The first time I rode a bike in Provincetown, I gossiped at slow intervals with Elisa as we climbed one of the slight inclines that precedes the most pedestrian-glutted section of Commercial Street. Faced with two bikers, three walkers, one dog, and a leash linking dog and human in a dispersed wall coming toward us, I moved to the left, and Elisa veered to the right. An elderly gentleman in pink bathing trunks and a muscle tank scowled at me from his bike, having been forced to the far left by the pedestrians and me.
“What d’you think you’re doing?” he spat, exasperated, from beneath a manicured white mustache. I kicked my foot down for stability as we both slowed to pass one another. “I’m sorry, sir,” I said. “You should have just stayed with your friend,” he said. “She knew what she was doing.” He looked very disappointed in me.
Sufficiently shamed, I continued on my way and kept to the right side of the road. But a few days later, walking out of the Mailer House, a woman on a bike zoomed past, a few inches from my nose, and shouted, “watch where you’re going!” Nevermind that she biked along the shoulder and frondy hedges obstruct views of the house. “Those idiots aren’t watching where they’re going — careful,” she shouted back to two blonde ponytailed girls ten meters behind her. “Welcome to Provincetown,” Daniel Okrent, who had just told us about his experiences writing award-winning books, said with a half-snort as he got into his car.
Bike rage in Provincetown is surprising because of the idyll that is everything else here. Here is my daily schedule as a grueling, worked-to-the-bone writing fellow: I wake up and make some tea, do some writing, go for a walk on the beach, do some more writing or maybe read, go to a workshop meeting and talk with smart people, read some more, go for a swim or a run, and sometimes get a beer. In New York, opening the front door brings daily reminders of what’s going wrong in the world: homeless people, Occupy protests, wifi on the subway. Bike rage, I think, is the urban denizen’s outlet for the ire that we’ve learned to tamp down every day. When faced with an absence of appropriately frustrating situations in daily life, we make them up.
Last night I biked down Commercial to get a drink with the other nonfiction writers. I picked up speed down one of those hilly heralds of complication and rolled straight into a group of three heavyset women with a Chihuahua in a pink vest and a young woman in a sundress who didn’t know where to go. I feinted left, she moved left; I turned my handlebars right, she jumped right. “Sorry sorry!” she said breathlessly, guiltily, as she took two broad lateral steps left and I squeezed my brakes. Really, now, how hard is it, I found myself glowering, to just move?
Julia Cooke has worked as a journalist in Mexico City, Havana, and New York City. She is writing a book that combines research on youth culture in Havana with memoirs of her time living in the city. Her writing can be seen on Rum & TuKola, a Cuba-oriented Tumblr, and her personal website, and she can be followed on Twitter here.