Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Proper Response to Motorists Yelling "Get Off the Road!"


With considerable deliberation I formulated a proper and effective response...

The motorist traveling the other direction yelled at my back, as he hit the gas and made his loud engine even louder, something angry, along the lines of "GET OFF THE ROAD!" I considered his apparent demand seriously. What should my reaction be? Should I reply?

My first reaction, which I quickly damped down, was to spin around, chase after him, and just ask him what he meant. No-win response, though, no chance of actually finding out what he meant by doing that, so I quickly ruled that out.

Next, I considered shouting back an anatomically impossible demand of my own. For, while being anatomically impossible for him to do, the demand seemed to satisfy some need I had to lash back out at him, as it queued up in my brain and headed toward my mouth. But, no, I damped that down, too, another no-win, as he was not likely to even attempt my anatomically impossible demand, but rather, would be angered further by it, if he even heard it. Which was unlikely, since he was speeding off into the distance. Probably the only person who would hear it would be some kid, who would then ask his parent what the anatomically impossible demand meant, and I didn't want that, either.

I considered actually doing what he told me to do, and get off the road. Immediately. This was hampered by practical considerations primarily, since I was riding in a bike lane on a street with no sidewalks. I pictured myself turning 90 degrees to the right and getting off the road immediately anyway, waving back at him, "Sure thing, mate! Any other demands?", and then just riding across the lawns, churning up the expensively manicured sod, hoping that someone would yell at me to get off their lawn so that I could go back to riding in the bike lane. "Why the hell are you riding on my lawn?" one of the lawnowners might inquire, to which I would reply, "Because a motorist demanded that I get off his road, and this seemed like the only alternative available!"

But no, I decided that I would not get off the road, and furthermore, that probably NO ONE EVER WOULD, in response to such a demand. In the history of bicycle riding, has anyone, anywhere, EVER, actually gotten off the road when a plain old motorist driving the opposite direction yelled at their back to do so? I think not. Furthermore, I believe that the motorist knew this when he yelled it, that there was no chance whatsoever that I would actually get off the road. So what would possess a motorist to yell such a thing, knowing that it was an absurd, impossible, and entirely unlikely to be obeyed demand? Desperation driven to such lengths of untoward impossible irrational absurd unlikely blurting and shouting is difficult to fathom, but I would wager some form of mental insufficiency, or personal frustration, or unresolved deep-seated emotional trauma, which just explodes out of him at the slightest provocation, and pushes him even further into the dark depths of dysfunction and failure.

On the other hand, I found that my previously advised response to such situations, to disengage, to take away the power, to escape, evade, and move on down the road, lacked a certain feeling of closure to me. It was unsatisfying, frankly. I was still simmering. It felt like I couldn't let it go, and shouldn't just ride on passively the next time someone yells something impossible at me, either in terms of anatomical impossibility, or as a demand that no one would accede to, ever. Put that way, there's a clear and simple response, that I will always have ready for now on, whenever a motorist yells something at me. This response also has the virtue of being appropriate for more or less any pointless, absurd, impolite shout or act by a motorist toward a cyclist on the road, so I like it. It feels like it would give me closure, while still accomplishing my desired end of not stooping to the depths of dysfunction despair and failure which lurk in the interior of the vehicle the shout or act originated from in the first place, no I won't go there. That's their zone, not mine.

Next time this sort of thing happens, which is infrequently by the way, people seldom yell at me, I have my reply ready. I will instantly turn, and shout at the top of my voice at his back (since that appears to be his preferred mode of communication, back-shouting), NO!!!!! That's it. Nothing more than NO!!!!! I have no need to dignify the dysfunctional back shout with further elaboration or action. Moving on now.

It seems perfect to me. GET OFF THE ROAD! NO!!!!! End of discussion. Having answered his impossible demand in a clear and logical, definitive manner, I will ride on without further ado. Useful in reply to any foul-mouthed, angry motorist, with a sense of closure and clarity. I like it. Let them roll on down the road with their full load of dysfunction intact and on board, since you reflected it right back where it came from.

I even imagined this becoming a sort of secret handshake greeting for cyclists who pass each other going opposite directions, one yelling at the back of the other GET OFF THE ROAD!!! and the other responding back at the top of his voice at the back of the first, NO!!!! a challenge-response style of greeting of mutual acknowledgement and confidence: in the face of absurdity and irrational demands, our unassailable, rational, and powerful response is known in advance: NO!!!!

17 comments:

  1. I'm going to remember this one. Just say "no!"

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  2. Yeah....I like this reply.

    -Trevor

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  3. I like it. Simple and to the point.

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  4. Of course, the brain damaged cager will never HEAR your "NO!!!!"

    So, I think I've figured out a perfect modification: American Sign Language sign for "NO".

    Right thumb, fore-finger and middle-finger spread in a tripod towards the person, and then you snap all three fingertips shut. Here's a web site with pictures and a video of it: ASL for NO.

    Or, you could just give them a middle-finger, straight up, which is ASL for ...

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    1. Good one BluesCat! Reminds me of the post where I advocated that the number one most useful ASL for cyclists was Dream.

