I got followed today. It was brief, and vague, and legally I surely had neither cause nor recourse, but it was unsettling, to say the least. You know what I'm talking about, especially if you're a woman. But I'm not. I clearly identify as a man and I drive a bicycle in the city of Chicago, that's all. I have chosen the bicycle because it's inexpensive, quick, minimal, ecologically responsible, energy-efficient, and most importantly it affords me an independence I cannot find through any other means of transport. Not only do I drive a bicycle, but I also take great pains to do so as legally, predictably, and safely as possible. I don't swerve abruptly. I stop and wait at lights. I wear a helmet and I have lights and plenty of reflectors. I don't carelessly dangle cargo off my bike, and I stay aware of my surroundings. I don't gesture or yell at people riding in cars unless they've clearly threatened me, at which point I occasionally let them know how they've endangered me and/or broken the law. So I'm vulnerable simply being on the street, and possibly I'm even more vulnerable if I choose to remind people that I'm vulnerable.
But this morning's infringement on my commute was not the typical bicycle/car rights-to-the-road contest usually voiced by a motorist as a gunned engine, cursed directives flung from a window (get the fuck out of *my* way), a vehement middle finger. It was profiled intimidation targeting the vulnerable. It was a wilding threat camouflaged by the innocuous ubiquity of a pile of young men in a car on a weekday, a pile of young men who mumbled something out their window as they overtook me, inches from my handlebars, only to have me overtake them moments later as they were caught in the queue at a stop sign. It was traffic monotony that morphed into a threat that followed me through one right turn, then a left, then a right, onto a side street. At 10 am. And then, as I reached my destination, they were gone without a word, on to the next potential victim.
What rule of conduct, codified or otherwise, did I violate? Was I supposed to allow the car of thuggish mumblers to remain ahead of me despite the bicycle lane being open, despite that fact that I'd have had to come to a stop in the middle of that lane to allow it? Was I supposed to acknowledge whatever remark they made to me despite not having understood what was said? Should I have taken the bait? Would it have made a difference in their response? Should I, too, get out of the saddle and into an internal combustion vehicle so that I, too, can enjoy the extra layers of insulation against social engagement a car affords? Should I relinquish the independence, health, and awareness cycling affords me in favor of strapping in to the devolving culture of lassitude and civil complacency many people tacitly support? What should I do? What did I do wrong?
Is this hyperbole? Paranoia? Victim complex? I think not. Our social environment is littered with sanctioned intimidation of the vulnerable. Women know this, and endure the overwhelming majority of what testosterone, greed, and might-makes-right has in store. And this rant is not to minimize women's burden, but rather to highlight that its source percolates into every mundane crevice of public action.
Yes, I drive a bicycle in the city. And just as you need nothing from me, you cowardly fucks, just as I've done nothing to draw your scattered intimidation and needless threats, your harassment will do nothing to change my conviction about my chosen mode of transportation.
-dedicated to those who endure this shit every day, with no apparent way out
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