Monday, October 01, 2007

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 )



Bryce Lee said...

Oh Dan..been there; done that, felt remorse. Aside from this list and/or your wife, is there
anybody who you feel close to, who would listen to you?

You're frustrated, angry and very
unhappy. With yourself for reacting as you did.
In some ways the pick me up truck encounter was not so much the
trigger rather the result. And if it had not been that particular
incident, something else would've let go.

You need time for you, and the
motorcycle as a psychiatrist isn't working all that well.

This may sound crazy however if you feel like crying, weeping or whatever over the passing of family or others do so. Grown men cry,
no shame in that.

We humans can only absorb so much abuse be it emotional, physical or personal.

Perhaps the pressure of two close
passings, plus that of your Dad
a year prior as well as other external activities have created a small fissure in your being.

I offer no easy solution, be it
of a religious or personal nature.

You do however need a sounding
board to expoliate your being, perhaps your musings is one method.

Bryce Lee,
somewhere in Southern Ontario

Bill Sommers said...

First off, I'm truly sorry for your losses. Secondly, thank you for sharing this post. I look at this as one of your best.

In my opinion only, you did exactly what you and I were both taught to do in our years of being raised by real men, from the real world. A man is judged by his actions. And the actions of the pick-up driver when driving, and after he parked were wrong. Plain and simple.

The dude was weren't.

Have fun,

Steven said...

There's a quote, from Bill Murray's "Groundhog Day," that comes to mind.

"Don't drive angry. Don't drive angry."

...or upset, or hungry, or anxious, or or or...

but then we'd never drive (or ride), would we?

Dan, it sounds like you're normally able to compartmentalize, focus on the ride, and keep things safe and fun (and I don't say this just from this post, but from plenty of your other writing here as well).

We all break down from time to time just as our machines do, no matter how well we maintain ourselves and them.

What's important is how you recover from the incident. You don't trash the bike because of a flat tire, you take the time to fix/replace it and then move on.

Bryce has some thoughts there on the 'taking time' part; allow yourself to process your emotions for a time - they're your emotions and perfectly valid. If you don't deal with them, they'll hang around just making things worse. They'll never really go away (and you wouldn't want them to), but you'll have an easier time keeping them in their proper place.

But I'm guessing you already knew all that.


Charlie6 said...

You did just fine under several stress causes. Maybe the moron in the pickup truck will think twice before drenching or messing with riders....then again, he's probably from the shallow end of the gene pool.

Watch for him the next few days, his needy ego may try 'getting even'.

Mad said...

Sounds to me like a bully got his comeuppance, good for you Irondad.

Steve Williams said...


I'm sorry for your losses. Reading your post I could not help but think that the losses you have been faced with are huge. I'll just reinforce Bryce Lee's suggestions though I know how hard it is to reach out though you already are. The fact that you wrote about it is more than many could manage. It seems as if you are always willing to look in the mirror.

I don't believe in coincidence---regardless of how that cup came to sit in front of you it is a sign along the trail and you have picked it up.

I certainly don't think less of you for what happened with the truck driver. I'm glad nothing worse happened since these are the kind of incidents that can escalate badly.

If there is a silver lining here it is your sharing of your reactions to the police officers. We should all learn that lesson.

You're a good man Dan.

Warm regards,

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Don said...


I think your cup is more opportune than you think.

That day, you stood up for more than yourself. You stood up for every two-wheeler who's taken abuse from other drivers and couldn't or wouldn't react. I've had motorists throw bottles at me on my bicycle and try to run me off the road on my scooter. There have been times I wish I had the opportunity to beat them senseless for it. Your act was both gratifying and empowering.

For standing up for all of us, for doing what I have never been able to do, I applaud you. But the cup's warning is that such acts encourage others in similar positions to do the same. I can feel the contagion, and it is terrible.

I'm sorry for your losses: You don't know me, but I've been here with you through the last six months. And I'm glad you shared this story—with the Starbucks moral.

With thanks,
Don, St Louis

Lucky said...

