I am fond of flipping the bird. I do admit it is crass. It certainly is crude. In terms of expression it is not particularly creative. However, it is a quick, easy and painless method to express my frustration. Usually when said gesture is complete, I feel much better. An extended middle finger is silly when you think about it but it is a very old gesture. Flipping the Bird dates all the way back to Ancient Greece as a vulgar symbol representing the erect phallus. In other words, think of it as saying F-You.
I certainly feel that Flipping Someone Off is a harmless gesture. When I am driving and someone cuts me off, I am not afraid to Fly a Bird in the direction of the offending driver. If another driver Flips Me Off, I usually wonder what I have done wrong. If I feel that I am wrong I will wave or nod, a sort of, ‘Oops! My bad! Sorry!’ If I disagree with the offending Finger, I will return Middle Finger Fire. We will then grumble in our respective vehicles what an idiot the other guy is, and go on our way. I would assume that 99.999% of the Birds given on the road are the same.
Generally speaking, it is the same when I ride my bike. I have cut back in recent years. However, if someone passes too close or pulls in front of me. I feel it natural to express my displeasure. What do you think is the quickest easiest way to do that? You guessed it, your friend and mine, the Middle Finger. As much as I hate to admit it, what happened to me tonight makes me realize that this may not be such a good idea.
It was a late commute home at about 7:30 pm and I was on the final climb to my house. It is a narrow road with a crappy gravel shoulder, but there generally not a lot of traffic. Typically drivers give me a wide berth. I think that they feel sorry for me because they can see that I am working my ass off. It is a steep climb. About 1/2 way up the 0.5 mile climb a silver 1993-2000 Honda Civic Coupe passed close and fast. He was so close that I don’t know how he missed me. I was surprised, I was scared and naturally I reached for my trusty friend, the Finger. I then put my head back down and resumed climbing. When next I looked up the car was stopped in the right lane and a very large man with a shaved head and tattoos got out. He was yelling, ‘You want to flip me off? Why don’t you get off your bike and flip me off?’ Even at this point I tried to explain that, ‘I have every right to be on the road, and you passed to close. It is legal for me to ride where I am and you passed illegally.’ As it turned out I had showed up to a fight ready for a debate.
My new friend Junior as his girlfriend called him had no interest in a discussion. He was flinching like he was going to throw a punch. He was yelling at me to get off my bike, which I did the precise opposite. Junior had about 50 lbs on me had a shaved head and was covered in equal parts scars and tattoos. His girlfriend was alternating between begging Junior to get back in the car and telling me I needed to ride down the hill. Luckily a crowd had gathered on this normally desolate hill. I do not think Junior liked having witnesses. After sizing up the situation, I turned around and rode down the hill. I made it home without incident.
As I have gotten older, I let the Bird Fly less and less frequently. As a cyclist whether, I like it or not, I have to reluctantly accept the fact that I am an ambassador for cyclists. If I behave like a ride crude ass it has a negative impact on other cyclists. Is it fair? Hell no! If a pedestrian or a driver flips me off, I am not going to assume that they are all jerks. I am going to assume that person is a jerk. I actually have been making an effort to appreciate good drivers. If a driver is courteous I will give them a thank you wave! I give out far more friendly waves than Birds. As much as I enjoy Flying a Good Bird, it is far more satisfying to wave and smile.
Junior is the other reason why cyclists should not Flip the Bird. When you Give the One Finger Salute, you never know who will be on the receiving end. I would not want Junior in my neighborhood. I would not want him in my house. If I had children, I would not want him near them. It is probably not a good thing that Junior has a girlfriend, though I am grateful to her. Any time I Flip the Bird, the result could be Junior. This time I was lucky. The next Junior could have a weapon or come back around to take another shot with his car. I will be looking out for Honda Civics for weeks. It is better if he keeps driving and gets as far away from me as possible.
Flipping the Bird is legal and falls under first amendment free speech protection. That doesn’t mean it is a good idea. However, I ride every day. Am I supposed to grin and take it when a motorist cuts me of or otherwise jeopardizes my safety? It is in my nature to react. Flipping the Bird really accomplishes nothing but it makes me feel better. I have been considering investing in cameras for my bike. Is there anything else I can do to actually make myself safer?