I apologize in advance for not getting my camera out in time to photograph the phenomenon.
At 5:20 p.m. this afternoon, I stood at the intersection of Market and Hayes and Larkin and 9th Streets (another one of San Francisco’s five-way intersections) waiting patiently for the light to turn in my favor so I could cross the street to my bus stop. Sad to say, the automobile drivers of San Francisco rank among the worst in the United States–I’ve heard tales of worse drivers elsewhere, tales which, if true, would be, uh, um, well, really impressive–and many of them happened to cross Market Street at the same time in an effort to beat the red light. In San Francisco, a yellow light means Hurry! Step on the gas! Now!
All but one of the bad drivers got through the intersection. The last and worst of the drivers actually ran a red light, perhaps appropriate given that he drove a small red stationwagon. This gentleman (60-ish, receding hairline, grey hair, silver goatee, professorial looking) blocked the pedestrian crosswalk, so that we had to scoot around him.
But he also did something worse.
Much, much, worse.
He blocked the green bicycle lane.
Market Street is one of many streets in San Francisco that now have painted green bicycle lanes. These lanes, the ones closest to the sidewalks, belong solely to the rapidly growing population of local citizens who have chosen the two-wheeled commute to work. The green lanes make their daily rides safer and swifter.
Unless of course a very poor automobile driver tries to run a red light and fail, completely blocking the green lane. The bicyclists had no room to do anything except veer toward the middle of the intersection, placing themselves in the path of automobiles driven by lawful drivers and thereby placing themselves at risk of collision and injury.
Make no mistake: Prof. Silver Goatee broke the law and recklessly endangered the lives of others.
But the bicyclists took the law into their own hands. Literally.
As each rider swerved around the little red stationwagon, they reached out with their right hands and slapped the rear of the car. Slap, slap, slap. About 30 bicyclists slapped the car once or twice depending upon how fast or slow they rode. Prof. Silver Goatee bent forward, eyes growing wide, clenched his steering wheel tightly, and gritted his teeth to the metallic rhythmic sounds of slap, slap, slap. Equal parts justified and self-righteous.
I have never seen this before, so I cannot tell you if this is an old tradition, a new tradition, a peculiar one-time event, or a new tradition, the start of something slap-happy. Car slapping poor drivers must constitute a huge temptation for bicyclists, esp. at 5:20 p.m. if they have had a bad day. And permit me to emphasize this: Prof. Silver Goatee put the lives and health of 30 people at risk; he did commit a pair of crimes threatening tragic consequences for innocent people.
But I don’t know if car slapping (car-slapping? Carslapping?) is such a great idea. Remember Prof. Silver Goatee’s wide eyes, clenching hands, and gritted teeth? He did not look too far from losing his mind, throwing his car in reverse, and ploughing through and over a few car slappers, throwing his car into drive and then running over them a second time.
What’s so great about being right and hospitalized? Or dead?
Perhaps forgiveness sits closer to wisdom than self-righteous justice.
Vonn Scott Bair