket) with sandy hair and glasses, shoved his bike on to the escalator.
For what it is worth, bikes are not allowed on escalators in Bart stations.
He shoved a few people for the simple fact that the escalator was totally full and held his bike upright resting on the rear wheel so that the front wheel was bumping the woman in front of him. I looked at him as I made my way up the escalator on the left and had a thought of how fun it would be to drop some knowledge on him about how there are no bikes allowed on the escalator.
I did not say anything to him because: 1) It had been a long day and really what point would there be; 2) as a woman I do not have the freedom to say what I want to men because there is ALWAYS the very real reality that it could be dangerous to me.
I made my way through the turnstile and headed up the stairs to exit the station. As I reached the top of the stairs I became aware of the fact that this cyclist had sprinted up the other stairs (so clearly he did not NEED to be using an escalator…) and as I stepped off the stairs, he physically blocked me with his bike and got in my face yelling, “YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH HOW I HAVE MY BIKE ON THE ESCALATOR?!” I looked at him in total shock and took my ear buds out.
“Are you talking to me?”
“YEAH, BITCH I AM. YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH HOW I TAKE MY BIKE ON THE ESCALATOR? YOU WANT TO SAY SOMETHING TO ME? BITCH?”
“YOU GOT SOMETHING TO SAY?!” (At this point, he is still physically obstructing me while I am trying to walk, and takes one hand off his bike raising it as it to… well, who knows.)
“Are you serious? FUCK OFF.”
“YEAH WHATEVER. BITCH.” Now he swings his leg over the bike and begins to pedal away – through a very dense crowd – and yells back, “I WOULDN’T HAVE FUCKED YOU TEN YEARS AGO!”
Wow. He went there?
And he rode off up the sidewalk towards Bartlett regardless of the steady stream of foot traffic in both directions from the station. Then he crossed 24th on the diagonal, from the SE corner of Bartlett and 24th to the NW corner.
Now this encounter brings up myriad issues, not all related to cyclists, but likely all related to white male privilege, and in my neighborhood, the two more often than not overlap. And then of course there are the obvious facts that I am completely within my rights to look at people around me and not only for general safety and awareness, and his waning insult suggests his problem might have had little to do with any look I gave him, but much more to do with some larger issues he has, dare I say, with women.
Here is the (hardly inclusive) list of things it brought to my mind:
- How is it possible that no other person stopped to see about this potentially problematic situation?
- Who the fuck was this kid?
- Would this have happened had I not been a woman, walking alone (albeit in a crowd)?
- Would this have happened had the cyclist not been a white male? (I tried to replay the situation where the rider is black or latino or Asian or female and the resulting image is laughably fictitious)
- Who the fuck is this kid?
- How is it that the most offensive and entitled cyclists are the ones who do not follow the rules?
- Why did I not think to retort that his aggressive ass was not supposed to be on the escalator in the first place?
- Did he think I said, “Fuck YOU” prompting his retort about how he would not have fucked me ten years ago? Or is this just the go-to kind of insult for a young man to level at a middle-aged woman?
- Did he think I would have actually ever wanted to fuck him? (I know this is not the issue, but it makes me think about how homophobic straight guys always think gay men will want to get with them – and I had to remember that a great number of young men in San Francisco must somehow by into the mythology that San Francisco women are desperate for them.)
- Ultimately, my largest question (aside from what I should do about the situation) was: WHAT IN THE HELL WAS THIS KID’S DAMAGE?
This is the kind of shit that ONLY women have to put up with. And I know it is not only from cyclists, but anyone reading this can be absolutely sure that this little prince would not have done this to a man, or a woman who was with a man. Further, not that I should ever need to say this, but let me add that I was dressed completely normally, coming home from work carrying a load of stuff – there was nothing setting me apart from any other person returning from work that day, and certainly nothing sexualizing about my appearance.
The situation agitated me enough that I spoke to the Bart station attendants the next day, who told me that they were terribly disappointed I had not come back in to report the man the night before, and that they did have him on video in the station as a matter of policy if I wanted to file a police report. I considered it for sure. At this point I have not done anything else about it, but I certainly have considered how the experience speaks to so many of the social issues we are facing in our society everyday including white male privilege, sexism, misogyny, entitlement, dangerous self-interest, ageism, to name but a few.
It is a shame that this guy was on a bike because all it does, even in my rational mind that knows it is unfair, is make me more unforgiving of the bicycle culture in San Francisco.
At the end of the day, if I had to name a group of people who bring our any sort of Hatfield-McCoy energy in me, it remains SF cyclists. How unfair it is that I am unable to express this because of cultural norms that endanger me for responding to this sort of thing in kind.
Earlier in the day when I had arrived at my answer for my students, their response (many of them skaters and riders) was a chorus of agreement, and nearly every one of them had a story about an egregious act perpetrated by an urban cyclist. As Malcolm Gladwell would say, one example is just that, but 30 is a pattern.
Watch yourself out there people.