I’m a very careful driver. I almost never run over bicyclists. I give them wide berth even when they are doing something obnoxious like riding two abreast on a street with no bike lane, or wearing those garish neon, spandex outfits, or walking around the coffee shop in those ballet slippers they wear.
So you can imagine my confusion, when I was confronted by an angry—no—apoplectic, spandex-clad, black-helmeted, bicycle rider after having just pulled into the parking lot of a popular regional park that was the meeting site for my weekly hiking class.
“Hiking class” is one of those things that as a retired person, I can sign up for and attend because I have time. The teacher draws up a list of hikes for the quarter, emails us notes and directions the night before, and then at 8:30 every Wednesday morning we hearty retirees meet up to trek about the local hills and valleys.
“YOU IDIOT! YOU CUT ME OFF DOWN THERE AND NEARLY HIT ME!” the irate man screamed at me.
I stared at him dumbly for a moment as I started to pull my gear from the back of my car. I hadn’t even seen him.
“I didn’t even see you,” I told him.
“I KNOW YOU DIDN’T SEE ME, YOU ASSHOLE! WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU?”
Actually nothing was the matter with me except that this large man was screaming at me, and I was puzzled how I could have nearly hit someone in a wide- open area, someone that I had not even sighted. I decided repetition and an apology might work.
“I’m sorry. I-Never-Saw-You.” I said the last part more loudly and more slowly, as if he perhaps had not heard me the first time.
“I HEARD YOU THE FIRST TIME!” he yelled. “YOU ALMOST RAN ME OFF THE ROAD DOWN THERE. BEING SORRY DOESN’T HELP THAT.
He had a point. But since I HADN’T hit him, and he HADN’T fallen, and I HADN’T damaged him or his bike in any way, I was stymied about what to say. By now I had withdrawn my walking stick that weighs all of about 8 ounces because I was starting to think I might need to whack him with it if he became violent. I’m a lover, not a fighter, but angry people are unpredictable, and I can get flustered easily when confronted by one.
However, he seemed content to sit on his bike and continue to berate me some more at which point I apologized a third time, although I was finding it harder and harder to be sincere since I had no idea what I was apologizing for.
Finally, he grew tired of yelling and turned to ride off, screaming a few more insults at me as he left, and I strapped on my hiking gear and set off on the trail enjoying a rare cool morning, but I found myself going back over the incident in my mind and wondering if I could have handled it differently.
How could I truly apologize for something that I wasn’t even sure I had done? Maybe he was just an angry guy, hiding in the bushes, waiting to ride out and scream at someone. A guy who felt persecuted and needed someone to take his rage out on. Maybe it was a hobby for him, confronting and making people uncomfortable, and then riding off gleefully knowing he just might have ruined someone’s day.
But what I most pondered, as I enjoyed the hike that wandered down along the San Diego River and then back up to the visitor center, was what does one do when an apology simply is not enough?
I don’t have an answer for that one.