Jun 22, 2006

People are strange...

Sometimes you have to stop and think as to how different from 'normal' people you really are. And I have feeling I know why. But before I got into that, and how that relates to motorcycles. Let me make a, er... hypothesis. We tend to classify people into stereotypes. Maybe that specific word, stereotypes, has too many negative connotations. So let me use the word typographies, instead. What I mean is that many first impressions are functions of your experiences with people and how you've built an elaborate experience-based web of patterns. So in time, you tend to associate certain traits, with certain sorts of tendencies or behaviour patterns. To give an example, for instance, (no prejudice intended), say you're about to meet a chap called Anthony Thomas. In my mind, it brings up a picture of a dark skinned malyalee who will probably have a strong mallu accent. Similarly, an Arjab Bhattacharjee would probably be a talkative, slightly sticky, football-crazy Bengali chap and so forth. Again, I mean no offence, and all the names are fictional, but you get what I'm hinting at, right?

So on a motorcycle, it would make sense to assume that other people, car drivers, traffic police, pedestrians etc. are also 'judging' you by their own sets of typographies, right? They're thinking, 'wearing a shirt, tie and trousers... hmmm.. executive. Probably a bit ruthless, so he won't be courteous, will be pushy...' In which case, that's another thing you could use to your advantage, right?

On the other hand, that also means that one of us, wearing full riding kit, in India, would be unclassifiable. That means, they've never seen anything of the sort before, so they don't really have a pigeon hole to slot you into. That means, the pedestrian has no set of guidelines or parameters he can evaluate you against. Which, is scary. Take an example here. A ped is waiting to cross the road. This being India, he hasn't bothered with the subway or the foot overbridge or the zebra crossing. He's just located a convenient place to cross. In the meantime, you're approaching that same place at say, 40 kph. He spots you coming from a distance, and he needs to make a decision as to whether he is going to run across, or wait for you to pass. Here's the problem. He cannot make that decision. He simply doesn't know what you will do. If you were an old man in a tatty helmet on a ratty bike, he'd run across no question. They always slow or stop. If you were a young lad wearing a cool t-shirt, bandana and had your legs hung out in the breeze, he'd wait, knowing that you wouldn't stop. He'd probably get a scare, and honked at, if he ran cross.

You, are the unknown. He could therefore, choose to run across, start and then change his mind, turn and attempt a run back to safety. That could cause a crash. Or, he could stop, and another ped, waiting with him could run across, again causing at least a heart rate flutter if not a crash. Since the data was muddled, their decisions could be drastically different.

So what can you do? Get stereotyped. I, for instance, always appear aggressive. That's face as covered as possible, torso hunched forward and over the bars, but not overtly. Eyes looking at everything with beady, I-don't-care concentration. And inside, I'm focussed, brakes are covered, and all stopping distances are factored in. In fact, the ped could probably change his mind two or three times and I'd still be able to stop with space in hand. <Er... touch wood> I also use the tools available to enhance the impression of aggression. That means flashing headlamps, and as rarely as possible, but honking on occassion etc.

This does two things for me. Since I look so aggro, most people won't cross, get in my way or cause trouble. On the other hand, I reciprocate by being polite. Sure it surprises them. I've stopped to let old ladies past, and they've actually completed long toe to lid looks before deciding to continue waiting. But it mostly works.

It sometimes does backfire of course, especially when the young, cool T-shirt type decides that I'm asking to be raced. In those situations, I just pull over and wait for the nuisance to go away.

I guess I could also adopt a non-aggro, I'm-not-worth-messing-with sort of stereotype. But invariably, it conflicts with the riding kit and the speed with which good riders get through traffic.

To bolster what I'm saying, I remember reading at a Suzuki dirt bike tips website, 'look like a pro.' The contention was that if you ape right, you're probably getting some of it right in the process. The tip was on body positioning and cornering lines, of course. But it works in commuting as well. Be polite and quick, but look aggro, you'll find it easier going.

No, the look is not a license to dodge.


SS said...

You mean that pedestrains crossing the road actually look to see whether the road is OK to cross?

Where in India did this happen?

rearset said...

:-) Yes all of what I've written is only valid if the peds/car drivers etc did notice you in the first place. I recommend bright yellow riding jackets. If you don't think you have their attention, stand on the pegs and wave both arms like you just spotted a flying saucer or something...

Hrishi said...

On the other hand, I reciprocate by being polite. Sure it surprises them.

I know exactly what you mean. I stopped at a crossing, and the old man was was shocked that i did.

Personally, i make it a point to stop for kids/people with kids/old persons.

I also give a WIDE WIDE berth to the typical indian family of 5 on 2 wheels. My reaching early by 2 seconds is not worth endangering them...