Sunday, March 30, 2014

the bicycle scene as circular firing squad: just another morning in pdx

This weekend began with reports of a terrible collision between a bicycle and a car:

The bicycle rider cut the corner to avoid a traffic light at a busy intersection, and in the process he slammed into a car when coming out the other side of the corner. Police reports state that the rider was traveling very fast (whatever that actually means on a bicycle) and not wearing a helmet. He suffered life-threatening injuries but is expected to survive. The driver of the car remained at the scene and is cooperating fully with the investigation.

Over at BikePortland's report, comments run the gamut from accusing the bicyclist of reckless behavior to accusing the car culture for existing in the first place. 

What troubles me are the multiple divisions that appear in the comments section:
--between fast bicyclists and slow ones;
--between those who ride with a helmet and those who ride without;
--between those who continue to berate the entire auto-centric landscape of society and those who have decided life is too short to tilt at impossible windmills.

Basically, the bicycle "community" is showing itsself to be less a community and more a circular firing squad, with each faction accusing other factions of not being enough like the right faction. we see this behavior all the time in radical and fundamentalist movements. I should not be surprised to
sese it in the bike scene as well; after all, an adult who eschews car ownership and chooses to ride a
a bike everywhere is still a radical in American society, even in liberal communities where their
friends may look on with admiration. Underneath the admiration there is still, often, a senses that the
adult bike rider is someone who hasn't yet finished growing up.

I feel less of this sting than I used to, but I perceive that it's often still an undertone in the conversation.
As I get older, and slower, and less energetic due to aging and a short list of ailemnts that amplify with time, I find I'm torn between the bicycle warriors who decry car culture; and those who are
reaching the conclusion that we've already lost the argument and have only to live out our days with
as much grace and calm as we can until nature (or, heaven forbid, a car) causes us to fall off the bicycle for good.

I go back and forth. Some days I am still the bicycle warrior and other days I just want to ride to the store and ride  home again. The wavering is probably normal, but it does. make it hard some days for me to
know how to proceed. Mostly, I find myself growing more weary of the arguments within the bicycle scene, which only serve to divide people at the expense of a cohesive, more thoughtful response to the ravages of a hundred years of automobile dependence. I also find too many younger bicycle enthusiasts have taken an almost nihilistic turn of thinking, as the planet they've inherited from my 
generation seems to have fallen farther and farther down a rabbit hole of no return. If we really are going to hell in a handbasket, why shout it from the rooftops? What good does that serve if we are, as 
many of this younger generation insist, too late? Why not instead continue to fight the good fight -- 
whatever that is for each of us -- and support each other in our efforts to make a positive difference?

In June I will travel once again to the Kansas City area, to serve a large Jewish congregation for a
month as their artist-in-residence. As I did last year, I will enjoy homestay hospitality in a private
residence not too far from the synagogue, and I will ride a bicycle and tow my guitar back and for in
a borrowed trailer. (Last year, the loaner bicycle they procured for me was so small for me that even riding it with a taller seatpost installed, it was still too short; my knees hurt for a month after I got home. This year they've agreed to pay the shipping cost for me to bring along a bike in my size, which is still far cheaper than renting a car for me.)
My first presence in their very car-centric landscape had worried several people, but when they saw that I managed quite well without a car, thanks much, they were surprised and impressed. and best of all, though I  cannot prove this, perhaps my little visits may have some long-lasting effect on the kids I teach there, who remember me as the wacky, guitar-playing bicycle lady from Portland and who are looking forward to seeing me again. I'm looking forward to it, too.

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