Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I am a dangerous subversive threat

So, I've noticed something recently. Call me observant, say I'm attuned to subtle social interactions, but it has come to my attention that douchebags in utes like to shout at me when I'm cycling.

I cycle at least a few times a week. Usually I cycle from my home in Cannington into the main Perth CBD, or from the Perth train station to West Perth or Osborne Park, or similarly not-very-impressive cycling paths. I'm definitely not one of those cyclists who wears padded spandex shorts decorated with sponsorship logos who goes 27km an hour. I am frequently lucky to reach 17km an hour. I have a ridiculous looking helmet (of course, all bike helmets are ridiculous-looking), and usually cycle with my mouth open because it is damn hard work, especially as LITERALLY EVERYWHERE I GO in Perth seems to be into the wind. No matter what time of day, no matter where I'm going, it's always INTO THE WIND. Sky will probably agree with me on this one.

It's a good thing there aren't any cars at Burning Man, because I would be GETTING IN THEIR WAY.

But my cycling makes me happy and it's excellent cardiovascular exercise and I enjoy being self-propelled. What I don't enjoy is the demographic of jerks who feel like they need to shout at me.

I have not only been shouted at on my bicycle, mind you. Once I was walking from my house to the Cannington train station and some utebag (shortened from "douchebag in a ute") drove past and shouted "Freak!" out the window at me. I'm guessing because of my pink hair. Which is freakish indeed.


But the utebags who shout at me on my bicycle all say similar things, which amount, in translation to: "Hey, you there, lady on a bicycle! Why are you delaying me for an additional five minutes in my journey? You should remove yourself from my path!" Only ruder.

The first few were some variation of the (always 20-to-30-year-old, always white, always male, always wearing a baseball cap, always driving a hotted up ute) utebag cry: "Get off the fucking road!" Usually when they shout this at me, I am cycling on the road because the footpath is full of pedestrians, and is furthermore not designated a bicycle path. Just so you know, if I ride on the footpath when it's not designated for bicycles, and a policeman sees me, and is feeling ungenerous, I will get a fine. Also, I ride to the far left of the road, closer than I should to the parked cars which could open a door and knock me off my bike at any moment.

It was the most recent utebag that pissed me off enough to write this post. While cycling through Victoria Park, heading home, he drove past me (so obviously I wasn't actually in his way), and helpfully pointed out "There's a footpath right there." He was slightly past me when I helpfully pointed out "Fuck you," in response, although he must not have heard me, because he didn't say anything. That section of Albany Highway is always packed with traffic, and I saw his ute stalled in line several times before I actually not only pulled up beside him, but passed him. I was riding on the footpath at this point (no pedestrians, dual pathway), and noticed he was looking out the window at me, so I grinned and waved at him as I passed him.

His response? "Get a real ride! And get on the footpath, you stupid bitch!"

It was so obviously designed to be a personal attack, on me, the person riding this bicycle, who was DISOBEYING what he told me to do, that I found myself shaking as I was driving home. I remembered a story S. told me many years ago, when she was crossing a street at a pedestrian light, one of those ones that lets traffic go one way, then the other way, then all pedestrians can cross. She was walking through the intersection when a guy in a truck (whoa, surprise) made an illegal left turn through the intersection, on a red light (Australians, this is like making an illegal RIGHT turn...across traffic). He almost hit her. So she gave him the finger. He shouted something unintelligible at her and then drove away.

Imagine her surprise, shock, and fear when she saw him WALKING TOWARDS HER along the sidewalk minutes later -- he had figured out which way she was going, circled the block, parked his car, and decided to get out to abuse and harass her. Calling her a "white bitch" and yelling swearwords at her, he kept advancing on her. It was actually remarkably fortunate that a friend of hers, a gigantic blacksmith who looks like a neo-Nazi but is actually adorable, happened to see the situation and came over to find out what was going on.

But who grows to be an adult believing it is actually okay to personally insult someone in a public venue? Like the recent Twitter hashtag #mencallmethings, where female bloggers and activists report accounts of men trying to shut them down using organized "humorous" namecalling, it amazes me that anyone can get to a point in their lives where they are so entitled, so threatened, that they feel like it's not only okay, but the best course of action to insult someone they will literally never see again.

Sad freak.

He tried to intimidate me, tried to use verbal force to get me to do what he wanted, and he was so irrationally upset that I have no doubt he would have willingly gotten all up in my face and shouted about it some more. All because I was on a bicycle and following road rules.

Oh and also: I was a lady. Don't forget that part.


Cary said...

Makes me sad that this shit happens, but it sounds doubly bad if you're a lady on a bike.
Lately I've been making an extra effort to acknowledge the good things that some drivers do around cyclists, which helps balance out the bad feelings caused by douchebags in utes a little.

Also, Perth cyclists never get tailwinds, there are only headwinds and days when you're feeling strong :)

Russ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

It is sad, and there's generally nothing to be gained by any kind of confrontation (for either side). However, as a quick-witted cyclist, you can certainly file a police report. If you're often cycling in the same area, you can put the number for the appropriate line in your phone, and it doesn't take long to note the license number, pull over and make a call.

Of course, this might not do much good in itself, but it can relieve your desire to escalate things. Also, it's useful to have a history of reports of bad behavior if that driver ends up hitting a cyclist or pedestrian - it could be the difference between a slap on the wrist and getting them off the road for good.

I'm not familiar with Australian laws and law enforcement, but I imagine there's a way to get people who are aggressive toward cyclists "into the system." Be safe!