In Remembrance of a Terrible Day


A Reminder From Nature

A Reminder From Nature

“Be grateful for luck. Don’t pay attention to the thunder – listen to the birds. And don’t hate nobody”.”
― Eubie Blake

Fifty years ago to the day I sat in German class at Calumet High School when an announcement came over the intercom. The President of the United States, John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, TX. I was stunned. My folks like most in the African-American Community were Protestants. Kennedy was a Catholic and believe it or not in those days that meant something. Our teacher was overcome with grief and we all sat quietly in our seats wondering what this all meant.

Living In A Religious Bubble

It was a scant time later than I would feel that same gut-wrenching hurt when Martin Luther King too was cut down by an assassins bullet. But on this day I was sitting there with mixed emotions. It was not that I did not sense his humanity and that of the folks around me who were Catholics and felt this deeply. It is simply a fact that when you are part of a Bubble your emotions are warped. You are not quite sure how to react to the death someone whom your parents have taught you is part of a “corrupt religion”. But in those days Catholics and Protestants were wary of one another.

So when I was sitting this morning and drinking coffee and working the puzzles in the paper and came across this quote from JFK it took me back to that awful day:

We want to build a world of peace where the weak are secure and the strong are just.

John F. Kennedy

Sadly though I realized that not much has changed in that span of nearly 50 years. Yes we have had men run for office or sit on the Supreme Court or become mayors of great cities who are Catholics. And with time I was able to realize that the Protestant Bubble in which I was raised provides a somewhat warped perspective from which to deal with differences in others. Now I try to step outside of that way of thinking and make broader judgments. But it is difficult.

Living In A Cycling Bubble

And then it struck me that I still live in a Bubble. And the evidence of this lies in this Manifesto for Cyclists which appeared in the RedEye only a few days ago:

‘Little Bike People’ are taking over, like it or not

By Brian Moore @brithewebguy RedEye November 21, 2013

‘Extra-Large Car People,’ we forgive you.

It’s not your fault you are so insufferable. You don’t know any better. American culture has shaped your sense of entitlement from the days you were in diapers playing with your first toy truck. It’s hard to grow up and grow out of those habits.

So, you’re forgiven.

  • You’re forgiven for contributing to Chicago’s paralyzing traffic woes.
  • You’re forgiven for slowly helping destroy the earth’s environment.
  • You’re forgiven for adding to the decay and destruction of Chicago’s roadways.
  • You’re forgiven for enabling people to charge hundreds of dollars per month for garage parking spots.
  • You’re forgiven for allowing the state of Illinois to continue the tollway system that was supposed to end after construction bonds were repaid decades ago.
  • You’re forgiven for exacerbating our sedentary lifestyle and overall degradation of Americans’ health (and thus driving up health-care costs) by sitting in your car for hours and hours per week.

But you’re not forgiven for being pompous jerks who feel as though the roads were made for you and only you and have no regard for the safety of bikers or pedestrians.

Even Little Bike People have to draw a line somewhere.

We won’t look the other way as you bully your way through the city in your Douchemobiles. More and more of us are taking to the streets on our fixies, our mountain bikes, our folding bikes, our street bikes, making sensible decisions about commuting that actually contribute to the overall well-being of the city.

City Hall supports us.

Bike racks can be found on almost every block downtown—and more pop up all the time. New bike lanes are being added at a rapid pace, rightly taking over street parking, driving lanes, turn lanes. New laws have been enacted just to protect bikers from the monsters on four—or more—wheels.

The city has even joined the revolution, introducing the Divvy bike-share program that has already become one of the largest and most successful in the world. Yes, the world.

Like gay marriage, which went from being recognized at a glacial pace to the full-blown snowball barreling down the side of a mountain, bikers’ rights are growing in leaps and bounds.

We don’t blame you for being scared, Extra-Large Car People. The Little Bike People are coming hard and fast, like you do in those 2-ton missiles at yellow lights.

  • We’re coming for your streets.
  • We’re coming for your parking spots.
  • We’re coming for your self-entitled sense of ownership of the roads.
  • We’re coming, and we’ve got Mayor Emanuel on our side. We’ve got the law on our side. And we’ve got science on our side.

It was a good ride while it lasted for you, Extra-Large Car People, but your days are numbered.

And the Little Bike People are doing the counting.

Living In A Hate Bubble

Cycling is officially a Hate Bubble. Quite often you have people respond to pieces like that penned by Brian Moore who console themselves with two notions:

  • Cyclists are no worse than motorists when it comes to breaking the law or being jerks.
  • Few people responded in a positive manner when faced with this manifesto.

But that would be missing the point entirely. We should never ever let ourselves be lulled into the notion that equally bad behavior inside and outside our Bubble means that we have a Zero Sum Game that is currently a draw. The other very disturbing thing is that the writer even thought it would be acceptable to write this in the first instance. That is to say that there is something about our collective ethos that made this missive seem okay to present.

Our leaders are either unwilling or incapable of leading us onto high ground. All we get are platitudes. They are constantly gauging the temperament of their listeners to see whether they need to be told:

  • Motorists are the problem and we are the solution.
  • We are no worse than motorists when it comes to scofflaw behavior.
  • Even if we are behaving poorly, it is not our fault. We are being denied bicycle infrastructure which could make us behave in a safer fashion while either driving cars or riding bikes.

