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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  1. August 14, 2013 / 1:13 pm

    Fantastic post & a nice reminder to think before speaking & judging!

  2. August 14, 2013 / 1:02 am

    As always, such a wonderful and thoughtful post. It can be difficult not to judge others at times, even for something as trivial as fashion. It’s always good to be reminded and to remind ourselves the problems with doing so.

    Thanks for the reminder!


  3. Cynthia Washburn
    August 13, 2013 / 10:31 pm

    My sister and I have been talking about the not being judgey thing a lot lately – the catalyst? My two-and-a-half year old niece. We don’t want her to think that it’s okay to judge people based on what they’re wearing or how they look and she’s a very good mimic, so she repeats EVERYTHING. We also don’t want her to buy into this idea of women being objects and having to look a certain way.

    Plus, we’d like her to learn empathy – so no more snotty comments about what people are wearing or doing in public. Unless they’re swearing or doing something else inappropriate – and then we limit it to “we don’t talk like that/do that in our family”.

    • August 14, 2013 / 5:02 am

      I think Emerson has caused me to be less judgmental. Like you and your sister, I realize she hears, absorbs, and mimics everything. I want her to love herself and love people by their character instead of their appearance and Karl and I need to lead by example. Amazing how seeing things through the eyes of a child can change your perspective and outlook on life!

  4. heatherfonseca
    August 13, 2013 / 10:14 pm

    Don’t get me started with cyclists. My husband calls them “future organ donors”. Once a man zooming down the SIDEWALK collided with my then three year old son. I’m just glad I didn’t have to take him to the hospital. One I was parked on the street and opened the drivers side door to my car, slowly mind you, and this woman zooms past me screaming obscenities. Honestly I wish they’d go bike somewhere else and take their anger and their speeding with them.

    • AK
      August 14, 2013 / 12:18 pm

      That’s a very judgy comment, and not in the spirit of this post.

      • heatherfonseca
        August 14, 2013 / 12:39 pm

        Isn’t it being judgmental to call me, or my comment anyway, “Judgy”? I don’t have a lot of patience for rude cyclists, especially ones that speed, use the sidewalk and endanger pedestrians, motorists, and themselves. Allison was not rude to the cyclist, but he was rude to her. I think it’s wonderful that she decided to be kind, but I wonder if she would have been so magnanimous if he had collided with her daughter. Call me judgy if you want, but I’ve had zero tolerance for rude, speeding, cyclists ever since my son was run over by one.

        • Andrea
          August 15, 2013 / 11:55 am

          Being upset by the cyclist who almost injured your child is a lot different than being upset by all cyclists. I think the point was not to assume things about people based on their clothing/appearance — and not to assume things about cyclists based on your past experience. There is a difference between being more cautious when around cyclists because of your experience and being resentful and angry at all cyclists based on your past experience. I am glad that your son was not seriously hurt.

  5. Ginger
    August 13, 2013 / 9:30 pm

    Thank goodness no one was hurt. Even if he was at fault for riding on the sidewalk with headphones on, knowing that someone had been injured would not have been a good memory.

  6. Kris
    August 13, 2013 / 8:13 pm

    I come from a horribly judgmental family and didn’t realize how harsh they are until recently when my brother remarried. My mother and sister’s cruel comments and refusal to accept this girl made me realize how hurtful judgments can be. I began to see things in a very different light.
    But I never thought of assessing the situation that you just experienced as you did- that the cyclist may have been caught up in his own thoughts, or startled or angry. I would have been embarrassed, then furious and consequently would have let the encounter ruin my day. You are a better woman than I am, Alison Gary, and you certainly lead by example.

  7. Dee
    August 13, 2013 / 6:41 pm

    Thank goodness no one was hurt! I had a similar experience a few years ago on my way to work. I was in the right hand turn lane, cars in front of me, cars behind me, Pedestrians had a Do Not Walk sign and as I started turning right, this bicyclist comes out of no where on my right. I think he rode up the right hand edge of the road because I don’t remember him on the sidewalk. Bikes on the road are required to follow traffic laws and rights of way – if he was acting as a pedestrian, he didn’t have the right of way. If he was a vehicle on the road, he didn’t have the right of way. What I remember was having to ask him over and over again if he was ok as all he was intent on doing was yelling at me. Perhaps fear of what almost could have happened made him yell and perhaps he was just mad at himself for not paying attention. I was shaken for awhile but just glad that he hadn’t been hurt, no matter who might have been at fault.
    You make a good point – it’s important to remember we don’t know what’s going on with another person – we aren’t in their shoes and shouldn’t jump to conclusions too quickly.

  8. Sarah
    August 13, 2013 / 4:48 pm

    Yes! Love this! Just because we judge people based on their appearance does not mean that it is right to do so! Let’s just stop with the assumptions. It seems like such a basic message and a simple concept, but it’s hard not to judge others based on how they look. We still need to try though!

    I had a similar situation with a kid on a bicycle. I was at a complete stop at a crosswalk when he slammed into the side of my car (left some dents and marks too). He was only 10 or so, and I felt awful, but even a police officer who witnessed the incident said there was nothing I could do – he drove into my car. Still! He had some cuts and scrapes but I was the one in tears. It was awful, and he kept apologizing, which made it even worse. So glad he was okay, and glad nothing awful came of your run-in!

