Trackday Diaries: A Slight Injury to the Narcissistic Area

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
trackday diaries a slight injury to the narcissistic area

The forecast, to misquote Robert Cray, called for rain — but I saddled up the Anniversary VFR anyway. There’s no lane-splitting in Ohio, but there are still real and tangible benefits to riding a motorcycle on my daily commute to work. The first is time. I save between 10 and 20 round-trip minutes every day that I leave the Accord in the driveway. I can make better pace on the road, particularly downtown. The second benefit is financial: it’s $50 a year to park the bike but it’s between $9 and $18 a day to park a car. The last, and most important, is hassle. It’s an easy three minute walk from my bike to my office. From the nearest available parking garage? Ten minutes if I’m lucky, 20 if that garage is full, plus 10 flights of stairs each way on two legs that ache and crack in any weather below tropical.

Put all of that together, and it’s no wonder that I won’t drive unless there’s heavy standing water or ice on the roads. But I won’t lie; I’d ride even if it cost more. I feel less like a replaceable cog in a massive and directionless corporate cluster-bang when I’m on two wheels. And that’s why I was in a good mood when I heard the BLEAT! of the horn next to me.

This was the situation: There’s a four-lane road that I pick up about three miles from my house and ride down a long hill to the freeway entrance. There’s a stoplight at the end of it. Some days the left lane is backed up from the light because the southbound freeway is stopped. Other days the right lane is backed up because it’s the lane that you take if you’re going to join the outerbelt a half-mile down. (Columbus folks, I’m talking about Hard Road where it meets Route 315 South.) On my bikes, I can pick either lane and then accelerate into the space I need.

I was in the right lane this morning as I headed down the incline to the light, but I was pretty close to the left edge of that lane because I was considering my options. When I heard the horn next to me, I promptly swung all the way to road shoulder. I’ve avoided being crunched into paralysis a few times over the previous decades by always taking the maximum avoidance first then checking to see what was going on. But there was no out-of-control Escalade smashing traffic, nobody with failing brakes, nobody gripping the wheel and breathing hard after almost distracted-driving their way into a rear-ender.

Instead, there was a previous-generation CR-V, in some sort of light silver. And behind the wheel there was a man in his 60s in a clean white shirt, no tie. He made a dismissive hand wave in my general direction. Like a get out of my way wave. Behind my visor, my mouth fell all the way open.

In the space of an indignant millisecond, I reviewed the facts of the case, Your Honor:

  • I was riding along in my lane, at the speed limit, bothering no one, taking up less space and using less fuel than anyone around me.
  • Clearly, my presence near the edge of the lane annoyed the CR-V driver.
  • So he had beeped at me to move somewhere else, even though I was abiding by the law.

This would be enough to send most motorcyclists into a killing rage. But it pleases me to inform the court of these additional facts:

  • It was a fucking Baby Boomer, another spoiled brat with a pension and appreciating assets and the easiest years of this or any other nation’s existence in his rearview mirror.
  • He was driving one of those God-damned bullshit breadboxes that are driven almost exclusively by people who despise cars.
  • The arrogant entitlement encapsulated in his wave — no aristocrat ever sentenced a serf to a whipping with more practiced insouciance.

This aggression … this aggression will not stand, man! And then, as if by a miracle, the light turned red a few cars up and we came to a stop next to each other. At this point, I was in full Critical Mass mode. I’m not saying that I was carrying an EOD Robotics breacher bar. I’m not even sure it’s legal to have one in your back pocket while you’re on a bike. But let’s say that I was, for sake of argument. (Interested in getting one of your own? Click my link and help me get worthless free stuff!)

Just five seconds ago, this man had used the effective threat of death against me. His 3,800 pounds of caged steel against the thin shell of my Arai helmet, and we all know who wins that battle every time. I wasn’t in his way, wasn’t doing anything other than annoying him by riding too close to his shitty little CR-V for his comfort. So he honked at me, knowing I would have to move or suffer the risk of never seeing my son and my wife again.

