Monday, November 23, 2009

Cycling, Cars Gone Wild, & Consumerism

The Christmas insanity is beginning. Why am I not surprised? Go out on your bicycle and you can feel it on the roads. The cars will be lining up at the malls Friday morning (or do they do that at midnight?).

My policy is to buy whatever I want whenever I want during the year (mostly books), but suddenly I realize it’s time to buy for others. What? Will they also like books? If only, if only this ceaseless consumerism would end. But it won’t. Please, I beg of you, don’t buy anything for me! If I buy only one present for each person, each will give me five. I know how this works. So it’s time to buy everyone unimaginative gifts, things gleaned from a New York Times gift list or purchased in a moment of fake prescience of what someone likes. I’ve already spent $70 on The Collected Stories of William Trevor in a new two-volume set from the UK for a Trevor fan. Yes, there was much reading of William Trevor at our house this autumn, but I fear it’s been falling off lately. By Christmas it will be the wrong gift. Trevor, however, will be read eventually. On a bicycle trip some years ago I took a much thinner volume of Trevor’s short stories and it lasted me eleven days.

Because the road rage escalates this time of year and idiots are yelling out the car windows at bicyclists to get off the roads, I stick to trails whenever possible. Yet today I was at a busy intersection on a trail and the driver blocked the crossing, not even turning his head to see if anyone were on his right, preventing my crossing until he turned a minute later. According to the highly-recommended famous video, The Rights and Duties of Cyclists, we’re supposed to be out there on the streets controlling our lanes, calming the traffic, and forcing cars to acknowledge us. If you watch this video, you’ll definitely want to be out there making a statement by bicycling in traffic. But unfortunately I’m not as fast as these guys, and there have been some hit-and-run incidents in our area, so I’m more of a curb hugger - and even so I almost get killed.

So I'm thinking of gifts for bicyclists (a bullet-proof vest?). A great gift and a must-read for hard-core bicyclists (that would be everybody in our house) is Jeff Mapes’ Pedaling Revolution: How Bicyclists Are Changing American Cities. We loved it, loved it, loved it . He details the history of bicycling in our country: did you know that the roads were originally built for bicycles and then cars took over? He also writes about urban planning policies that are making bicycling easier in Amsterdam, Paris, and New York: sometimes outlawing cars or making drivers pay in downtown areas (if I remember correctly, and it’s been awhile since we’ve read this). Mapes, a political reporter for The Oregonian, is also himself a cyclist and bicycle commuter.

Bicycle lights are always a welcome present. You can also give a gift certificate from a bicycle store. Invest heavily in your bicycle store this Christmas.

David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries might be a good gift, though it's more for the art lover, says The Prime Bicyclist in the Family. Byrne is very pro-urban bicycling and takes a fold-up bicycle all over the world, exploring cities on his bike.

Heavy, heavy irony: on my way home on my bike, after considering all those bicycling books, I had to ride on a tree-lined, quiet street through what I bluntly call “The Rich People’s Neighborhood,” and many, many signs were seen for a city council candidate who opposes bike trails. Good God! They don’t even have sidewalks on this street. But at least it’s SAFE for bicyclists, because there’s no traffic.

I have spent ZERO money on books for myself since Saturday. Yay, team! Every penny I don't spend goes for a gift probably nobody likes (except the bicyclists!).

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