Andy Rutledge

Cycling:On Almost Getting Shot

April 14, 2013 | By Andy Rutledge

I’m a road cyclist, which means that I share the road with motorists. I ride in cycling-friendly areas used by lots of other cyclists and, for the most part, motorists on these roads know how to behave when they encounter one of us or groups of us. Not always, though.

On this morning’s ride one motorist rather lost it. He pulled a handgun on me and for the most ridiculous of reasons. In the end, I finished my training ride and had a nice day with my family and he did whatever he was en route to do, I suppose. But I cannot say that we both escaped unscathed. I’m fine. Not sure what my dreams have in store for me tonight, but I run into idiots on the road from time to time and know how to deal with that. I have to believe, though, that he’s a bit worse for the experience. That is, if he has any shred of manhood.

I was on my way back from Grapevine, TX on this morning’s training ride and, after a brief stint in the left lane, moving into the left-turn lane when the car behind me revved it’s engine and sped around me at top speed toward the red stoplight. The left-turn stoplight on this country highway is always a long wait for anyone, and it made me chuckle to see a driver race so aggressively toward a red light for a long wait. I was doing only 40 to 50kph so it struck me as silly that he’d be in my lane waiting behind me when there are two other lanes he could use, anyway.

So as I approached the stoplight I had a smile on my face and was shaking my head a little at seeing such silliness. I stopped well behind the car and unclipped one of my pedals to wait on the light, but I could see the driver gesticulating. After a couple seconds he opened his car door, got out, and faced me. He looked angry.

He yelled at me. “Is something funny to you!?”

What an idiot, I thought. There is the occasional traffic-law-ignorant motorist who doesn’t know how to deal with cyclists and who feels the need to offer us correction, but I’ve not yet seen one get out of his or her vehicle. “Yeah, I just saw something pretty silly,” I responded.

The guy was obviously upset for some reason and my flippant response didn’t help. He was livid. “Well, you need to get your ass off the road before you get hurt,” he offered.

I’ve had this conversation a few times with motorists. I’ve learned that this sort of ignorance is impossible to deal with rationally. So, though it wasn’t necessarily the smart thing to do, I indulged my contempt and gave him tit for tat. “Looks like someone doesn’t know Texas traffic law. I’ll stay on the road where I belong, thank you.”

Then things got very cliché, corny, and stupid. “Not if I kick your ass off of it,” he spat back at me.

Since the event this morning, I’ve reexamined this encounter dozens of times in my mind. This is the part that still makes me laugh at the absurdity of it all. I can understand someone having a bad morning, wanting drive somewhere fast, deciding to vent his frustrations at some guy on a bicycle who he’s decided got in his way. But it takes a special sort of derangement to decide to take that verbal venting in a physical direction. On a highway, at a stoplight. The guy was dressed nicely, too. Dress slacks, a crisp dress shirt (he might even have been on his way to church!); he was out of all compass and context at this moment.

But he threatened me. Things were different now. I was still standing there on one foot, crouched over my bars with one foot clipped in, but at his threat I took off my sunglasses and made sure he had the opportunity to grasp my seriousness. “You are about to bite off more than you can chew, boy.” I meant every word.

No young man likes being called “boy” so I was now paying particular attention to his movement, ready to dismount and advance if he made so much as a flinch toward me. But his next move was surprising. A weird look came over his face—I still can’t really describe it—but then he turned and ducked on one knee into his car and after a couple seconds stood back up, racked the slide on a black handgun and pointed it at me with his arm at full extension. His hand was shaking.

There was a couple seconds where neither he nor I said anything. He was just standing there and I was just standing crouched on my bike about 20 feet from him. It was just two or three seconds, but it seemed like a minute or more. Then I suddenly got very angry and my contempt for this idiot child spilled over.

“Oh, great,” I said. “So you’re an idiot AND a coward.” I wasn’t crouched over my bars anymore, but standing up tall (still clipped in). I immediately knew something about him (more on that in a moment) so for some stupid reason I decided to show him my full torso, as a taunt. I did it on purpose. In retrospect, this was a stupid thing to do, but this is how emotion can compromise people. He didn’t do anything in response to my insult but stand there with his gun pointed at me. I was still boiling with anger. “Go ahead, shoot a guy on a bicycle and your life’s legacy will be cemented, goofball.” I still wish I had been more eloquent at that moment.

He was breathing hard, still standing there and looking angrier by the second. In those brief moments I began to get worried that my time was up. Then he dropped his arm to his side, looked to the ground at his feet, then around, then back at me…then got into his car. He slammed the car door and stomped on the gas, running the red light, and drove away at what must have been twice the speed limit. I think he still had the gun in his hand at the steering wheel.

I watched him speed away and waited for the light to change, as if nothing had happened. Except that I was now shaking. I spent the next 45 minutes or so of my ride fluctuating from calm and collected to furious with anger. I had pretty much calmed down by the time I got home (but writing about it right now has had me doing the same things all over again! Ugh, this sucks!).

So as I mentioned at the start of this story, I’m fine, he’s probably fine. Life goes on. But I was compelled to write about this. I’m a writer. It’s what I do. I note, however, that it reveals some stupid behavior on my part. Both of us could have done without my sarcasm and taunt. I’m not sure what he expected me to do at his verbal threat and handgun, but I was sure as shit not going to cower like a child or meet my death without a full-on fight (apparently, after some contemptuous sarcasm). Intellectually speaking, I’d say I would immediately set upon someone who pointed a gun at me, but my intellect was crippled by the absurdity of the situation (not to mention the 20’ distance between us). Opie Lackbeard in his Sunday best pulls a gun on me because I’m riding a bike? Seriously? Absurd! Comical! The fact that my un-intellectual response to indulge my anger and stand my ground rather than charge him may have saved my life is still a bit disappointing to me. One test failed. But I’d like say that it’s no mere rationalization to point out that I’m quite certain I did respond appropriately to something I perceived.

That thing I said I knew about him, I didn’t exactly know consciously at the time, but I did perceive and respond to it. You see, he held his gun out at arm’s length, fully extended, which means he’s never been trained to shoot. A real shooter holds his strong hand locked in his free hand. This guy has probably never fired a weapon. And if he fired at me, he’d likely have missed me by 10 feet. He was shaking. The point is I sensed that he wouldn’t go through with it. I also hoped that he—a well-dressed guy in a nice car—was not a random criminal and would realize the stupidity of what he was doing. Eventually.

Luckily I was right. Like I said, I knew something about him. He did indeed bite of more than he could chew and I knew it. Lucky for me it was he who choked on it, and not me.

So even though I have utter contempt for that bozo, I hope that he’s okay and reflecting on his actions today. I hope he realizes the stupidity of them all. I also hope he one day learns that a weapon is not for intimidation or for threats. It’s for the protection of life. Period. You don’t pick up a gun unless you’re purpose is to put lead into someon's body (to stop them trying to take your life or someone else's). If you pick up a weapon for the purpose of intimidation it will only ever end badly for you…because of your stupid, needless choice.

This guy is probably spiritually and emotionally wounded because of his stupid actions today. His mistake may haunt him for a long time. I hope he finds a way to wash all of that away. And in case he doesn’t, I also hope neither I nor anyone else ever encounters him on the road again. In retrospect, that was scary as hell.