Street-hollering woman: It’s just the way I roll

The writer in a more relaxed moment, not near any dangerously riding or confrontational bicyclists.
The writer in a more relaxed moment, not near any dangerously riding or confrontational bicyclists.

BY KATHLEEN ROCKWELL LAWRENCE | It will be set, my death, in one of the old familiar places that this heart of mine embraces in this, the great City of Walkers, where I clock a couple of miles every day.

Maybe I will leave you in springtime near Union Square, where a young woman was mowed down by a speeding truck. The memorial flowers and notes are gone now from the streetlight, but I think of her every time I pass. She was 21. She died instantly, it is said, the moment she stepped off the curb.

For me, it may be in fall, leaving the  farmers’ market, my purple Baggu slung over my shoulder filled with goat cheese, anemones and pretzels.

Or will it be in winter, near Housing Works? I will be joyous about some sweet booty I’ve just found there.  Perhaps an Edna O’Brien paperback, or maybe a chipped saucer, Limoges — fragile, like my bones. Though a more fitting purchase for that day might be a tatted handkerchief, which I’ll be clutching to my heart, a Whitmanesque token of remembrance for my loved ones.

Or likely it will be Astor Place, where I was assaulted by a bike messenger in February after he’d unsuccessfully tried to run me down on Lafayette St. I was in the crosswalk. It was my light. All was clear. But out of nowhere there he was, hurtling north within a literal inch of my so-called life. I screamed my epithet of choice, a relatively mild one, considering — one I find myself using too often these days.

But this particular bike messenger, obviously suffering from low self-esteem, took it hard. He did a U-turn, headed straight for me at top speed, and then raised the sole of his enormous Timberland work boot to land a powerful kick on my left bicep. I screamed, but he was gone.

A kind man came forward to say he’d be my witness. But to what? That streak of wind, already disappearing onto St. Mark’s?

On principle, I filed a police report, though it was met with skepticism: “I need to see your bruise,” said the officer. I didn’t have one, unfortunately, because fortunately I’d been wearing three layers under my puffy down jacket.

High noon, lunchtime in Herald Square, gorgeous summer day, and a portly biker swiped me so close he hit my backpack. I screamed the usual. But then, what was unusual, and I tell you this fact to convey the utter depth of his pathology — how badly he wanted to eviscerate me: He left his bike  and pursued me on foot! There were so many sunbathers in the chairs, even this hefty fellow couldn’t ram his vehicle through all of them. I ran like a baby gazelle until I came to a security guard.

“There’s a guy after me,” I wheezed, “so I’ll just stand next to you for a while.”

The security guard said nothing, not even, “No problem,” so I knew he wasn’t pleased. Still, I held my ground beside him. The biker approached, flexed and said: “Did you call me an a–hole?” The guard’s gaze was stone-fixed on the Victoria’s Secret models in the store windows beyond us in the airy distance. Miraculously, in that fraught moment, he remembered he had a bike.

“Yes! Yes, I did!” I yelled then, bad—, to his wide, receding back — then bolted down the subway steps.

There’s a public-service poster I’ve seen on defunct Verizon phone booths. Eye-level, curbside, it’s clearly aimed at us, the New York City sidewalk people.  It wants us to be polite peds. It depicts a worried little girl above the inscription: When you yell at a driver, what are you teaching her? Survival skills. Defend yourself, hon. Grow up to be a street-hollering woman. It’s visceral and primitive, my outbursts at menacing drivers — bike or car. I regret that my shouts sometimes startle my fellow walkers, few of whom seem to care that they’ve just joined me in a near-death experience. True, my spews may even tempt the insulted biker to wreak vengeance on the next older woman in a crosswalk.

My militancy has taken its toll on relaxed walks with my husband.

“Just get out of the damn street, woman!” he yells from the far curb as I execute an attitudinal baby-step silly-walk, once I’ve forced an aggressive driver to yield. Not merely punitive, this take-one’s-time tactic helps one’s fellow peds — a nanny with a baby, or a walker on a walker.

My mate’s misgivings have an ulterior aspect: He fears he’ll be expected to do the chivalrous thing if an adversary gets violent. But he should talk! This is a man who once challenged a crosswalk-hogging, Corvette-driving foul-mouth to get out of his penis so they could duke it out.

I am sadly aware of the futility of my campaign. Things have worsened considerably since I began it a few years back. Multitasking bikers, and so many more of them now with Citi Bikes. Protected by their ear buds, bikers purport not to hear my call. They whiz past in their Lycra, godlike. It’s how they roll.

Those whose ears are untethered yell: “I see you!” upon our close encounter. Exasperated that I should question their omniscience, godlike. As though my sudden fear as they bear down, that spike in my systolic blood pressure — as though these diurnal episodes of stress do not eventually lead to death by hypertension! Even without hitting me, they’ll have killed me.

They see me, so why do I feel invisible?

I say “Stop!” They say: “You stop!”

“Shut up!” they say. Or “Bitch!” Or “Beech.” Or “Beesh.” Or “F— you.”

One, wittier than his colleagues, removed both his hands from the handlebars and waved them fussily before his face.

“Eeee! Eeee! Eeee!” he whined. He was being me.

I’ve instructed my many eulogists that they are to avoid saying that I brought it on myself. Or that I should have seen it coming.

Lawrence, a former HERS columnist for The New York Times, is the author of three books and is currently working on a new one, “Becoming Irish.” She teaches at Baruch College.