Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Circling the Pedicabs: Cycling and the New Frontier

(Well, not all of us--some of us are just assholes.)

As everybody knows, there are a lot of people in New York City, many of whom live and work pretty much on top of one another. Moreover, when people live and work pretty much on top of one another, they also often literally wind up on top of one another. Sometimes, this is fun for both parties--like when it involves sex. Other times, though, this is miserable for both parties--like when it involves sex with David Letterman. And the worst is when winding up on top of one another causes physical harm to both parties--like when it involves getting into a physical altercation.

Sadly, we've seen a number of videos recently in which bicycles played a role in violent encounters. First, there was the Nü-Fred-on-pedestrian u-lock beatdown. Then, there was the messenger-on-bike-thief-post-brunch-dust-up. Now, we can add a new video to the canon, which many readers have forwarded to me and which you may have already seen. While the fight doesn't involve bicycles in the strict sense, it does involve a non-motorized chain-driven conveyance, and it takes place between a pedicab operator and a yellow cab operator.

If you don't have the stomach for watching videos of either grown men fighting or grown men rolling around while embracing, I'll spare you the trouble of watching and distill the encounter to its salient moments. After an exchange of words, both operators leave their vehicles and enter the intersection, at which point the modern, eco-friendly pedicab operator (I don't know if there's a widely accepted term for pedicab operators yet, though I suggest calling them "pedirists," which should not be confused with "pederasts") strikes the "traditional" cabbie with a right hook:

Then, like an amorous Labrador Retriever, the traditional cabbie manages to get a hold of the pedirist's leg and bring him to the pavement:

Those of you who live and ride in New York City would be well advised to take note: if you ever find yourself in a confrontation with a cabbie, protect your legs.

In any case, having rendered prone the pedirist, the traditional cabbie promptly places himself on top of him:

They then remain intertwined like mating beetles for many uncomfortable moments, until some bystanders convince the traditional cabbie to relinquish the pedirist. However, this fails to completely diffuse the situation (perhaps because the bystanders did not allow them to, well, finish) and the argument continues. There's even a thrilling moment when the pedirist hurles a garbage can:

However, it lands safely in the intersection instead of on the traditional cabbie's windshield as I secretly hoped it would. Eventually, the pedirist pedals off via the sidewalk, and the traditional cabbie beseeches some cops to look at the "damage" to his cab, as if anybody could possibly be concerned about damage to a New York City taxicab. It's like that scene in "Caddyshack" when Rodney Dangerfield sinks Judge Smails's boat and then tells him, "Hey, you scratched my anchor!":

And that, presumably, was that.

While the video doesn't reveal exactly what caused the altercation in the first place, I must say that I find it extremely difficult to give the traditional cabbie the benefit of the doubt. As far as I'm concerned yellow taxi drivers have long ago squandered any good will I might once have been able to muster for them due to the many times they have tried to kill me and those close to me. I suppose there was a time when I was naive enough to trust cabbies, in much the same way that there was probably a time when early humans thought they could pet tigers. However, like early humans, I eventually learned that when you get too close to those big yellow (or orangey-yellow) and black things they tend to want to maul you. Of course, the difference is that if a tiger tries to maul you it's your fault since you really didn't have any business bothering him in the first place. As Chris Rock said, "That tiger didn't go crazy; that tiger went tiger." Cabs on the other hand are pretty much unavoidable since they're all over the city instead of in the jungle where they belong.

