Don’t Be A Mobile Scold!

I’ve written before about how the vulnerability of riding with our children can make a Pedal Parent quick to snap at scary drivers. My friends call that impulse, “Going Mama Bear” and while I am not a Mama, I like to pretend that I am and so I do it, too.

Heck, I’ve been letting drivers know how I feel about their performance since long before I became a Dad. I think it’s just one of the special roles that cyclists tend to take on. I mean, is it just me or are most bicycle riders also a:

  • Super-Navigator: Everybody wants to ask the bikers for directions, especially directions to the highway… where they are not allowed to ride.
  • Minor-League Urban Planner: Have you ever noticed how much planning jargon some cyclers use? I love talking about the shape of roads and criticizing the design of our urban space, but I am a no more qualified planner than I am an architect! I don’t know how they make that shit, I just use it!
  • Ombudsman of the Road: Bicyclers just love to point out others’ mistakes in driving. I suppose drivers do this, too.

I am not an experienced driver. Actually, I have somewhere between 20 and 25 minutes clocked behind the wheel. I have very little business evaluating the driving of others when it doesn’t affect me. But I am a smart-ass and I am defensive and I am a person on our roads and our roads are pretty hostile places sometimes and, and, and…

And unfortunatley for everybody else I’ve had a few experiences that have reinforced my delusion that shouting something at a driver might lead to something like progress. I can’t remember if I’ve told you all this before, so if I have, bear with me.

Positive Reinforcement for Being Negative

Once, heading over the Jose Rizal Bridge I was overtaken by the driver of a pickup and almost struck by the lumber or plumbing or something that was overhanging his truck’s bed. I gestured and yelled, he started to slow. I gestured again, this time that he should pull over. He did. I freaked. We yelled at each other on the side of the busy bridge but never came to blows and before long we actually shook hands, exchanged names and agreed that we’d both learned something. That really happened! And that never happens!

More recently, Little Oil and I were crossing 15th on Capitol Hill on a cargo bike when I made eye contact from across the intersection with a driver who was talking on his cell. I stopped in my tracks and made a big, ostentatious “Hang up your phone!” gesture at him, smug as can be. Then, as we were pulling into the parking lot of the drug store we ran into someone we knew and stopped to chat. It was only when I heard the honks of the other cars that he was holding up that I realized that Cell Phone Guy was waiting patiently for us to clear the lot entrance so that he could pull in and he had probably been there in the middle of the street for several seconds. Whoops. There I was criticizing HIM. On my way out of the store I spotted Cell Phone Guy. I approached him to apologize and at the same moment he shushed me,

Thank you so much for pointing out how unsafe I was being, talking on my phone while I was driving. Thank you, really.

I don’t need that! I don’t need to be encouraged to yell at or correct people who’s behavior I might find irresponsible, but who are not actually affecting me! Remember, this guy was across the intersection from us when I waved my mighty hand of disapproval at him! He had not endangered Little Oil or myself, or anyone, as far as I know. And that’s one of the criteria that Little and I established, to define and begin to work on my problem with scolding.

Don’t Scold Strangers, Unless You Must Scold Strangers

Not too long ago, Little Oil started pointing out my Ombudsmanly behavior.

Why you yellin’ at everybody, Papa?

I was bothering her, I think I could have been scaring her and I wasn’t proud of that. So, I decided to cool it. Little and I had a series of conversations and we set some limits on my shouting in impatience or anger while she is on the bike.

In some circumstances, some scolding is okay-ish:

  • Hey, Look Out! If someone does something crazy-mean or crazy-dumb or crazy-scary and I just react verbally, that’s okay but I need to explain it later.
  • Going Mama Bear If someone does something that we think was aggressive and put Little Oil at risk, I can say something to them if the opportunity arises. Basically, if we park near one another or are stopped at a light together.
  • That’s It There are no other circumstances that we could agree merited yelling at people during a bike ride.

There are many circumstances where scolding is not, repeat, not approved by my daughter and will get me scolded right back.

  • You Remind Me of Something That Makes Me Mad! Bringing my own baggage onto the bike.
  • I wasn’t Paying Attention, So maybe You Just Came Out of Nowhere But I am Not Sure! That.
  • The Long Distance Mama Bear It is not approved of for Papa Oil to chase, pursue, run down or bring to justice any Road Using Wrongdoer, even if they are driving a postal van in Ballard and even if they scared the hell out of both of us and even if my Hey, Look Out! in the form of a tossed apple core had no effect. Let ’em go. This isn’t the Searchers, and what are you going to do anyway?

The Ombudsman’s Ombudsman

It is not healthy to let the road make you rageful. I am lucky to have a partner that helps me see the importance of keeping calm and letting things roll off my back. I still scold, and she still points it out when I do. The funny thing is that right around the same time that we started talking about my scolding, Little Oil developed super-powers! She added some lightning bolt reflective stickers to her helmet and gained the ability to “Thunder” others. This “Thundering” entails Little Oil pointing her fingers at a target and muttering, “thunder.” She mostly Thunders on the bike. She always thunders drivers when they are using their phones. Tonight she told me,

I thunder bad cars and they break into pieces and then I take the pieces together and magic them into a flower.

Maybe she’s taken up the slack a little for the scolding? It doesn’t seem to mean the same thing to her but in her own, three-year old’s Theater of the Oppressed kinda way, she spots the Dastardly Doers of the road and deals with them appropriately.