I have since heard of people under extreme duress speaking in strange tongues. I became conscious that a steady torrent of obscenities and swearing of all kinds was pouring out of me as I screamed.”
-Ralphie Parker, Christmas Story
There have been many great conflicts among men over the centuries: Arab vs. Jew, Protestant vs. Catholic, Montagues vs. Capulets, Dog vs. Cat people and even Mac vs. PC users, but none of these can compare to the fierce and ongoing battle between bicyclists and pedestrians (pedestrians to include anyone not on a bicycle; roller bladers, casual walkers, dog enthusiasts, mothers and dads teaching junior to ride his new tricycle with training wheels, young couples strolling hand in hand, oblivious to the world around them, etc.). It seems that suburban city councils throughout the country have unwittingly created an environment that exacerbates the contention by building endless bike paths or walking trails as some refer to them. And that’s the rub. The two sides can’t even agree on a name for these thoroughfares. The following story illustrates the seriousness of this ongoing strife.
For years Julie and I have taken our dog Michaleen O. Flynn on walks every Saturday morning, choosing different sections along a stretch of asphalt called the Old Plank Trail. The trail was built on top of a no longer used span of railroad tracks. We typically grab a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts and when finished enjoying our beverage, park the car and begin our walk, typically anywhere from two to four miles in length. On this occasion it was just Mich and me. As we began the walk, my mind was on other things. I utilize these walks to think, and other than minor conversation between me and the dog, I can become lost in my thoughts.
This day was no exception and after a mile of walking and deep thinking, I raised my eyes and in a fog of semi-consciousness, realized that I was about to encounter a potentially disastrous situation. About ten yards ahead of me coming from the opposite direction was a person on roller blades. Another twenty or so yards behind him was a man on a bicycle, moving at a high rate of speed. I heard the cyclist exclaim, “On the left” at a fairly loud volume. Whether or not the roller blader heard the warning I can’t tell, as the events seemed to be happening in slow motion, even though in retrospect the entire episode transpired in a few split seconds.
Mich, for some reason, goes nuts when he sees a person on roller blades or a scooter, and this time he was true to form. Mich lunged across my body toward the roller blader on the other side of the trail. This caused me to stop and begin trying to pull him back to my side of the path. Meanwhile the cyclist continued to pedal our direction, not even bothering to slow down. At the exact moment that I pulled Mich back to me, the roller blader glided past and between us and him the cyclist flew by. As he sailed by he said with a loud, gruff voice, “You f—–&%#$@+!”
At this the anger boiled up inside of me and I immediately reacted. It may have been my frustration at Mich or the suddenness of events, but my normally long fuse was short and explosive this time. Many words came to the tip of my tongue as I turned to the cyclist heading the other direction, but unlike Ralphie of Christmas Story fame, they did not leave my tongue but rather stayed in my mouth, forever to remain. What did come out was this, “Shut up big boy!” It may have been lame, but it was loud and forceful; the anger raising my voice to a level seldom heard. As soon as the words began to leave my mouth I thought of retrieving them, but it was too late. I didn’t get a good look at the cyclist, but this much I did notice in the fraction of a second it took him to zoom past me; he was large, weightlifter large, and his face spoke of meanness. “Did he hear me and would he turn around?” I asked myself. I stood and watched for a few seconds and I was convinced that he wasn’t coming back. “Besides,” I thought, “if he does come back, I’ll just incapacitate him with my patented double leg takedown and pound him into submission until the authorities arrive.”
Mich and I continued on our walk, my anger finally subsiding after a few moments. Suddenly I heard a voice behind me, “Hey punk! What did you call me?” As I turned toward the voice, I saw the cyclist dismounting his bike and I felt my anger return. “You imbecile! You sub-moron!” I yelled in his direction. Right at this moment, strong, brute hands tightened around my skinny neck, and I was no longer flat-footed, the tips of my tennis shoes barely touching the asphalt. I could not finish the sentence as I intended, and after “You imbecile and you sub-moron” I was planning on finishing my thoughts with “any idiot would know to slow down their bicycle when they see a group of people on the trail ahead,” but I never got the chance. As the blood flow to my brain was violently being cut off, I began to slowly brown and then black out. The last thing I remember was his blood-shot eyes, bulging in anger as he attempted to wring my neck.
As I felt hot breath and a rough, wet, stroking sensation on my cheek, my eyes opened to see Mich staring down at me, licking my face to awaken me. The bright sun hurt my eyes and I realized that my sunglasses were gone. As I attempted to arise from my supine position, I felt a pounding in my head, not dissimilar to that resulting from a bad hangover. Finally standing I began to notice pain points up and down my body. Elbows, back, head, and with every breath my ribs screamed for me to stop. Removing pieces of gravel from my arms and legs, and brushing dirt and debris from my clothes, I heard a chuckling coming from a park bench a few yards down the trail.
I walked toward the bench and as I started to ask the individual what had happened, my bottom lip felt approximately twice the normal size, as if I had just been to the dentist and received an extra dose of Novocaine. I licked my bottom lip with my tongue and tasted the iron that accompanies fresh blood. I asked the man on the bench, “Did you see what happened?” He chuckled again, which I thought inappropriate, and answered, “Yeah. Once he had quit pounding your face, and after you passed out, he gave you a couple of kicks to the ribs, laughed, and then jumped back on his bike and rode away.” I was incredulous and exclaimed, “Why didn’t you do something?” His answer, if not sympathetic, was logical, “That guy was huge!” At this point I noticed behind him, parked in the grass, a bicycle. I then noticed his spandex cycling outfit and after putting two and two together realized that he was one of them.
I decided to finish my walk with Mich and slowly limped away from the cyclist on the bench. Deep in thought, I wondered if the war would ever cease. Were the cyclist and pedestrian to be forever in conflict? Will the two factions ever learn to exist side by side in relative harmony? I’m left with this: “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”
*Much of the preceding story is true.