They drive among us: Letter writer threatens all cyclists for the water-squirting actions of one

I recently received the following letter from an anonymous source.

I’m told the writer, a Hollywood screenwriter, has circulated it among his friends as a joke. Apparently, one of them didn’t think it was funny.

I can’t imagine anyone else would, either. Let’s hope he specializes in horror; if he’s a comedy writer, he’s in the wrong business.

My source also said he may be trying to get the letter published. So I’m going to do him a favor and publish it for him.

Read it for yourself, and we’ll discuss afterwards.

………

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Let’s answer that last question first.

No one who isn’t a psychopath is likely to accept that invitation.

Now let’s get this out of the way.

The cyclist who squirted his girlfriend was a jerk. By the simple act of squirting her with water, he committed misdemeanor assault, punishable with a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in county jail.

So let that be your warning.

But it was water. Unless his pretty 20-something girlfriend is a witch, she probably didn’t suffer any lasting injury.

And let’s not forget she was breaking the law by parking in the bike lane, which, despite the perceptions of some people — apparently including our humble letter writer — wasn’t striped on the street to provide a waiting zone or a secondary parking lane.

Under California law, a bike lane is a legal lane of traffic reserved for bicycles, just as HOV lanes are reserved for vehicles with two or more occupants.

And on a busy street like Main, blocking the bike lane can force riders out into traffic, risking their safety in front of drivers who are more focused on finding a parking space than looking for bikes where they don’t expect them.

If the guy on the bike had been hit by a car, she could have been held liable, at least in part, for any injuries he suffered as a result.

Yes, what the guy did was wrong. But so was what the woman in the car did.

And the writer of this letter clearly doesn’t get that.

Then there’s this notion.

Not a Saturday morning goes by that I don’t witness some menace on wheels screaming “Hey watch where you’re going asshole!” at a peaceful and law abiding driver.

Which, unless he encounters an unusual number of mentally unstable people on two wheels, is highly unlikely; few cyclists feel a need to yell at “peaceful and law abiding” drivers.

Unless maybe they’re yelling at him.

Perhaps he just doesn’t understand traffic law well enough to recognize when drivers put people on bikes in needless danger. Like his girlfriend’s parking issues, for instance.

Which leads us to the real problem with this letter, and the person who wrote it.

Back in my starving writer days, the convenience store where I worked nights was robbed by a couple of kids in their early teens. One of whom had to talk his friend out of shooting me to see what it felt like to kill a white guy.

That marked the beginning of a multi-week crime spree that culminated in their arrest for pistol whipping another clerk so badly that he lost an eye.

I could have concluded, as have some I’ve had the misfortune of knowing, that all members of that particular ethnic group, or maybe minorities in general, were somehow to blame.

Even though that would have included my boss, her boss, and the friend-of-a-friend psychologist who volunteered over two hours of his time to talk me through it. Not to mention the woman I was dating at the time.

Yet this writer somehow blames every spandex-wearing person on two wheels for the action of one.

Never mind that some of those who appear to be riding recreationally may actually be riding to work, as part of the group he immediately absolves of collective guilt.

And never mind that some people at the agency that represents him are undoubtedly cyclists themselves. Not to mention at least a few of the studio execs capable of greenlighting his projects.

Which is I’m withholding his name.

It would easy — and admittedly, tempting — to let his own words destroy his career. But rather than grasping just how foolish he was in writing this letter, it would probably just reinforce his belief that we’re the evil creatures he thinks we are.

That brings us to his self-professed life of crime, which ranges from vandalism and simple assault, to criminal stalking and assault with a deadly weapon. Not to mention inciting violence by encouraging others to do the same.

His plan to repeatedly brake-check groups of cyclists — what he calls the “speed up slow down tactic’ — is exactly what got Dr. Christopher Thompson sentenced to four years hard time for slamming on his brakes in front of three riders in Mandeville Canyon.

And we’ll ignore his final chloroform fantasy, which he should take a good whiff of the next time he’s tempted to dash off another letter like this.

So on behalf of recreational bike riders everywhere, I’d like to apologize to his girlfriend, while politely suggesting that she watch where she parks in the future. And maybe reconsider her taste in men.

