Yesterday, as I periodically do, when nearly killed by a flung-open taxi door a solid meter from the sidewalk, I stopped to look the perpetrator in the eye. I developed this policy a long time ago, of wanting to personalize the cyclist, give the door-flinger a little reality check on what might have been if I weren’t so good with the brakes, or if we had not just had some dumb luck.
I was riding up the Alameda, and technically I should have been on the left side, because I was in the bus-only lane. However, all cyclists use this lane, as do private cars dropping people off, and taxis, to do the same. The taxis are a bit of a plague to me. They are just doing their job, trying to get passengers, but they clump together around certain corners, meaning everyone has to swing out into the middle of the street to avoid them. Buses, other taxis, private cars, and even cyclists.
Another thing taxis are famous for is dropping off passengers. I know this, and if I see a taxi pulling over, I assume it’s to let someone out at the curb. Yesterday I was riding in that no-man’s land, about two feet from the curb (I know this because there are some badly-placed grates on this street, so I tend to swing a little wide) when a taxi did not pull over, but stopped as if in traffic, and a passenger flung his door open.
I screeched to a stop, pulling over to the curb, and turned around to look at him. At first I was silent.
Me: “Mírame, mírame la cara” (Look at me, look me in the face)
Him: “Y qué?” (So what?)
Ooooh, hostility. This was not going to go well.
Me: Descúlpase (apologize), I told him. Apologize to the person you almost killed.
Him: You weren’t wearing a (reflective) vest.
Me: It’s daytime.
Him: It doesn’t matter, you weren’t wearing a reflective vest.
Me: It doesn’t matter, because you didn’t look first before opening your door, because if you had, you would have seen me. And reflective vests don’t reflect in the daylight. You didn’t look. Apologize.
I have to jump in here and say that asking someone for an apology often doesn’t work out well for me. What I want is to generate an iota of discomfort in the offending party, such that they don’t door you or any of your cyclist friends in the future. Though to be fair, the problem here was also the taxi driver, who did not pull over to the curb, and my beef probably should also have been with him, but the passenger was easier to stop. Also, we are nigh upon Christmas and the end of the academic year and everyone is on a hair trigger right now in Santiago. It is a stressful place out there, and summer temperatures are in full swing, which does not help. Also, unlike Canadians, and to some extent people from the US, apologies to not come easily here in Chile. It is quite unusual for someone to apologize at all, and it is particularly unlikely while the person is under stress.
On and on he went about the reflective vest. New laws in Chile mean that cyclists can be fined for not wearing reflective vests, for not riding on bike paths when these are available, for riding on the sidewalk, etc. The law seems to pit cyclists against pedestrians, which I don’t think is the main danger to anyone. (and yes, I have been hit by a cyclist as a pedestrian). And while I understand that it is unpleasant to be walking down the sidewalk and have someone whizz by you, I feel like an over all consciousness-raising that we’re all in this together would be more constructive than laws aimed at punishing cyclists. I believe it is also sure to be capriciously applied. I am not pushing the envelope, but I fully anticipate that I, a middle-aged white English-speaking foreigner on a hybrid bike could ride the entire city from sidewalk to sidewalk without ever being fined. Whereas young men, who have a tendency to ride faster, hotdog on and off the sidewalks, and are generally in the police’s sights are much more likely to be pulled over. As of yet, I do not know anyone personally that has been ticketed.
Also, back to the vests. I will track one down, and I will wear it. But I am telling you right now, by doing so, I will raise to approximately 10.1% the number of cyclists who are currently following this rule. And in part, that’s because it’s an extra expense, and an extra step (and it’s damn hot out there). But in my mind, it’s also because the reason people don’t see cyclists is because they are in their own little worlds, not because we are not brightly attired. Since the inception of the newish bus system, which is much more expensive and onerous for many people, and the building of more bike paths, and the doubling of the density of people living downtown in the last ten years, there are more cyclists than ever in the street. And I imagine this is really stressful for drivers. But this does not stop the number of cyclists from increasing. After the initial investment, it’s practically free, often faster than public transportation, and it’s exercise. It’s also a slow slog on some of the more popular bike paths (looking at you Santa Isabel, Curicó and Miguel Claro), but such is the price we pay for having a place to ride that is all our own. Except for random people using them as sidewalk extensions, or places to double park, or a good place to ride their motorcycle.
I also heavily suspect that the new legislation is related to the number of bike-delivery companies like rappi, uber eats and glovo, which has increased the number of cyclists, plus the new public bike system (there are now three such systems in Chile, but this one is dockless and the bikes are everywhere. We also got Lime scooters a few weeks back.
But back to our non-apologetic friend.
He was angry. I was angry. I stopped Usted-ing him, and changed to tú. He noticed, and I could tell he didn’t like it. And then I used the word “weón.” The thing about the word “weón” is that it means many things at many different times. I did not say “no seas weón” which would be like “don’t be an asshole.” Instead, I used it informally, basically calling him “dude.” If he did not like being tuteado, (spoken to in the tú form, most common in Chile), he especially did not like being called weón.
And here’s where something most unexpected happened. Instead of one of the usual anti-woman slurs one can generally expect in this situation, such as loca, histérica, exagerada, enojona, fea or gorda (crazy, hysterical, over-reacting, angry, ugly or fat), he picked up on something else. (And if you don’t think these comments are anti-woman ask yourself how often you hear them being directed at women vs. men).
Back to the argument, our friend honed in on that one word.
“DON’T call me weón. You’re not even Chilean.”
To which I wish I had responded, “and is my life worth less because I’m not Chilean?” Or perhaps “I have just as much of a right to be here as you do, want to see my carnet (Chilean ID)?”
But instead, I ended up shouting after him as he snaked away into the crowd,
“No soy chilena pero llevo mas tiempo que la chucha acá” (I’m not Chilean, but I’ve been here a long-ass time).
File it under end of the year frustrations. I’m off to buy a reflective vest, and as far as practicable, stay out of traffic at least until summer vacation officially begins.