Note: This piece ran in slightly shortened form in the Denver Post a couple of months ago. I sent the Post a shortened version of a column-length article intended for cycling magazines.
Wednesday evening. Tamar, Mark and I are walking down one-way Washington Street, headed for coffee at Pablo’s on Sixth. We hear yelling behind us.
Two cars roll by us side by side and stop at the light at 7th.
We hear the driver of the Saturn yelling at the guy in the Camry: You m-----f----r, I’ll follow you home and kill you! He screams it two or three times. No kidding.
We don’t know what the Camry driver did, if he (or she) did anything at all. We just got here.
The light changes. The Camry turns left. The Saturn continues down Washington. We’re frozen on the sidewalk. We don’t often hear murder threats. We’ve just experienced road rage from 10 feet away.
Tamar and I only ride – our bicycles or her scooter or my motorcycle. Mark pedals more than he drives. We like to imagine that most drivers are peaceful folks like us. Not homicidal. We have to imagine that, don’t we?
Next morning, I saw a cop in Wash Park. I told him about the guy threatening to “follow you home and kill you.” He shook his head.
Is it illegal to make threats like that, I asked.
“You bet,” he said. “It’s against the law to cause a disturbance or threaten someone. But don’t get involved. If you can jot down the license number and you could describe the driver, call it in and we’ll be right on it.
“If it happens to you, do NOT drive home. The guy will know where you live. Drive to a public place, a mall or a police station. Most of these guys,” he said, “are satisfied just to yell and gesture. A few try to carry out their threats. No way to tell which guy is which.
“Road rage is out of control in Denver,” he said.
Echoing, I have to add, what a Littleton cop told me only last week. He said that South Santa Fe Drive is the worst street for road rage in Colorado - four or five incidents a day.
Littleton PD, he said, has two unmarked (but official-looking) white sedans and a white pickup. Huge panels of flashing lights are hidden behind the windshields and back windows.
One of them will drive at the limit in the right-hand lane. A car will come up behind. The driver will follow dangerously close and then flash his lights in frustration. Eventually he or she passes in anger, 20-over, flipping the bird at the cop. The officer flips on the Vegas Strip lightshow behind his windshield.
Each time the units go out onto South Santa Fe it’s the same.
What’re drivers thinking, I asked the Littleton cop. They’re not, he said. They see straight ahead, not to the sides or behind them. And they’re angry.
Why, I asked the cop in Wash Park. are people so irate?
“Denver’s population,” he said, “has doubled in 20 years. Except for a lane on each side of I-25 the roads are the same.”
Twice the motorized rats in the same old asphalt cage.
People treat people in ways that would’ve been unimaginable just yesterday. We don’t see it in public places so much. We see people in cars acting like spoiled children.
Tamar and I know a young woman who passed her drivers test, got her permit, drove once – and turned in the permit. I’ll pass, she said, I’ll ride my bike.
Fifteen years later, she’s thinking about a moped or tiny motor scooter. No license, no plates. You can park on sidewalks. A hundred mpg. They’re everywhere.
I’d say that woman is on the right path. And you? If you’ve set up your life so you have to drive, I hope your conscience is troubled. It’s the devil’s work.
Please, if you drive, don’t threaten to kill us because we didn’t recognize your ownership of that lane, that street, that parking space. Remember to breathe.
If you walk, use public transit or ride a bicycle or motorbike, Tamar, Mark and I thank you. The world would thank you - if the world cared what is good for it.
The right thing is the right thing, acknowledged or not. It goes around and then it comes around.