MUCH OF THE time, I like to think of myself as an affable sort of chap, not likely to get too bent out of shape about anything and quick to consider other people. That is, until I go out on the cycle path near our house.
It’s one of the great gifts (along with being minutes from the ocean) of living where I do: along a 20-mile route that threads its way through a necklace of small beach towns on Florida’s Gulf Coast. At the peak of summer, there’s what seems like an endless chain of cyclists going one way or the other.
With the cycle path comes a rule of use. It’s that when you come up behind someone as you are pedaling, you ring your bell and call out, “On your left.” This announces: a) you are coming, and b) on which side you are going to be passing them.
It is intended as both a courtesy and a convenience, of course. But what usually happens is that the person or people ahead turn around stunned, and then lurch to one side—more often than not to the side you just announced. And then they glare at you as though you have been very rude.
I usually smile as I pedal through and think to myself, “Hey, don’t get all snotty. I’m actually doing you a favor, you know.”
However, things are reversed on those occasions I am walking or running on the path, and a cyclist comes up behind me. Invariably, I go all Ratso Ritzo in Midnight Cowboy (at least internally): “I’m walkin’ here, I’m walkin’ here!” (If you haven’t seen it, I won’t recommend the only X-rated movie ever to win a Best Picture award at the Oscars. If you have, did you know that classic scene when Dustin Hoffman berates a cab driver who nearly mows him down was improvised because they were shooting on an open city street?).
Startled by the pedaler’s bell behind me, I often lurch to one side as I turn around . . . straight into their path. And as they glare at me and brake, I am thinking, “Who the heck do you think you are, ringing for me to get out of the way like you own the place?”
In each situation, I know the facts of the matter—that the bell-ringer is being courteous and careful. But my feelings can override all that—a reminder that I’m not quite as mellow and mild-mannered as I claim (or try to act). And, that perspective is relative. It is my interpretation of another person’s actions and my verdict on their motives, that could be wrong.
Any of this ring a bell? If so, it’s a reminder that life is a two-way street, you might say, so it’s safest to look both ways.