Ghost Bikes and Childish Behavior

Every urban cyclist has had, at some point during their cycling life, a rather unwelcome vision. People describe it differently, but the most prosaic say, “ your life flashes before your eyes.” For cyclists, these flashes are concluded by the image of a plain white bicycle chained to a rusty lamp post or dented guard rail. These are “ghost bikes” – modest monuments to the people who’ve been killed while rushing to work on a rainy morning or pedaling back from visiting friends. There, in the middle of traffic islands or at the neglected, dusty corner of an intersection, they slowly fuse with the concrete and asphalt and pose unanswered questions to bored motorists sitting in traffic.

There’s always a twinge of guilt that accompanies admitting when one has acted like a child, so please believe I’m not bragging when I say that I beat up a taxi driver and smashed up his car over the weekend. It’s a childish business when we feel that we have no other means of expression – it’s a failure of language, of self-control, of maturity. I ripped open his door and threw a few punches at his face, which was already twisted with whatever curses he was preparing to throw out at me. A couple connected. He shrunk back when more of my friends approached his car and I slammed the door shut on his outstretched arm, ripped off his taxi sign and smashed it on the window. My friend Patrick ran up and ripped open the door again and threw a few more punches. Patrick was a little late to the fray, as thirty seconds before he had nearly been pinned under the wheels of the same driver’s car.

I won’t apologize to anyone but my friends who were there with me, even though they applauded my hysterics and laughed about it hours later over beers. For no apparent reason, the taxi driver ran Patrick into a row of parked cars while we were all riding together down a quiet road in the center of town. When Patrick picked up his bike and tried to cross over to the sidewalk to get out of the driver’s way, the man accelerated into him, knocking him back onto the street. That’s when I jumped in.

In the past years, I’ve been appalled by the growing, uncharacteristic aggressiveness of drivers in Prague. More and more people lose their tempers, honk horns, cut each other off, even jump out of their cars to confront each other over a few meters of asphalt gained or lost. Once a bizarre rarity I thought only happened on the gridlocked freeways of the United States, road rage, against all logic and reason, has found a home here – in a city where the average commuter spends perhaps ½ an hour daily in traffic. A city, by the way, which boasts one of the most affordable, efficient and well-designed public transport networks in the world. It’s laughable and shameful; sitting in gridlock is an inconvenience to be suffered willingly in exchange for the mere status of arriving to a full parking lot in your own car.

By now, news has probably spread among the taxi “mafia” of a rogue gang of cyclists. If anything, my outburst probably made the daily ride that much more dangerous for all cyclists in this city. As I said, I’m not going to apologize to anyone aside from my friends, but I would like to make an offer to the driver of the car we vandalized: if you can explain why you felt it was your right to intentionally run a cyclist off the road and then threaten his life with your automobile, I will buy you a new taxi sign. It’s that simple, really. Contact any of the publications where this is printed and offer your explanation. They will contact me and I will deliver a shiny new taxi sign to them for you.

In the meantime, I hope you’re haunted by the experience of having your car smashed while you cower inside, fearing for your safety while some maniac screams at you in English. I hope you instinctively lock your door and are afraid in your own city. I hope you think twice before using your car as a weapon again. However, I truly doubt any of that will happen until you start shuddering at the sight of little white taxi signs glued to smashed guard rails and hanging from signal poles. How disgraceful that it would take such extremes to convince people emboldened by a ton and a half of steel that the rest of us sharing the roads in this city are living human beings.


33 Responses to “Ghost Bikes and Childish Behavior”

  1. 1 saman December 7, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    you did the right thing, seriously, i hope he will never do that again. fucker

  2. 2 Rob December 7, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    It was priceless watching that prick cower and duck as he got a bit of street justice. Violence isn’t cool, but I applaud the righteousness, because without it, the power dynamic between cars and cyclists in this city may never be balanced. Nice right cross Micah.

