We have met the enemy and he is us – Pogo
We all do it. So, don’t think I’m getting all high-and-mighty and preachy, here. Okay, well, maybe I am. Still, I’m just thinking about the “Us Versus Them” attitude many motorcyclists (us) have with car drivers (them). Think of all the terms we have for cars and their drivers: cages or cagers, road bison, rolling chicanes, coffins, rolling cubicle pilots, drones, etc. When that’s the position from which we start any interaction with car drivers, does that really leave any room for us to get along on the roadways we share?
Taking a quick glance at the comments for articles here on MO reveals telling details. The same can be seen on many of the motorcycle-focused forums. Things like: “Every time I put on my gear, I remind myself that I’ve got a target on my back.” Or: “Just keep in mind that car drivers want to kill you.” Really? Are drivers really gunning for us? Or are they a little more like us? You know, selfish, flawed, distractible humans? Yes, some of them behave in criminally negligent and/or stupid ways. The examples are so plentiful that cliches have developed: the secretary applying makeup in the rearview mirror on the interstate, the guy holding a coffee and a cigarette in one hand while trying to write a note on the dash with the other (What’s he using to drive?), or the adolescent couple making out in the pickup truck while tooling down a rural highway. Are these people really trying to injure themselves or others? Or are they just caught up in their own myopic, self-centered vision?
Are motorcyclists really that different when it comes to being selfish and self-centered? Think of the riders (or groups of riders) weaving through traffic on the highway. What about speeding and/or low-skilled riders crossing the double yellow into oncoming traffic out on a twisty road? The bikers riding home from the bar or bar hopping to another watering hole on their motorcycles after a few drinks? These people are putting themselves at risk, but their actions also affect others. All it takes is one person being surprised by and overreacting to the actions of a motorcyclist to cause an accident – or even a multi-vehicle one on the freeway. The rider might even get away scot-free. Yes, you have the right to choose the amount of risk you find acceptable, but don’t others have the right not to see your insides on your outside?
Last year, I was on an organized ride for the motorcycle and general media. Since the riders were of varying skill levels, a ride leader was hired to help herd all of us cats out on the road. During a couple sections of the ride, we spent several miles splitting lanes. During these times, I witnessed some of the most egregious displays of self-entitled behavior I’ve experienced in a long time. As we worked our way between the slow-moving cars, the ride leader would wildly rev his engine to announce our presence, expecting the cars to move out of his way. If they didn’t immediately respond, more revving and wild gesticulations followed. He even threw – and occasionally landed – an intermittent kick.
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t kick or punch or however you choose to attract attention to yourself when a car is (usually through negligence) trying to occupy the space that you’ve already claimed. Dire circumstances require drastic responses. The difference is that this guy was demanding the cars move over to accommodate him. The slow to respond got glares and the occasional finger, too. Yes, lane splitting is legal in California, but that does not give motorcycles ownership of the unused space between the cars. I’ve often found that, if I wait patiently for the driver to notice that I’m trying to get by, they will move over and often respond to my wave of thanks.
Yes, I’m just as capable of being an asshole on my bike or in my car (one of the benefits/curses of working from home is that a large portion of my weekday afternoons are spent behind the wheel being the Dad Taxi) as the next guy. For years, I’ve referred to my own motorcycling shenanigans as being a rolling emissary of motorcycling goodwill, a term I blatantly stole from John Burns many years ago.
Just this weekend, I had a (drunk) pedestrian try to punch me in the face through the glass of my closed window when I was honking at the car that had just run the red light in front of me and then come to an immediate, screeching halt to let out a passenger, forcing me to slam on my brakes before I was able to clear the intersection. Fortunately, my kids weren’t in the car to see my minute-long horn tantrum before the pedestrian so politely reminded me of what a douche I was being and that I had long since surrendered my “rightness.” So, yeah, I’m human, too.
Still, it’s the struggle that makes us grow. Perhaps, when we look at others, we should see them as the same flawed, naked bags of meat that we are. Rather than calling drivers rude names, we should look at them as fellow motorists who are fallible and then get on with our ride. Isn’t motorcycling more fun when we’re smiling instead of fuming inside our helmets?