Justice, revolution and bicycling

I envy the Portlanders in this BikePortland post for their charming assumptions that bicycles are key to livability and that Portland somehow holds the record for livability. I guess livability is the secret to Brooklyn; even though it’s more expensive than where I live, it’s got the livability rep going.

And I think what charms people about bicycling is the illusion that it is somehow a more sane, more basic, more elemental way to get around than motor vehicle or mass transit. As this Brooklyn Spoke post demonstrates, however, bicycles are caught up in the same politico-cultural milieu as every other form of transportation. It is fairly obvious to me that motor vehicle operation, as the default mode of choice, comes with the privilege (for privileged people) of never having to answer the question, “Why are you driving?” Mass transit, as New York’s people’s mode of transport, comes with the privilege of oblivion—nobody will pay any attention to you while riding the bus or subway.

There are no half measures. We can remake society to place bicycling as the default mode of travel, but why remake society if it is still as unjust and unequal as it is today? More precisely, I commute through the Bronx. I don’t see bicycling improvements being made along my route. Bike Snob, another Bronx commuter, has the right idea, often titling his posts “The indignity of commuting by bicycle.” What I see is that everyone in the Bronx should be indignant about their commute. Yes, bicycles could help, but we won’t get bicycles, because to shift to a bicycle-focused society, the perceived costs of getting the current motoring class around by bicycle will overpower all other considerations. The kind of socially promoted bicycling we would get would be so riddled with exceptions as to make it impossible to actually use a bicycle to get anywhere.

‘A dog could love anyone, she thought. A dog could be happy almost anywhere.’ –Jon Raymond, Train Choir

A dog could love anyone, she thought. A dog could be happy almost anywhere. They just needed food and water and affection. They were not picky about who delivered it.

And by the same token, a dog could forget anyone, too. They were loyal, but only to whoever was around.
And people, they just had to stick dollar signs on everything.
‘Pretty nice, isn’t it?’ Verna said. ‘Nice yard. This isn’t so bad.’
The tears began gently, but then, quickly, came with more power. Soon Verna’s whole body was quaking. She felt like rusty nails were being pried from her chest. She crouched there and let the sun hit her. The sun was still free, she thought, though probably not for too much longer.
‘I lost the car, Lu,’ Verna said, sobbing. ‘I’m sorry…’ And already the decision was made.

 —Jon Raymond, “Train Choir,” from his collection Livability
The whole story, which was recently adapted into a film (Wendy and Lucy), is just one heaping teaspoonful of bad news on top of another. Yet redeeming the difficulties inherent in daily life is somehow worthwhile for protagonist Verna because of her unquenchable love and affection for her dog Lucy. The compressed and unspoken emotion in this passage almost pushes it into Sydney Carton, Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens territory.
At this moment, Verna has decided to abandon Lucy to the foster home in order to be able to proceed with her plan to get to Alaska and work in the fish cannery there.
Raymond writes so flatly about human relationships throughout most of the collection that it takes love between a woman and her canine to really allow him the freedom to express these feelings. I frankly have enough difficulty expressing myself to my friends and entourage that reading about people with the same trouble doesn’t ordinarily interest me, but as a pet owner (cats), I can identify with Verna and her dog. Lucy, her pooch, doesn’t express herself in words, either, making her the perfect Raymond protagonist in a book full of characters who have difficulty getting their feelings out.
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