Sunday, December 13, 2009

What Really Happened?

This post an addition to the previous one, concerning the notion of truth sometimes being more in the middle than on either side of an argument.

If you have somehow missed Rashomon in your movie viewing , you should try to catch it. It's in Japanese with subtitles for English speakers, but a great study in subjectivity.

Another case in point. A few years back, a bus passed a bicyclist on one of Portland's bridges over the Willamette River downtown. (The Hawthorne, for those of you who are local.)

The cyclist's version (his name is Randy) is that yes, he was not in the narrow bike lane, because the lane was littered with gravel and the city had not, after repeated reports, cleaned it out, thus he had no choice. And that the bus driver almost hit him as he blew past, missing by only a foot.

Angry because he was nearly run over, Randy slammed his fist against the side of the bus as it went by, and because the driver paid him no heed, he stood on the pedals and put his bike into a sprint, managed to catch the bus when it slowed, and pass it, whereupon he pulled in front of it, stopped his bike and got off, thus blocking the road.

The bus screeched to a stop.

I don't recall if the driver honked the horn, but I wouldn't be surprised if he did.

The biker stood there, glaring at the driver, cursing like a ship full of sailors, wanting him to acknowledge his fault, and to make a point. The other lane moved, but the bus couldn't.

I'm not sure what would have satisfied Randy, but he apparently showed no sign of moving out of the road.

Cyclists in Portland, considered a good town to bike in, sometimes get militant when they think their rights aren't properly respected. I understand the feeling, having ridden a bike for a time as primary transportation. It's dangerous out there. Still ...

The bus was full, SRO, and the passengers, wanting to get to work or home, quickly became irritated. After a bit, one of the passengers asked the driver to open the door. He may or may not have said, "Let me take care of this." His nickname was "Gator," and he was an ex-boxer.

There was a videocam going, but no sound.

Gator approached the biker, and here the story veers. Gator's version is that he told the guy to get out of the road, the biker cursed him and refused, so Gator popped him one, wrestled him down and out of the road, along with the bike, then climbed back onto the bus, which then went on its way.

Randy's version is that Gator charged him and began throwing punches without a word.

Pretty good hit, from the images, and Randy needed to get his lip stitched as a result.

Naturally, Randy sued TriMet.

Eventually, an arbitrator found that both sides were negligent. The cyclist shouldn't have blocked traffic. The driver shouldn't have let the passenger off the bus, especially if he suspected what Gator was going to do.

But you got an idea that the arbitrator didn't really feel that the weight of negligence fell too heavily upon TriMet, since the forty-eight grand Randy sued for was reduced to an award of $601.

Bicyclists were outraged and their sympathies lay with Randy, even though they tended to think he had maybe stepped over the line, just a hair.

Bus passengers seemed to feel like I did when I first read about it, which boiled down to, "Served him right." I mean, yes, certainly Gator shouldn't have assaulted Randy, just because he was standing in the road blocking traffic and making everybody on the bus late for work. On the other hand, I understand Gator's impulse, too. Randy might ordinarily be a swell fellow, but in that instance, he was not behaving as one ...


Anonymous said...

I say put the bus in low gear and crawl forward slowly.

Sun Bear said...

Truth is very often subjective, since we all filter our present experiences through our personal past. Maybe, at the individual level, one might say truth is interpretive.

As to Randy and Gator, I think the old adage we all know, "Two wrongs don't make a right", is key. Neither guy forced the other to take the action they took.

Portland cyclists can be militant. I wonder, sometimes, how they would react if motorists were just as militant about the traffic laws that are ignored by a fair number of the bike riders out there? Not that Portland is in any way unique, where that is concerned. I had to slam on my brakes just the other day for a cycling doctor coming out of OHSU. He seemed unaware of the fact that stop sign applied to him, too. I do not like to be near bicyclists on the road, as I consider them highly unpredictable.

Both motorists and cyclists contribute to the problems out there on the roads, and both need to work to make them a safer place.

EvMick said...

I think that cyclists have road rights directly proportional to the amount of road taxes they pay.

Anonymous said...

Two wrongs? Guy goes looking for trouble and doesn't like it when the trouble escalates past his level? Maybe next time he'll make better choices.

Anonymous said...