Excuse me while I try to exhale here.....


You, sir, need and deserve a hug. Sorry to hear about your losses. My thoughts are with you & I'll try to send some good mojo your way.

irondad said...

You know, the situation reminds me of when a cop shoots someone. They know they should feel bad according to society's ideas. Yet the feeling of triumphing over someone who wanted to take their life is heady. The conflict between the two is what causes the problems, not the action itself. I sort of feel like that.

If by "small fissure" you mean I'm starting to crack, it's possible. Have to find an outlet. Sharing the experience here helped a lot.

I was really hesistant to share this. In the end, the desire to share something I felt was really important won out, even if it meant I could look bad in the process.

Coming from you, I'm honored that you felt this was a good post. When you write "real man" I know you aren't talking about this false machismo we see so much of. Thanks for lumping me into that group.

Thanks for sharing. Your comments on where to go next touch a vital element. I'm working on that.

Thanks for the reminder. The truck's distinctive enough. What if he has another rig? I'll try to remain vigilant.

I always love to see bullies get theirs. It felt good to be the delivery guy!

You're the perfect one to ask this question of. Is it possible to care too much? Is it better to care less and thus remain stronger, or to care and be vulnerable? I know what you'll say, of course. There's a price to pay either way. It's a cost versus reward thing, isn't it?

Thanks for letting me know you're out there. I never thought about striking a blow on behalf of my two wheeled comrades. Glad it was perceived that way.

You get it. There's a place for anger that's directed and controlled. It's just so easy for it to get out of hand. Letting anger out has to be a carefully calculated decision, not a knee-jerk reaction.

Yes, remember to breathe. I was reliving the intensity as I wrote. Did reading the post make you feel it? On the one hand, I'm sorry for putting you through it. On the other, I was able to accurately share what I felt.

Thanks for the mojo. I can use it. Then I'll try to pass it along to someone else who needs it.

krysta in milwaukee said...

"The risks are bad enough without adding to them by our own unwise actions. Such was the case yesterday."

I don't think flipping him off was 'unwise'. It's probably one of the mildest reactions I can think of to an attack. I flipped off the guy in VA who tried to hit both Karl & I in June. (We just testified last week.)

Wish I could have gotten some alone time with him, but he drove to the police station & walked right into a group of officers. Probably saved his life. We were both really shaken & furious, & both have some* training in fighting. [*vast understatement]

"As long as he comes back at me I've no compunctions about hitting him again."

He was the aggressor from the start, deliberately blinding you, causing danger not only to you but to others around you. I'd like to have seen his face when he realised he'd gotten in over his head. Too 'macho' to just walk away, or stay down. Idiot.

"I think they like knowing a guy would stand up for them..."

From this woman's perspective, yes it's nice to know that someone would stand _with_ me if I needed the backup, or speak up if someone were talking trash about me. But I don't like being around someone who's violent or in a rage, even if it's 'for' me & not directed at me.

"With my state of mind I most likely wouldn't have let her ride with me."

(quietly, gently) Should _you_ have been riding with you?

Sounds like you're on the receiving end of too many stresses in too short a time. I agree with Lucky: "You, sir, need and deserve a hug."

On one of my email lists, we give hugs like this:

I hope things get better for you soon.


Kano said...

My sincere condolences for all the losses you have endured over the past couple of years. I think you will find that posting on your blog what happened and your feelings about it will be very therapeutic. I know in my case that's true. The process of writing often clarifies what I am feeling and why. Once I am clear on that positive action can follow to enable healing.

American Scooterist Blog said...

My condolences Dan. Some of us know what unexpected loss can do to a person left to deal with it. Probably most of us do.

You don't have to answer to anyone for responding to someone who so cavalierly endangered your life. You stood up for yourself because it was the right thing to do. But maybe you weren't as angry as you thought. You didn't go into a flying rage. You simply answered the problem. Contrary to the touchy feely bs being foisted on us at every turn, You have a right to be angry about the jerks in the world. And you have the right, nay duty to stand up to em too.