Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Over the Hills: Bombs A-Meh

In 1776, an explorer named Christopher Columbus was out looking for the Northwest Passage to Africa when he discovered a new land. In one of history's oldest examples of product placement, he named this land "America" after a popular brand of mulled wine. (Back then, drinking mulled wine and watching bear-baiting was what drinking beer and watching football are today.) Here is what America looked like when Columbus discovered it:

As you can see, most of the cities and states are as we know them today, the only real difference being that back then Hawaii and Alaska were still located in small boxes in Mexico. (America purchased Hawaii and Alaska from its southern neighbor in the mid-1980s in a deal known as the Lou-Weezie-Anna Purchase.)

Columbus arrived at a pivotal moment in American history, for the Indians had just declared independence from the British and were fomenting revolution under the command of their general George "Dances With The Stars" Washington, as played in the movie version by Kevin Costner:

Things were going swimmingly for the Indians until Columbus and his crew arrived, infecting them all with smallpox at the World's First Thanksgiving:

Subsequently, the hated Redcoats put the ailing Indians to rout at the Battle of Iwo Jima, which is why the British remain our dark overlords to this day, and which is also why we are forced to sing their twisted national anthem every year before the Superbowl of Bear-Baiting.

At least this is what I learned at Bard College. (I didn't actually attend Bard, but I did take LSD there on occasion--and oddly, four years later, they sent me a diploma.)

Anyway, for some reason America soon became the trendiest country in the world, and by the end of the 19th century proto-hipsters from all over Europe came here to pan for gold, open artisanal ethnic mulled wineries, put their children to work in ultra-cool factories, and generally gentrify our cities. Here is what this wave of immigration looked like:

Note that by the late 1800s America had adopted an attractive purple-and-orange "colorway" that would take decades to rinse out. Note also that almost all these immigrants came to New York City, attracted mostly by its marketing slogan: "Bring me your poor, yet trendy, appealingly ethnic masses yearning to make pizza and bagels." Well over a century later, New York City remains incredibly crowded.

(As I typed that last paragraph, Bard College emailed me another diploma, this one for something called "Yogic Gnosticism.")

Today, as a New Yorker, I am acutely aware of the weight of all this history as well as of the intense crowding. It manifests itself in the brusque exchanges, and the filth, and the exorbitant amounts of money we pay to live in tiny boxes. Sometimes I wonder if the city will continue to crush me slowly like liverwurst between two crackers until I fall out the side and land with "splat" in the suburbs, or if I'll suddenly go flying out with a "pop" like the mystery juice from a plump hot dog and land somewhere on the other side of the country. Of course, my spiritual presence resides in Portland, but I may have to move my body too eventually, and it would be nice to park it someplace with better weather. I don't know where that will be, but I do know two things: 1) With two degrees from Bard, I'm only three nose rings away from finding employment in any cafe in America; and 2) the city I live in doesn't want me, as evidenced by this whole "bicycle crackdown" thing.

I suppose I could live with the crackdown if I thought it was actually doing something, but I can assure you that it's not. This past weekend my travels brought me through Central Park--where police have even gone so far as to issue cyclists speeding tickets--and I'm sorry to report that despite the blitz I witnessed multiple riders on $8,000 crabon triathlon bikes blowing lights and buzzing pedestrians as their loose-fitting t-shirts fluttered in the breeze. It is incredibly frustrating to know that you're being singled out by the NYPD because of some hairy-legged Scud of dorkiness riding a Kuota and wearing a XXL Hanes Beefy-T.

Some miles, a bridge, and a state line later, a complete stranger on an orange crabon blob actually called me an "asshole" for passing him on a climb (I am an asshole, but there's no way he could have known that), and then on the return trip over the bridge I was nearly hit head-on by a rider who panicked for reasons I was unable to discern and who could not operate his brakes or extricate himself from his clipless pedals.

Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation issues "tweets" like this:
I wonder of any of those workers were hit by bikes. I'm guessing they weren't. Obviously this is tragic and I don't mean to make light of the situation, but I do find it sad and ironic that New York drivers are so awful that even fixing the streets for them is a potentially fatal endeavor.

All of it is enough to make one crave the cloyingly sweet taste of smugness, and so I headed over to Streetsblog and sampled some of their most salacious "bike lane porn:"

Sadly, what I saw horrified me, for instead of some urban "livable streets" idyll I saw senior citizens running amok with wheelchairs:

Not only are they jaywalking, but I'm reasonably sure one of them has a Flip camera and they're on their way to the park to make some sick hillbombing "edits." No wonder Prospect Park West bike lane opponents think it's so dangerous:

Originally I thought she meant it was dangerous to seniors because they might get hit, but now I realize it's because it only encourages them to "shred."

I must say I was also stunned that none of the commenters on Streetsblog commented on the fact that this young child is not wearing a helmet:

I don't mean to say I have a problem with it, but the fact is that children under 14 are supposed to wear helmets under New York State law, and that seems like just the sort of thing the "smugerati" would enjoy pointing out. Again, I don't have a problem with it--I never wore a helmet as a child and despite numerous bicycle crashes I sustained absolutely no adverse squirrel nugget submarine captain what time is it again?

Speaking of hillbombing, I was visiting Probably's blog recently (this is like visiting a teenage boy's room in that there's lots of bad music and overpriced toys and you get the creepy feeling you might have just interrupted somebody masturbating ) and saw this one:

Emi Brown Pt. 1 from A Wi Mer on Vimeo.

A few short years after the advent of fixed-gear freestyle, the "sport" (I love it when they call it that) has hit something of a wall, with many of the practitioners' bicycles gradually evolving into the BMX bikes they should be riding but won't admit they need. Instead, it's sort of a subconscious transition infused with denial, like Jeff Goldblum in the remake of "The Fly" when he won't acknowledge he's actually turning into one until he starts growing strange hairs and puking on his donuts and slurping up the mess. So, since fixed-gear freestyle is an evolutionary dead end, it would appear that urban fixed-gear riders are increasingly tuning into the absurd spectacle known as "hillbombing," and here is the hillbomber from the video making a "doucheclamation point:"

I should point out that the "hillbombing" doesn't really start until later in the video, though as you can see riding a fixed-gear bicycle down a hill requires not only a videographer but also a still photographer:

Remember when people used to say they rode fixed-gear bicycles because they were simple? Well, brakes and a derailleur seems a lot simpler than needing multiple cameramen and a follow car for every ride.

I like fixed-gear bicycles, and there will always be a place for them beyond the velodrome. However, I also don't think the fixed-gear trend will truly end until people have explored each and every scenario in which they are totally stupid and useless, and I suppose with fixed-gear freestyling and long-distance track bike touring down, hillbombing is now the latest foray into futility. What could be simpler and more pleasant than the reprieve a descent offers after a difficult climb, when we lean forward, rest our legs, and enjoy the feeling of the wind and of effortless forward motion? And what could be more pointless than spinning frantically down that same hill, ruining a perfectly good tire, and whip-skidding like an agitated dog trying to gnaw a dingleberry off his ass and run at the same time?

I suppose its all worth it when you get to the bottom and mug triumphantly for the ever-present videographer:

And then your "Me Too Friend" does exactly the same thing:

All self-styled renegades need a "Me Too Friend"--a Squiggy to their Lenny, a Louise to their Thelma, a Dumber to their Dumb.

But even the "Me Too Friend" isn't "down" for the last scene, in which the hillbomber slowly and reluctantly picks his way down a steep hill like a toddler confronting his first staircase:

Moments later he was actually passed by the seniors with the wheelchair from the Prospect Park bike lane, but the hillbomber didn't want to be upstaged.

That's why they call it an "edit."


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