Sometimes you're just too startled by something unfolding in front of you to pull the point-and-shoot video out of your pocket to document it. This was one of those times. I wish I had the video, with sound effects.
I was near Trader Joe's when I heard a car horn blaring steadily from far away. It sounded as if it were up by Edgewood. It sounded like a car alarm. I was thinking the usual irritable thoughts like, why the hell do people have to pollute an entire neighborhood with noise every time somebody brushes against their precious vehicle? Then I realized it wasn't a car alarm. It was a moving car, getting closer and louder.
As it drew closer I saw it was a large minivan. Was the horn broken? No. The driver was a big, middle-aged guy with a round face and an idiotic, angry grin, and he seemed to be pressing down on the horn with all his enraged might.
The cause of his wrath was visible right in front of him. There was a bicyclist in the middle of the one eastbound traffic lane in front of him, going about the limit (it's a long downhill run, and he was pedaling hard) in a place where people usually drive at least ten miles over. He was tall, young, and the absolute archetype of everything that would trigger a bike-hater's rage: expensive bike with racing wheels, helmet, black Lycra shorts andred and black racing shirt.
Two cultures in direct conflict and neither willing to back down: The driver kept steadily pressing the horn at maximum volume, following the biker just a little too close, enraged that somebody was blocking his constitutional right to speed.
For his part, the bicyclist clearly did not want to ride in the parking lane and risk being sideswiped by a car, or have a door from a parked car open in his face at 25 mph. So he rode right down the middle of the traffic lane, where the only way to get past him was to drive right over him. Even the angry driver was unwilling to do that, so he vented with his horn. Could the biker have pulled over and let traffic pass? Sure. Did he feel like it? No. Was it because the driver was being such a jerk? Maybe. Or maybe the bicyclist was a jerk too.
The bicyclist kept turning around and gesturing angrily -- probably obscenely from the look of it -- at the driver. The driver just held down the horn. They proceeded like this for nearly a mile, locked together in mutual testosterone rage, all the way to Regent and Monroe, where one or the other must have turned at last and the honking stopped. Wow.
Lucky nobody was hurt. The bicyclist could have hit something or someone as he kept turning around to taunt the driver. The driver could easily have rear-ended him if the biker had stopped suddenly. Neither seemed to care.
Have I ever ridden down the middle of a traffic lane, slowing traffic? Yes, but only in a tight space where it's unsafe to be at the side of the road, like the old Park Street underpass or similar situations. Otherwise I yield to traffic -- and use a bike path when I can.
That's what was so ironic about this little drama. The city of Madison and the federal government spent a lot of money constructing a beautiful bike path, the Southwest Bike Path, that makes for a great ride downtown and parallels Monroe Street its entire length. Why not use it?