August 13, 2013

On Cyclists and Style

Yesterday at rush hour, I was pulling out of my parking garage onto a very busy street in the middle of DC. I checked the round mirrors before exiting the garage, slowly eeked out to be sure I didn’t accidentally cross with a pedestrian, and was about two feet from the street, watching a cab go by and was ready to pull out right after him. I hear, “HEY! HEEEEEYYYYY!” and a bike slams into the right front of my car, right where my tire is.

“WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM, LADY? WHAT. IS. YOUR. PROBLEM????? Do you just drive without looking? YOU COULD HAVE KILLED ME! WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM? WHAT. IS. YOUR PROBLEM????” He slams the hood of my car again, rides over to my driver’s side and stares me down. I apologize for not seeing him, but I must admit I am in shock. My tire is past the sidewalk, lined up with a tree surrounded by flowers and a short iron fence. I did look, and I didn’t see him. He again screams, asking me my problem, I again apologize, he rolls his eyes at me and continues on. I pull onto the street and head home.

I think about this interaction the entire ride home. I think about the guy, think about how he wasn’t wearing a helmet but was wearing headphones. How he was riding on the sidewalk and I swear I didn’t see any bicyclist when I looked in the mirrors or after I pulled out and actually looked left and right. That I was in the CBD where bicycles are prohibited on sidewalks. He must have been flying down the sidewalk, and he must not have seen me. I get angry – yes, one should yield to those on the sidewalk, but how am I supposed to account for a bike flying directly into me, I’m not a mind reader, I can’t see the future. I think of the times when I am a pedestrian on that very same sidewalk and have practically been steamrolled by bicycles who go as fast as they would on the road. I wish I thought faster on my feet, had a good comeback for this guy.

As I continue to drive, I calm down. And I am grateful that I am not quick with the comebacks, that all I could think of saying to this man is, “I’m sorry.” I think about how he just looked so shocked, so angry… but also so sad. He never swore at me, he didn’t call me names, he just kept asking me what was my problem. Maybe he had a problem, maybe he had something troublesome or upsetting happen to him and he was lost in his thoughts when it happened. Maybe he was in a rush to get somewhere that was upsetting or stressful, and all this emotion came out on the hood of my car. Maybe it was a good thing, he could yell at me instead of his boss, his mother, his partner.

Or maybe he’s not from DC or unaware of the DC sidewalk laws (honestly, I wasn’t either until a month or so ago). Maybe he was just in a hurry, and got a bit too comfortable riding down that smooth wide sidewalk. Maybe he caught a block that was relatively free of pedestrians and was caught up in the moment of smooth sailing, nice weather, a good song on the iPod, and my Kia ruined it.

I realized… it didn’t matter. I didn’t know his story, and having a snappy comeback wouldn’t improve the situation for either of us. He was scared and angry, I was scared and surprised, and the best thing either of us could do is what we did. He got to vent yet it made him more aware of his surroundings, I got yelled at because honestly you can’t be too aware as a city driver.

What does this have to do with fashion?

Often we judge others for what they wear. Ew, that woman is way too fat to wear that. Did she steal that dress from her daughter’s closet? Is she heading to work or to a clown convention? With that skirt you can tell what she’s looking for tonight. Doesn’t she care what people think?

When I get into judgy judge mode, I always recall an experience when I was working in apparel. A woman came in the store, greasy hair pulled up in a messy ponytail, wearing a blue work shirt and pants with dusty boots. She was ignored by almost every salesperson in the store who assumed she wasn’t a customer with money, just someone wandering the mall. One employee greeted her warmly, and asked if she could assist her that day. Come to find out, this woman in work boots had won the lottery and was looking for a full wardrobe makeover. That employee who didn’t judge a customer by her appearance ended up having a sale in the thousands, and that customer told us that our salesperson was the first person in the entire mall who greeted her and treated her with respect.

You don’t usually know why a person acts, or dresses the way they do. You don’t know their story. Judging, making snarky comments, and whispering to your friends isn’t going to help that person, and it doesn’t help you either. I started this blog back in 2005 with a lot of judgment and strong opinions, but through the years I have gotten to know the women I judged, got to know their stories, their reasoning. And with it, I have worked to transform this blog into a resource, a way to help instead of snark. Sometimes I lose my way, and sometimes I need a slap in the face… or a slap on my car hood to get me back on track.

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7 comments:

  1. I think the bicyclist would say the same things as you are now, if you could find him. =He was scared.= I'm glad everybody was okay.

    As a side note: I often remind myself while I'm driving to forgive the "bad" drivers...speeders, cut-offs, etc. I can think of two times that I KNOW I was a bad driver. Once when I get a phone call that my grandmother was in the hospital dying and I was trying to get there quickly. Once when I was driving my best friend to the emergency room with a heart attack. So I tell myself, maybe the person who cut me off is having a VERY bad day. You never know...they could be.

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  2. First off, I'm glad everyone was okay. You have such an admirable sense of perspective, Allie. And the story about the lottery winner...wow.

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  3. I'm sorry you had that experience. We all make mistakes, although in this case it's not clear whose mistake it was. I am an urban cyclist and am sad to see that for every distracted or jerky driver, there is a distracted or jerky cyclist, giving the rest of us a bad name when we are ultimately still at a disadvantage on the roads. I'm glad nothing worse happened, and glad you were able to reflect positively on the experience.

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  4. I'm happy to see this post - I stopped reading your blog a few years ago when I felt it was getting overly judgey about women's sartorial choices (I remember one about a woman on the subway wearing sub-par ballet flats, if memory serves). Nice to see a kind tone.

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  5. This is such a fantastic post!! I just found my way to this blog from a friend sharing this on FB. You are speaking to my soul with this post. Treating people with respect is an endangered past time. Thank you for sharing your story.

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  6. Great post! Glad everyone is OK. And, an excellent reminder. I am working very hard to rid myself of snark. The world can do very well without snap or snark from me.

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  7. Great post. When I run into (not literally!) a "bad" driver, I try to pretend it's my mother, and practice patience. I don't always succeed, but it helps : >

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