When I was 15, my father taught me the skills needed to drive on the highway, but it fell to my mother to teach the less clear-cut rules of the road.
“For God’s sake, just get out of the way,” she’d say, fingers digging into upholstery every time an even semi-aggressive driver edged near. “They could have a gun for all you know.” She grew increasingly nervous in later years, when I would drop my speed to make a point to some idiot riding my bumper.
“They could have a gun” was one of my mom’s favorite refrains, and if you hear something enough, it eventually worms its way into your consciousness. And so I was thinking about guns one recent sunny Sunday morning after I’d hopped on my bike to run errands. Pedaling along a narrow one-way swath of 19th Street north of Spring Garden, where cars line both sides of the road, I became aware of one behind me. Close behind me. On wider roads, I ride on the far right to allow cars to pass. But 19th is that special sort of Philly street so slender that a driver’s sneeze can send an adjacent cyclist careening onto the sidewalk, mowing down pedestrians. On roads like these, I ride smack in the middle, so nobody is tempted to try to squeeze by and maim me in the process.
Maybe it was the long, deliberate honks, or maybe it was the engine rumbling a whole half-inch behind my back wheel, that tipped me off to the driver’s displeasure. Had I been in my car, I might have done my slow-down trick, but given that it was just me, a bike, and an old green helmet I inherited from a vegan who’d written on it “Meat Is Murder,” I finally decided to veer off into a narrow space between two parked SUVs.
“You’re not supposed to be in the road!” the driver bellowed as she passed.
If I hadn’t been busy wondering whether she had a .38 Special in her lap (thanks, Mom), I might have come up with something snappier than my heated and oddly Elizabethan “You are mistaken!” I might have had the presence of mind to holler back that she was a dinosaur. That her way of life—running the road like she owns the place—was about to change forever. That she and her dumb Honda and everyone who acts like cars and cars alone were granted permanent and inalienable right-of-way in the Bill of Rights are going to be edged out in this city.
I’m sure she would have driven off—or fired off a round—before the rant was done. But the reimagined exchange cheers me just the same. Mostly because I think it’s true.