As for the letter writer, maybe he’d like to join us for a bike ride some time. And see that there’s another way to see the world in which bike riders aren’t the bad guys he thinks we are.

Once he calms down, that is.

……..

Check back this afternoon for today’s Morning Links.

28 comments

  1. Letter writer threatens all cyclists for the water-squirting actions of one

    While reading this idiot’s letter I prepared myself mentally and physically to type a scathing but insightful comment, but you had already done it better than I could have! Your responses were right on the money.

    Fortunately, where I ride, 99% of the drivers seem to be at least tolerant of me as well as their fellow drivers. I worry about the remaining 1%. They seem to be split between those who are asleep at the wheel (even if their eyes are open) and those who, like the idiot who wrote the letter, are out to “get” bicyclists. Because of that 1% I ride in a hyper-vigilant state, and I have a video camera front and rear so my heirs know who to sue.

    Be careful out there!

  2. Ed Rubinstein says:

    Well said Ted. The writer is quite the moron. If he now has a bad encounter with a cyclist, his letter could show that his behavior was intentional and not negligent. Maybe he and the former Doctor Thompson (as I recall he lost his medical license over the Mandeville incidents) should become pen pals.

  3. David says:

    Being prefaced with “Hollywood screenwriter” I knew what to expect, and not surprising coming from someone whose chosen line of work has become quite obsolete in an industry where remakes, reboots, comic books and YA novels are the main source of storylines. So this was an attempt to be witty while venting about the incident affecting his girlfriend. And I, too, apologize to her on behalf of all cyclists for what is an isolated incident.

    But his pitch has been used already, so I will not greenlight this for production. At all. 😉

  4. Cesar Chavira says:

    I work in the entertainment industry as well and would LOVE to know the name of this individual. Not that I may cause harm to his career, but, as you suggest, to befriend him, discuss this with him, and perhaps get this guy to take it down a few notches. The last thing I want is to be mowed down on my ride to the office by some crazed guy because of the actions of one jerk. Kudos to you for having a calm mind and the wisdom to reply with civility.

  5. When the Netherlands turned themselves from traffic choked mess into the biking paradise it is today, this did not happen quietly, or without incidents. In some cases, it was straight out war in the streets.

    I don’t expect our metamorphosis to be any easier, we are just several decades later. But don’t forget, we’ll emerge as a beautiful butterfly 🙂

  6. LATguy says:

    I have a colleague who got this letter, too. A guy named (deleted) wrote it, and had wanted the letter published with a byline and everything.

  7. As someone who has been assaulted for the “crime” of riding in a street while wearing spandex (on my way home from work in 95°F weather on a TX night, dodging thunderstorms) this letter scares the shit outta me. Does he seriously not know how many laws he advocates breaking in this one letter, because his GF was squirted for double-parking in the bike lane?

    • bikinginla says:

      Even if this was intended as a very bad joke, the hatred and violence evidenced here frightens me to think this guy might be behind me on the street some time.

  8. Peter says:

    By the simple act of squirting her with water, he committed misdemeanor assault, punishable with a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in county jail.

    Very true. Next question: How would we catch this scofflaw?

    See, if he were in a car, she could have noted the license plate number, gone to the police with the information, they could have looked up the owner of the car, spoken with the individual, and she could have received some satisfaction.

    Of course, bicycles aren’t licensed. So the best info she has might be that he was riding a blue bike and wearing a red shirt. Not much to go on for an investigation.

    And you wonder why people call for cyclists to be licensed? When a cyclist commits a crime, it can be very difficult to prosecute. And that can be very frustrating to the rest of us law abiding citizens.

    And let’s not forget she was breaking the law by parking in the bike lane […] Yes, what the guy did was wrong. But so was what the woman in the car did

    Parking in the bike lane in a $50 fine. Double parking is a $35 fine. Misdemeanor assault is a $1000 fine and 6 months in jail. Which is the stronger offense?

    If I see a bicyclist run a stop sign and I throw a rock at him, I think we’d all pretty much agree that I was more “in the wrong” than the cyclist and my claims of “Well, he broke the law, too!” would fall on deaf ears.

    And on a busy street like Main, blocking the bike lane can force riders out into traffic, risking their safety in front of drivers who are more focused on finding a parking space than looking for bikes where they don’t expect them.

