Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Purple People Eater escapes from zoo and pursues cyclist

When I get off the train in Gresham, I ride on small streets and encounter maybe five cars along the seven minute ride to my place of work. If I got off at a closer station, it would be a four minute ride to work, but I like this way better. I always seek the least traveled streets, even if it’s a longer route.

As I approach my first stop sign I notice a truck sitting there. I wonder why it isn’t proceeding through the stop. I pull up alongside since there’s plenty of room there. I brake and slow way down for a last swivel of my head before proceeding through, even though I could see since half a block ago that the coast was clear. And of course I make sure this truck isn't about to turn right.

As I cross the intersection I hear a squeal of tires as the truck peels out after me and pulls alongside me with the passenger window on its way down. The driver, an old guy in a baseball cap, begins yelling out the window at full volume. I won’t sully my blog with the words he used, but the main one starts with and A, ends with and E, and has an s-s-h-o-l in the middle. Over and over he used this word, screaming “YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW THE RULES JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, YOU ………!!!” and other phrases laced with other obscenities. He rides along at my speed, continuing to scream, turning absolutely purple.

His vehicle veers closer and closer to the curb. I’m running out of space. I sort of freeze, not knowing what to do. Of course now I see plenty of options. Why didn’t I stop and hop my bike up onto the sidewalk where I wouldn’t be squished? Why didn’t I get off my bike, turn it around, and ride in the opposite direction? Instead I just stopped, because the space was getting too skinny, and did nothing. He stopped too, and kept on yelling, and now it felt worse because now I was just sitting there.

So I started riding again, changing my initial strategy of riding slow till he went by, to riding faster to get away from him. It seems illogical now, since obviously a bike isn’t going to outrun a truck. But I was just acting on a general “get away from this person” impulse. Now he sped up and zoomed past me, still screaming. A block further he turned, to my surprise, into the parking lot of my place of work, right where I usually turn in. So I rode past that entry point and turned into the driveway further down. We weren’t open yet and I rode up to the back door as usual. Meanwhile, he had gotten out of his truck and was striding toward me, still yelling. I felt that fishing for my card-key would take too long and began banging on the door. A co-worker opened it and I slipped in with my bike. The man was still approaching, waving his fist in the air and pointing angrily, now yelling at her, about me, until she closed the door.

I don’t want to identify my place of work on my blog. However, it turns out that that’s exactly where he was headed. My co-workers recognized him as a regular customer who comes to use our public facility almost every day. Turns out this ain’t the first time he’s misbehaved. On another occasion, he was so hot to be the first in the door when we opened, that he knocked over a baby stroller.

He waited till we opened and then came in! Aaaaaaak! My co-workers changed my schedule so that I wouldn’t be in his area till he left. My co-workers suggested strongly that I report the incident, so I did, and the police showed up in two minutes – which surprised me since I’d called the non-emergency line. They came and talked to me, then they went and found Mr.Purple and took him outside and talked to him. Then they came back and talked to me again. They told me there was nothing they could do about the situation since he hadn’t actually threatened me. Apparently this kind of behavior doesn’t constitute a threat. If he had said words like “I’m going to kill you,” that would be a threat, but since he only acted like he might kill me, he’s covered under free speech.

My place of work was more supportive. He’ll be getting a letter from the Big Cheese, outlining his undesirable behavior so far and warning him that he’s on the verge of being excluded from our facility. I think that more could have been done if he’d actually stepped onto the property while screaming at me, but as it happens the parking lot is owned by the City of Gresham. My co-worker holding the door said he was careful not step from the parking lot onto our sidewalk.

So you see, free speech as we define it is good but bad. Bad, but good. Why is blatant unmitigated verbal abuse just A-OK? It would be interesting to hear from some readers in other countries how this behavior would have been handled where you live.


At 11:35 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

"Didn't threaten you". That's amazing. I've been a full time bicycle commuter since November and have already experienced two incidents of road rage. The first one, two kids tried to force me off the road into a snow bank, and the 2nd one involved a thrown drink (that missed).

It's obvious to me that whoever made the decision that they didn't threaten you, has never been on the other end of this argument. We cyclists are so vulnerable, and it is a terrifying experience. I'm usually shaken up after such an event and totally forget to make helpful observations...license plate, make and model of car, etc. You almost have to drill for these situations.

Interestingly enough, local advocacy groups are meeting with law enforcement today to talk about such incidents. Local cyclists believe that the police aren't taking their claims seriously. I'll let you know how it turns out!

At 11:55 AM, Blogger kate gawf said...

Yeh, let me (us) know. I'm sorry to say that my observation skills completely disappeared. My description of him was completely off. I saw just how much off when my coworker, who had seen him and knew him, pointed him out to me from a hidey place once he was inside and of course I recognized him. I thought about getting the license plate but didn't. All I wanted was for him to go away. Also, I must admit, I felt "what's the use? the police won't do anything." This isn't the first time I've heard that from the police. But I'm really going to try to be more calm next time something like this happens. I'm going to drill mentally. Practice it in my mind.

At 12:15 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Yeah, it's funny how our survival instincts take over, and rational thought goes up in the air.

I've started carrying a pen and paper with me to jot down the information when it occurs again. Another idea I had was to use my digital camera if I don't have a pen and paper. Most digital cameras have a movie mode. You could use it for a voice recorder and just talk into it. Pictures of street signs may help for incident reporting too.

At 3:40 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Here's a link to the outcome of the local Law Enforcement/Cyclists meeting HERE.

P.S. That wasn't me in Portland! It was my buddy Jeff who also writes on my my blog. I would've certainly told you I was coming!


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