ColumnWhen trolls invade real life.
Last week, I answered my cell phone while pulling up to a stop sign in my car. I will be the second or third to admit using your cell phone while driving is irresponsible; that’s why I don’t do it. I use a hands-free set. But I hadn’t even had the chance to reach for my set when two cyclists pulled in front of my car and began berating me. It took me a moment to realize this was what was happening, because one was taking a photograph of me with his camera. Flash-blinded, I slowly registered that the other cyclist was actually yelling with a level of smug approaching orgasmic: “What you are doing is ILLEGAL and DISTRACTING! You are BREAKING THE LAW! Do you understand how dangerous this is?” I appreciated the careful enunciation, but it was that last dollop of condescension I found the most delicious. It’s just one more reason to date a cyclist! So I can run him over.
It was true. I’d driven all of one block in a residential neighborhood – mine, and this is important – at the feckless speed of 20 miles per hour whilst on my phone. Even though I hung up the phone (more out of incredulity than guilt), the two cyclists continued behind me for two more blocks, deeply enjoying their special mission. Which is why I can report firsthand that being yelled at for nothing much in particular for two blocks is DISTRACTING. So distracting, I temporarily got disoriented in my own neighborhood and drove blindly for several minutes, pedestrians be damned.
Trolling happens all day online. It’s par for the virtual course. The internet is just full of uptight cyclists with cameras ready to reprimand naughty girls in shiny cars on cell phones. You never know what That Guy from High School will attempt on Facebook, or what angry email may come seething into your inbox ranting about some post of which the sender of said angry clearly missed the entire topic, not to mention point. A lot of times, they don’t even have the right site.
No big deal. But trolling in real life, by which I mean the one that doesn’t give you carpal tunnel? People, it’s time to get on down out of each others’ grills. I am concerned to find that trolling is finding its way even into the social habits of our noble cycling brethren. Perhaps they are an indicator species for the rest of humanity. The weak link, if you will.
I don’t think I’m the only one experiencing this. Our managing editor’s daughter was recently lectured by her school principal – this is elementary school – for having the nonconformist audacity to sport a single feather in her hair. It’s distracting! says the principal. No, it’s personality, and you don’t have to like it, but it’s none of your business.
The world is not out to offend us. Sadly, it is indifferent to us. And it turns out, other people are not just figments of our reality. They move and stuff. Unexpectedly, even!
Continuing in the automotive theme of trolling, because we couldn’t be more American right now: Last week I was at a dinner. I came out to find my car had quite literally been sandwiched bumper to bumper between two cars. Har, har. I marched into the corner cafe and asked around for the owners of both vehicles. No dice, just lattes. Forty minutes later, I was beginning to get annoyed. I called the police, and together we knocked on doors. At last, one hipster came darting out to move the geriatric green sedan backed up against my car’s nose. As he passed me, he preemptively put up his hands in such exaggerated fashion I thought he was crunking and was jealous because I don’t know how to. But no, he was just manning the defense. You’d think I had plans to eat his face. Now, maybe this kid has a habit of blocking other motorists and has developed this defensive mechanism to deflect violence to his person, but I’m going to venture he expected a big can of bitching out.
And then there’s the woman in the minivan who gave me the bird when I actually saved her from a fender-bender today. No good deed goes unflipped.
There have been enough of these incidents lately to give me pause before I go tweet and like some more. I started thinking about all the times I’ve snorted in derision at that one SUV that is the first on the hill to sign up for a crooked parking job. The times I’ve barely held my tongue, wanting to chide a child at the market for acting, unoriginally, childish. The moments where I have raised a fist, imagining what it might feel like to lift just the one finger. Pity it requires lifting a finger.
Maybe that woman on her cell phone needs to be on her cell phone. Maybe the guy who turned like an idiot isn’t such an idiot, just having an idiot moment. Maybe one day you need to be the idiot, and that’s okay. We actually don’t know why people are doing the stupid things they’re doing, and unless they’re putting us in harm’s way, we could care less so we should care less. People are limited, like furniture. Stupidity is as reliable as death and taxes, and more so in some places. Live and let live and live some more before perfection freaks us all out and we need plastic slipcovers.
By the way, the proper retort to all this is not, “But people really are that dumb and selfish. This is why I hate them.” The proper retort is: “I can’t believe you are knocking cycling, Sara. So not green. You obviously hate the planet.”
Let’s keep the trolling online where it belongs. This is practically what the internet was made for. Take that world, I have a blog!
tl;dr Be nice.
This is the latest installment in your editor’s column, The Insider’s Guide to Life.