Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Generation Gap: An Alleycat Down Memory Lane

As a traveler, I always take great pains to respect the customs and folkways of whichever land I'm visiting. Cultural sensitivity is extremely important, and I learned this the hard way after visiting the Middle East while wearing a designer t-shirt from the Jyllands-Posten collection. (Let's just say "getting stoned" doesn't mean the same thing there that it does here.) This is why, as I prepare for this weekend's Seattle Bicycle Expo, I am putting the finishing touches on my "soul patch" and digging my best flannel out of mothballs. Seattle is the birthplace of grunge after all, and I wouldn't want to shock or upset any of the inhabitants by reminding them that the 1990s are actually over, for they cling desperately to a bygone age with the tenacity of the Amish.

Of course, "soul patches" aren't as common now as they once were, which is why templates for them are as sparse as a teenage boy's upper lip hair. However, there is one man who sports an example of this facial hair genre that is perfect right down to each and every follicle, and this man is the time-traveling t-shirt-wearing retro-Fred from the planet Tridork, who has popped up again not only here:

But also here:

When you use the time-traveling t-shirt-wearing retro-Fred from the planet Tridork to promote your event or product, you send a strong message, and that message is: "I conducted a cursory stock photography image search and used the first photo that came up."

You won't find that sort of slapdash approach to illustrations in an august publication like the New Yorker, where they prefer whimsical cartoons with reader-submitted captions:

The New Yorker does seem to be changing its approach somewhat though by simultaneously embracing the Internet and pandering to an aging readership with a median age of 126. (When J.D. Salinger died at 91 the typical New Yorker reader sighed, "Oy, so young...") This may be why the magazine engaged one of it's young hipster writers to compose the following blog post against bike lanes, as forwarded to me by a reader:

Like any well-reasoned anti-cycling argument, it's crucial to establish that you not only used to be a cyclist yourself, but that you did it stupidly:

I don’t have anything against bikes. As a student, I lived in the middle of Oxford, where cycling is the predominant mode of transport, and I cycled everywhere. Twenty-five years ago, when I moved to the East Village, I paid a guy on Second Avenue thirty dollars for a second-hand racing bike (probably stolen). Of a Sunday afternoon, hungover from the previous night’s carousing at neighborhood bars and clubs, I would pedal furiously up First Avenue, cross over to Park or Madison, continue up to Central Park and then race back down Fifth, all the way to Washington Square. In those days, there were few cyclists on the roads, and part of the thrill was avoiding cabs and other vehicles that would suddenly swing into your lane, apparently oblivious to your presence. When I got back to my apartment on East 12th Street, I was sometimes shaking.

In other words, in the 1980s, Cassidy was that decade's version of a "hipster," and he wants to remind today's hipster that he was being an idiot before they were even born. More importantly, like that guy from Continuum, he doesn't feel that cycling should become mainstream or accessible because that would somehow make their own activities seem less daring, individualistic, or authentic.

But unlike that Continuum guy, who likes to criticize the "noobs" even as he makes a living selling bikes to them, Cassidy apparently abandoned his stolen bicycle at the end of the 1980s, when he bought leased a new car:

The bitter rant of an angry motorist? Perhaps. Since 1989, when I nervously edged out of the Ford showroom on Eleventh Avenue and 57th Street, the proud leaser of a sporty Thunderbird coupe, I have owned and driven six cars in the city, none of which could be classed as a fuel-economy vehicle: the Thunderbird, a Mercedes E190, an ancient Oldsmobile Delta 88 that could have done double duty as a paddle steamer on the Hudson, two Cadillac Sedan de Villes, and (my current heap) an old Jaguar XJ6.

"Nervous edging" aside, that is one of the most embarrassing successions of automobiles I've ever seen. He should leave the New Yorker and start a magazine called Car and Doofus. An Oldsmobile? Two Cadillacs?!? Did I miss some mid-1990s "Florida retiree chic" trend while I was off at college? And this was a Thunderbird in 1989:

I can just see him "nervously edging" this thing out of the dealership, his hair slicked back, a Madonna "Like A Prayer" cassingle blaring on the stereo in eternally-looping auto-reverse. 1989 was the first year Ford started impregnating the wet dog hair and stale tobacco smell of the Thunderbird into the upholstery at the factory in order to save owners the trouble of adding it themselves. Cassidy must have been a real chick magnet "back in the day"--if by "chicks" you mean middle-aged recent divorcees from Lynbrook. I mean, its Mercury counterpart was actually called the Cougar.

