It Just Takes One

I haven’t made eye contact with anyone on the street this week.

Usually, when I walk to and from work, I smile at folks and greet them. But, it’s Rally week in the Hills, and that’s just not felt safe to me.

I keep hearing that bikers who come to Custer are professional people and are not the rowdy rabble that congregate in Sturgis. That may be true. However, having noticed all the tattoos and hair pulled back in ponytails, I’ve been having a hard time imagining these folks as doctors, attorneys and business owners in their non-Rally lives.

People also keep telling me how friendly bikers are. I suppose if I had the guts to make eye contact and engage a few of these folks in conversation, I would find that to be true. I know some awesome people who are bikers.

The gal who helped me move to Custer is a biker. A retired couple in Lake Preston who have an active ministry through the Christian Motorcyclists Association are – obviously – bikers. My all-time favorite Elvis impersonator is a biker. I know for a fact that at least three of those four have attended the Rally in past years, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover the fourth has as well.

I love these people, so why do I assume the people arriving en masse are any different? Obviously, walking to or from work in the rain – and it rained the first three days of Rally week – because there’s no downtown parking didn’t set the stage for a positive attitude. Too, the sheer racket of bikes and screeching guitars (sorry folks, but I don’t consider that music) which seems to be the sound track for the event have given me a never-ending headache.

However, a close encounter of the negative kind before the Rally even started sparked the fear that has influenced my behavior this week. Unfortunately, it just takes one experience to plant the seeds which shape a person’s attitude and behavior, and I am as human as the next person in this regard.

For those who have never visited Custer, the main intersection in this town of 1,800 people is at the junction of Fifth Street North and Mount Rushmore Road. That’s also the point at which U.S. Highway 16, coming into Custer from the north makes an abrupt right and heads west into Wyoming. A left turn takes folks through town and out to Custer State Park.

It’s virtually impossible to pass through Custer without going through this intersection, which means it tends to be busy. However, crossing Mount Rushmore Road usually doesn’t bother me. I stand at the corner until the pedestrian light says “walk,” and I cross the street in the designated crosswalk. I don’t dawdle, but I also don’t race across because in South Dakota, pedestrians have the right-0f-way.

Last week, a couple bikers decided their desire to make a left turn took precedence over my legal right to cross the street on a green light. One raced in front of me before I could react to the shock of realizing he wasn’t going to yield as required by law, coming so close I felt a draft and the heat of the bike. When I halted in reaction, the second raced behind me, yelling something nasty.

I continued through the crosswalk and up the hill to my apartment. My heart was racing the entire time. By the time I had mounted the stairs to my apartment, I wanted one thing only – to stay there until the Rally was over. I wasn’t injured, but I kept thinking, “Next time I might not be as lucky.”

Next time I might not be as lucky.

And, that’s why I have been on guard all week. I have no way of knowing which of the bikers are like my friends and which are like the reckless drivers who threatened my safety for the fun of it. I’ve been around long enough to know you don’t judge a book by its cover – or a person by his or her appearance. Both my daughter and my son-in-law sport tattoos, and some of my dearest friends who are artists have long hair.

So, rather than put my safety at risk, I’ve just been trying to keep a low profile. Have I missed the fun this week had to offer? Probably, but I’d rather be safe than sorry – which only goes to prove the old adage, “it just takes one.”

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