But now the tables were turned. He was hemmed in by traffic. I was bigger, younger, and angrier than he was, wearing an armored jacket and helmet, carrying a steel bar that could shatter his window and cave in his skull. Any violence he could have callously perpetrated against me was now mine to visit upon him. Ohio allows you nowadays to drive around with a gun in the car, but ask anybody who’s ever had to use a pistol in anger; if you’re within grabbing distance of your opponent, you’re no longer in a gunfight.

I’ve seen things like this happen. I’ve seen cyclists and motorcyclists assault “cagers,” and I’ve seen cars driven with intent to kill bikers of all stripes. I’ve seen lives changed because of pride or fear, and always for the worst. I thought about this. I put my kickstand down and I swung my leg off the bike to stand. And I watched my friend in the CR-V freeze, his hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel, looking straight ahead, as if the monster in his passenger window did not exist.

For five seconds we stood there, me leaning down to peer in the window, him looking straight ahead, his neck and head locked in place. Then I realized just how ridiculous it all was. Who gives a shit if he wants to honk at me? We’re both just cattle in the company abattoir arguing over who gets to feel the knife first. Fuck him, and fuck me for even bothering to be annoyed by it. No harm. No foul. Let’s move on.

The light went green. His lane moved faster than mine but then a few cars took the exit ramps ahead of me and the road opened. I dropped to second, feathered the clutch, felt the front end go light as VTEC KICKED IN YO. I was doing 90 by the time I blasted past the silver CR-V. I’d like to tell you that I flipped my fellow corpo-slave off with my left hand, but the fact is that I’m not great at wheelies and I like to have both hands in a nice secure death grip on the bars. I was down the road and gone. Ran between 95 and 120 all the way down the freeway, letting the V-Four tear canvas and rocket from lane to lane. Don’t worry about a thing. Cause every little thing is gonna be alright.

As I rode, I thought about the ideas of narcissistic injury and aggressive victimhood. I was angry at the CR-V because he’d insulted my right to the whole lane. More than that, I was pre-primed to be angry, because I’ve bought into the idea that “cagers” are always out to victimize and bully cyclists and motorcyclists. That pre-priming is ubiquitous among those of us who are on two wheels. As a teenager, I’d ride my BMX bikes through campus traffic just hoping somebody would cut me off or buzz me so I could kick their mirrors off or grind a peg against their bodywork. That’s a teenage mindset. We need to let it go.

When you see me on a bike out there, assume that I’m working hard to stay out of your way and preserve my life. And I’ll assume that you mean no malice by your actions. And we’ll enjoy this road together, though it may lead to nowhere, though the fruit of all our efforts be merely to sit blank-eyed in the cubicle and dream of the road again.

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  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Sep 28, 2016

    It is strange how often drivers become offended by the presence of people in motion who are smaller than their vehicle. I don't ride a motorcycle, but I do a lot of bicycling and walking. I don't believe in impeding motorists in any way, so I stay out of traffic and never expect any motorists to change their behavior or react to me in any way, including stopping to cross the street. I don't think I have a right to obstruct traffic and I don't agree that pedestrians should have the right of way over vehicles. I just continue on and extend the walk or ride until there's a break in traffic. Yet I still get honked and yelled at by people who would never even know that I exist if I were invisible; people who don't come within a city block of making contact with me. I should probably continue not riding a motorcycle. The simple inability to catch or find most of the offending vehicles has saved me from a lot of violent activity. The narcissistic injury heals with time even without the glorious satisfaction of immediate conflict and I usually conclude a few days later that those pleasures are better left to my imagination. Plus, I enjoy the exercise and, on a warm day, the minimal clothing necessary for cycling anyway. I'm talking shorts and a t-shirt here. I own no bicycle-specific clothing apart from my old BMX gear - I even did my mountain bike racing in board shorts and a wife-beater - so the offense I cause drivers can't be blamed on spandex.

  • Testacles Megalos Testacles Megalos on Sep 28, 2016

    My sister lives just up the road on ORR, I was briefly concerned it was she who had visited this bit of insouciance in the writer....she's certain capable of automotive narcissism. Hard Road...4 lanes? Light? Don't you miss a rural Powell? (Oh the painful years, I watched 315 go 4-lane limited access while in college).

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