      I wrote,"Why not make a little room in your brain for something a little different while it is still able. There's an infinite amount of room in there and you're not near to using all of it anyway. If you don't already know some, go learn some sign language, for example, and think about what you would say to the inhabitants of the Hall of Wax. The first sign I learned today: "dream": right curved index finger opens and closes as it leaves its starting position on the forehead and moves up, looking to me like a wax inchworm-dragon flying backwards out of my forehead. Dream. In my dream, people in the street recognize the self in the other, and seek common understanding as a primary value in their daily activities. If I make that sign at you while I'm riding by, that's what I'm thinkin. And I'd really like to know what you're thinkin."

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  5. "No" is certainly elegantly simple. Better yet, but not usually available is to simply yell back the offender's license number. That is my strategy with the teal Escort, along with photos. For some, a simple "no" is not enough.

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    1. I love that approach Steve, although it requires a degree of coordination, discipline, skill, and focus that I'm not sure I would always have ready at hand when I'm just riding around.

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  6. I appreciate your point but I respectfully disagree. In a car vs. bike scenario, the bike will lose. Yelling no, while it may be cathartic, is ultimately just futile. At best it is a word lost on the wind, an expression of defiance that never reaches its audience Worse, it could be be perceived as confrontational. don't get me wrong, I am not against confrontation per se, Ihave had more than my share of direct confrontations, but I am against confrontations where the odds are greatly stacked against me. That is not smart. More than that, yelling back at a yeller only makes for a screaming match.

    My suggestion is to just ride on. The ultimate act of defiance is to continue on as if nothing happened. As if the idiot meant nothing to you, did not reach you, did not anger you. The ultimate act of defiance is continue on as if nothing they did mattered. Outliving your opposition, in terms of quality and duration, in the best response.

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    1. Hello Iron Rider, I am generally in agreement with this stance for cyclists on the road, and have many posts on this blog which say exactly the same thing as your reply. Weighing the odds as you suggest is my practice, too, and 99 times out of 100 I will make every effort to react in agreement with your response, take the high road, wave and ride happy. Still. Sometimes in interacting with other people while I am riding, I find it helpful to speak in alert or response or greeting, for example, "on your left," "good morning", "cool bike!" and so on. In that vein, I think I am still open to ways to try to respond to irrational shouting directly at me in the vein of "bicycles don't belong on the streets," in order to convey a verbal response of disagreement in a setting and culture where silence could be tantamount to agreement and capitulation: "I beg your pardon, but I respectfully disagree." If I could figure out a constructive and effective way to communicate that message, rather than "NO!!!!" I would prefer it, but I don't see how. Open for suggestions as always.

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    2. JRA,
      Believe me when I say I get your point. I have been riled enough to angrily respond to idiots as well, and have done so in ways that may have put the fear of god into the offender but, in hindsight, it has never been the best response. I doubt I ever changed their minds. At best, I just out intimidated them. At worst, I enforced their bias against bikers. To me, the bottom line problem is that constructive and effective verbal communication with someone acting irrationally and aggressively is just not possible in the brief interactions that occur between bikes and cars. Therefore, the simple act of just continuing on your way and not getting off the road says more than words can convey. That silence is not agreement or capitulation. I think of it as in in your face silent protest/assertion of your right to ride.

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    3. Iron Rider, I also aspire to that "best response" and will typically act in exactly this way, too, for similar reasons. I make every effort to NOT join in the rage game because that's not the way I ride. Shouting back sure does sound like joining the rage game and in that sense is probably an error, as you suggest. I am still pondering the notion that rejection/denial is not equivalent to engagement/raging, but you're also right that any such distinction may be too easily lost among the honking, racing engines, and squealing of tires. (Rage) Game ON! is not what I want, either.

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  7. my response to being yelled at: the yelling usually emanates from the passenger side window as the car passes me and so i wait until the vehicle has passed me (at which point the driver always checks their rear view mirror) and to start laughing . . . . it usually excalates the driver's state and elicitis some excellent facial expressions and gesticulations . . . . welll worth it in my opinion!!! steven

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    1. steven, would that be derisive laughter, or jovial guffaws? I'm thinking some of the territorial macho truck drivin aggressive types might take offense at the derisive laugh. If they are already an emotional time bomb on a hair trigger, laughing at them might set them off. So many people appear to be emotional disaster areas that it may not be a good idea to push their EASY-POP buttons even if those buttons are proudly displayed in an erratic line along the side of the bed of their pickup truck.

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  8. NO! Sounds good to me. I usually get thumbs up. I am over six feet tall and well over 200 pounds. Although one time wile on one of my bike tours across my reservation I did have some one throw a bottle full of water at my head. Lucky for me they missed the impact would have most likely broke my neck.

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    1. Dan, yikes, motorists throwing stuff would be a whole other post I think. That's actually assault, isn't it? It seems to me that being a confident male cyclist works to my advantage most of the time, though. Once in a while I do run into the territorial jerks who must feel more threatened by me, or you, than a kid on a tricycle on the sidewalk, and so feel compelled to yell, or throw something, to mark their territory, to assert their alpha male motor vehicle drivin macho road I'm-the-man road ownership, or something like that. I come more from the school of calm strength and mature confidence based on abilities and achievement, but if someone would rather hang their self-image on their big truck and asset it by throwing bottles at cyclists, ignoring them probably is, indeed, the best policy.

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  9. I remember a bicyclist telling me about pinning a sign to his backpack that said "Trying to get to work. Same as you."

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