Widgets Magazine

Pedaling past awkward eye contact

Awkward eye contact is basically just an inevitable part of life. I thought I’d seen it all, from meeting the gaze of an ex right after a breakup to walking into a class late to find the warm welcome of 30 pairs of eyeballs trained directly on my face. But of course, college means new experiences. I just never thought some of those experiences would come in the form of new ways to make awkward eye contact.

The most astounding new awkward situations have happened to me while biking. Zipping around campus doesn’t seem to be conducive to painful social interaction, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. It allows for so many more opportunities to see others in a shorter time frame, meaning the decreased time frame for each instance of awkward eye contact is more than made up for by the increased number of these occurrences. As I experienced this phenomenon more and more, I began to pick out a few distinct and recurring patterns.

1. “The Pedestrian”

Whether I almost just ran someone over or I’m trying not to hit the person who just walked into the middle of the bike lane without looking, making eye contact with pedestrians is almost always awkward.

2. “The Driver”

Sometimes it feels like cars have no respect for bikers at all. One afternoon, in crossing over the entrance to Roble Parking Garage, a car turned in without looking and just barely avoided hitting me as we both slammed on our brakes. I met the driver’s uncomfortable gaze in her rearview mirror, and, in a moment of mutual understanding, we both continued on as if nothing happened.

3. “The Familiar Stranger”

Aside from people I almost get into accidents with, there are the social instances in which eye contact would be awkward anyway, but the issue is just compounded by the speed at which bike interactions occur. For example, there’s always that one person I know but don’t quite recognize, who waves at me, but by the time I realize who they are, I’ve already passed them. This one is particularly painful because it carries with it the knowledge that I’ll probably see this person again, so unlike that random driver or pedestrian, it’s much harder to lose the incident in the deep recesses of my memory.

4. “The Professor”

Somehow the professors I see outside of class never seem to be the ones I want to see outside of class. It’s always the one professor who teaches the class that I just skipped or who graded the essay or midterm I just bombed. In these instances, the only thing to do is pedal faster and hope they didn’t notice.

5. “The Electric Biker”

I, as someone who is decidedly unfit, can get a little huffy and puffy after pedalling up a long hill. This is bearable in most cases, but on certain days, when the wind is misbehaving and blowing against me, when I’m particularly tired, when I’m in a hurry — on those days I make eye contact with electric bike riders far too frequently. This is one thing when they’re zipping down the hill in the opposite direction, but it’s entirely different when they’re zipping up the hill and turn back to look at me after they pass. While I bear no grudge to these bikers for their wise investment, I must say that those moments are not pleasant.

Sadly, it seems that awkward eye contact is here to stay. Maybe I should just start biking with sunglasses on.


Contact Kiara Harding at kiluha ‘at’ stanford.edu.