If there’s anyone who knows how to share the road, it’s Chris Smith.
The legally blind 37-year-old logs 3,000 miles a year commuting on his sturdy bike from his Dedham home to his Kendall Square job. And, believe me, he’s careful about it.
He has to be.
At age 24, he was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease, which has robbed him of his central vision. The disease has no treatment or cure, and his only visual aid comes from contact lenses that enhance his peripheral vision, all that remains.
So can someone explain to me why a maniac or moron chased him through the streets of Brookline last week waving a Louisville Slugger?
First, let Chris tell his story.
As he approached Perkins Street near Jamaica Pond, he and three cars waited for traffic to clear to make a right-hand turn. Chris was scanning side to side, constantly checking his periphery.
The cars had pushed him against the curb so he crawled alongside them, rapping his knuckles on the side of a gray, four-door sedan. It was a signal of safety. I’m right here, it said, don’t hit me.
And then the cars and Chris make the turn onto Perkins Street when the road-rage tale slips into overdrive. The guy in the gray car slows down, rolls down his window, and parallels Smith.
“He asked me if I had a death wish. Lots of expletives. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘You’re riding your bike on the street; you should be on the sidewalk.’’’
Smith told him he was riding in the bike lane. It’s clearly marked and signs along the route advise drivers to share the road.
“‘Use your eyes,” Smith told him. More foul language from the car. “Dude, you’ve got issues,” Smith said.
Maybe that was a mistake. The driver, to allow traffic to pass him, made a quick left and then a U-turn and drove up again next to Smith near Hellenic College, suggesting he pull over so the two men could duke it out. Really. Over a knuckle tap on his car.
Again the driver sped away only to return next time on foot. With the bat.
“He started yelling, ‘You think I’ve got issues, now you’ve got an issue,’ ’’ Smith told me as we toured the scene the other day. “He started chasing me.’’
The man swung the bat at Smith’s tire, bent the rim, and then retreated when Smith bluffed that he’d captured the whole thing on tape.
Think about this for a second. Here we’ve got this soft-spoken guy with a disease that would cause most of us to retreat into a shell of self-pity for the rest of our natural days and yet he’s out there embracing life. And he has to deal with this clueless nut for whom adversity apparently is measured by how many seconds he may be late for something truly important, probably a video game contest in his mother’s basement.
Chris Smith is getting into video now, too. After he spends a couple hundred bucks to repair his $6,000, hand-built steel commuter bike — “I don’t drive, so it’s my car,’’ he said — he’s investing in a $300 helmet video camera to protect himself.
And while he has filed a report with the Brookline police, there was no time to wallow in the ugly confrontation.
Within days, Smith was back on his bike – a lighter carbon fiber model this time – in Provincetown, completing his fourth Pan-Mass Challenge.
There were no expletives, no menacing gestures, just smiles and cheers as he crossed the finish line at the charity event for which he has raised nearly $16,000 for the Jared Branfman Sunflowers for Life Fund at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. His 54-member team has raised a total of just over $2 million.
If you happen to see Chris Smith pedaling near Jamaica Pond and he impedes your commute by a micro-second or two, don’t repress the impulse to roll down your window, extend your hand, and flash him the digit that conveys a strong and unmistakable message.
Give him a thumbs up.