It is spring, the time of death, then resurrection. Jewish people are celebrating Passover, a triumph and birth.
I can not stomach the news this morning. It is so depressing and I want to be living in the world of bird song. I look out on a neopolitan mix of fog, sun, and green. I can not take in the news today. I love the Easter pastels, the soft yellow and green, the blues and violets. I want to live softly today, be soft, melt like bunnies in grass and hop like newly-born fluffy little chicks.
And yet I am enticed into Jon Carroll's column on Critical Mass. I think he comments well, so I present his column and ignore all the other atrocities around the world today. Perhaps if there were fewer people, we could have more peace, but I don't think so. We each need to go within and sit on a soft plain and feel our beating heart and know the world is ours to spin. Today I choose soft. I am soft to boil and new to hatch. Soft. New. Green!
Chirp. See. Be.
Friday, April 6, 2007
People, people, people. It's rats-in-a-cage time. As sentient rats, we should at least acknowledge the dynamic. Maybe the rats can live in harmony, or at least listen to each other. It would be a start.
So what do we have? We have transportation in San Francisco, always a nasty topic. We also have habit and custom; we have environmental concerns; we have people confusing the symbol for the thing symbolized.
Something happened at Critical Mass last Friday. We were not there, so we don't know what happened. It's useful to remember that before talking about thuggish bicyclists or imperiled children. It's also useful to remember that not much actually happened. On the scale of things, the accident I saw recently on 580 in San Leandro was 10 times worse. It involved two ambulances and an accordion-pleated car.
It did not make the newspapers because no symbols were involved. So on the reality scale, the Critical Mass event was very small potatoes. If your blood pressure rose while discussing it, it's because you have strong feelings about the symbols. Everyone is safe and healthy, except the guy behind the wheel of the car on 580.
So there was a woman named Susan Ferrando. She had a minivan. She was in the minivan with her two children. She got caught in the midst of Critical Mass, the monthly event in which bicyclists take over the streets, delaying commuters, in order to demonstrate the viability of the bicycle as a commuting tool.
So we have drivers of automobiles and riders of bicycles on the same street at the same time. Rats in a cage.
Something happened. What happened is a matter of some dispute. Perhaps Ferrando tried to nudge a bicyclist out of her way with her bumper; perhaps she just sat there quietly panicking. Perhaps her car was surrounded by crazed bicyclists who resembled something from "Night of the Living Dead"; perhaps one rage-driven bicyclist smashed the car window, shocking and appalling the other bicyclists. In any event: too many people, too little space, too much sense of entitlement on all sides.
Automobile drivers have ruled the roads forever. Our cities have been built to accommodate automobile drivers because automobiles are profit centers for lots of companies. But it's not just that. People really like their automobiles. You've probably had a car you've liked; maybe you still do. You've probably said, on your way to somewhere, "How dare they do that thing which is delaying me?" Because you have the car. You are the boss.
How dare these construction crews continue to work on the bridge during rush hour? How dare this old person drive this old car at 25 mph under the speed limit? How dare that person cut in front of me -- me, the ruler of the road? Automobiles are all about entitlement. You can go anywhere you want! You are free! Also, you can have sex in the backseat!
Alas, there are way too many automobiles. They spew noxious fumes. They make loud noises. They threaten pedestrians. They threaten the planet. They are misused far more frequently than guns, with bloodier results. Also, they make people lazy. They contribute to obesity, rising health care costs, sloth, greed -- are you getting angry yet?
But bicycles. We could ride bicycles. We could make our cities livable again. We could become environmentally responsible. We could tone our muscles and meet new friends and walk together through the fields of daffodils. Bicycles are the virtuous alternative! Cars are the sinful choice! Sinners must be punished. Let's do something to make their lives even harder! Clog traffic with the virtuous bicycles. Swell idea.
Something should be done. The bicyclists say: Leave your car at home. But if you're commuting from Santa Rosa and you're holding down two jobs and your mom is in a home in Palo Alto, that's not really an option. It's an infrastructure issue. The motorists say: Arrest the bicyclists in Critical Mass. Let's put further strains on the criminal justice system; let's put men dressed like European candy bars in jail for a traffic violation.
I don't have a solution to the problem. I think Critical Mass is kind of a cool idea, but as a practical matter, it's just pious and annoying, like temperance leaders parading around outside a bar. On the other hand, if we don't do something about the automobile thing, we'll eventually have permanent gridlock and a road rage event that will look like the battle at Antietam. My only idea is that we should live in the solution, as they say, and stop worrying about tiny narratives from within the larger conflict.