Tonight all across the country and the world bikers will be gathering for their local critical mass. Some will be old-timers; others newbies. In The Big Apple, Al Sharpton will certainly be the most (in)famous newbie. PPOLNews reports:
...cyclists will come together with Reverend Al Sharpton, Nicole Paultre-Bell, civil rights attorney Norman Siegel and others in the community outraged over the NYPD's attack on civil rights, for a pre-Critical Mass rally.
The rally, organized by Freewheels, will draw attention to the common pattern of NYPD harassment experienced by diverse groups of law-abiding citizens. Mr. Sharpton and Ms. Paultre-Bell are expected to join the Critical Mass ride in a pedicab following the rally.
Due to astronomical gas prices - at least for Americans - reports CNN, American cagers drove 11 billion fewer miles in March 08 than March 07 ... for the first time since 1942. And that's just a 4.3% reduction. Imagine if it were 10 or 20%? But what is truly amazing is that the obvious safety and environmental disadvantages didn't dissuade cagers earlier ... much earlier. Simply look at this published by Time on 15 December 1947!
The average U.S. citizen completely ignores the regularity with which the automobile kills him, maims him, embroils him with the law and provides mobile shelter for rakes intent on seducing his daughters... In some big cities, vast traffic jams never really got untangled from dawn to midnight; the bray of horns, the stink of exhaust fumes, and the crunch of crumpling metal eddied up from them as insistently as the vaporous roar of Niagara.
I particularly enjoy the reference to a mobile shelter for rakes intent on seducing his daughters. YOINKS!!!
In Tuzla, the biggest city north of Sarajevo, I saw a bike. Completely crushed. Probably by a tank. Probably with its rider. The old, rusty stain dragged down the road for several meters. That's why I'm spening much of today on my back porch admiring three old bikes I've rebuilt. Steel and chrome, rusty and pitted, are easier to deal with than mangled flesh. Or mangled memories, for that matter.
And I'm reading a book about a war. There are many books, like memories, about war. Some are personal recollections such as Orwell's Homage to Catalonia; or about specific topics like civilian refugees or children. Very few, though, are written by children themselves. Ann Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl is certainly the most well known. But its understandably self-absorbed, teenage voice makes it less a war story than a coming of age story set against the backdrop of a war. What makes these diaries so ominous is that the reader knows Anne's life will soon be cut cruelly short.
The voice of Aleksandar, the 12 year old narrator in How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, though equally self-absorbed with growing up, is not hemmed in by the four walls of Anne Frank's temporary attic refuge. When war comes to Višegrad, in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina, it shells the school, throws horses off the bridge into the river Drina, parks tanks in the apartment courtyard, and breaks down doors. Townspeople are taken away eenymeenyminymoe style. There are no temporary attic or basement refuges in 1991-92. Even magic won't help.
Višegradis the same town in which Ivo Andrić set his historical novel, The Bridge Over the Drina. Written nearly a century earlier it gained much world fame for the magic of its stories. I believe that this debut novel by Saša Stanišićwill gain a similar fame but for its stories of magic. The comparison is no rhetorical flourish. Both authors use the ever present Drina as a metaphor for the stories that flow throughout there respective novels.
In no mood to merely ape Ivo Andrić's style, Stanišić adds a magical realism most often associated with Latin American authors. But in the end, magic cannot undue the horrifying displacement of war. As he concludes,
A good story, you'd have said, is like our river Drina: never calm, it doesn't trickle along, it is rough and broad, tributaries flow in to enrich it, it rises above its banks, it bubble and roars, here and there it flows into shallows but then it comes to rapids again, prelude to the depths where there's no splashing. Nut one thing neither the Drina nor the stories can do: there's no going back for any of them.
There were big plans in store for Amanda "Mandy" Annis this weekend. Her boyfriend planned to whisk her away to Pennsylvania to see her parents for the first time since they had moved back from Romania, her family said. He was going to ask her father for her hand in marriage and then propose.
But Mandy, a 5th-grade teacher at a West Side school, was killed Wednesday afternoon when her bicycle collided with a car in the Logan Square
"We don't understand," her father, John Annis, said as his voice broke over the telephone in a call from Allentown, Pa. "We don't know why things happen the way they do. But we trust [God's] heart that the best has happened, although it certainly doesn't feel that way."
A few weeks back I posted the two bike-themed ads from Farmer's Insurance asking readers to decide if they were dissing our noble steeds. And UffdaDave took me at my word, penning the following guest post:
Is anyone offended by the Farmer’s HelpPoint Insurance ads? You know, the ones showing a well-dressed business professional struggling on a bicycle because he didn’t buy the right insurance and because of nebulous situations he doesn’t have his car. In one ad the businessman struggles riding a child’s bike. The overburdened two-wheeler creaks as he pedals over highways and city streets. In another the businessman has traded in his suit pants for a pair of too-short shorts, white tube socks and sneakers. Too add insult to injury, a coworker makes some cutting remark about the bike as they smugly walk to the office, and away from their overpriced, gas-guzzling, carbon-emitting vehicle (I’m guessing a Hummer H3 because in the city four-wheel-drive is extremely important while one is social climbing).
Now I know that Farmers HelpPoint really didn’t set out to insult anyone, and to say I’m offended may be a little harsh. I will say that I am amused at the idea that our car-loving culture finds a bicycle a commuting inconvenience. I’m even willing to bet that the thought of finding the commercials insulting, offending, or amusing, in a manner not intended by ad creators and buyers, is enough for some people to claim that I may be just a little too thin-skinned. But it isn’t a matter of over-sensitivity that gets my eyes rolling whenever I see the commercials, it’s the implication (in my interpretation) that my life is somehow hampered because I don’t have my automobile at my beck-and-call. It’s the insinuation that riding a bicycle to a job, particularly a professional job, is demeaning and humiliating.
For many years I enjoyed the luxury of a five-mile commute between my home and job. The office even had a little used locker room, with a shower, where I occupied several lockers for shower items and work clothes. I commuted on my bicycle practically any day there wasn’t a blizzard or subzero temperatures. It wasn’t until I took a new job and moved my family to a new town that I felt hampered by my commute. The roads were too busy, too fast, and there were no bike lanes. I so desired to get away from a car for a part of the commute that I would routinely haul my bike to place six miles from my office and ride in from there.
I realize that I’m the exception and not the rule but my short bike commute was mobile rehabilitation. I so hated my last six years working for a public television station that the morning ride was the bracer I needed to face the bozos of administration, and the evening was my therapy for a day spent under incompetent leadership. After my layoff I spent more time working and consulting from home and less time in the car. Now when I look at another full-time job I seriously consider how much driving is required, and whether or not the job is worth the time in a car.
But I really am amused when I see the commercials. I’m amused that, at least in my mind, the folks who sneer smugly at the thought of a bicycle commute are most likely the same who will spend a thousand dollars for a spinning class at some exclusive club. My latest commuting bike costs me $10.00 at the Volunteers of America, and another $20.00 to fix it up. I’m willing to bet I get the same amount of exercise as those spinning – and I get to see more than the inside of stuffy room. Plus, not to mention, that when I commute via the bike I don’t have to worry about gas, parking fees, insurance and pesky traffic jams.
What a radical idea, when I commute by bike I get exercise, help the environment and save money. Unless I want to believe Farmer’s HelpPoint Insurance, then the damned bike is nothing more than an inconvenience.
The views and opinions expressed herein are not attributable to girlfriends and wives (old or new) to family, friends and colleagues (current or estranged), and to employers (pains-in-the-ass or otherwise).