A letter to a neighbor

March 8, 2015

To my neighbor at [address]:

Aside from the usual traffic interactions, I had two unusual ones this morning while riding my bicycle to and from church.

On my way home, I passed some neighbors who were walking their dogs on Villa Street. One of the dogs tugged at the leash and barked at me. I heard the man holding the leash say: “Sit, sit! I don’t know what’s wrong with you! It’s just a man on a bike!” I rode a few hundred feet and then decided to turn around and ask “can I help your dog understand bicycles?” I stopped 100 feet short of them so as not to agitate the dog again. The man agreed, they walked up to me and the dog sniffed around at me as a friendly dog will. The man said “he’s friendly: he just gets weird around bikes.” Well, maybe now the dog will know better. That friendly interaction made my day.

The other incident was on Bedford Street on my way to church. The traffic signal changed to green and I had just pulled across South Street when a driver behind me leaned on the horn, over and over. It’s clear that this driver wanted to pass me. I lowered my left hand in a slow signal. The honking continued.

TThere were parked cars on the right and approaching cars on the left, on a street narrowed by snow. I wasn’t going to risk my life by sneaking off to the right into the range of a car door which might open and inviting a pass which would barely clear my elbow. But, after a few seconds, the approaching cars had passed behind us and the street widened out. That’s where the driver – you — passed me, just as you would have been able to without the horn honking. Was it worth the aggravation?

I don’t think that I own the road. I extend every reasonable courtesy to other people who are using the road. But you don’t own the road either. The rules are the same for motorists and bicyclists: first come, first served, and pass only when safe. That’s the traffic law. There’s no special right for you because your car can travel at the speed limit, while a bicycle, backhoe with a snowplow, or semi-trailer truck going uphill can’t. I don’t have to pull off the road, stop and wait to let you by, when you will have a safe opportunity to pass in a few seconds. Certainly, if I am causing an unreasonable delay, I’ll pull aside and stop. But if you think that the delay I caused you – much shorter than the delay at the traffic signal or any number of other delays on our narrow, snowbound streets, was unreasonable, please think again.

Sir, your horn honking was harassment, it spoiled my mood for the church service and until I encountered the dog walkers, and what makes it more irksome is that as you passed, I immediately identified you as my long-time, close neighbor. I don’t know that I’ve ever met you, but you have had the same, short, easily recognized license plate number ever since I moved into this neighborhood over 25 years ago. I have walked, driven and bicycled past your home thousands of times. On my way home I saw the same car, same license plate, parked right where I expected, at [address].

So, sir, I am asking for an apology from you unless you have some very convincing reason, on the order of “I was on the way to the hospital to give birth, and the baby was about to come out!” But that didn’t look to be so. Please reserve the car horn for real emergencies, to avoid “cry wolf” situations and bad feelings. I really don’t want to have to think “this neighbor of mine is a jerk!” every time I pass your home, so please respond appropriately, and all will be forgiven.

Very truly yours, your neighbor,

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One Response to A letter to a neighbor

  1. jsallen says:

    Well, I delivered the letter this afternoon, and what do you ,now, the driver was out cleaning his driveway. Conversation, more or less:

    “I don’t know whether it was you driving this car yesterday, but I think it was, and I have a letter for you.

    “It was. Yes, I saw you on *** street.”

    “Please read my letter.”

    “The way you were riding that bike, you’re going to get run over. You were in the middle of the road.

    “There wasn’t safe room to pass.”

    “You think you own the road.”

    “Please read my letter”

    “I’m going to throw it in the barrel.” And he walked away.

    So, I know a few things: one which I already knew: the man would have passed me with inches to spare if he could have, but also, he accuses my of riding unsafely for not allowing him to endanger me. He considers the middle of the right-hand lane to be the middle of the road.

    All in all, he is a jerk. But at this point I can’t even be angry at him. A man who appears to be 60 years old, who can’t bring himself to be civil with his neighbor of 25 years.

    I also sent a copy of my letter to the local newspaper as was suggested on a facebook thread which linked to this post, with identifying information redacted.

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