    Suppose she’d been blocking a traffic lane? What would drivers have done?

    Well, some would have pulled up behind her and honked at her mercilessly until she moved, hopefully attracting the attention of the local police.

    Others would have probably sighed, approached slowly and/or stopped a safe distance behind her, signaled their lane change, waited for traffic to clear so that they could safely enter the other lane, pulled into the other lane, and yelled/honked at her as they passed.

    I mean, if you look at Google’s Street View (sorry, rotate it around), it’s not like the cyclist couldn’t have actually planned for this. It’s a long straight street. It’s not like the cyclist came around a blind turn and suddenly came up on a person parked in the bike lane and had to immediately jump out into traffic or risk a collision with her car. There was plenty of room for the cyclist to come up with an alternate and safe plan and behave like a car would (ideally the polite version).

    And guess what? That happens on the street. Sometimes we have to slow down or stop when someone or something is blocking the lane. It’s inconvenient. The person causing the problem is rude and unthinking.

    See, this is where I get annoyed with the stereotypical “Lance.” The street is not your personal racetrack and you don’t get to assault someone who messes up your quest for the best time.

    But it was water. Unless his pretty 20-something girlfriend is a witch, she probably didn’t suffer any lasting injury.

    “Electrolyte infused water”–think Gatorade.

    I can’t speak to what she was wearing, but there are some clothing–especially women’s clothing–that don’t react well to getting wet. Furthermore, you don’t know what was going on with the rest of her day. So the next time you’re going out on a date with your sweetheart and you’re dressed nicely in your handsome silk shirt, I’ll come over and dump Gatorade on you. After all, it’s not a big deal–it’s only water. Hopefully it won’t be permanently stained and it probably needed dry-cleaning anyway.

    So, the woman: minor jerk. Cyclist: Complete and total asshole.

    But what of the boyfriend? Monumental asshole. Like the proverbial “Picture in the dictionary under asshole.”

    Somehow, though, I’m not surprised to find out that he’s a screenwriter. Perhaps he should consider channeling that anger into his work. He might end up writing the next “Falling Down.”

    See, in the movies, we like to cheer for the vigilante, dispensing justice on his own terms. Fiction is full of heroic cops who go around the system to kill the bad guys. Reality is usually a little more grey. Those who don’t see that get labeled as psychopaths.

    As I mentioned at the beginning, there is a desire to see justice done when we get wronged. How many articles are on this website talk about people who get a fine and a six-month sentence for killing a bicyclist? On the other hand, does this mean that, as cyclists, we’re justified in trashing any car which happens to be the same make and model because the driver probably has the same attitude? Of course not.

    So, yeah, Derek Elliott, I can understand your desire for revenge. It’s a very human thing to want. Hell, my old sweetheart was assaulted during a robbery and I’ll admit that I had plenty of fantasies about giving the robbers a good trouncing.

    My advice would be to (a) channel that anger into your work and (b) consider lobbying our elected officials for ways to solve the problem so that no one has to go through this again.

    • bikinginla says:

      Thanks for your comment. I have just a few objections.

      First, if what was squirted at her was Gatorade, I’m sure he would have said so. If it had stained or ruined her outfit in any way, I’m sure he would have included that. Clearly, this is not someone who knows how to hold back. I’m guessing he assumed it was electrolyte-infused water simply because of his bias against cyclists and their gel packs.

      And while you’re correct that the fine for misdemeanor assault outweighs the fine for double parking, which holds the potential for more harm? Blocking a bike lane places the rider at greater risk of injury, while squirting the driver could get her clothes wet. Both are wrong, though I would say the driver was merely thoughtless, while the cyclist was a jerk.

      As for licenses, where would you put them? If it’s small enough to fit on a bike, it would be illegible at any distance; if it was large enough to read, it wouldn’t fit on a bike. I still have a license plate from Baton Rouge LA on my old Trek, which can’t be read from more than a few feet.

      And even if we did solve that problem, what then? Under California law, police must actually observe a violation in order to write a citation or make an arrest for a traffic violation or misdemeanor offense; even video evidence is usually insufficient. So licenses would only be of benefit in tracking down a bike rider who commits a felony. And then, only if anyone can read it; it’s hard enough to read and remember a motor vehicle license plate.

