Bicycle Diaries: Retread

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a blast from the past

When I moved to the City of Big Shoulders in 2000, I brought with me over a thousand books. The challenge for the movers was getting them up four flights of stairs without the benefit of an elevator. They brought the boxes up three or four at a time on their backs supported by a tump line. They asked why I had so many god-damned books. I said they were my tools just like good mechanics who have their own personal set of wrenches they would never go anywhere without. More on that later...

I also came with a red Saturn Coup. It sat in front of the apartment gathering dust and bird shit for two years as I took full advantage of the CTA. I finally got rid of the Saturn when the Connecticut Department of Revenue (where I had moved from) sent me the annual luxury tax assessment on it. I paid the tax and cancelled the lease which was a stupid idea to have in the first place. And then I got a 1957 Raleigh 3-speed Robin Hood from the Working Bikes Co-operative down on the southside. And it's been "two wheels good, four wheels bad" ever since. More on that later...

What does
any of this
have to do
with Sir Isaiah Berlin?

That's what this blog is for. A large proportion of my 1000+ books deals with the very issues Berlin raised in his long career in the UK as the 20th Century's greatest liberal philosopher. Borrowing from the Greek poet, Archilochus, Berlin divided his fellow philosophers into two groups: the foxes who know many things and the hedgehogs who know one big thing. Most of us who love to think about the world around us struggle over whether we're one or the other ... or perhaps both from time to time. And that's why I've started this blog: I'm a fox who wishes that he were a hedgehog. Besides, putting his ideas together with books and bicycles is something your typical fox would do.

Blogs are surprising things. Unlike writing a book or an essay there isn't any predetermined structure. Like an old school diary you start out with one thought or goal and end up writing about something else altogether. Try as I might, I have yet to post an entry in which my initial intentions match the finished product. This is why I think blogs are the perfect vehicles for us foxes who know a lot of little things.

Take today's entry for example. I originally intended to write about the more personal journey of how I got into biking in the first place and then relate it to xerocracy. It's a term I first heard at Chicago Critical Mass. I did some googling to find out what it means. Essentially, it refers to anarchistic communities in which there are no leaders. All voices are welcome. All responsibilities are mutually shared. A number of websites also claim it is the (dis)organizing principle for Critical Mass.

It reminded me of mutual aid, the anarchist concept promoted by 19th Century Russian intellectual, Peter Kropotkin. I think it could do a lot for fleshing out how xerocracy actually works in the critical mass world. So I started googling mutual aid and Kropotkin. That took me to Wikipedia. It quotes Kropotkin's definition of mutual aid as
... a system of economics based on mutual exchanges made in a system of voluntary cooperation.
But like the fox I am, I haven't quite connected my own reasons for biking with xerocracy. I need some time to noodle it around in my head. It will, nevertheless, most defintitely happen with the help of Kropotkin and mutual aid.

So let me tell you how I got into biking. I was a professor at a small liberal arts college in northeastern Wisconsin. Me and my wife, also a professor there, lived close to a fairly rural, small town campus. Riding up over the bridge everyday seemed just the thing. In fact, I had delusions of grandeur imagining myself living a 1990s version of the movie, Goodby, Mr. Chips.

One small problem: I didn’t have a bike, didn’t know much about bikes, and wasn’t too enthusiastic about shelling out the big bucks for a fancy new bike. Luckily, another old college buddy, also named Dave, was visiting from Ohio with his wife and two boys. He’d been working on bikes for years in an old barn on what’s left of his family’s farm. Before they came up, Dave's wife had lovingly given him an ultimatum: "Get rid of some of the bikes, so at least we can get into the barn!"

That's why Dave brought a Roadmaster to give to me. He’d done a wonderful restoration job. The thing was huge, blue, and heavy as hell. I got the jpeg of this one off Ebay. Best of all – it was free. I rode the blue beast to my college office almost every day. After work and on the weekends, I rode down to a bike path along the Fox River and back. Then I started branching out to the north towards Green Bay and to the south towards Appleton. I eventually had to mothball it when a mechanic discovered that my increasingly frequent flats were due to shot rims.

At the same time, about six years ago, my marriage started going south. I bought a new hybrid mountain bike are started seriously racking up the miles. Needless to say, I no longer have that bike or a wife. Therein, as the saying goes, lies a tale.

This fox, however, is stopping here to go read Kropotkin's Appeal to the Young. Follow the link while I noodle the connections between biking, xerocracy, mutual aid, and me!

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Blogger cyclingdave said...

yep, just the meandering reflections i've come to expect when i drop in.


9/7/07 15:51  
Blogger iconoclasst said...

Nice post.

Also check out Daniel Guerin's No Gods, No Masters. Contains essays by prominent anarchist thinkers, among them Kropotkin.

Working on the "two wheels good, four wheels bad" lifestyle myself.

11/7/07 09:16  

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