The other morning I got out of the car at my favorite coffee shop and heard angry shouting from across the busy roadway.
A man was standing next to his car, stopped at a red light, yelling at a bicyclist who was stopped on his bike directly in front of the man’s car.
I had no clue what had precipitated this, no facts to assess right or wrong. As I watched this little scene unfold, I tried to make a quick judgment — think of Malcolm Gladwell’s thin-slicing — and balance what few facts I had with my prejudices and assumptions.
Facts: Angry Guy was larger than the cyclist and drove a Cadillac, and as he yelled he got closer and closer to the target of his rage. The smaller cyclist remained perched on his seat, hands on his handlebars, and as far as I know didn’t say anything. A woman emerged from the car and eventually guided Angry Guy back to the driver’s side.
Prejudices and assumptions: A guy who drives a Cadillac and eats more than he needs to is not my favorite kind of person, but a guy who rides a bike might be. Angry Guy’s a materialistic bully, and the bicyclist is a health-conscious do-gooder who rides every day to his job in human services.
Of course, I could be totally wrong. It happens.
The cyclist might be an arrogant, spandex-wearing narcissist and may have done something really stupid and dangerous — I’ve seen many cyclists (and my fellow runners) endanger themselves and others out on the roads. Angry Guy could have been on his way to do charity work with his wife, and only his quick thinking, attentiveness and driving skills avoided a bad accident.
The part of the exchange that I saw lasted maybe 10 seconds, and both men went on their un-merry way. As unsettling as it is to come across a potentially violent situation in which you have no vested interest, it’s somehow worse when you don’t know who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy.
I want to know, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story.