Reigning in the "Anger Demon".
This has been a bad weekend. Riding a bike makes us feel things to an extreme, I think. Or maybe I ride because I want to feel things more vividly. Classic chicken or egg, huh? I had a very intense experience on the bike. In the end, in that strange karmic way things can happen, I was served notice of my error. Perhaps it wasn't an error. Maybe the message was only a reminder for future reference. Who knows?
In a soul-baring post, I'm sharing some things with you. Sometimes we hide behind a facade. Ok, most of the time. People seldom get to look behind the mask. Truth be told, we wouldn't want to see the ugliness hidden there. It's just as well it remain out of sight. Here's a small peek behind a mask. I share it because it's totally relevant to those of us who put ourselves at constant risk by commuting on a bike. In my case, I practically live on a bike. The risks are bad enough without adding to them by our own unwise actions. Yet, it happens. Such was the case yesterday. I'm going to share it. Take from it what you will. Perhaps you'll think less of me, perhaps not. This isn't about my ego. It's about the harsh reality of surviving on a motorcycle, which includes scooters. They're motorcycles as surely as anything else. We share the same road, literally and figuratively.
First a quick background. Last Tuesday morning a good friend of mine passed away. She was a long time part of our family. Her and her husband have been almost icons since I was a kid. They're salt of the earth folks. Charitable Christians and great people who spent a lot of time making life better for others. At 83 Kay passed away from chronic heart failure. Her husband lives on but is devastated and lost after sixty some years together. I'll come back to this.
On a less important note in the grand scheme thing of things, I discovered that my furnace vent pipe had rusted through at an elbow. On top of that, since the rain's come back, there was water running down the pipe. Both inside and outside. Replacing all the pipe is going to be a big chore but has to be done. This is a diesel furnace of World War II vintage. I bought supplies and did a temporary repair to the elbow. It's amazing what you can do with a pie plate, tin snips, really big hose clamps, and some high temperature gasket goop. On Saturday morning I was on the roof with a caulk gun and tar in a tube. For now we're ok but the big job is still pending. At this point it's an irritation on top of my feelings of loss with Kay. Grandma's pretty upset at her friend's passing and is having a really hard time dealing with her own mortality at 87. It's not easy watching someone you love trying to deal with her own advanced age. What do you say? I'm at a loss there.
Saturday afternoon brings the funeral service for Kay. It's held at a local high school. Like I say, these folks touched a lot of people. Over three hundred souls attended the service including a young man named Jamie. He's married with a young child. I'm particularly fond of him. Jamie is the age of my own two oldest boys and was a frequent guest in my house. I hug him and visit with the two of them. Sunday morning brings a phone call. Jamie had gone to bed Saturday night and didn't wake up. The paramedics tried to revive him but it had been too long. His wife had no clue. They were both sound sleepers and the youngster's sleeping through the night. She woke up and he didn't. I can't imagine making that discovery.
Katie had gone to church. I'd planned to cook a nice supper for her and saddled up Sophie for a grocery run. I'm on the bike in the pouring rain. Inside me there's a whirling cauldron of emotions.
Now some of you may have the impression that I'm some sort of genteel soul who's got all my negative feelings securely filed in the appropriate folders. Stashed safely where they can do no harm. Maybe some sort of wise man who uses philosophy instead of his fists to solve conflict. Well, you'd be wrong. I have my shining moments but I was raised by a Cowboy. It's capitalized because Gramp lived that to the fullest degree. I was taught to be gallant to women, defenders of those who needed it, gentle with children, and to never, ever, take any crap from any man. Don't look for trouble. If it finds you never back down from it. If you decide to fight, you fight to win.
Far from the philosopher's way, I live a life of controlled aggression. I get angry. I get mad. Sometimes I want to hurt someone. I'm definitely no Saint. Don't take this wrong. I don't go around losing my temper for no reason. I'm not a "hothead". Aggression is in total control. Almost always, at least. A person always has to weigh consequences. I can't always claim to hold back from altruist reasons. Mostly it's the fact that the price of unleashing the Anger Demon is just too high. Yesterday I let it loose.
I'm on the bike. It's pouring rain and I hate rain. I love riding more. So we ride in the rain. I'm annoyed about the furnace. I'm grieved and pained because I've lost far too many people out of my life to Death in the past year. Not to mention losing Gramp two years ago. People live out their lives and pass on, I know. What about a young man like Jamie? How do you explain my nephew dying in a fiery car crash? I'm lost in anger, grief, and frustration. On the bike. In the pouring rain. Where I probably shouldn't have been.
I don't need the idiot drivers who are out with me. With each passing block I'm seething a little more. Tailgaters, old people who are straining at their limits to drive 25 mph, drivers so damn selfish and impatient they take criminally stupid chances, as well as the just plain rude.
