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.

A Lesson in Contrast

On my ride to work today I passed several school zones. Near one school a mother and son, helmeted, were stopped at the side of the path, straddling their bikes, looking at their phones.

“What does that mean?” Mom asked as I rode past.

“You got rid of it,” the kid answered. He was teaching his mom to play Pok√©mon Go.

There are so many things I like about that little vignette. Parent and child, doing a healthy, safe, and fun activity, and even letting the kid be the teacher.

A few miles farther along I was passing near the entrance to another school. A woman in a Ford hybrid with a kid in the back ran a stop sign turning left, and almost get T-boned by another mom in a big-ass SUV in a frothing hurry to reach the school entrance.

We should all take a breath and be more like the first mom.

Urban Safety Tip

If you walk or run alone in an urban area, consider taking a large dog with you. Studies have shown that criminals are 93% less likely to attack someone carrying a big bag of poop.

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