Go Dad Go!

A self-important blog about riding bikes, raising kids and the all-too-rare nexus of these two pursuits.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Anger on the Rough Streets of Menlo Park

I was fortunate enough to be able to steal away for a lunchtime ride between meetings on the Peninsula last Thursday, so I joined the renowned "Noon Ride," which winds through the very affluent Silicon Valley communities of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Woodside and Portola Valley. The ride is a serious one (though not as fast as it was ten years ago, it seems), with local racers taking up space well outside the bike lane to gain advantage going into the unwritten, but well-heeded sprint points.

As the ride wound down we descended the length of Sand Hill Road, pedaling easily past the VC firms; a number of guys rode in the right-hand traffic lane. Sure enough, a couple of cars honked -- and not with light "excuse me" double-taps, but full lay-ons. It's an unnerving sound when you're on a bike; but then, if you're riding in the car lane when there's a 15-foot bike lane, shouldn't you expect it?

Sure enough, an angry exchange ensued. A couple of guys shouted at the honkers, one of whom was a kid of about 17 driving a yellow convertible muscle car. Both drivers shouted back, and the insults got ugly. F-bombs sidewindered back and forth, middle fingers were raised, crotches were grabbed; one rider pulled the classic double-middle-finger-point-at-the-chamois’d-crotch. Both sides showed serious, hateful ire; there was nothing lighthearted about this, nothing playful.

Cylists yelled at the kid: "When's the car due back to your dad?" (Not that funny, I thought; pretty banal.) The kid yelled back, "How old are you? You're f---ing old!" (Sort of funny, since we really are pretty old.) At each of three lights we'd catch back up, and the vitriol would start flying again; soon it spread to other cars, including a woman in an iconic Mercedes SUV with an iconic bandage over her evidently recently-improved nose (and I'm thinking, "This is what a recession looks like?").

I rode away from the group, imagining the scene erupting into one of those disasters I've read about. As I did so, I couldn't help but think: (1) We cyclists were in the wrong, riding in a traffic lane; yes, the drivers overreacted -- we didn't slow anyone down -- but they didn't endanger anyone, while we did; (2) What in God's name were we going to accomplish with some heated exchange? There's no teaching anyone anything in that situation. At best we piss each other off and create more tension between cyclists and drivers; at worst someone gets angry enough that inuries or arrests result; and (3) This is happening in Menlo Park? Is this a place where people need to feel such profound anger? This felt like deep, urban bitterness, class hatred-type stuff, and it's going down between guy on a $5,000 bike and a woman in a $50,000 car?

I was embarrassed, frankly. I'd expect better from the smart people I tend to meet on these rides. But wearing my Team Oakland kit, I also felt proud; I just don't see riders in my 'hood taking things that far.


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