      So while bike licensing may seem like a good in theory, it won’t work in the real world.

      • Chris says:

        He makes the joke about the blue bike and the red shirt, but actually what color and kind of bike and what color and design jersey, along with rough time of day and location would be quite enough to identify a cyclist, especially if he loaded his ride to social media. In fact since most despise what this guy did, I’m sure it wouldn’t be too hard to find guys willing to help them figure out who it was. That is, until he declared a war on all of us.

      • Peter says:

        I’m guessing he assumed it was electrolyte-infused water simply because of his bias against cyclists and their gel packs.

        Ah yes, when facts do not conform to our biases, they must be disposed of.

        I’ll admit that Gatorade is more than electrolyte water (it’s got various flavors and dyes that would stain clothing). But I’m still more than willing to throw electrolyte water on your next time you’re dressing to impress and can’t get home to wash up. You shouldn’t mind, since it’s not that big of a deal.

        And while you’re correct that the fine for misdemeanor assault outweighs the fine for double parking, which holds the potential for more harm?

        Uh…misdemeanor assault? Sort of, “by definition”?

        You point out that a cyclist entering traffic runs a risk of being injured or killed. Fair enough. But the woman was assaulted. Thus, there is more potential for injury. “It happened” versus “It might have happened.”

        But if you want to get into maybes, suppose some of this electrolyte water had gotten in her eye? Suppose she was startled by being hit by the electrolyte water and had ended up taking her foot off the brake and had hit another car?

        Second, consider our driver scenario again. The driver stops, signals, waits for traffic to clear, and then passes the stopped car. I agree that a cyclist that jumps into traffic runs more risks than one that waits until traffic is clear. But looking at Google Street View, I don’t see any way that the cyclist should have had to jump into traffic. It was a pretty static situation.

        The license thing? Yeah, it’s ridiculous. I agree. But, on the other hand, how do we solve the problem of identifying cyclists who don’t follow traffic laws so that they can receive appropriate punishment? Last I knew, they were still looking for that cyclist who killed a pedestrian a few months back. The guy waited for the ambulance to show up and then rode off.

        License plates aren’t the answer? Okay, I agree. So what is?

        • bikinginla says:

          Um, no.

          She was splashed with water, which may or may not have actually been electrolyte charged. Either way, getting hit by a car poses far more risk than getting wet, and possibly sticky. Yes, what he did was legally misdemeanor assault, but posed virtually no risk of injury.

          And having been splashed with gatorade, soda, beer, hot coffee and human bodily fluids while riding my bike — as well as hit by any number of non-liquid items — I’ll take water any day, electrolyte or otherwise.

          Having ridden Main Street innumerable times, I can say for a fact that while there are times when moving into the traffic lane can be done safely and easily, I have also had a number of close calls attempting to do exactly that, despite being a very safe and conservative rider; no amount of caution can compensate for distracted and often unpredictable drivers.

          We also don’t know how long she had been stopped. It’s entirely possible that she stopped directly in front of the rider without warning.

          I would take nothing the writer describes in this letter as fact; he has an inherent interest, conscious or not, in making his girlfriend appear to be the innocent the victim in order to justify his anger. That’s simply human nature. It’s also human nature for her to put the best face on her story when she related it to him; we all want to blame the other party and see ourselves as the victim.

          Without hearing from the cyclist, this is simply a case of he said. Period.

          On the other hand, we’ve already agreed the rider was a jerk, in the wrong, and broke the law. Why isn’t that enough?

          As for your final question, how do we identify pedestrians who break the law? I’ve been injured more than once as a result of people who stepped out in front of my bike without looking, yet had no way to hold them accountable after they walked off.

          Is the answer to make all human beings wear a number?

          I don’t have an answer to your question, and I don’t think there is one. Or someone far smarter than me would have come up with it by now.

          • Peter says:

            Well, wait a moment.

            If I had a choice between being hit by a car or water, I would choose being hit by water.

            If I had a choice between potentially being hit by a car or absolutely being hit by water, I would choose the potential because I will, most likely, not be hit by a car if I am careful.

            On the other hand, we’ve already agreed the rider was a jerk, in the wrong, and broke the law. Why isn’t that enough?

