There are two types of drunks: belligerent drunks and friendly drunks. This story is about me mistaking one for the other.
Late on Saturday night, my girlfriend and I biked home from a friend’s apartment in Chelsea. Since home is Queens, that meant biking through Murray Hill — drunk frat boy territory.
Now, a brief note on our attire: It was really cold on Saturday night. Really cold. Also, as mentioned in my one previous post, I feel safest when I know I’m visible. So, of course we were wearing big parkas, bar mitts on our handlebars, ski masks, blinking lights on our helmets, and (the pièce de résistance) reflective yellow construction worker vests.
We were looking damn good (insofar as good means visible), but I have to admit that my high school self would be horrified to see me dressed like this. Horrified and terrified of being beaten up.
Good thing I’m past all that. Oh, but yes, I was cycling through a neighborhood filled with drunk guys filled with nostalgia for their high school bullying days.
Cut back to me, stopped at a red light. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a big drunk i-banker type lumbering my way. Not just crossing the street, but coming straight at me, eyes locked on the back of my bike.
This guy was definitely a bully in high school. My pulse quickens and I steel myself for a fight.
He takes another step and his hands rise to chest level. I decide on a preemptive strike.
I lean into the anticipated blow, reach out with one hand (saving one for the bike), and push him hard.
Gratifyingly, he stumbles back a few steps, but not before achieving his goal: a light, almost friendly, tap on my butt.
My head is swimming in adrenaline and testosterone — this wasn’t what I was expecting, but I’m still bracing myself for worse.
“What the fuck are you doing?!”
“Patting you on the ass…Lance!”
“Back off, drunk guy. Just walk away.” (I am ready for this fight. I am David Spade in Tommy Boy.)
I continue to bristle and yell, he continues to deflect and call me Lance (“Whoa, look out everybody! Lance is angry!”), and before I can figure out what’s going on, the light changes from red to green.
“Green light means go, Lance! Have a good night! Bye, Lance!”
I didn’t know why this drunken frat boy wanted to pat my ass and I still don’t, but I know now that I didn’t need to get so angry. All I knew then (and now) is that he had a point: Green means go. So I went.
One evening last week, I was biking south on Kent Avenue, on my way to the Williamsburg Bridge, when I saw a car coming from the other direction. The driver must have missed his turn, because he suddenly stopped, backed up, and stopped again.
All the while, of course, I was pedaling my way toward him and, as I drew closer, I realized that he was stopped at the intersection where I planned to turn. When I got there, he had just finished backing up. He was completely stopped and he seemed unsure as to whether this was his turn, after all.
Satisfied that he wasn’t going to move anytime soon, I turned left, passing in front of the stopped car.
Enraged by that show of confidence in the face of his indecision (or so I imagine), he leaned on his horn. Then, having decided that he did indeed want to turn there, he followed me, pulled level to me, and leaned on his horn again.
Normally, I’m very patient with hornhonkers. When I started bike commuting, car horns would really freak me out and I would worry I was about to get hit by a car. Then I realized that, if anything, it was exactly that panic that would get me hurt.
Since then, I’ve taken a honk to mean precisely what it indicates: that the driver sees me. Maybe the driver’s trying to communicate a desire for me to get out of the way, but I’m not a psychic, so I can’t say. What I do know is that the driver sees me, and that makes me feel safe.
This time, however, well, I don’t know. Maybe it was a flash of ESP or just one of those inexplicable moments where you’re emotionally connected to all the living beings in your immediate vicinity. Whatever the cause, I was certain that this driver wanted to communicate more than a simple acknowledgement of my presence. Similarly, I was completely certain of the appropriate response.
So, calmly and rationally, I leaned over my handlebars until my head was level with the sedan’s passenger window and gave the car’s occupants the finger. Emphatically.
Then I continued pedaling.
The car pulled ahead of me, but I managed to catch up a few times and, each time, I repeated my bow and my one-fingered salute.
There was no more honking.