Sometimes you just have to fight that feeling that sprouts up inside, that emotional response to an external stimuli, something that completely hijacks your consciousness, that focuses and redirects all of your energy and awareness into something primal, something base, something outside of who you are and who you want to be.
The other day I was riding my bike home from work. I was heading east in between Third and Second Avenue. The light ahead was red and there were maybe three or four cars lined up at the stop. I’m pedaling along and all of the sudden this car behind me honks the horn. It’s a loud and sustained honk. By the intensity of the sound, by the way my body reacted, how the hairs on my body all stood up, how I felt my heart skip a beat, I could tell the car was directly behind me, way too close for a car to be trailing a bike.
And I was in a bike lane. There are tons of bike lanes in New York. Not every street has a clearly marked bike lane, but this one did, and it’s one of the reasons I take this particular route every single day. So I’m minding my own, riding up to a red light, in the bike lane, and out of nowhere this car come right on my tail and honks the horn and holds it.
My body immediately goes into red alert. I’m not a road rage kind of guy, but I’m instantly scared, but only for a second, because as soon as that instant passes and I realize that I’m not in any immediate danger, the fear is gone but the adrenaline remains, and the overall state of being that I’m left with is anger, rage, something that wasn’t there just thirty seconds before.
So I turn around, it’s a taxi, and he’s really close, way too close to me, but close enough that, as I instantly turn around to him, as I show him my middle finger, even though his windows are closed, I know that we’re close enough that he can hear me as I look the driver right in the eye and shout, “Fuck you asshole!” And as I say it, I’m sort of caught off guard by my own reaction, by the force behind the words, behind the volume in the words. My heart’s pounding, my lungs are taking in all sorts of deep breaths, preparing my muscles and blood for whatever’s going to come next.
All I need is a second to cool off here, to assess the situation. Unfortunately, I don’t get a second to think, because no sooner do I curse this guy out that he decides to show me who’s in charge on this road. He swerves further into the bike lane and accelerates, as if he’s going to plow into me. The reasonable part of my brain would have told me to run, to get out of there, but everything happened in like a minute, so there is no reasonable part, I’m just a reaction, pure animal. I stick out my leg as if to say, if you come and try to run me down, I’m at least going to kick your cab as hard as I can. Somehow that works and he slows down.
But we’re still going to the same place, right behind that line of cars waiting at a red light. We pull up behind traffic and we’re side to side. This has been a pretty aggressive minute already, and neither one of us is ready to let go of the moment. He pulls his window down to say something, but I don’t let him get a word in. “Go ahead asshole!” I shout to him, “Let’s race! Go ahead and race me to that red light!” And he makes a face at me, a real snarl.
And part of me was overcome with the urge to make a huge fist and pound down on this guy’s side mirror. Maybe I could have taken it off right there and then riden away. And I really, really considered it, if only for a second, but it was a whole second where I was thinking to myself, just do it Rob, just smash the shit out of this asshole’s car with your bare hands.
But I didn’t even get that second to really consider anything. Because as soon as he opened his window, I opened my mouth. As soon as I started talking, he opened his door and got out of the car and stood up right next to me. And that’s what jolted me out of the moment. That’s when the better part of my judgment kicked in, and I started pedaling, fast.
What the hell just happened? That was a situation that escalated fast, real fast, faster than any situation I’ve been involved in a long time. Was that guy ready to fight me? Was he going to beat me up? And what about me, was I equally ready to engage? I got a good distance ahead, turned around, saw that guy just standing by his open driver’s side door, and, still juiced up on emotion, I screamed back at him, “You’re a real asshole! A real stupid asshole!” The light turned green and I pushed myself out of there, past that street, past Second Avenue, past First, all the way to the Queensboro Bridge.
And as I pedaled up and over the bridge, I had time to think, about what happened, about how I reacted. What the hell was that? Where did that come from? I was shaken. I played over and over again in my mind what had happened, what could have happened if things had played out differently, if that guy hadn’t stopped when I kicked out my leg, if I hadn’t stopped myself when I got that urge to slam down on his mirror. So many alternate possibilities. So many different opportunities for one or both of us to get hurt, for police to have to get involved. So much unnecessary aggression and violence. Just two guys getting in each other’s faces at just that right moment where we both sent each other into instant equal but opposing rages.
I always think to myself, stay in the moment. It’s cliché advice, but it usually puts my life into perspective. In this case however, I was stuck in the moment, locked in some weird byproduct of evolution, my animal nature. Why get so angry? Why the sudden impulse towards violence? I’m reminded that it’s in all of us, that we all come from a crazy, violent world.
And I did get out. The whole thing is burned in my memory, but in reality the event only occupied no more than two minutes of actual time. I got heated, I got pissed, but I got out of it, I snapped out of it. I knew that this wasn’t a battle worth choosing. And so, yeah, I’m not exactly proud of how things went down, but I definitely learned something, about impulse, about emotion, about being reminded that you never know when reality is going to turn sour, when instinct is going to hijack the reasonable part of your brain. But it happened, and it was nuts, man, it was just fucking nuts.