  3. 5 saman December 7, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    one of my favourite bands called RAMBO (revolution-anarchy-mosh-bike-overthrow) had this song called U-Lock Justice:

    for everytime i hear them say
    get the fuck out of the way
    i will defend my right of way
    that heap of steel i’m gonna slay
    i’ll thrash you i’ll bash you
    i’ll kick in your doors
    break out your windows
    and scratch your paint
    apologize for oil wars
    apologize for polluting my air
    in some cases cars are ok
    but when i’m on the street
    you’re all my enemies

    my bandmate has this lyrics tattooed all around his leg 🙂

  4. 7 themicah December 8, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Hey folks, some guy who says he represents NORML (National organization for the reform of Marijuana Laws) wrote this on my other blog, :

    “Smart people do not get into such messes, in the 1st place. You aggressive little twerp! Try your little show in Houston, and you will probably not live to write a snob blog! In short, you are no better a pig than the taxidriver. JUST ANOTHER PIG! You BOTH should be busted. Ride a tram, like the rest of us and don’t pick fights, you filthy pig. Keep your bike for the country on weekends, like normal people.”

    He’s obviously not really from Texas, but use small words, just in case 😉

  5. 10 Emma December 8, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    I find this really upsetting, actually. I’m a cyclist in New York City. I commute to work on my bike every day and suffer the same daily indignities of cycling as you (though perhaps more as I’m a woman and get to endure an added sexualized component as a bonus).

    I’ve never experienced such road rage as I’ve felt while on my bike. To me, there’s nothing more exhilarating than flying down 3rd ave in Brooklyn at 20 miles an hour racing the red lights and feeling my blood pumping in my ears. Yet every single time I get on my bike, it seems like the city is aligned against me — the bike lanes are chock full of cars (often public safety vehicles), people nearly run into me and have the audacity to yell at ME as if I were the one doing something wrong, men try to pull me off my bike on dark streets… it’s rough out there.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I get your reaction. I’ve flipped off countless numbers of douche-bag drivers and yelled obscenities at many more. However, it really freaks me out that you simply view your actions as “childish” and not as the twisted and aggressive products of a sickly violent society AND that your friends are both encouraging you and laughing at those who disagree with your choices. That guy didn’t “deserve it” no more than your friend “deserved” to be run off the road. He was crazy and cruel, but so were you.

    The last paragraph really disturbs me as it describes eerily accurately the repercussions of trauma suffered by a survivor of sexual assault. Do you REALLY hope that he suffers like that for the rest of his life? Was it REALLY your intention that he never feels safe again? I can’t say that there was any easy solution to this situation, especially when your friend’s life was clearly in danger, but I’d like to see us cyclists move forward toward a world of restorative justice rather than adrenaline fueled retribution.

    • 11 themicah December 8, 2009 at 3:15 pm

      Emma, thanks for your comment. I just wrote a response to someone on UrbanVelo that I think might apply:

      … although I agree that there is, ostensibly, a “right” way to do things, I disagree with you that, for fear of tarnishing the sterling reputation of cyclists worldwide, the article shouldn’t have been published. Some people, like children and animals, simply cannot understand that their behavior is destructive and dangerous unless it is physically demonstrated to them.

      In the case of a child, this works out to touching a hot stove to discover the properties of heat. In the case of a 30 year-old taxi driver who physically attacks someone with his car, he’s lucky he got off that easy. Tell me honestly – if some driver did that to your pregnant wife as she was attempting to cross at a crosswalk, would you and whoever else happened to witness an act that is essentially ATTEMPTED MURDER “count to ten” and wait for the police to arrive? My ass you would. And if you would, you ought to have your head (or another part of your anatomy) examined.

      Be it through our efforts at biking advocacy, protesting pre-emptive warfare or supporting health care reform in the US, those of us who think we know the “right way” to do things have simply not been learning from experience precisely how alone we are in that pretty little padded room we call justice. I’m not prepared to sacrifice my friend’s safety (and possibly his life) on the altar of neo-liberal venality.

      In sum, yes, I do hope he was traumatized – in every sense of the word – although that entire paragraph was a conditional, I think you’ll find. Had my friend been alone, he might have been murdered. Murdered, I might add, not by someone running a light, or by any fault of his own, but cold murdered by a man who looked him in the eye and decided that 10 seconds of his time was more important than a human life. I don’t apologize for any of it, but the fact that I wrote this, and the questions I hope it raised, ought to indicate that I’m not entirely comfortable with having placed myself in the position of arbiter, even if it was done in the heat of the moment.

  6. 12 Jeff Hendrickson December 8, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Ya’ know, for the life of me I can’t figure out how you could NOT react this way after someone tries to run you over in a car.

    I also understand the other folks being shocked and offended by the reprisal.

    I’m with you though brother, I probably would have done the same thing.

