In my weaker moments I find humanity infuriating. When I’m feeling more centered I find it profoundly endearing. Consider Streetsblog and their tortured relationship with the car:
I know it’s trite to reduce everything to “Simpsons” and “Seinfeld” references, but it’s hard not to when they fit so perfectly, and this is exactly like when Homer boiled and ate his pet lobster:
It’s tempting to flay Streetsblog for their exquisite hypocrisy: cars are bad, but it’s okay to use them frivolously just as long as you beat yourself up over it. Sure, they’re driving just like those stupid hylics (or in this case those stupid New Yorker writers) but they know it’s bad so it makes them better people. However, the more I think about it the more I want to hug them. I too have felt terrible about driving–it’s hard not to when you write about the deaths and maimings that come with it. Even so, you waste so much of your life if you’re flagellating yourself for going to the beach or visiting your insufferable friend’s Catskills bungalow:
Yes, I made up the part about the friend with the Catskills bungalow being insufferable, but you know they are, and you know everybody at the party spent way too much time making brick oven pizza and geeking out over sourdough cultures. Guilt is a cudgel wielded by authoritarians, and you’re not killing the earth by taking a road trip any more than you’re consigning yourself to hell by touching yourself. Guilt has ruined far too many vacations and wank sessions is all I’m saying, so if you want to pile into an aging Subaru with dents all over it from having been street-parked in Park Slope for 15 years and prepare garden-grown cocktail ingredients for three hours with a mortar and pestle while passing judgment on the political leanings of the locals then your should own it is all I’m saying.
But we’re funny that way. On person’s road trip is another’s assault on
Mother Parent Nature, and one person’s leisurely walk through an urbanist paradise is another’s crime-ridden hellhole. Consider this viral Tweet that popped up in my feed:
Which 50 blocks though? It’s a big city. At any given moment there are kids eating ice cream and kids getting stabbed to death–admittedly way more of the former than of the latter, but still. It’s perfectly reasonable to be delighted by one and terrified by the other, and it’s important to acknowledge that, sadly, delicious treats and fatal stabbings are not mutually exclusive. People in other parts of the country certainly have some zany ideas about New York, but few people are more detached from what goes on here than New Yorkers themselves. If you live in a decent-sized apartment building it’s easy to live mere feet from someone whose existence is abject misery and not even know it.
I myself am a mamby-pamby citydweller, so I know how much of our opinions about how things should be is often informed by our aesthetic sensibilities:
It’s a beautiful street. It’s also flanked by a narrow, uneven sidewalk and houses accessed by stoops that might as well be walls for anyone elderly, disabled, or carrying heavier than a tote bag. (When those homes were built no doubt the help took care of all the schlepping.) The idea that you should be able to take door-to-door car trips all over the city and the idea that the city should revert to some 19th century ideal that never really existed are equally naive, and unfortunately in a bureaucracy of this size pretty much any policy is failure.
Just as guilt is useless, so is pretending that New York City is or can ever be some kind of utopia. What it does have going for it though is that if you stick it out for long enough you can eventually cash out and retire to someplace that’s actually well run, and in the meantime the food’s pretty good. And if you like to ride bikes so much the better, because once you’ve got it figured out it’s a great place to ride.
Speaking of fraught relationships and guilt, I’ve recently been at odds with my Inner Roadie, to the extent that I’ve become an evangelist for “Dirtbag Road Cycling” and even riding in jeans. This can sometimes result in feelings of guilt when I relapse by riding a titanium road bike with integrated shifters while wearing Lycra, or when I allow my elder son to engage in similar behavior:
Of course it’s just as silly for me to feel guilty about cycling in Lycra as it is for the Streetsblogger to feel guilty about his/her/their artisanal Catskillian Bacchanalia. Also, by learning tradition, we learn how to build upon it and, ultimately, depart from it or remain with it or amend it and contribute to it as we so choose. I owe years of friendships and enjoyment to my chamois-addled past, and if it wasn’t for decades of riding up and down River Road I wouldn’t be the be-jorted semi-professional bike blogger I am today. Who knows what would have happened to me otherwise…I might even have kept working a real job and become successful.
Okay, that settles it, I’m taking away the bike.