I have followed some threads here lately that have mused on rules, laws and whether they should be strictly enforced. I have read thoughtful posts from many and often at variance with one another. I thought about those discussions after this happened to me this morning.
“Do you know that you are not supposed to be riding on the sidewalk?”
“Yes. I know that. I just got on the sidewalk at the corner over there and rode like a pedestrian to this spot where I am waiting for some friends.”
“That doesn’t matter, you are not supposed to be riding on the sidewalk,do you know that?”
“Yes, I know that…” This conversation kept revolving around my knowledge of the law and my affirmation that I knew the law and was taking it into account yet had carefully proceeded on the sidewalk. We were outside a Starbucks at 6:20 am on a Summer morning with very few people up and about.
I tried to reassure her that I had heard her and was being mindful that at the moment I was on the sidewalk I was an interloper. She was having none of it. I had passed a man walking on the sidewalk seconds before meeting her and had given him wide berth. I did not blow by him but slowly rolled past him. At the moment I had passed the man I thought about the times I roll from the Dearborn bike lane about 50 feet to the nearby bike rack letting any pedestrians safely go by.
My accuser was not a pedestrian. I think she had just alighted from Starbucks and was getting into her car on the street in front of the outdoor tables and chairs where I had hoped to have a few minutes of repose after my ride from home and before I rode off with my friends towards breakfast. These Wednesday morning rides are a bliss spot on my calendar. I had hoped to lower my heart rate from the early morning first portion of my commute and take in the slowly increasing workaday movement of the city, watching the urban mise en scene unfold before meeting some good friends. Instead, I was engaged in an arguement I did not want to have.
“You don’t seem to understand. You are not supposed to be on the sidewalk.”
“I really do understand that and think my behavior reflected that I was aware that I wasn’t supposed to be there. I really am hearing you.”
“No, you are not hearing me. You are not apologizing and do not seem to care that you were on the sidewalk.”
By this time, my bliss having evaporated, I was miffed and felt she was like a booger I could not shake off of the end of my finger.
“No. I really do hear you and notwithstanding your shrill tone (and she really had one) your message has come through. Have a good day.”
“You are just entitled. You think you can do whatever you want.” I decided not to interrupt and sat down in one of the chairs, closed my eyes, drank my water and tried in vain to find my Zen place which could not be located.
“If you had hit me I would sue you and collect lots of damages and it would be precedent setting.”
“Listen, one, I would not hit you. When I was on the sidewalk I was very conscious of my fellow humans and watched out for them and I would be careful to watch for you. Two, if I did hit you, you would be entitled to damages because I should not hit you and you are right that it would be my fault and not yours, but still, I am watching out and would not hit you. Three, it would not be precedent setting, this has happened before and people have recovered. This is not new. Either way, Yes. I agree that you are right. The pedestrian should be protected…”
“You are not listening,” she replied and by this time she was absolutely right. For my sanity’s sake I was trying to ignore her but I was not succeeding. She stood outside of her car holding a cigarette butt and continued, “I am not going to throw this in the street because that is illegal and I would be fined. I wouldn’t park here after [whatever time she mentioned] or I would get a ticket.”
I really tried to listen and really tried to engage at first and then I really tried to ignore her and none of this worked. I wanted to kill this conversation and against my better judgement said, “Hey, I don’t know what happened to you or what past trauma is at play here or driving this black/white insistence on rules, but I just want to sit and relax, can you just leave me alone? You have been heard. Know that, Please leave me alone.”
She got in her car but before driving away, she stopped and rolled down the passenger window and gave me her parting shot, “You set a bad example for children.”
My friends arrived less than a minute after she had left, each of them slowly and carefully rolling in on their bikes, one of them careful to let a woman with a stroller pass him by. I told them about my encounter and we rode off allowing me to recover my bliss. We ate outdoors and had a stimulating conversation about a million things none of them pertaining to my earlier encounter.
