Friday, June 30, 2006

Critical Mass

On the last Friday of every month, a pack of bicyclists collect at the Carnegie Library in Oakland to set out, en masse, on a tour through Pittsburgh's East End neighborhoods. Normally, I do not like I do not like riding with large groups but since this particular Friday there was going to be a party at Free Ride to benefit Bike Pgh, I thought I would attend.

There certainly was a much higher concentration of grubby clothes, dreadlocks, tattoos, piercings and leftist attitudes than there are in the general population and it was certainly a different crowd that what I am used to at Rails-to-Trail gatherings. They like to bill Critical Mass as a celebration rather than a protest but one only needed to see it to realize that this was civil disobedience.
To keep the ride together, the go through lights. If the light is red when they get there they will stop but once it's green they keep moving until the whole group. Technically, I'm sure this is violating some sort of traffic rule but it's no worse than what happens when a funeral drives through or some impromptu classic car or motorcycle convoys do. There has been at least one encounter with the police during a previous Critical Mass but there were no police in evidence during this eight mile ride.

Critical Mass at NeglyThere were a number of interesting angry encounters along the way, though. There was the guy driving an ice cream truck attempting to pull out of a gas station in Bloomfield saying, "I'll run you motherfuckers over." Yea, I want you delivering ice cream to the kids in my neighborhood. There was another guy in Bloomfield crossing the street with his 4 year old child in tow. He walked straight ahead, looking neither left or right, straight through the mass of cyclists. An old woman in Shadyside did the same "blinders on" advance. You people wouldn't do that if we were cars, would you?

Critical Mass at NeglyWhen a car tried to push its way into the mass of bicyclists, a volunteer cyclist would stop his bike right in front of the vehicle, essentially daring them to run him over. There were the occasional honks of support, a few waves and some applause but aside from the antagonism there was mostly curiosity.

Critical Mass on Penn Avenue with my own helmet in the foregroundI probably won't participate again. It's not that I have anything against them. Bicycle activism needs some anarchists to piss people off once in a while. It's just not my style.

The party wasn't my style, either. All the food was vegetarian or vegan. Not a single piece of meat. The music was overly loud and not anything close to the genre I have an interest in. In years past, these Bike Pgh parties have drown out a number of the Bike Trail people who I know and who know me but none of them were in evidence. I didn't recognize a single person.

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