Like this guy in a big, dark colored, Ford pickup. One of those trucks so high off the ground you need a ladder to get in. There's no practical use in the world for a truck like this. Except to stroke the ego of an incredibly needy man. He's in the lane beside me. The road is rutted from years of wear and studded tires. Up ahead in the right part of my lane is a large puddle of water. Like I say, it's dumping rain. I move to the left track to avoid it. The driver of the truck stays beside me. When we reach the water he moves over so the big tires of his truck are headed for the deep pool. I see it and try to move over more but space is limited. I brake but there's a tailgater. We're travelling about 40 mph when the big splash starts.
For a brief bit I can't see a thing. When the spray clears this guy has the nerve to roll down his window, hang his head out, and laugh! I see that, all right! I flip him off with every ounce of venom, anger, and spite I can muster. I know it's a futile gesture but I don't care. My gear and fairing keep me from really getting wet but I feel the sting of the insult. Swallowing my bile, I pull into the parking lot of the store I'm heading for. Pulling off the gloves and then the helmet, I see the truck pulling into the lot from the other corner. This guy's circled back. I've managed to pass off the matter although it was difficult. Not worth crashing my bike trying to "get even". Apparently, the Ford driver isn't able to let go after my gesture. He seems to think the superior size of his truck over my bike will carry over outside his vehicle. He will find he's seriously mistaken.
The truck pulls up and stops a few parking stalls away. Thirty feet of empty space separate us. This guy gets out of the truck and starts yelling obscenities at me. He's upset after I made the rude gesture? I'm supposed to just accept being purposely drenched? People freeze despite the falling rain. I guess the urge to witness violence is stronger than self-preservation. He's coming my way. I silently watch him approach without saying anything. I won't play the mouthing off game. Now he's ten feet away and still closing. It's time. I've had enough. The lid of the Givi trunk goes down. Odd, even at that moment I'm thinking of keeping the rain off my helmet and gloves.
Still silent, I go for him. There's a look of total surprise on his face when he realizes the direction this is going. Between Gramp, the army, and police academy, I've been taught to fight. I hit him and hard. Angry, hostile, blows. All the pent up emotion explodes out the end of my left arm. The man goes down but gets back up. As long as he comes back at me I've no compunctions about hitting him again. For however long he wants to play. I never get to find out. Within the next few minutes there's no less than five police cars around us. Two officers roughly grab me. I don't resist. I'm briefly cuffed. I can't help muse on how that's a turnabout for me. I used to be the one snapping the bracelets.
Things get sorted. There's a few witnesses that tell how the Ford driver was the aggressor. The fact that he's some bigger than me also helps. So does the fact that we're really close to Sophie but fairly far from his pickup. Do I want to press charges? No. This has gone far enough already. The cops watch until the man climbs into his pickup and leaves. As the last cop leaves he gives me a "thumbs up". Yeah, right. This really isn't a good thing.
I consider riding to another store to do my shopping but veto it. Besides, I've got coupons! A few people are pointing me out to others. Hell with 'em. I get what I need and decide a strong cup of coffee is in order. Espresso sounds even better so that's what I get. When I pull the sleeve off the cup I'm floored by the message. There's a picture of it above. I seem to get these cups at curiously appropriate times.
There's no arguing the simple but strong truth in that statement. Some anger's good but most is destructive. Yesterday I let my anger out. I was lucky. I stood up for myself and emerged more or less victorious. Once you take being handcuffed in a store parking lot out of the picture, that is. How many times does it go the other way , though? How many times do riders unleash the Anger Demon only to have it turn on them, instead? It's a chance we can ill afford to take on a bike. At the same time, I can't see being a perpetual victim.
So that's why I'm sharing this. I'm not particularly proud or ashamed of it. I'm not looking for validation or criticism. Actually, before I saw the coffe cup I was going to let it fade quietly into the background. Then I realized that this is just too important an issue to let go. Even if it means giving you a glimpse of something in me that's less than noble.
As people get more rude, as the population as a whole seems to lose intelligence, as drivers get more distracted, riders are going to face these kinds of things more and more. Commuters, especially, are going to be exposed to it with ever increasing frequency. That ever fine line between self defense and self preservation. I share it because I want you to think about it. Better to be prepared mentally ahead of time. Luck won't always be on our side. As for me, I'll defend when attacked. If there's a price, I'll pay it. At the same time, I'll keep doing my best to let go of the rest.
By the way, dinner was a great success. I told Katie about the shopping when the meal was digesting. Women act shocked but I think they like knowing a guy would stand up for them, too. That brings up a whole other dimension, doesn't it? Would my reaction have been different with her on the bike? With my state of mind I most likely wouldn't have let her ride with me. What if I had? Lots to think about, isn't there?
Miles and smiles, ( forced though they may be right now )