Naw, I take it back. I'm sure Randy was just working off the adrenaline of almost getting creamed by Tri-met. It's easy to say, 'what was he thinking' but I'm sure he wasn't by then.

I do wonder if the bike lane was really that jacked up that he couldn't use it. So many Portland bikers act like they are some elite priveleged class that it's easy to say "f'em" but I don't actually know anything about Randy. Just hard to have full sympathy when some many of 'them' are donkey rears.

Christopher Wayne said...

Isn't this what Rory Miller calls the Monkey Dance and how if one person would step back, things like this would not reach the point where fists start flying

Anonymous said...

Not too many cyclists here it seems. In this state cyclists have the right to take the lane if they perceive it is too dangerous to maintain the bike lane.

And, as I rode that winter I can attest that gravel was everywhere. Extremely hazardous. I took the lane often. Not my idea of a good time. I like a nice clean bike lane, and prefer to stay in it.

Besides, the bus driver in passing so close to the rider threatened the riders life. Some states have enacted a 3' passing rule for a reason.

There is an exponential difference in available force: in most all cases a vehicle can seriously injure or kill a rider when they collide, and rider, as exemplified by that fist pounding against the side of the bus, does not have this power. It is a fist vs. gun equation.

Did he have the right to stop the bus, yup. But he should have called the cops to have the driver cited.

However, when you've nearly been brushed by a metal Goliath, adrenaline is pumping and often things go wrong.


Todd Erven said...

"Did he have the right to stop the bus, yup. But he should have called the cops to have the driver cited. "

Did he actually have a right to stop the bus?

If someone cuts me off and almost causes an accident, do I then have the right to force them to stop and initiate a confrontation? I'm no lawyer, but that doesn't seem quite right to me.

Also, where is Randy's proof that the bus did get too close to him, or that the driver did anything illegal for that matter?

What we do have proof of is Randy forcing the bus to stop and then impeding its path. Is that legal? If not, I say that the city should charge his ass with something.

I've been forced to brake and swerve by cyclists that broke laws and endangered both my life and the people around me. That has got my adrenaline pumping pretty good at times. Somehow though, I've managed to control myself enough to not force an incident...

Anonymous said...

offer an apology and acknowledgment of the bikers angst, then get into the bus and move on. Faster than a fight!

Steve Perry said...

If motorists drove as they should and cyclists rode as they should, there wouldn't be any problems. Speaking as both -- I still have a bike in the garage, and as I said, there have been times when it or one of half a dozen others was my prime transportation for anything within fifteen or twenty miles -- therein lies the problem.

Motorcycles are vehicles that gets short shrift from cars, trucks, and buses, too. Been there, rode them.

Being right can be being dead right, and anybody who drives anything on a public road knows this.

You have the right to drive your car the speed limit in the speed lane on the freeway, too, and there are people who righteously do this, but it's apt to get you run over. And you don't know if the guy behind you who wants to go sixty in a fifty zone just wants to speed or is in a hurry to get to the hospital.

Road rage is road rage, and if it's a cyclist or a Volvo driver, it's the same once somebody steps over the line.

Did the bus driver buzz the biker? Was it too close? I don't know. The biker thought so. But the minute he blocked the bus, he brought the punch in the mouth onto himself. None of the passengers buzzed him.

He should have called it in. I can understand him being pissed off, having been buzzed myself, but escalation can get ugly.

Viro said...

Right and wrong aside, I learned early on that the reason I don't want to antagonize someone bigger than me is that I might get my ass kicked.

A bus full of people = bigger than me.

As for Gator, I would offer this advice from a movie I challenge you to name:

"When I was a kid, my father told me, 'never hit anyone in anger, unless you're absolutely sure you can get away with it.'"

Irene said...

"Stripes", of course. One of the all time great American comedies.

For what it's worth, when somebody annoys me, I try to remember that most people are not intrinsically mean or evil, most people are just self-absorbed.

It seems unlikely that the bus driver would deliberately try to get too to a bike. I reckon either (a) he simply didn't know the bike was there or (b) he had reasons not to go too far to the left, like, maybe there was oncoming car? Another bus? Buses are wide things, and that is not an overly wide bridge. The bicyclist needs to get over himself a bit and think about maybe some of the other factors that the bus driver has to consider.
In all likelihood, either (a) the bus driver never saw the