It was a little after 9 last night when I coast to a stop in the bike lane alongside a beater idling roughly at the red at National on Venice, which is pretty deserted. There’s a lot of smoke coming out of the old Chevy’s tailpipe. Rap music that’s almost all swear words along with a lot of smoke that’s not the cigarette kind comes out of the car, occupied by its driver and a passenger.
I get the immediate sense I should just just get the hell away and bail right onto National like that’s what I meant to do all along, but against my better judgment I opt to gamble that things’ll be cool, staring straight ahead for the few seconds until…
“That’s a nice bike, ” says the passenger to me over the lyrics that are mainly muthafuckin this and the muthafuckin that.
At face value that may seem a nice thing to say. But more often than not, such a statement is not a nice thing. More often than not, such a statement is not a compliment. More often than not it is not paid by a Century City lawyer or a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, but rather by some covetous lowlife, and it translates roughly into “I want your bike.” It’s a statement in the form of a demand along the converse lines thatÂ “Where you from?” is a demand in the form of a statement. In short, it’s mostly rhetorical and arrives carrying a lot of baggage.
I give him a glance to find him presenting a general demeanor that would qualify as a definite lowlife. The hairs on my arms rise.
“Thanks!” I say too cheerily and I watch him looking over 8Ball like it’s another guy’s girl that he wants to get to know better 10 minutes ago. Looking away and ignoring him might have been the better tactic, But I didn’t employ it.
“What’ll you give me for it?” I ask and he takes his eyes off the bike and puts them on me and sits up a bit.
“How ’bout a beating?”
I take a breath and hold it. At this point I should dismount and get my feet under me, because Rule No. 23 of My Personal Defensive Cycling Code states:
At the outset of any confrontation a cyclist should always and immediately dismount his bike because with any potential for escalation to violence it’s easier to defend against and counterattack an assault without a bicycle between your legs.
But I decide not to follow Rule No. 23 for two reasons: One, he made no move to back up his talk with any action of exiting the vehicle. Two, executing such a maneuver might have been interpreted as some form of “Bring it then, bitch!” and thus forced him to get himself all up in my stuff.
But none of that happens. I stay put and he stays put and the thug and I hold each other’s stares the way enemies might tensely hold a handshake until he finally rocks his head back and bursts into laughter that the driver joins in on until I get let in on the joke.
“Nah, man. I’m just fuckin’ witcha.”
And I look away, not just a little in relief. I remind myself to breath.
It takes another lifetime until our light turns green. When it does, the Chevy starts to pull forward, belching smoke.
“Besides,” yells the asshole, “bikes are for pussies.” The laughter recedes as the car does, getting smaller and smaller like the imploding house at the end of “Poltergeist.”
I just let it and them go, physically. Mentally I spend most of the rest of the quiet ride home dwelling on what it is that makes certain people think they’re entitled to antagonize cyclists, be it passive or aggressive.