            The issue I have is the false equivalency–“Yeah, the rider was a jerk but so was the girl in the car.” The implication is that these are equivalent infractions and that the cyclist is somehow justified in taking action. She shouldn’t be offended by his actions because she started it.

            I’ll agree that the girl was a jerk. Don’t block the bike lane. But the cyclist is a road-raging asshole. Her boyfriend tops both of them, though, as the king.

            I would take nothing the writer describes in this letter as fact; he has an inherent interest, conscious or not, in making his girlfriend appear to be the innocent the victim in order to justify his anger.

            But can’t the same thing be said of you? As a cycling columnist, you have a vested interest in showing cyclists as poor innocent victims who are just trying to make the world a better place.

            A few months ago, you reported on a cyclist who had hit and killed a pedestrian. You noted that the cyclist waited around until the ambulance arrived and then rode off before the police got there. You said, “Maybe the cyclist didn’t know they were supposed to do that.”

            Now replace the bicyclist with a motorist. Would you have been so forgiving? I think not.

            But let’s say there’s more to the story. I could easily believe that the girl was driving along, pulled into the bike lane, and stopped suddenly right in front of the cyclist–let’s face it, we’ve already established that she’s jerk.

            Does that then somehow justify his actions?

            Nope. No more than any other case of road-rage.

            Personal story–a few years back, I got a right hook. The driver didn’t signal and just made a right turn across the bike lane in front of me. I hit the brakes and tried to turn with the car but I ended up bouncing off the side of his minivan and went down.

            No severe injuries–a little blood and bruises and dirt and scuffed handlebar tape.

            The driver had stopped. I walked over–adrenaline pouring through my system, and said, in a tense voice, “When there’s a bike lane, always signal and check your right-hand mirror.” The driver apologized, asked if I was okay, I said I was good, and we went our separate ways–both of us a little wiser.

            Now, I could have emptied my bottle on him. I could have belted him one. I could have pounded on his car (in fact, I may have dented his car when I bounced off). I could have called him every name in the book.

            But that’s escalating the situation. He didn’t do it on purpose–it’s not like he said, “Watch this, Martha!” and slammed his car into me. He should have been paying better attention, but let’s be honest–we’re all not always at the top of our game. There is no reason for me to be angry at this person who is just taking his family to a jammed beach in July.

            To go back to the girl in question, while I certainly believe her to be an inconsiderate bitch, I don’t think she was malicious. I doubt she sat in her car and said, “Ha! Look! A cyclist! I’m going to cut in front of him and jam on my brakes just to see what happens!”

            Is the answer to make all human beings wear a number?

            Yes. Yes it is. Though I think we should all have locator chips sewn inserted into our bodies.

            (Yes. This is facetious.)

            You’re right–there may not be a good solution. I can’t think of one either. But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating for victims.

            For example, you mention the pedestrian who walked out in front of you without looking. Now, I’ll rashly assume that they were breaking the law, such as crossing against the light or jaywalking. Do you find it frustrating that this person, who is breaking the law, has essentially gotten away with it–despite the grief that it caused you?

            • bikinginla says:

              I think you’re reading things into my writing that I didn’t intend to put there.

              There was no attempt to say the woman in the car was just as bad as the guy on the bike. I repeat — he was a jerk, and broke a law with a fine up to $1000. Want me to take the next step? Fine. He was an asshole. Period.

              What she did was wrong, too. Was what she did as bad or worse than what he did? I don’t think so, but you are fully entitled to make your own decision. And in no way do I think what she did justified his reaction.

              But I repeat, and for the last time. It was water. She probably suffered no more harm than I did walking the dog in the rain this morning, which was zero. Does that make it okay? Of course not.

              As for what actually happened, I wasn’t there, and neither was the person who wrote this letter. We are all going strictly on his interpretation of what she told him. All I’m trying to do is show that there may be another side to this.

              And there is. Because there always is.

              As for taking the side of the cyclist, it’s my job to point out that there are two sides to any story, since we usually only hear the one that blames the person on two wheels. I’ve seen, and experienced, too many cases where bike riders were unfairly blamed. Does that mean I always take the side of the rider? Of course not. I don’t hesitate to point the finger at bike riders when they were clearly in the wrong, and have done so many times.