Thus, a love affair with the automobile was born, and now instead of bombing down 5th Avenue with a hangover on his stolen bike Cassidy knows every inch of New York:

Thanks to these four-wheel friends, I have discovered virtually every neighborhood of the city and its environs, and I would put my knowledge of New York’s geography and topography up against most native residents—cycling members of the Park Slope food co-op included

Hey sideburns, the Fourth Annual Panorama Challenge is this Friday in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, I'm sure you know where that is. Why don't you point whatever heap you're driving these days on over there and let us know how you do.

So why is Cassidy's car so important to him anyway? Does he live in a transit-starved neighborhood and depend on it to get to work? Does he have a large family and lots of relatives in the region? Or does he need to travel like 10 miles round trip from the gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood he lives in to Manhattan in order to socialize? Seems like it's that last one:

A minor but not completely insignificant example. Like many New Yorkers who don’t live in Manhattan, one of my favorite pastimes is to drive from Brooklyn, where I live, into the city for dinner and find a parking space once the 7 A.M.-7 P.M. parking restrictions have lapsed. Years ago, this was a challenge, but a manageable one. These days, especially downtown, it is virtually impossible.

Sure, maybe you can't park now because of the bike lanes. Or, maybe you can't park because, in recent years, Brooklyn has become full of quasi-intellectual douchebags who are all driving to the same overpriced Manhattan restaurants in the neighborhoods they gentrified and left, and so now between the increased amenities and the nostalgic douchebags you can't find parking. Why blame this on the fact that some people would rather buy a bike than lease a stupid Thunderbird? If you like to drive to restaurants, why not just eat in Brooklyn? Go to Red Hook--trust me, there's plenty of parking, even with the new bike lanes. Or, go to Williamsburg--it's just like the East Village was when you used to live there (by which I mean in the process of being ruined by people like you) and I think you'll find that, despite the new bike lane on Kent Avenue there's plenty of parking there too.

Don't blame people who like to ride bikes for the fact that you're hopelessly out of it.

Meanwhile, between the aging people who are "over" bicycling and the modern-day versions of Cassidy in his youth, cycling in New York City has become a generational tug-of-war between two groups of idiots. Here's "helmet cam" footage from the recent "Four Horseman II" alleycat, in which a bunch of fixed-gear fashion victims race down Fifth Avenue just like Cassidy used to do:

Sadly, these riders succeed in validating pretty much every anti-cycling sentiment today, and when the police officer who arrives at the scene after you've been a victim of a hit-and-run tells you to be more careful next time and asks you if you were wearing a helmet, you know exactly who to blame. Speaking of helmets, I think every person in this race has a camera on theirs:

At this current moment in the pretend-rough-and-tumble world of the urban "bike culture," people are no longer individuals--they're just content providers and conformists who are going through the motions so they can upload them later and see how cool they looked.

Here's one rider "skitching" off of a Mercedes SUV:

Either that's a very irritated rich person who's going to put even more pressure on the city to give you a ticket for not having a bell on your bike, or it's the rider's mom and she's trying to help him win. Either way, it's pathetic.

Next, the cameraman's mom shows up, and he starts "skitching" too:

Though we don't get to see the moment where she rolls down the window and gives him a juice box.

Here's still more "skitching:"

I wonder if the driver is that New Yorker guy on his way to dinner.

By the way, if you're unfamiliar with New York, I should point out that they're racing down "Museum Mile," and as they pass the Guggenheim one of the riders gratuitously punches a Hyundai:

Take that, establishment.

But "alleycats" are not just about terrorizing motor-vehicular oppressors who represent your parents. They're also about terrorizing pedestrians who are just trying to cross the street and visit the Metropolitan Museum, and who also represent your parents:

"My mom never bought me ice cream after she took me to the museum, and now you're going to pay."

Of course, the best part of competing in an "alleycat" is gaining the approval of your identically-clad peers:

"Hey, I did it! I set a 'hipster' personal best! Do I get my picture on the Internet now?"

Not only that, but there were also wagon wheels there--not only the Mavic kind, but actual wooden wagon wheels:

There were also wooden components and rims:

Here's one showgoer pricing a rim that would look great as an artisanal plant hanger:

Yes, a bargain at $185:

I'm looking forward to a 100% flammable NAHBS by 2015.


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