9.17.2017

An Angry (and Perhaps Inebriated) Cyclist

I meant to relay this encounter the other day, but never found the time.

On Friday evening, I rode my cruiser bicycle to my class at Edgewood College. I took the bike path that runs along the north side of University* Avenue and then through the suburban sprawl of west Madison.

When I turned left at the quick dog leg of the path at Shorewood Avenue, a somewhat tricky intersection for both bike and car traffic, I heard a loud voice behind me. It said something to the effect of, "At least some of these dickheads stop for bikes!" A moment later, a shirtless young man passed me on his bike. Since I had no frame of reference as to what he was talking about, but sensed it was loosely directed at me, I simply responded something to the effect of, "Hi," as he whizzed past me on my left. As he took off in front of me, I thought I heard him grumbling to himself, about what I had no clue.

I felt a gut level intuitive anxiety about the shirtless, pasty white pedaler, and was glad that he was traveling faster than I was. Even so, I slowed down a little bit to put some distance between us. He was still in my line of sight when he passed the Shorewood community pool and the associated tennis courts beyond. As he did, I heard an eruption of angry verbalizations from the youth, directed at no obvious target in particular. I could not really make out what he said specifically, but it sounded like it was rich in expletives.

Maybe he has Tourette's Syndrome, I thought. This is a tic disorder that causes the afflicted to blurt often obscenity laden nonsense, particularly when they become anxious. However, this working theory was discarded a short while later when I came upon the lad lambasting a surprised and mildly terrified couple in a white car. The lad on his bike was in front of the car screaming at its occupants, something to the effect of, "[expletive] trying to [expletive] run me [expletive] over?" I had not chanced upon this tirade early enough to know what had transpired to cause it, but I knew that I did not wish to be drawn into it, so I slowed way down to allow the angry bicycle boy to pedal off. The couple in the car were still reeling from the encounter as I came up behind their stopped car. They too gave the raging rider some time to piss off. At this point, my working theory was that the youth was in some way inebriated, even if only drunk on his own hubris.

I continued to keep ample ground between myself and the belligerent biker. At some point, he stopped biking and reversed direction. It was unclear what had caused him to change course, but now he was heading straight toward me along the bike path.

Don't make eye contact, I told myself, pretending to find something very interesting to look at in the uninteresting scrub along the side of the trail as the bare torsoed intransigent passed me, thankfully firing no verbal abuse my way. As far as I could tell, the young man's grudge(s) seemed to be restricted to non-cyclists, as I had not heard him taunt or tongue lash any of the several bikers he had passed on the trail in the short time I had been aware of his presence. With the kid now behind me and going the opposite direction, I pedaled hard in an effort to prevent any further interaction with him. Pretty soon, I came to the intersection of the bike path with Highland Avenue, where I turned right to take residential streets the remaining distance to Edgewood.

That kid will probably either get his ass kicked or get thrown in jail before the day is through, I thought, glancing furtively into the rear view mirror of my bike helmet. It occurred to me, given the age of the young man, that perhaps he was a newbie himself, having some difficulty coping with Madison's bike transit conventions. If this were the case, and admittedly this was complete speculation, then the lad likely hailed from some place where bicyclists reign supreme and everyone else is a second class citizen without value nor human rights.

I should say at this point that I think it's possible I manifested the angry cyclist with my mind, and perhaps he did not really exist, even though I understand this would be an admission of acute psychosis. When I had departed my house for class, I was feeling rather belligerent toward cars and their drivers myself, with no real basis for my perceived animosity, other than the baseline fact that Madison WI residents are, on the main, terrible automobile drivers. Notwithstanding the large number of cyclists in Madison and the ample infrastructure for cyclists to share the roadways with motorized vehicles, the auto drivers seem completely oblivious to the presence and rights of bikers. This is especially true in the early fall, which this was, when a lot of new people (newbies) move to Madison at the beginning of the school year, most of them in their late teens or early 20s. It takes the newbies a little while to acclimate to Madison's transportation conventions, which must not be the standard in a lot of other places. Many streets in Madison are bike avenues where cyclists have complete domain over the entire width of the road. Every time an old street is repaved, a city ordinance requires that a painted bike lane be included in the construction, and there are miles and miles of dedicated, multi-use recreational trails.**

*Note: This avenue is named after the University of Wisconsin - Madison, I think, and not Edgewood, which is a college, not technically a university.

**Note: These trails are used by cyclists, runners, pedestrians, roller bladers, and the like, but there is a tacit understanding that they are primarily bike paths, as evidenced by green BIKE PATH signs that demarcate them.

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