A funny thing happens as you get older. You realize that you are never too old to learn… which is a polite way of saying you are never too informed to make a mistake. Previously, I wrote of the dangers of minors as unknown contacts. Today, I learned a related lesson about pride and patience. There were mistakes on both sides — mistakes that could easily have led to one of those viral videos of drivers and bikers coming to blows. Fortunately, because all parties involved weren’t quite that stupid, the only thing hurt was my pride. It could easily have gone the other way.
I was driving up a two-lane stretch of road near a local mall when a motorcyclist cut across traffic to block the lane. I tried to go around in the other lane and was blocked by another biker. As the rude and vaguely threatening hand-gestires started, I rolled down my window to object.
Now, understand that I had already made mistake number one: I should just have been patient and waited instead of changing lanes. I was in a hurry and feeling annoyed with traffic. That mood is never a good idea behind the wheel. Every single time I have given in to impatience as a driver, I have regretted the outcome.
Instead, I made mistake number two. I should have held my tongue as it became obvious the bikers were running interference for a mixed group of mayne 30 cruisers and sport-bikes. I shouted, “Who do you think you are? You can’t just stop traffic whenever you feel like it!”
I resigned myself to sitting there and rolled up my window. At this point, another biker in a full helmet rolled up and rapped on my window. I realized then what a terrible tactical position I had out myself in. I couldn’t drive forward without hitting the first biker; I couldn’t back up without hitting the car behind me; I couldn’t open my door without hitting the guy beside me. The helmet was both armor and weapon. He had me and I knew it.
I rolled down my window.
“Hey, we’re just trying to get through here all as one group…” the biker started to say (or words to that effect).
Oh, I thought. He’s apologizing. That’s actually pretty cool of hi–
“…so could you just fucking wait a minute?” He finished arrogantly.
“It doesn’t look,” I shot back, “like I have a choice.”
“Well, no,” he said.
That, I realized later, was mistake number three — and it wasn’t mine. In an altercation like this, profanity serves two purposes. It either gets the other party’s attention (not relevant here) or it escalates the situation. F-bombs are by their nature inflammatory and only serve to angry up the other guy’s blood when you have already wronged him.
It was at this point that I stopped making mistakes. Had I persisted in raging indignantly at these motorcyclists I would have been picking a fight with 30 people, all of whom share a group identity. That is a losing battle for a lone citizen no matter how well armed. I had no firearm; was I going to take on 30 people with a knife and a paracord bracelet?
Had I risen to the biker’s (perhaps thoughtless) provocation, our afternoon would have become one of those YouTube videos people argue about on social media.
I would have lost. One or both of us would have been arrested. Instead of letting pride push me to that point, I sat there and sucked it up. That was the only option.
Our biker friend also does not realize that his sneering, entitled attitude (not to mention his groups attempt to intimidate others on the road) works against his own interests. He could have won over a future ally by being polite. Instead he left me with what will be a bias toward large groups of riders in the future. He has done his part to create, in the minds of automobile drivers, the misconception that bikers are entitled dicks — and intellectually I know that isn’t true. I have many friends and coworkers who ride and who know how to share the road. The behavior of “squids” like these unfairly and inaccurately makes all motorcyclists look bad.
That aside, the most important lesson here is that my impatience and my pride (including the outrage that prompted me actually to use the words, “Who do you think you are?”) almost got me beat up or worse. I’ve written before about the importance of being assertive. Against 30 people (or even two) there is assertive and then there is suicidal. Patience would have prevented the whole affair. A little less self-righteous pride will prevent me from dragging myself or my passengers into future conflicts. The same minor adjustment can do the same for you.
Take it easy out on the road. You’re sharing those roads with jerks — and you’re one of them.