I helped out a motorist this week. It was on my evening commute after a snowy afternoon. It wasn’t very cold, but I was bundled up nonetheless because if I don’t wear my extra layers home in the evening they won’t be available for me when I need them the next morning. I’ve been wearing extra layers over my entire body—except my face; for some reason I never wear anything over my face—to deal with the single digit temperatures we’ve been having lately. Over all of those layers I had on my über-bright hi-vis cycling jacket. I quit thinking über-bright cycling jackets were dorky a long time ago, but I think some people still do, and based upon how I looked on this particular evening I’m sure they would have thought I was an über-dork.
Anyway, I was waiting at one of the 18 stoplights I curse every single morning and evening when I smelled the acrid stink of burning rubber. There was a guy in a pickup truck on the other side of the road that was stuck in the snow-packed gutter.
I judged him. He was a younger guy with a goatee (the mullet of the new millennium). He was dressed like a manual laborer. He probably likes NASCAR and I found out later that he has the grammar to prove it.
I deigned to watch him spin his tires a few more times to let my perception sink in before I mercifully decided to go over and give him a push.
It took me less than a minute to push him out. He didn’t seem to be aware of the rock-back-and-forth technique to free a snowbound vehicle but he caught on quickly. When he got out he thanked me and I said it was nothing. I suggested that he get some sandbags or bags of kitty litter in the back of his truck during the winter so this kind of thing wouldn’t happen again. He said he would. Then he said something that completely reversed the roles I had projected onto him and me.
He asked me if I wanted any money for my time.
I felt like such a jackass. Here I had decided that this was an uneducated redneck who needed to learn a few things about living in modern society, but in his mind I was the one who needed help. Was it because I was riding a bike? Or was it because I was dressed like a dork?
Is this how the general public perceives cyclists, as either elitist snobs like I was acting that night, or as dorky ne’re-do-wells that can’t seem to catch a break, like I was looking that night?
The perception that cyclists occupy only the bottom rung of the economic ladder is more common than you’d think, in spite of my one-man crusade to convince people otherwise.
Just last night I was reading an article in the alumni magazine from my undergraduate university. It was about reducing materialism and it offered some questions to determine if we are materialistic. The last question read:
Do you look at the person in the luxury automobile and assume that he is more successful and more intelligent than the individual riding a bicycle?
OK I get the point. While I’m out there justifying my suffering through winter bicycle commutes by thinking elitist thoughts and misjudging people by their appearance, rednecks and materialists alike are looking at me from behind their steering wheels and misjudging me.