Monday, July 28, 2008

Cyclist Harassment

Normally, when you see that phrase you think of motorist harassing cyclists or maybe the police department's behavior during Critical Mass, but I'm referring to something much more mundane and insidious. Today, we had a visit from Art, a local long-distance commuter. He rides everywhere. He probably puts an average of 30-40 miles on his bike a day. He turns Walmart bikes into mere parts with wear. He's a nice guy with a small footprint and a past that he's trying to put behind him. Unfortunately, some of that trouble has been brought on by his devotion to cycling. He said that while living in a suburb of Phoenix, AZ about twenty years ago, he was stopped by the police for being in the "wrong" neighborhood; he lived there. They stopped him until they began to recognize him. He was recently stopped by police here for cutting across an abandoned lumber yard. A lot of places in North Georgia have been vandalized by people looking for metals in old buildings and catalytic converters from vehicles so I understand the police officer's vigilance, but he didn't have anything on him and he couldn't carry anything on his bike. The officer still arrested him--for burglary of all things. His public defender got the charge reduced to theft by taking, despite the fact that he didn't take anything. He had to stay in jail for three weeks. He said he's been arrested and harassed by the police in this town before.

I have a theory about all of this (and that's where the insidious part comes in). I think that the police, suburbanites, and a lot of other folks look down on cyclists. They place so much status in owning a car that if you don't own one you're a "have not". You're indigent or an immigrant or a ne'er-do-well if you're not a child or an enthusiast clad in gear that proclaims, "I'm a cycling enthusiast who has paid a lot of money for my bike and these funny clothes." They feel the same way about pedestrians and people who take public transit. I once had a guy tell me that I looked homeless because I had stopped into a Fellini's Pizza for a slice on my way home walking from the grocery store. I had two bags I think. That's it: I was walking with two grocery bags. I was totally looking cute that day so it wasn't a wardrobe issue; I don't have wardrobe issues of that variety.

The de facto "have not" status of those traveling by their own power or using public transit may be the greatest obstacle for mass adoption of these green methods of traveling. In fact, in North Georgia most news stories or public service announcements about going green relate to hybrid vehicles or carpooling. It seems that there's little hope of prying people's hands from the wheel if they're going to be doing something good for their bodies, good for the environment, and good for America's economy and national security if it means they must be discrete about their financial status. I hope, in the not-too-distant future, the conspicuously chic start riding bikes in Marc Jacobs and Louboutin's with Louis Vuitton panniers so the rest of the nation can feel comfortable on a bike.

7 comments :

Charlotte said...

You got it! I can't tell you how many people have yelled "Get a car!

I have a car, I just don't choose to drive it. America currently respects consumption, but I think that's on the crux of changing. Our elders learned their lesson in the Great Depression, I think we're in for a similar lesson. I'd like to be ahead of the curve.

obimomkenobi said...

I am not proud to admit it, but my heart skipped a beat when I saw the word "Louboutin". I am so willing to ride in those on a regular basis.

The Bronze Bombshell said...

Charlotte: I don't think we're in for such a harsh economic check and I'd like to think it wouldn't take that much for people to reassess their lifestyles. I sincerely hope that people are ready to learn their lesson at the point we're at now.

Obi: Don't worry. My heart would skip a beat if I got near some Louboutin's. They're out of my league, but I love shoes in general. Love 'em, love 'em, love 'em.

whatisawridingmybikearoundtoday said...

This is a right on post. I remember the looks I used to get while walking around hartford, ct, as if I must be trouble or in it. Weird. I just got my first car a year ago, and I'm pleased to say it only gets use in emergencies.

The Bronze Bombshell said...

I guess those scurrilous pedestrians are a real nuisance in Connecticut. Sheesh! How do people find fault with walking or riding a bike?!

2whls3spds said...

I have been pulled over and hassled by police for pulling a cargo trailer, even got ticketed one time...took it to court and the officer looked like a fool.

As far as the shoes...the last time I checked Louboutin doesn't make men's shoes ;-) However I do ride in my good Cole-Hahns. LOL My bride rides in her Ninas...

Aaron

The Bronze Bombshell said...

Wow, I can't believe a cop would ticket you for that or bother you at all really.