              As for the hit-and-run cyclist you bring up, I have called for him to come forward several times, both on my own and at the request of the police — even though I have been assured that he probably wouldn’t face any charges. They simply want to talk to him so they can close the case and the family can have closure.

              Even the LAPD says he stayed at the scene until the paramedics left, and may have stayed an undetermined time beyond that waiting for the police; when they did not arrive, he may have assumed no one was coming and gone home. That’s not coming from me, that’s coming from the detective handing the case.

              Does that mean he did the right thing? Of course not.

              But I was very careful in how I worded things in order to encourage him to come forward. Do you honestly think he would turn himself in if I called him the scum of the earth, and a cold-blooded hit-and-run killer who deserves to rot in jail?

              And no, it doesn’t bother me one bit that pedestrians have gotten away with breaking the law by stepping out in front of me, even if that meant I got hurt. It happens. They didn’t do it to injure me, they just weren’t paying attention. I don’t sit up nights plotting ways to get even with them.

              So please, can we just let this go?

            • Chris says:

              I’ve been thinking about this exchange between you two, and something isn’t sitting right about the original story, and I think Ted hit it on the nail by pointing out that the water incident is, at this point, third hand. Every play Telephone as a kid?

              What’s been bothering me, is that I’ve ridden quite extensively on the west side, with all kinds of riders. I worked in a shop there for several years, and had the pleasure—and often displeasure—of dealing with every single kind of cyclist that exists there, including the raging, elitest, entitled kind of shitbag who would spray his bottle into an SUV blocking the bike lane. But what is bothering me about the OG story, is that even the worst possible kind of cyclist I don’t think would simply happen upon a car and give a spray unprovoked. The water bottle spray is reserved for a last word, a final ‘fuck you’ in what is usually an ongoing escalation.

              So I don’t buy it. Don’t get me wrong, that kind of cyclist is still the worst, and we’d all be better off if they would pick a different hobby, but it think it’s highly unlikely that this women was simply sitting there, minding her business when she got hosed out of the blue.

    • Brian Nilsen says:

      | See, if he were in a car, she could have noted the license plate number, gone to the police with the information, they could have looked up the owner of the car, spoken with the individual, and she could have received some satisfaction.

      Ahahahah. I take it you’ve never tried to go after someone for something they did while driving. Plates don’t matter – tons of drivers in this city have illegally tinted windows (which they’ll never be cited for), so all they have to do is deny they were the one driving. Unless you can see their face, there’s nothing you can do. At least you can see who the cyclist is.

      • Peter says:

        Yup! So you would have a plate that uniquely identifies the cyclist and a description of the outfit the person was wearing. The odds that someone else with the exact set of the clothes was riding a bicycle that happened to have that license plate would be difficult to prove.

        That said, I agree that “license plates” wouldn’t really work for bicycles. But it’s an interesting question: How do we identify a cyclist?

        • Brian Nilsen says:

          It’s not. It’s a pointless question.

          Drivers in cars kill lots of people. 36,000 or so per year in the US, last time I looked. License plates aren’t holding them accountable. Hell, the license plate on the woman illegally blocking the bike lane in the anecdote above hasn’t resolved anything.

          At any rate, while it’s not an interesting question, you identify a cyclist the same way you identify every single other living being. Unless you are suggesting that we should all wear license plates at all times when walking.

          The odds that you’ll have the same bicycle with a person with the same set of clothes is also pretty damn unusual. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen the same clothes on the same bike across two different peopel with the exception of professional teams competing in sanctioned events on closed courses. So, you’ve already got what you want. Identify the make of the bike + what the rider is wearing and you’re set. Now all you’re advocating is wasting tax dollars for zero benefit.

        • Brian Nilsen says:

          Wish this had an edit function.

  9. John Stesney says:

    This was obviously satire, not to be believed. At least the part about him having a girlfriend.

    • yawfle says:

      Hey, just because something is obviously a failed Creative Writing Experiment doesn’t mean it’s not going to be raised as a banner and lead to the deaths of millions…

  10. Mark Excell says:

    Very funny, but to be honest, I don’t know another subject that causes as much rage as this one. To me the answer would be simple, have a lane for non-motorised vehicles… Anything else causing hassle..

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