Violence, Biking, and Compressed Expressions

Posted on July 2, 2011 by


If all activities are ways to express ourselves, violence or the threat thereof, is also a way some  people  express themselves.

How and why?

Well, let me explore times when I can get violent or symbolically violent:  when a car almost hits me as I bike the streets of Los Angeles.

An Anthropology grad student (we come up with the best metaphors) described the experience of biking in LA:

 Have you noticed? Maybe in a car it’s easy to ignore, if you roll up the windows and pump up the stereo, but outside, on a bike or on your feet, you get the feeling that you’re not a human anymore, but a target in a video game.

Sometimes, I take a whole right lane, sometimes just a portion of the right-most lane — mostly because I can feel the pressure of traffic put on me by aggressive motor vehicle operators.

Sometimes when I take just a portion of the right lane, a car drives up very closely to me, almost skinning me.  An event like that usually startles me on a number of levels — that I’m still biking, and that a chunk of drivers can drive so close in a way that can seriously injure me.

I am absolutely dying to express a piece of my mind to each driver who does come “aggressively” close to me.

However, more often than not, the driver speeds off.  They’re likely moving 30-50 miles per hour, sometimes their windows rolled up.

Meanwhile, I’m trucking along with a backpack anywhere from 15-25 mph.

These hard facts of physics give me a window of maybe 5 seconds to react and let the driver know that I didn’t approve of what they just did!  There is little time and space to converse reasonably with people;  I can’t stop and explain everything that it is I want to say which contain all or some combination of:

  • bicyclists belong on the road by California law!!!
  • I don’t appreciate that they almost injured me!!!
  • I would appreciate on behalf of all cyclists in the future if they were less aggressive!!!

Ahhh!!!  I can’t communicate all of that or even just one of those sentences in 5 seconds to a speeding driver!

Instead, I have to “package” all of what I want to say into some kind of reaction symbolic of what I want to say.  On top of this, whatever reaction I choose, I have to make sure that this reaction is  acknowledged by the driver — in hopes that they’ll be more considerate of me and future bicyclists.

However, the driver usually has very little reason or incentive to pay attention to unless I do one of:

  1. inflict damage or make some kind of modification (i.e. throw a magnet on ’em) on the car
  2. make a curse word/insult audible and somewhat personal to the driver.

Desperate to get a driver’s attention and scared to know what road rage might ensue, I usually opt for the 2nd option.  It’s  a really condensed and much more aggressive version of all that I actually do want to say.  It’s one thing I do to get attention;  it’s a “package” I throw.

 The “package” I throw at them  ends up being a string of F-bombs, and hand gestures.  This is not a package of mind-blowing conscious, knowledge, but rather a barbed package designed simply to get their attention within that little window of time were within communication range.

But they could just as easily take this metaphorical barbed package very personal and express their piece of mind right back at me.  After all by definition, as drivers, they do have control of one of the lethal weapons this society has.

If I inflict some kind of damage on their car, there’s just no telling what damage they might inflict on me and my body, out there and vulnerable in the world.  Scores and scores of people have gotten injured for much much less as documented meticulously by this blog.

As with all things, time permitting, I would much rather communicate and express numerous things in a reasonable way.

Key phrase “time permitting.”

In the 5 seconds that were in each others’ communication range, me being in their way, and them getting in my way, there’s no opportunity at all for reasonable communication and message sending.  The only ways to send a “message”, or a piece of information letting them know my feelings is to throw objects, yell, and make obscene gestures — compressed expressions designed simply to get attention in the little window of time that we do have.

Let this piece that I just wrote, this piece I wrote, and this piece by Catherine and Ann Lutz, be elaborated expressions that pre-empt the need for these compressed expressions on the part of bicyclists and drivers.