  7. 13 Emma December 8, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Micah —

    In response to your remarks (which are very in keeping with the theme of “childish” responses) — I am a woman and nothing is wrong with my brain or my penis when it comes to my decision making process about how to react to this situation. Furthermore, I am an anarchist and also uninterested in involving the cops in any sort of arbitration of justice. I get what you’re saying and I do appreciate that you posted it because I think it opens a good dialog on the subject of cyclist retaliation.

    I just don’t think the idea of “I hope he suffers as I have suffered” actually does anyone any good. It doesn’t make him LEARN, it doesn’t teach him to change his ways, it doesn’t make him less likely to repeat his actions — in fact, now that he’s suffered this trauma, he is MORE likely to lash out at other cyclists whom he deems as threats to his personal safety.

    That was one horrible moment in which someone you love was in danger and I understand that our reactions are our reactions and cannot be completely reined in. However, I hope that what comes out of this is not a mentality of “let’s beat up all those assholes who put us in danger on the road and assert our dominance over those who have wronged us” — but rather, how can we, as a community that uses the same roads, move forward in a way that makes our daily lives safer and more fulfilling for every user?

    • 14 themicah December 8, 2009 at 3:54 pm

      Sorry, but you take things far too literally, it must be an American thing – or maybe it’s the anarchism… The aside about “head (or another part of the anatomy)” was not referring to you directly. Besides, it’s what we used to call a metaphor in school. “Balls” don’t make someone courageous any more than “heart” makes them love. Are we cool with that, or do you want to go all Sontag on me about my thrusting, penetrative language and dangling conditionals?

      As for your estimate of what the taxi driver did or did not “learn”, please read the post again – specifically the part where I wrote:

      “If anything, my outburst probably made the daily ride that much more dangerous for all cyclists in this city.”

      This whole thing for me is about understanding a reaction – examining my own behavior. I cannot imagine the basis upon which I might judge what the taxi driver “learned” from the experience, and I don’t care to. We’re talking about a person who physically drove his car into a person on a bicycle TWICE IN A ROW. What sort of initiative do you think might contribute to this person sharing the road with other human beings?

      • 15 Emma December 8, 2009 at 4:08 pm

        Hmm. I *do* find your language both aggressive and dismissive though I can’t say I set much stock by Sontag. It seems we have inherently opposing views on the situation. I don’t have the answers and never claimed to. I guess I just wish there were a way of dealing with this that didn’t involve perpetuating a cycle of violence, that’s all.

      • 16 themicah December 8, 2009 at 4:29 pm

        I’m not sure what you mean by aggressive language. I guess I just don’t like repeating myself and I express that by “making fun”. Perhaps I am also one of the great benighted masses who still considers physical attacks on innocent people something to be reacted against, but have absorbed enough of the aforementioned neo-liberal venality to question my own role in/on that cycle (pun half intended). I appreciate your discussion, but I’m not sure how relating all aspects of it to yourself and your own experiences without offering any resolution is constructive (actually, it’s deconstructive, but there go the puns again…) Honestly, what would you have done? Yelled? Brandished a finger? Helped your friend up and then run away to cower somewhere and talk trash? Would any of those reactions have helped to achieved what I assume your goal to be – creating a safer place for all of us to ride? How?

      • 17 Emma December 8, 2009 at 4:39 pm

        Just because I don’t have an answer doesn’t make it an invalid question. I think we all need to be having this discussion and together figure out ways to empower ourselves and make our streets safer. Is that naive? Is that idealistic? Fine. I don’t see it as cowardly or not constructive, but that’s me. You put this out in the world to start a dialog, well this is where I took that dialog. The way you reacted and the language you used in describing your reaction and the trauma you hoped to see the other man suffer freaked me out. If that upsets you, if that annoys you, oh well. You put it out there.

      • 18 themicah December 8, 2009 at 4:50 pm

        I’m not trying to couch a discussion like this in terms of cowardice and bravery – that’s not relevant. I never even assumed it and I hope the writing didn’t indicate it. Call it cynical, but I don’t believe that walking away from violence in all cases is empowering or even helpful in establishing common safety, much less equality. I also believe that suffering is occasionally, although perhaps not usually, the result of a poor decision on someone’s part. We have made ourselves a culture that rewards violence, avarice and acquisitiveness nearly without question and has nearly banished the possibility of empirical repercussions for any act, regardless of how vile – how do you alter that culture and the behavior of someone who accepts it implicitly?

