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A truce in the war of the wheels

by Amy Kingsley

Something strange happened at the ATM the other day. I was out, on my bike, at around 8:30 a.m., fetching cash from the automated teller near my house for the locksmith who was extracting the end of my car key from the ignition switch.

I coasted to a stop behind a black sports car. It was a drive-thru ATM, which is always an uncomfortable, exhaust-choked environment if you’re on foot or bike. So I kept my distance.

The driver poked his head out.

“You’re too loud back there,” he said. “Try to keep it down.”

Then he smiled and told me about the scooter he’d rigged to do 100 on the highway.

“I tell ya,” he said. “If I didn’t work at an auto body shop in Kernersville, I’d ride it everyday. The commute is killing me.”

Then he wished me a nice day and drove off. What startled me about the whole exchange was its… civility. If my many years of living in Greensboro have taught me anything, it’s that young, macho auto enthusiasts hate bicyclists.

It’s a type of hatred so deep-seated, I’d long ago written it off as intractable. I’ve come in for abuse from mean-spirited drivers whose commutes I am absolutely not impeding. I can be pedaling along in my own lane when a driver, in his own lane, hurls the standard “get out of the road” at me.

This almost always undermines the glee that accompanies your average, undemanding bike ride. But those are venial sins compared to those committed by drivers who just can’t even be bothered to keep an eye out for bicyclists.

I have, in other words, come to view Greensboro roads as a battleground between a handful of committed bicyclists and the many, many drivers who hate them. And I’m not the only one. Several of my friends have reported aggravating encounters with Greensboro motorists. But this might be starting to change.

Blame it on four-dollar gallons of gas. The drivers of big vehicles, those bullies of the blacktop, are taking a humbling hit to the pocketbook.

And some of them might be moderating their position on cyclists. Instead of dismissing pedal pushers as radical-enviro interlopers on America’s open roads, maybe some drivers are starting to see bicyclists as working stiffs trying to save a buck or two.

If my ATM incident is any indication, relations between motorists and cyclists in the old Gate City might be turning downright cordial. Maybe this summer I’ll be able to take High Point Road all the way to my workplace without being nearly clipped by trailer-hauling pickups.

Of course, one friendly driver does not a trend make. Even though, cosmetically speaking, this particular driver fit the profile of the type who’d sooner throw trash than conversation in my unmotorized direction, he might have just been a nice guy, not necessarily a representative of the muscle-car owning class.

But I’m going to cling to this idea that gas prices are leveling the playing field a little bit. Sure, drivers have the comfortable commute and indisputable dominance of the roadways.

It doesn’t come cheap. If you want that, ride a bike. It doesn’t cost anything to fill, and the cost of maintenance is almost negligible.

Maybe the high price of gasoline is exposing the essential truth of the situation. Bicyclists and drivers are all just commuters who’ve made different choices. Some drivers are drivers out of necessity – they have families and jobs that require travel – and others simply pay for the comfort and convenience.

And some bicyclists are environmentalists or tri-athletes. Others are just trying to save a buck. Either way, we all deserve to have our choices respected so long as they don’t endanger the lives of others.

On the day of my encounter, I didn’t bike to work. Instead I endured a lecture on lock maintenance and paid the man for returning my car to operable condition. Then I did what so many other people do: I got in my car and drove to my job.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com

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