  9. M-C
    August 13, 2013 / 3:16 pm

    I’ve nearly taken out cyclists myself, with the added bonus of being nearly hit myself on other occasions when the roles were reversed, not to mention having to go home and confess those incidents to my biker girlfriend… Sometimes cars are oblivious, sometimes cyclists are in the wrong. I can see the temptation of riding down an illegal sidewalk, feeling safer there, but you if you do you have to go very slowly. A pedestrian can behave like a chicken crossing the street, if they’re not expecting anything faster than another pedestrian. A car can pull out and not think to look there for fast objects. Frankly, the combination of no helmet and headphones says “suicidal” to me, so you shouldn’t flog yourself too, too hard over this one event. But one way that accidents often happen is that cars misjudge the speed of bikes. You’ve got to be aware that a speck on the horizon can be right there under your wheels faster than a car, and allow for that. A grownup biker can routinely break speed limits in town, unlike a suburban toddler on a tricycle.

    As to your last story, it’s totally true that judging customers on looks is grossly counter-productive. I actually went to the same store in France THREE times wanting to buy a bag I had seen in their window, and failed. I spotted it during the week, when they were closed, and I kept going back on Saturdays, our only intersection. That meant I was dressed in something like sweats and flipflops, because I was damned if I was going to spend my weekend as spiffed up as I had to be for work at that time. Finally I gave up when I was rejected by the manager in person, who claimed without looking not to be able to find it. Not only did they think I couldn’t afford a $200 bag, but I think it was more that they were afraid that their image may suffer if their bag was seen on a slob like me. I also know personally several people who, with good jobs and in one case with millions in the bank, look kind of.. homeless. They only spend their significant money in stores that treat them like human beings.

  10. Sharon
    August 13, 2013 / 2:12 pm

    Great post and message! A good reminder that every encounter in our lives is not always personal. Thank you for posting.

  11. coffeeaddict
    August 13, 2013 / 1:22 pm

    I’m so sad to read stories of complete strangers lashing out on people. the same goes for trolling and anonymous spiteful comments. I guess it does relate in some way to gossiping and talking behind people’s backs in the way you describe in this wonderful post. The world would be a lot better place if we weren’t so self centered all the time. What you did took courage and emotional maturity, you should be very, very proud of yourself!

  12. August 13, 2013 / 5:20 pm

    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 : >

  13. August 13, 2013 / 1:18 pm

    I love this post. Not that the biker hit your car, but that you turned this situation into something relate-able and a learning moment for everyone. Also, that lottery story is a great message. I think about that a lot while wandering around stores. Every person has a story and who are we to judge what they are doing? Thanks for sharing such a great post.

  14. Sonia
    August 13, 2013 / 12:30 pm

    I agree with previous comments; this could have gone horribly wrong in so many ways! Luckily, he wasn’t seriously hurt and your car driveable.
    My husband is an avid cyclist and always take serious precautions when riding like wearing flashing lights on his clothing, having a mirror on his helmet to see behind him and wearing clothing with neon lighting. Sometimes, he screams at the top of lungs as pedestrians not paying attention as a last resort. Still, there have been many instances where either a driver doesn’t see him, attempts to accelerate and pass him to turn (he got badly hurt this way), rides too close to him or just doesn’t give a damn.
    I feel for you as the shock probably took a while to wear off. Just know that in the end, you’ll turn out to be more cautious than ever as a result of this close call.

  15. Lynn
    August 13, 2013 / 12:19 pm

    Is there a difference between judging and assessing? I try really hard not to be judgmental, but at the same time he should not have been pounding on your hood. What if you had had a terrible day and were just holding it together long enough to get home? Things could have escalated in a not good way if you had not responded the way you did. On a less important issue, am I being judgmental or a good mentor when I tell my students not to go to an interview or an internship wearing bootie shorts and a tank top (or hoodie and torn jeans)? If a colleague is constantly rude, when is it okay to stop giving them the benefit of the doubt? Why is this soooo difficult?

    • August 13, 2013 / 12:23 pm

      There is a difference, and I think the difference is time and heart. If a colleague is constantly rude, he may have issues taking place, but it is going for so long that it is affecting others repeate4dly and likely his performance. You are being a good mentor in educating your students on how to dress for respect because you’re telling them from a place of experience and heart. Judging is usually what happens in the speed of a heartbeat without assessing the whole situation or person. But I agree it is so difficult, especially when you know your assessment is out of caring and wanting to help and trying to figure out the best way to phrase it without creating anger.

      • Lynn
        August 13, 2013 / 1:11 pm

        Good point, and I agree with you completely. Time and heart are the key issues in most cases.

        As to the issue of escalation, I was thinking more of how these crazy moments seem to be turning deadly these days. We have had so many shootings or other acts of violence over what seems to be minor events — it is heartbreaking and scary.

  16. Lorena Lorena
    August 13, 2013 / 12:05 pm

    Very well written – i confess to being guilty on judging.

  17. Anna
    August 13, 2013 / 11:48 am

    Oh, Allie, what a wonderful story (not a wonderful experience) you have given us: something that could have happened to anyone, heart-stopping, anger-making, chagrin-making. Reminds me of the time I was driving along at a leisurely pace and saw a pedestrian in the road; he moved back out of the way; I continued along, still at a leisurely pace — and then abruptly he ran back into the road right in my path and made the “stop” gesture with his hand. When I stopped he came to my window and shouted “What is wrong with you?” After he had put himself in the way! I have never been able to figure him out — much like your cyclist. Baffling things happen, and all we can do is cope as well as possible. Thank you for a well-told narrative straight from life, and for the connection you make with your mission here.

  18. August 13, 2013 / 3:13 pm

    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.

  19. August 13, 2013 / 3:03 pm

    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.

  20. August 13, 2013 / 3:03 pm

    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.

  21. August 13, 2013 / 2:56 pm

    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.

  22. August 13, 2013 / 2:47 pm

    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.

  23. August 13, 2013 / 2:31 pm

    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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