Talking to Women with Headphones

There’s one of those artificial controversies going on over in Facebook-world that has people so lathered up that even I know about it. There seems to be a competition going on over there now for who can say more stridently than everyone else, “If she’s wearing headphones, consider that she might not be looking for conversation.”

But you know what? I talk to strangers with headphones fairly regularly. I invariably say the same thing, and I often say it loudly: “ON YOUR LEFT!”

I use this little opening line on headphone-wearers (not just women, but mostly women) who are walking down the center of the path, or are not walking in a straight line, drifting over as I approach from behind. Non-headphone wearers get a gentle “ping!” from my bell while I am still well behind them, then a louder “PING!” as I approach if there is no indication they understood the first bell. I love having a bell that I can ping at different volumes.

I get that headphones are fun and provide a signal to those around you that you would prefer not to be disturbed, but for crying out loud, you still need to be aware of your environment. Personally, I never wear headphones while on my bike, because I never know when someone in a car is going to try to kill me, and my ears may provide the only warning I get. On the trails, I am the fast-moving death machine, and while I do my best to be conscientious, a little awareness from those on foot is really welcome.

For the record, now that I consider it, I actually say “good morning” to almost everyone I encounter on the off-street paths, unless they are having a conversation. I say it softly, and headphoners probably are unaware I said anything at all. The earlier in the morning I ride, the more people respond with a friendly “hello” of their own. There are some people who I see regularly, and a few of them return a smile and a wave. Others forge ahead on their health regimens with grim determination.

I generally have more enthusiastic greetings for dogs, like the small Corgi-mixed-with-something-or-other that was hauling a tree branch substantially longer than he was this morning. “Nice stick, buddy!” I said as I rode by. I wonder what the headphoned woman holding the leash thinks I said. Probably nothing good. But as long as the dog’s not wearing headphones, I think it’s ok to talk to it.

An Open Letter to the Drivers Sharing the Road with Me on my Ride Home

Let’s start with the guy driving the faded red pickup truck, tires caked with mud, a skull wearing a german helmet adorning the back window, mariachi music blasting into the heavy traffic. You know who you are.

Thank you.

You went out of your way to make my journey home safer — not once, but twice, protecting me not only from yourself but from other assholes as well. The world needs more folks like you.

As for the minivan driver and the woman driving the beat-up sedan, I’d like to thank you as well. Also the woman who waved me through the four-way stop.

Toward the end of my ride I realized how out of shape I was when I started hallucinating. I could have sworn the guy who slowed down way before he needed to, specifically to give me a safe space to pass a moving van parked in the bike lane some distance ahead, and who leaned over to make eye contact with me and wave me ahead, a kind and courteous gentleman, was driving a big, shiny, new BMW.

But that’s just not possible, is it?

Still, hallucinations aside, it was a good ride home, and I’d like to thank all the courteous drivers out there who made it happen. I hope to see you all again soon.

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