Now I have lived long enough to know that all of these are what we commonly refer to as excuses. And I have lived long enough to know that every generation has its set of “silver bullets” that are certain to cure certain societal ills. Back in the day, it was the low income high rise that was going to save Chicago from the blight of urban decay. But low and behold there are always unintended consequences. By concentrating that many people of low income into a relatively small space it meant that crime could flourish and so it did.

There are never it would seem any real solutions that come out of the brains of our very best thinkers that do not have to be scrapped in time. We often look towards Europe as a harbinger of what could be here on our shores. But we are quite a different beast from most of Europe. We are economically more diverse and not racially or ethnically homogenous enough to make it possible to have a bicycle culture like that in Amsterdam or even Copenhagen. We are a bicycle theft factory of huge proportions and we know this. Yet we persist in thinking that in large cities like Chicago we can have an urban landscape that can contain the differences that we are stuck with.

Perhaps I am being overly pessimistic, but knowing Chicago as I do, it would stand to reason that things are not going to be all “sweetness and light” no matter how hard we try. In fact big city mayors are going to be pressed hard to find ways that all of this promised bicycle infrastructure can learn to stand on its own two feet. Sustainability will become the mantra of the next few decades.

This Is Not A Matter of ‘Blaming The Victim’

We need to demand much more of ourselves and our leaders. It is not enough to continue the legacy of hatred of motorists and to provide watered down reasons to forgive ourselves for our own transgressions. This is not a matter of “blaming the victim“. Surely you and I know that there are rude and discourteous and downright heartless drivers and riders alike. They can make any cocktail party a real bummer as they go on and on about their last “close call” with an arrogant SOB who was piloting a high-end sports car or riding like a maniac down Milwaukee Avenue on a fixed gear bike. Because we are all human and cut from the same stock we tend to have the same bad habits and behaviors despite the kind of conveyance we use to get from Point A to Point B.

We do not need our leaders to encourage our Hate Bubble intolerances. We can do just fine nurturing those on our own. What we need instead are people who will lovingly call us out for being incompetent in the way we drive or ride a bicycle or in the manner in which both motorists and cyclists alike bully pedestrians.

I am reminded of a quote from James Baldwin:

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.

— James Baldwin

The essence of great leaders is to remind us that we are always but always inside some Bubble. We need to step outside that bubble and learn to see things from the perspective of the other fellow. For a Protestant I needed to have met and respected someone who was Catholic or Jewish. Today that would include Muslims. When my leaders perpetuate my intolerances they are not leading but pandering.

Sharing The Road Must Become A Reality

There needs to be an urgency about what we call the Bicycle Movement. I think the first place to begin is to change the name from Bicycle Movement to something more inclusive. If you can have a Jewish-Muslim bicycle ride then certainly you can have a bicycle ride in which avowed motorists are given Divvy bikes to use and fed lunch along the Chicago Lakefront Trail and perhaps shown a video that reveals the inner workings of the cyclists mind?

If blacks and whites can get together to learn more about one another’s cultures and communities then it is high time that truckers and cyclists or cyclists and pedestrians or what the heck truckers, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians can enjoy a bike ride along the Chicago Lakefront Trail with luncheon and then the truckers can bring cyclists along on drives along the nearest route so that cyclists can understand the difficulties in plying streets where bikes are present.

If we cannot find a way to do this then I suspect the George Burns would be correct:

When you stop giving and offering something to the rest of the world, it’s time to turn out the lights.

George Burns

I Did Not Sign On For A Hate Group

Photo by Shutterstock.

Photo by Shutterstock.

I did not expect to Urban Cycling was more about fear and loathing of automobiles and their drivers than the skyline of this great city. I did not sign on to have someone tell me that I could be forgiven running red lights and stop signs until such time as every street contained a Protect Bike Lane. I did not sign on to use the L.A.T.E. Ride as an excuse to get drunk and terrorize motorists and suburban cyclists who were not expecting anything other than a moonlight night a safe passage.

I certainly have no interest in counting down the days of someone else’s demise either as a person or a member of a subculture. I grew up in an America where Emmett Till was killed and the folks that did it were acquitted. Both he and his mother were members of my parents church. And yes, like most Protestants of that time I grew up being fearful of Catholics and Jews. Frankly, all this mistrust of everyone else is tiring.

I am more than a bit disappointed that Evangelical Christians are among the most bigoted lot when it comes to the current political landscape. I am more than sick and tired of being sick and tired of all the hatred of this or that group. In fact I am sick and tired of being sick and tired of hating folks who seem to relish hating others. I am exhausted.

I dislike being told that my plight (and those of the others in my particular Bubble) is the worst the world has ever known. I am sorely disappointed in leaders than do not lead but facilitate the hatred. Who will not stand boldly against the hatred but rather try to find ways to straddle a fence which is a less than useless posture to begin with and only leaves the weakest of us to languish in our hatreds and fears of others outside our particular Bubble. In the words of Rodney King:

Can’t we all just get along?

Rodney King

Yes, Rodney we can. But first and foremost We The People have to take responsibility for our own actions. We have to stop this incessant finger pointing at what the other guys outside our Bubble are up to. We are all sinners. Pure and simple. There are no Good Guys. Or if there are they are probably martyred for having had the audacity to tell us what we did not wish to hear, that we needed to be responsible for ourselves and to be forgiving of others.

Ian Percy said it best:

We judge others by their behavior. We judge ourselves by our intentions.

Ian Percy 
It is time for us all to stop the posturing and get to work figuring out ways to coexist not only on the side streets of Chicago but in life as we know it. But first we have to burst those Bubbles.