Tuesday, November 3, 2009

bike friendly

A few weeks ago, on a Sunday, I was biking south down the lake path, on my way home. It was a great, sunny day, probably around noon. My one commitment for the day was already complete and I was looking forward to an afternoon of football and food. A few miles north of my apartment, I turned off the path. I wanted to pick up some fresh bread at a bakery in River North. I made my way west from the lake path and turned south on State Street, which would lead me to the bakery. About two blocks from the bakery, a gray mid-size car with New York license plates pulled in front of me. A woman sitting in the back seat stuck her arm out the right side passenger window and took my photo with a digital camera.

After 39 years of living with dwarfism, learning from my family and friends, and sharing with other people with dwarfism, I've integrated some okay strategies for dealing with nearly anything that any of us, whether we have disabilities or not, could encounter in the world. I even have a strategy for dealing with drivers and passengers who take my photo ( see March 24, 2008 entry - sorry I can't come up with fresh blog material). But for me, pictures, especially when I am on my bike, strike a more vulnerable cord. I hate the fact that the car can speed away, leaving me no chance to speak with the perpetrators, and I hate the fact that my photo might be used in some degrading fashion without my permission. While I have a strategy for dealing with this particular type of incident, it can only take me so far.

Even on a Sunday, around noon, when traffic is relatively lite, it's impossible to drive more than a few blocks without hitting a red light. My "strategy" calls for me to confront the picture taker if I can catch up to the car on my bike without endangering my life. In the case of the gray car with the New York plates, it hit a red light immediately. I could have caught up on foot.

When the gray car stopped at the light, I was just a few feet behind it. I pulled in front of the car, stepped off my bike, and stood right up against the car's front bumper (what was that about risking your life?). There were three people in the car. A man and two women. The man was driving. Immediately, he picked his hands off the steering wheel, raised them up a little bit said, "What the F... are you doing?" I don't remember if the windows of the car were open or not. It was a pretty nice day. They probably were open. I do know that I could hear him pretty easily. And I didn't have to shout in order to be heard, which was a good thing. My adrenaline was already pretty active. Shouting might have caused a stroke. I told the driver that I wanted the camera. That was the extent of our dialogue. The driver kept telling me to f'ing move and I kept asking for the camera. At one point, the woman in the back seat, who had taken the photo, held the camera up to the car window and told me she had deleted the photo. Perhaps she did, but I kept asking for the camera.

That the car could have run me over and killed me in an instant notwithstanding, I was in a pretty good spot. The New York car couldn't get around me without hitting me, but the other cars, those behind the gray car in traffic, easily moved to the left of the car and continued down State Street. I wasn't blocking any other car. This way, it was only the three people in the gray car who were pissed at me. It's hard to know how much time passed, but we probably sat through at least three green lights, all the while the driver kept telling me to "f'ing move."

After several minutes, the driver stopped telling me to move. He held his cellphone up to the windshield and told me he was calling the police. I was tired of asking for the camera at that point. So, when he threatened to call the police, I just looked at him. Just as the driver was about to make the call, a Northwestern University, not a Chicago, squad car drove up the block from the south. The driver flagged the officer's attention. He stopped his squad car and rolled down the window. "What's going on?" he asked. After the officer heard from both the New York driver and me, he told me to move. "There is nothing wrong with taking a picture," he said. I wanted to cry out, 'yes there is,' but I didn't. I told the officer, what I'd told the people in the car, "I want the camera."

Unfortunately, I couldn't hold my ground as well when the police officer arrived. After he asked me to move two or three times, he unbuckled his safety belt and started to open his car door. At that point, I moved.

At that point, I was shaking so much I had to walk my bike the final few blocks to the bakery.

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