This day did not start well.
Monday morning meant back to our regular routine after the long holiday weekend. Which meant walking my wife down to her car, then taking the dog out for its morning walk.
The dog has her own routine, too.
She insists on walking out front and waiting for my wife’s car to exit the garage. Then stands and barks a few times as my wife drives off to work.
And then — and only then — will she acquiesce to begin our daily constitutional around the block.
Today was different.
This time, she heard the garage gate open and took off running, jerking the leash out of my hand. And planted herself squarely in front of my wife’s car, hidden below her field of vision, in an apparent attempt to keep her from leaving.
Nice gesture. Bad execution.
Fortunately, my wife is a careful driver, and was exiting the garage slowly enough to hear my shouts of warning. She jammed on the brakes and stopped just short of turning our Corgi into road kill.
So I collected the dog, and after giving her a good talking to — which she seemed to clearly understand despite the language barrier — we finished our walk, my stomach churning the whole way over what might have been and almost was.
A few hours later I was still shaken, so I did what I usually when I’m upset.
I got my bike and went for a ride.
I was about three miles from home when the light at a busy intersection turned yellow. I noticed a driver facing the opposite direction, waiting to make her left and unsure what I was going to do. So I gave a quick nod for her to go ahead while I braked to a stop.
She smiled in response and waved her thanks as she turned just before the light changed to red.
A few moments later, as I waited at the light to turn green, a car pulled up behind me with its right turn signal on. I moved my bike slightly to the right so he could pull up to the intersection, nodding his thanks as he moved up next to me.
But instead of stopping, he continued to edge forward. So I pointed to the No Right on Red sign, unsure if he could still see me. Yet shortly afterwards, the car’s forward stance visibly relaxed as he took his foot off the gas, then turned around to give me a thumbs up for saving him from a possible ticket.
And suddenly, my mood brightened, the day’s near disaster finally behind me.
Throughout my ride, I found myself interacting with drivers and pedestrians in countless little ways. For once, it wasn’t drivers versus cyclists, but human beings recognizing the humanity in one another, and finding ways to share the road in peace and safety.
I even got the chance to express some thanks of my own, as a driver prepared to enter his car in a busy area where dooring is always a distinct possibility. He looked up and saw me, though, and somehow managed to squeeze himself into his car while barely holding the door open to allow himself the smallest possible entryway. And leaving me plenty of room to ride past as I thanked him for the courtesy.
Just one stranger looking out for another.
It was a day when courtesy and compassion seemed to override the usual stress on the streets. And a reminder that we’re not really cyclists or drivers, but just people trying to get from here to there and return to our loved ones in peace.
And in one piece.
Although that came into serious question when I encountered a woman who may just be one of the worst drivers in human history. Or at least one of the worst I’ve ever seen.
I was making my way home, taking my usual shortcut through the VA hospital grounds, when I was passed by a massive white SUV.
As we both neared a stop sign, she edged over to the right in an obvious attempt to block my path. So I rode around her anyway, only to have her lurch towards me in what I could only interpret as an unprovoked threat, coming less than a foot from hitting me before straightening her wheel and continuing down the road.
She didn’t get far, though. An ambulance coming from the opposite direction with red lights and siren blaring caused the car ahead of her to pull to the right and stop, blocking her path.
I pulled out my camera phone, intending to take a photo of her license plate while she was stopped.
Then watched in horror as she hesitated for a few moments before cutting sharply to the left, driving head-on into the path of the ambulance to get around the stopped car. And forcing the ambulance driver into a full panic stop, less than a block from the ER entrance, to let the dangerously aggressive driver pass without causing a wreck.
And never mind that every second counts in an emergency situation, and that her idiotic stunt could have put the patient in jeopardy. Let alone everyone else on the road who could have been collateral damage to her need to get where she’s going just a few seconds faster.
Wherever the hell there might be.
Once the ambulance passed, I kicked it up into my smallest gears to catch up to her.
Unfortunately, shift change at the hospital flooded the street with cars, cutting me off before I could catch her. And letting her get away to threaten other cyclists and risk the lives of other people another day.
Yet even that couldn’t kill my upbeat mood.
It would take more than one dangerous, threatening jerk to outweigh all the safe, positive and friendly interactions that came before.
And that’s what I call a very good ride.
And a good day.
Even if the jerk got away.