      • 19 keith December 15, 2009 at 2:03 am

        you two are SO annoying.

  8. 20 Emma December 8, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    As an aside — I also know that I would NOT react this way from experience. I may not have been in this exact situation, but when my life has been deliberately been threatened by others on the road, my only thought is how to get away and out of the situation as quickly as possible. I recognize that’s likely my socialization as a woman, but it shows that there are other options than violent reprisal.

    • 21 themicah December 8, 2009 at 3:55 pm

      Yes, there is always running away. And I don’t mean that to be snide – let’s just call a spade a spade. What happens when there’s nowhere left to run – and does getting to that place make you “right”, in your estimation?

      • 22 Emma December 8, 2009 at 4:12 pm

        Listen, I was in a situation where I was riding home late at night and two men started chasing me down a dark, deserted street and when I belatedly realized what was happening I was able to get away, not before they threw glass bottles that shattered near my tires. Had I not realized what was happening, had they succeeded in tearing me from my bike, I would have fought back. I’m not a pacifist, I would not have lain down while they attacked me.

        I’m just not sure that my first reaction would be to have gotten off my bike and confronted them with my fists instead of simply pedalling as fast as I could away.

      • 23 themicah December 8, 2009 at 4:31 pm

        And had I been there, I would undoubtedly have helped you.

  9. 24 CC Rider December 8, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    Good on you. Occasionally, we have to get one back and this was well earned on the drivers part.

  10. 25 Michael December 8, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    Hello Micha,

    The last post (Dec 8th) is particularly interesting. The last sentence is filled with insight, and I dare say is thoroughly empirically grounded, even though you dont cite sources…but you know that already, didnt you?

    Id like to know more about what creates these “implicit” dispositions to action…and references are fine.

    How did you get so smart?…


    • 26 themicah December 9, 2009 at 9:03 am

      Sorry, Mike, but I get the feeling you’re deliberately misunderstanding me. Maybe you’re taking an opportunity to throw some rhetorical punches at the cabbie? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’re serious (which I don’t think you are) and answer your questions anyway.

      “Empirical”, you are probably aware, is some information gathered from observation or experience. “Sources” are cited in my open letter, now aren’t they? Or does the pronoun “we” no longer mean what I think it means?

      What creates “implicit” (accepted without doubt or question) dispositions to action, I am suggesting, are a culture which rewards this mindset by rewarding it (consumerism, a debt-based economy, the elevation of the lowest common denominator in nearly all spheres of life) and an impotent response to those who cross the line in the sand (like the taxi driver, or me.) Those who seem to believe in “justice” divorced from “retribution” are unable to articulate the essence of that concept, who should deliver it or what its effect ought to be.

      Sorry to use big words, but a discussion about pulling punches becomes more interesting when you don’t, you know, pull punches. Write what you mean.

  11. 27 Josh December 10, 2009 at 8:33 am

    For someone that isn’t proud of his “childish” actions you sure go a long way to justify them.

  12. 29 Klumsy December 10, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    Here in Toronto, as a messenger I have been both pepper sprayed in the face, and hit and run by cab drivers (destroying my bike and throwing me to the sidewalk, hurt). My friend has had a glass juice bottle smashe dover his head and left bleeding and unconscious in the middle of the street..

    I for one commend you.

    Although these are all isolated incidents, they seem to have cetain things in common; Cab’s and Cyclists. USUALLY the cyclist ends up severely hurt or bikeless.

    Listen it’s fight or flight in these situations.. those are the standard models. You fought. Good on you.

  13. 30 Alan December 13, 2009 at 2:26 am

    I visited Prague in 07′, excited to visit the city in which I was born 30 years prior. One of the aspects that shocked me the most was the “car culture”, very USA like, that is not a good thing. More pollution, congestion, etc., etc. Hope my birth city learns from the mistakes of others and from it’s own and drasticly cuts back on the automotive hysteria.

  1. 1 Ghost Bikes and Childish Behavior at Urban Velo Trackback on December 8, 2009 at 11:00 am
  2. 2 Dept. of DIY strikes again and other missing links « BikingInLA Trackback on December 8, 2009 at 10:17 pm
  3. 3 “Ghost Bike” « … but I digress Trackback on November 13, 2010 at 11:30 pm

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