walking around in tap shoes and pyjamas since 2010 - my cycling log (opens in new window)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On Being 'That Guy'

I think I wrote recently about my decision to try to give drivers the benefit of the doubt more often.  It's mostly working, though I still have moments of random irateness when someone pulls a truly bone-headed move immediately in front of me and cranks my adrenaline levels through the roof (I have found I am not quite as sweet-natured when I'm in survival mode -- I actually flipped a guy off last Thursday, when the weather was really terrible, for telling me to get in the bike lane when the bike lane was literally impassable ... felt bad about it later, because A) he probably thought he was giving me sound advice, not just being an ass-hat and B) it was rude and flat-out uncharitable).

Oddly enough, I've found that my efforts to consider drivers' actions in a more charitable light has made me consider my own actions a little more critically.  That is, since I am granted fairly-frequent opportunities to try to consider other possible motivations for a given driver's actions than 'Wow, what a bike-hating jackass!', I suddenly find myself wondering what my motivations might appear to be.

This is pretty new for me.  I have Asperger's Syndrome, which basically means that I'm pretty smart but have limited insight into the minds of other people.  Considering others' motives is a pretty big deal for me; considering that other people might be considering my motives is huge.

Last night, I had a great opportunity to practice this skill: I was being a bone-head and ran a red light.

Now, I do understand that for some cyclists -- and, indeed, for many bike couriers -- running red lights is a matter of course.  For my own part, however, I feel that if I want to be treated like a member of the confraternity of valid road users, I have to play by the rules.

Thus, I was pretty ticked at myself, even though I didn't intend to run the light.  In fact, I was even more ticked at myself than I might otherwise have been, because not only was I a champion ass-hat for one highly-visible moment, I was a champion ass-hat because I was being thoughtless and not really paying attention.

My mind, at the moment this incident transpired, was on my legs.  I was hammering down a long flat, enjoying the feel of a good sprint near the end of a good day on the bike.  I was thinking about pedaling circles -- which, admittedly, is generally a good thing to think about -- even though I knew the light in question was coming up and that I should probably get a sense of whether or not I ought to slow the heck down (in fact, the correct answer at this particular light is always 'slow the heck down,' because the yellow phase is ridiculously short and the intersection involved is somewhat epic).  I was feeling strong, and I didn't want to interrupt my flow and fall out of 'the zone.'

So instead I glanced up, saw the light had -- at some unknown point -- turned yellow, and gunned it.

Had I been feeling fresher and rocking a bigger gear, I probably could've made it.  I mention this only because the fact that I'd made the light before under similar circumstances had a great deal to do with my less-than-brilliant decision.  I wasn't thinking about the fact that, while I was making pretty good time, I was already off my 'daily time-trial' record by a couple of minutes, indicating that I wasn't quite as fast as I wanted to be.

As my front tire touched the white line, the light flipped from yellow to red.  I thought for a split second about throwing out a full-on emergency stop, but I had already committed a great deal of momentum to getting through that light, so I hammered on through.  I shouldn't have done it.  I should have stopped and waited, like I usually do.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a fellow in a truck shouted something out his window at me as he passed a little bit later.  Honestly, he was within his rights: I'm assuming he shouted because he was still buzzing with post-almost-hitting-a-cyclist adrenaline, though I should observe that he must've reacted right quick, as I wasn't even aware of his presence for a good sixth of a mile or so.

At the next light, I sat immediately behind him, debating whether or not I should roll up and apologize.  I couldn't actually muster the courage.  I was really disappointed in myself already, and I didn't want to roll the dice on having to hear an anti-bike tirade, if he turned out to be one of those guys.  I am not a patient person when I'm mad at myself, and that kind of situation requires an armload of patience.  I'm not proud of my decision not to say anything, but given the circumstances, I think it was the right one.

As I finished my ride -- cranking hard up Southern Parkway and Bluegrass to the weird five-way intersection that marks the start of my 'cool-down lap' -- I contemplated the possible consequences of my actions.

Like the fact that the truck-driving guy probably wouldn't have noticed me at all if I'd managed to stop, but now associates the experience with all the negative stuff he's already heard about cyclists.  Like the fact that the human mind more readily recalls unpleasant experiences than pleasant ones, which probably means he already has at least one or two 'bad cyclist' stories under his belt (even I have some of those).

Like the fact that I wasn't mentally-present enough to make the right call when I saw that the light had turned yellow.

Like the fact that, for all that I try not to be 'That Guy,' I'm going to make bone-headed mistakes now and then, just like good drivers do, now and then.

I'm still pissed at myself.  I take a certain satisfaction in playing by the rules, and I don't like it when I break one, no matter what the reason.  I'm not too keen on the fact that -- for even a minute -- I valued my momentum and my 'zone' over safety and the good-faith agreement by which all road-users abide.

I spent this morning trying to make amends while out on my daily mail rounds.  Extremely-conscientious stopping on cold, wet roads is probably a good penance for running a light on a fast, dry road, when stopping would've been easy.

At any rate, it seems that it's going around right now.  Maybe I can blame the late-winter blahs?

Maybe not.  Maybe I'll just try to be more careful in the future, because I know almost no-one remembers a good cyclist, but everyone remembers a bad one.


  1. Great post. I made a similar mistake today, running a stop sign and cutting someone off. I didn't really mean to do it.

    There's no sense in dwelling on it, though. We all make mistakes. At least you TRY to follow the rules, which is a lot more than I can say for many people out there (cyclist or not).

  2. Thanks!

    Also, thanks for the input -- I definitely sometimes need a reminder about not dwelling on my mistakes ... LOL, I think I should make that a resolution for 2011: "Do not dwell on mistakes." Only I fear I would just then shift my habit of obsessing from obsessing about mistakes to obsessing about obsessing, and I'm pretty sure that too much of that would have some kind of recursive time-space implication or something :D

    Random road mistakes do seem to be in the air right now. Interesting, that.