On Thursday I was finishing my coffee in my usual place on the concrete wall near the water, a few hours of aimless pre-work bliss stretching out ahead of me, when this very un-Sandgate-like commotion distracted me from my book. A middle-aged fellow, evidently French and much distressed, was hurling invective at a driver who’d just exited a white ute (as we say in Australia; Americans would say ‘pick-up’).
Although I’d missed the point of near-impact, I quickly ascertained that the driver had pulled in and swung open his door into the cycling lane, almost upending, or worse, the unfortunate cyclist. And the rider was not going to let him forget his error easily. In very tangy but accurate English, he furiously berated the driver, observing that “It is idiots like you that cause accidents and kill people!” and asking “Why don’t you look in your fucking mirror, you fucking idiot?!”
Now, the driver made a huge tactical error by not simply admitting, once the defensive adrenalin wave had receded, that yes, it had been his fault, yes, he should have looked, and oui, he was was most certainly sorry for causing him distress.
Instead he puffed up like a cornered cane toad and advanced a few paces, trying unconvincingly to bounce blame back onto the Frenchman, and emphasising key points with a middle-finger barrage that poked right through any perceived language barrier. He also took out a phone and went through the motions of calling someone for back-up or something.
Some sort of heroic impulse kicked in, some nascent sympathy with a European bound to feature in mocking parody in the driver’s next public-bar anecdote; I downed the last of my flat white in a righteous gulp, grabbed my camera and marched over to the road, squatted down and photographed the ute’s front number plate. Then, just in case ute-man hadn’t noticed, I drew my incursion to his attention.
“Mate, I saw everything,” — a lie — “And you should shut up and get outta here ’cause I’ve got your details!”
The driver, momentarily dumfounded, swelled some more and oozed poison.
“I saw it too!” A woman I hadn’t noticed, bless her, was leaning out of a window above a nearby restaurant.
“Thank you!” I replied, and then, as the driver advanced towards the presumptuous paparazzo, “Oh, you wanna fight me, do you?” I took a few meek step-lets of my own and pretended to capture his advance with my little Sony.
He paused, outsmarted and outnumbered, made a half-arsed attempt at denying any culpability, and returned to the rear of his car where, I now noticed, he had a bike and a helmet he was getting ready to pull out for a ride along the waterfront.
“You should know better, being a cyclist yourself!” I snorted smugly, returning to my perch and my book. The cyclist had gone, and after a few minutes the driver, dejected and defeated, closed up his car and drove off.
My triumph was short-lived, however, and seemed to dissipate with the caffeine and the adrenalin. I felt depressed. It had undoubtedly been the driver’s fault — so why did I feel like an arsehole? Why did I actually feel sorry for him, when my natural sympathy is for the much-mailigned cyclist over the too-often-obnoxious driver?
Was it because, though a cyclist myself on occasion — one who’s dodged more than one car door and rides in a state of controlled paranoia — I realised how easily that act of idiocy by the driver could have been my own? Or had my innate sympathy for the underdog been transferred from victim to aggressor as aggressor became victim?
Whatever. I tried to resume reading but kept lifting my gaze to drink in the ocean and ponder. That could’ve been me. But which one?
I’m sticking with walking, I decided. Bikes and wheeled contraptions aren’t for me. You screw up on two legs and nobody pays the price but you. You daydream and take your eyes off the path and odds are nothing results but a shoulder collision with a fellow walker, a sincere Sorry, mate.
I zipped up the day-pack and started the 20-minute walk home, freshly recommitted to my pedestrianism.