Thursday, April 10, 2008

A bad experience, and a little sunshine

When the memorial ride for bicyclist Christopher Evan Rock started shortly after 5pm in downtown SC, I was already feeling emotional. In less than a year, 4 bicyclists had been offed by cars in our city - 2 in the same spot we were riding to. As 100+ riders waited for the lights to change, I spotted a Hummer in an opposing lane and gave him the bird - Immediately, I felt disapproving eyes on my back.

There are as many kinds of bicyclists as there are people. Some ride because they can't afford a car, others ride for exercise, still others as a statement against cars - of the latter kind, there runs a spectrum of those who avoid any direct confrontation w/ automobiles and those who welcome it. I happen to fall within the "welcome" group.

Usually the differences between these two groups of bike advocates aren't that pronounced as the mainstream folks tend to be busy lobbying city council members for more bike lanes while those of the more radical ilk are busy getting arrested and tying up the streets during Critical Masses. Usually these two sides of the same coin get along just fine, sometimes they don't.

"To the right! to the right!" I am being yelled at by fellow bicyclists. You see, the plan was take up only one lane of the large street, thereby letting cars pass us on the left, and um...not making them angry. The thing is though, scoring points w/ people in cars isn't the reason I'm riding and I never said I'd adhere to the "plan."

As we reach the next intersection and stop for a red light, some folks also spill out onto the left lane but are quickly reprimanded by other bicyclists shouting, "stay to the right! We're only taking up one lane!" Most of them comply, I don't.

The stretch of road from downtown Santa Cruz to the site of Tuesday's accident is maybe a mile, 5-10 minutes worth of riding, tops. 5-10 minutes of riding in the middle of the street outside the confines of painted lanes vs. a lifetime of riding in the gutter, wincing as giant semi trucks roar past you, hoping the filthy exhaust you're breathing won't be your last taste of air - Um, I'll take option A thank you.

I articulate this loudly to everyone around me, "Come on guys! Take the whole street. When are we ever gonna have another chance like this?!"

This is met w/ a level of indignation I would think should only be reserved for cars.

"There are tons of cops out here, you're going to get us in trouble."

"This is part of the plan, you're being a jerk!"

"This is not about you."

My response: "I'm sorry I didn't hear the plan, but even if I did, I wouldn't have agreed to it. And no, this isn't about me. A guy died yesterday, we should be angry, we should be confrontational. And hey, you guys are yelling at me, I'm not trying to pick a fight with you." Or at least, that's what I try to say but I'm met with more yelling. A woman who I really admire says, "fuck you," and it feels like a butcher knife cutting my jugular vein.

What the hell? Maybe she's right, maybe I am making this about me. I want this to be about freedom though, I want this to be about not compromising with the machines under any circumstances. What would Christopher think? What about John Myslin? What about Benjamin Mora? What about Lucian Gregg?

I back off, and move a little to the right. A million thoughts run through my head - why are the majority of folks here more willing to get into a confrontation w/ me than they are with cars? Is it the Democrats-blame-Nader game? Are these the same spineless middle class liberals who sold the anarchists out in Seattle 99? Or am I really just egoizing?

By the time we reach the intersection where Christopher was killed, most of us have moved to the right lane and cars are beginning to pass. Rather than circle around and tie up the intersection in a show of strength, we are directed into a parking lot across the street. All the while, a small platoon of cops watch at a distance.

It occurs to me that the organizers of the event probably notified the police about the action and most likely assured them that car traffic wouldn't be impacted very much. The thought of this makes me sick to my stomach. A young bike punk walks up to me and asks if this is it, if we're going to stay here or are we going to take the street? I don't know I say, I think this is it. I recall a 2006 May Day march where thousands of students held the very same intersection for a good 20 minutes while cops had to look on; I conclude that this is not going to happen today.

But I try to focus on the bright side - this is a great turnout of bicycle solidarity. Though the message about bicycles being allowed full use of the lane was ignored by the local paper (, at least the signs that got posted up stating this will stay up for a while. Christopher Evans Rock will hopefully be the last dead bicyclist we memorialize this year and that's what this is really all about.

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