It was kind of like seeing a buddy on a wanted poster.
This week, the Tampa Tribune's Web site ran a picture of the pack of cyclists I ride with every Sunday and most Wednesdays (including 40 miles worth of "research" I did for this column two mornings ago).
The accompanying story was about a Pasco County Sheriff's Office crackdown on irresponsible cycling that has resulted in several warnings, five citations for obstructing traffic and two tickets (sure to be proudly framed) for speeding through San Antonio.
Though the reporter didn't quote any angry drivers, judging from the online comments they shouldn't have been hard to find.
Readers questioned cyclists' intelligence ("idiots'' was the most common description), their fashion sense ("fairies wear spandex'') and sometimes both ("maybe grape-smuggler pants cut blood off to the brain").
A couple of comments seemed to say that the penalty for cyclists rolling through stop signs should be death: "If I hit one, I'm suing them or their survivors for the costs of washing the bloodstains off of my bumper.''
I guess you expect me to jump unquestioningly to my friends' defense.
And you would be wrong, because when word spread earlier this year about the tickets written for obstruction, I was one of the few riders who thought it was about time.
I wouldn't even mind if deputies wrote a few of us up for running stop signs. On Wednesday, another rider and I shook our heads disapprovingly when others in our group failed to make way for a van on Olympia Road in Spring Lake (yes, the rides and conflicts with drivers extend into Hernando). We then rolled through the stop sign on Spring Lake Highway along with everybody else.
Riders will tell you it's inconvenient and even unsafe to unclip shoes from pedals and come to a complete stop. Still, failing to do so generates heaps of ill will and rightly so because it undermines cyclists' main argument, that bikes should be treated like any other vehicle.
But that treatment is protected by law, which is the first thing drivers should know, especially ones who write hateful, homophobic comments on Web sites, and lean on their horns, and shake their fists and extend middle fingers in our direction.
They should also know that almost all riders own cars and buy gas and therefore pay road taxes. We take up far less space and put far less stress on these roads than cars, which makes our use of them for transportation and recreation a highly efficient use of an existing public resource. Compare the sacrifice of occasionally waiting behind riders to the cost of building dedicated bike lanes.
And to those of you who say riders should stay on those lanes rather than the roads, I ask how anglers would like to be told to fish in only one or two holes, especially when it means giving up the choicest spots.
That's what eastern Pasco and Hernando are to cyclists, especially now, with warming weather and hilltop citrus groves putting out that intense smell of late-season citrus and, simultaneously, the perfume of the first white blossoms.
So, my feeble conclusion is that we should all be more understanding: riders to drivers, and drivers to me and my riding friends, if, that is, they still are my friends after they read this column.