Close encounter of the uncomfortable type

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To the Editor:

Every cyclist, sooner or later, has an unfriendly encounter with a motorist, but I think I broke new ground last Friday.

I was pedaling west on State Road in West Tisbury, just west of the Post Office, when a car blew by, no more than a foot from my leg. It gave me a scare and I was angry, so I shouted. The driver heard me and pulled over. I stopped, dismounted, and moved to his open window.

“Did you have something to say to me?” he asked.

He had iron-gray hair and looked to be in his early 70s. I told him how close he’d come to me. He replied that I’d been “in the middle of the road.” I had — trust me, here — been where I always am on that stretch of busy roadway, to the right of the white line, as any rider who values his life would be on a weekday morning. I told him this. I pointed out that the law mandates a distance of three feet between a motor vehicle and a cyclist. “Then,” he said, “keep three feet,” putting the burden on me, which in this case would have placed me on the front lawn of Middletown Mowers.

It now got strange. Anger flooded the man’s face, his jaw tightened, and he said, through clenched teeth, “You’re going to be killed one of these days, and it’s going to be your own fault.”

What do you say to that? I thought of telling him that I was almost killed some years ago, and that it wasn’t my fault — the driver was cited for reckless endangerment — but rational discourse, I could see, wasn’t in the cards. And so I told the man I felt sorry for him, and reminded him he’d almost hit me.

With that, the rigid face broke open in a smile, as if some antic thought had suddenly occurred, some sly joke. “I wish I had,” he said, “oh, I wish I had.” And sped away.

I do feel sorry for him, to a degree, and I hope someone with a moral compass speaks to him soon, and that he gets the help he needs. Meanwhile, cyclists beware. The car was a silver compact SUV, and, to my regret, I never looked at the plates.

John Hough Jr.
West Tisbury