Comprende

“Riding like that … you must not be from this country … you comprende??”

The one, obviously non-hispanic lady in the passenger seat of a beat up little Saturn yelled at me while passing. The Saturn was easily less expensive than the bicycle I was riding and possibly less reliable.

This happened yesterday evening, a low traffic Sunday in the purportedly tolerant Riverside area. The insult made me smile, even chuckle a bit unlike the last one directed at my non-citizen status. That incident happened in 2009. Even from two cars behind, the angry gentleman was cultured enough to know I was from India! He had yelled, “This is not India!! You can’t ride your bike like this!” I was controlling the lane on my bicycle on my way to work on a roadway that was barely ten feet wide. Unlike the ladies who yelled at me yesterday, this gentleman from 2009 seemed more affluent since he wore a tie, douchey sunglasses and drove a shiny, black Acura TL.

I do not blame motorists, affluent or otherwise, for being astonished at a bicyclist controlling the lane — few bicyclists and even fewer law enforcement officers are aware of this leeway. I do find the yelling and honking unnecessary, uncivil and threatening. As a bicyclist, I understand my position is of a minority in Jacksonville. This position of minority comes with resistance from the majority, especially since our paths intersect so often. As unacceptable as this resistance should be in a civilized society, it is even more unacceptable when the said resistance involves threats to beat me up like the douche in the Acura promised before the traffic light turned green. And he was not the first one to threaten to assault me for controlling the lane either.

One does not quit riding a bicycle from fear of motorist’s vengeance. I surely did not quit. If your house gets burgled, you don’t start living in a cave with a very large boulder for a door. If market conditions favor, you could change neighborhoods. Mostly, we beef up security, and get additional padlocks and stronger doors and windows; a dog even. For a bicyclist, there isn’t much that can be done to reduce the incidence of abusive behavior from motorists than to simply chug along, participate in City planning and hope the planners in charge are aware of this problem. One can change the route they use but not always. One can change the time they commute but not always. During the 2009 incident, I was commuting to work and an alternate route would add four miles to my two mile commute.

The infrastructure dictates a bicyclist to operate as if operating a vehicle, leaving us at the mercy of the motorist’s attention. Distractors like a cell phones, radios and passengers are worrisome. We negotiate opening doors of parked cars, potholes, merging traffic and insufficient bike-lanes, all designed with cars and motorists in the primary. On narrow roadways, controlling the lane or even riding on the right tire mark are suggested ways to avoid collisions with either opening doors or getting squeezed into the curb by passing cars. I do all of them and have been for years. However, I do not have the audacity and might to promote it … especially to people who are already intimidated by bicycling in traffic. That’s like saving, “Hey, your house got burgled, consider leaving your door open”.

As a renter, I could change where I lived and where I rode my bicycle the most. My stay in Southside had run its course. I moved to Riverside … only to get hit by a JTA bus and called a Mexican.


I didn’t quite mind being called a Mexican as I did getting hit by a bus.

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