I rode my bicycle home from work yesterday, waited at a stoplight on 22nd and 5th Avenue. I waited in the street, my foot on the curb, ready to spring forward as soon as the light changed.
A pedestrian, an older man, stopped in the crosswalk, asked me if I was a ‘racer’.
I shook my head, “No.”
“Well you have a really nice bike. I like it,” he said, still standing in the middle of the street.
I thanked him.
Then he patted me repeatedly on the shoulder, the way you would an obedient dog.
“So, you’re not racing? You just ride around. From work or something?”
I looked to the stoplight, eager for it to change. “I just commute this way,” I told him.
“That’s a good thing.” Then he pat my shoulder. Again.
He must have seen my hesitation because he followed with, “People are not nice to one another anymore. So this must be shocking to you. You’re afraid of me. That’s fine.”
“I’m not afraid of y–” I tried. Because I wasn’t. But he had already walked off.
I thought about this conversation as I pedalled home. I don’t like to leave a conversation feeling as if I have been scolded, feeling as if I am an example of what ‘people’ have become. I wondered what level of engagement I owed this stranger, if I owed him anything at all.
But I also wondered, is it true? Are we no longer accustomed to ‘nice’?
(It still does not change the fact that I do not like to be pet by anyone.)