Later, when I got to the bike rack outside my office I saw a bike locked taking up the entire rack which could have housed at least four bikes. I was miffed and commented to a fellow rider who was also just locking up that the blocker was an “entitled asshole” . Where did that come from? Why did I say that? I think I was unfairly categorizing the unknown rider because I was still salty from my chat with the Sidewalk Nazi. I gently moved the bike into a more perpendicular positon to allow other bikes and was careful to make sure the bike was still standing and locked to the rack. While we were both still locking up a guy came to unlock the offending bike. We barely looked at each other. I kept my mouth shut and went to work while he rode away.
Thanks for sharing this experience. It's funny, I've come to realize this is either a Chicago thing or a Midwestern thing - this need to correct and shame people when we see them doing something we disagree with. I don't know the "why" behind it but it's not like this everywhere.
I've started calling it "DC nice" that in the DC area, people tend to mind their own business and don't tell you yours nearly as much. Sure, it occasionally happens but it's kinda shocking when it does because people don't do that here. Riding on the sidewalks? There aren't as many bike lanes and drivers are more dangerous/reckless here so I'll pop onto sidewalks when I feel it's necessary. I've only been scolded once.
I laugh because if you do that in Chicago, even very briefly, chances are you will be asked if you are 10 years old because only children are allowed. I remember when I'd pop the curb to ride halfway down a block to my apartment, I'd regularly get yelled at by motorists (who weren't impacted by me in any way). I've also seen other cyclists shame people for riding on the sidewalk.
That said, this lady really acted like a dog with a bone, refusing to let it go. you acknowledged her but she decided apparently she knew more about your devious intentions than you did (sigh).
I've come to realize I prefer the mind my own business method but being from Chicago, I am not always so good at keeping my own sassy lip buttoned. Sometimes words escape that are judgy. I am actively working on it. :-)
I find that a vocal critic's knowledge of the law usually is incorrect.
"You are not supposed to be on the sidewalk.”
It's not illegal to sit on your bike on a sidewalk if you're not moving. It's probably not illegal to ride on the sidewalk to and from a bike rack.
“I would sue you and collect lots of damages and it would be precedent setting.”
Sweet, more legal opinions. Can I see your bar card?
I would have LOL at "You are not apologizing" and “You are just entitled." Oh, the irony!
“I am not going to throw this in the street because that is illegal and I would be fined."
But if littering were legal, she would do it all the time. We can all rest assured that she didn't smoke near the Starbuck's entrance or speed, roll a stop sign, or change lanes without signaling on her entire drive home.
The proper response is, "I'm very sorry, but i do not speak English," and walk away. Obviously, this woman was out to spoil someone's day and was looking for an argument to win.
of course, "Please leave me alone." is a great response. Too bad you didn't lead off with it.
The woman didn't like you being on the sidewalk because that made it harder for her to run you over.
Timely thread (and a great read, thank you).
This morning a Divvy rider shoaled me and several others at a red light. Of course, we all passed him in short order.
Next light, he shoaled again. I started telling him off, but it turned out that this time he was just moving up to the crosswalk to dismount and end his ride. I felt like a jerk and decided I should have just kept my mouth shut.
David, I applaud your couth. I doubt that I could have dealt with the situation in such a civilized manner. I take that back. I could not have dealt with the situation in as civilized a manner.
I admire your self control. I think I would have stopped responding to her much earlier, or told her to get lost.
A bad example for children!! Oh, the horror.
Thank you for posting this. This does seem to fit into the current debate about whether we should respond to angry uncivil actions with civility. Other options are to go low, or not respond. Although the main stream discussion is on topics of national politics, I think it applies universally. I have read some columnists views on this and am sometimes surprised on what side the land on with the issue. They are informed by the stream of hate mail they get as part of their job, so the have all been thinking about it for a long time.
While I do like the idea of responding with respect and rationality, and yours is a perfect example, I wonder what is a reasonable expected outcome. In one of the recent columns the author wrote "Angry people don't want to be engaged. They want to be right." Your story supports that.
I am glad you responded the way you did, and I hope I can do as well when i find myself in as similar situation. I think that once it is clear the other person only want to be right, then i will stop trying and either shut up or just say "Of course you are right. I apologize." and end it.