Zen and the art of road rage

For the second time in the last 10 days, I found myself dealing with a road raging driver Thursday.

I was making a left from Main Street in Venice, after enjoying the relative luxury of the newly installed bike lanes, onto the sharrowed pavement of Abbot Kinney.

For once, I found myself all alone in the turn lane. But after the light turned green, a car came up behind me as I waited for the oncoming traffic to clear so I could make my left.

As I waited, I allowed my bike to drift slowly forward to avoid clipping out of my pedals and putting my foot down. And once the last car passed, I made my turn.

Unfortunately, my forward drift had put me at the far side of the intersection, so my turn ended up on the far side of the roadway, just this side of the right curb. And giving the jerk behind me just enough space to make his turn at the same time, blowing past about a foot from my elbow.

Startled by such a dangerous, jackass move, I yelled out “Hey!”

I was just as startled by his instantaneous anger. “Fuck you!” he yelled. “Get off the road.”

And there it was.

A clear violation of the new anti-harassment ordinance — a threatening action with his car, followed by the verbal implied threat telling me to get off the road. And a dangerous jerk who needed to be taught that we have every bit as much right to the road as angry, auto-centric idiots like him.

All I needed was a license number and witnesses, which wouldn’t have been hard to find on such a busy intersection.

By the time I’d collected myself and regained full control of my bike, he was already 100 yards down the road. But what he didn’t count on was that a very pissed-off cyclist can easily outrun a car on a crowded city street.

So I stood on my pedals, kicked up my cadence and knocked it up a couple gears, and soon found myself steadily gaining on him; within a few blocks I was less than 20 feet off his back bumper as he watched me approach in his rear view mirror.

But just as I was readying my camera to snap a photo of his license plate, he gunned his engine and quickly cut onto the wrong side of the road to bypass the traffic ahead of him, before zipping left down the next side street and rounding left at the next corner.

And like that, he was gone.

I may have shouted a reference to his apparent lack of cajones as, like Monty Python’s Sir Robin, he bravely ran away.

At least I could take comfort in scaring the crap out of a cowardly jerk who’d rather run away after threatening someone than face up to what he’d done.

It was clear that any further attempt to chase him down would be a wasted effort in the tangled warren of narrow streets behind Abbot Kinney. So I rode on, mad as hell, replaying the events in an endless loop in my mind.

And letting that jerk ruin my ride on a perfectly sunny SoCal day.

And that’s when I heard it.

That little voice inside my head, asking “Why are you still carrying him?”

It was a barely remembered story, from a time in my life when I was a steady student of eastern philosophy; these days, I’m less of a student as it has become, simply, a part of me.

When I slow down long enough to remember, that is.

As the story goes, two monks were traveling together when they came to a roaring river, and found a young woman who asked if they could carry her across. Without hesitation, one of the monks lifted her up and carried her across the stream, setting her down on the other side before continuing on their way.

As they walked, though, his partner was troubled, and asked why the other man had carried the woman when their training forbade physical contact with the opposite sex.

“Brother,” the other man replied, “I set her down back at the river. Why are you still carrying her?”

Why indeed.

If I could have done something to fight back against his threatening actions, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it. But by then, there was nothing I could do.

He’d threatened me. And gotten away with it.

And there’s just not enough room on my bike to carry another man and the car he rode in on.

So in that moment, I chose to leave it behind and get on with my ride. And my life.

If I see him again, I may make another attempt to bring him to justice. But it was a beautiful day, and I had another 30 miles to go.

And life is too short to carry that anger with me.

4 comments

  1. Michael says:

    Sometimes it is difficult to let it go, good that you did though. It was too nice a day for it to be spoiled like that.

  2. Psy says:

    I have my fair share of bad encounters with drivers too (come on LA, you’re better than this!) and learning not to carry it with me is something that I’m working on.

    For every bad encounter I have – no matter how much of a jerk they may be, I try to remember a good encounter. Like the people that I meet while biking, or the surfer who told me I was a “rad commuter,” or the few motorists that have thanked me for stopping at stop signs and being courteous in general.

    Keep focusing on the good! Like this wonderful “winter” we’re having.

  3. Eric W says:

    I live a few block away. You might have caught him on electric ave – short streets with lots of stop signs are an advantage on a bike. Then again, the number of drug users in Venice is substantial, so he may have just not noticed you at all in his hurry for a fix in the ‘hood.

    So look at the positive. Your bad driver seems to know about the anti-harassment ordnance. He appeared to be running away. Maybe he’s been sued already, by the other monk perhaps?

  4. Fred says:

    I am sorry this happened, but I loved what you did with a shitty experience.

    I find Buddhist practice and cycling to help one another in many ways, too.

    The funniest thing is what total cowards that many motorists are.

    Many women have told me that they feel this behavior stems from a great insecurity in the masculine areas of their lives.

    For this, I try to form compassion for them. Perhaps one day they’ll grow a sac and put their ass out there like an adult–I’d say man, but many of the most badass riders I know are female. :)

    Poor dears. :)

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