That said, it's worth noting that this confrontation comes at an interesting time, since New York City has recently begun regulating pedicabs. It's also worth noting that pedirists are not exactly always the most attentive and considerate road users, and I've often seen them engaged in salmoning, cellphone usage, and even sidewalk riding. The same is true of their brethren, the cargo bike operators. Here's one I spotted this morning committing the relatively mild infraction of making a right turn on a red light:

As you can see, he looks highly nonplussed:

Given the recent proliferation of non-motorized livery and delivery vehicles in New York City, it's inevitable that conflicts (and intersection humpings) like the one above should arise. And if this admixture (an "admixture" is the scientific equivalent of a "colorway") of vehicles weren't volatile enough, the element of religion should be sufficient to cause it to explode with the force of a thousand R-Syses (or R-Si). A reader recently forwarded me an article from Vos Iz Neias (which appears to be the Yiddish equivalent of VeloNews) which indicates that the sukkah bike (or, more accurately, trike) is now also joining the traffic fray:

If you're unfamiliar with the "sukkah," it's basically a Jewish party hut, and by cultural coincidence their appearance each year corresponds with the beginning of cyclocross season. If you're wondering where 16-year old Levi Duchman got the idea to fabricate a sukkah bike, it came to him in a dream, and some pediab drivers helped him make it a reality:

While I personally think he should have had the people at Segal build him a magnesium sukkah bike, this is nevertheless a tale as inspirational and miraculous as any in the Pentateuch. And if you're wondering what goes down in Duchman's sukkah, there's a lot of snacking--and, apparently, selling stuff:

While the advent of rolling religious installations could lead to future altercations, I prefer to be optimistic, and as a New York City cyclist it is my fervent hope that the sukkah bike will help pave the way for peace in our time along The Great Hipster Silk Route. Indeed, this could very well be borne out, for from the same publication and the same reader comes this moving tale of an Orthodox Jew who has dedicated himself to making cycling acceptable among the Hasidim:

Frankly, I hope he succeeds. I also hope to one day see a free exchange of ideas and goods between the Hipsters and the Hasidim. For example, the Hasidim could doubtless find many practical uses for the bicycle, and the Hipsters would benefit tremendously from adopting the sukkah. Of course, Hipsters would use their sukkahs all year round, since not only do Hipsters "party" all year round, but they're also constantly in need of places to let their visiting Hipster friends stay. A typical conversation among Williamsburg hipsters might one day be:

"Hey, do you live around here?"

"No, I live in San Francisco. I'm just sukkah-surfing right now."

In the meantime, though, my fantasies remain kugel in the sky, and anti-Hipserism in particular runs high. Take this message I recently noticed on the Williamsburg Bridge:

Given the message's stylized appearance I doubt this was the work of the Hasidim. Actually, I'm relatively certain it's the work of self-hating Hipsters, since an essential element of Hipsterism is thinking everyone else is a Hipster but you. (This is similar to the "Whoever smelt it dealt it" phenomenon.) For this reason, many people find it difficult to properly identify them. However, generally speaking, a good rule of thumb is that a Hipster is just a nerd who does drugs. Or else, this guy:

But while some may find the prospect of a Hipster-free Williamsburg tempting, the truth is that the consequences of meddling with the subcultural ecosysem are unpredictable. For example, who would the new residents be, and what kind of bicycles would they ride? Actually, I recently encountered this bicycle in Manhattan, which indicates a whole new breed of cyclist may be a-blowin' in from the wild west:

It would seem he is here to engage in New York City's famously brisk faux animal pelt trade:

Unlike the Hipster, whose bars are often bare, this rider prefers to sheath his in rawhide:

While at first I thought this steed was unsecured, I noticed on closer inspection that the chainstay was neatly handcuffed to the stirrup:

Clearly he's come a long way, because he's "palping" the handlebar-mounted combination AM/FM radio and headlight:

Unfortunately, I didn't get a glimpse of the actual rider, who was no doubt in search of a feedbag full of oats to strap onto his bicycle's headtube. However, if I had seen him, it wouldn't surprise me if he were wearing a bandana. And speaking of schmatas, Rapha has once again sent me a silk scarf, and this one has a new and improved bicycle component patternway:

I'm happy to report I've already put it to good use in a public restroom:

In the days 0f swine flu and cycling desperadoes, you can't be too careful.


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