Monday, September 28, 2015
Critical Mass: Made the News
When I first heard about Critical Mass, I was horrified. True story. I was green to cycling, still freaked out when cars passed me closer than about three blocks, and approached the situation as if I were an interloper, intruding on the drivers' streets. The concept of taking over the streets to make a point, well, that will just throw fat on the fire, these guys already think we don't belong. But then, I hadn't gotten my mind around the fact that yeah, we do belong on the street. Roads are for moving people, not necessarily just people in cars.
I was so closed to the idea, in fact, that when I was first dating Corinna, and she was a regular participant in Critical Mass, I avoided the whole thing as long as I could.
Now I'm the one who never misses it if at all possible. But I knew it was bad news when I saw an info-babe, Lexi Sutter, from the TV news shooting. I'm not blaming her personally, it's just not a medium that lends itself to getting much right, especially stuff outside the mainstream. Or anything with nuance.
My formulaic explanation of Critical Mass is it's half party, half parade, half protest, half not that good with fractions. My inaugural Mass as also my maiden voyage for self supported touring.
Running stop signs/lights? That sounds really horrible out of context. But this is a parade (or at least 1/5th parade), and you can't get 200 bikes through an intersection on one cycle. So just like any parade, we do a bit of traffic control (known as corking), which involves not just blocking the intersection with your bike and self, but apologizing, explaining, thanking drivers for their patience and so on, it's just a few seconds until your friends are all through. Most of the time drivers are too busy fishing out their phones to take a picture of the freak show to get made, and really, I'm not exaggerating when I say this is a short delay. Usually we're talking one cycle at an intersection, you're now less than two minutes later than you were before we rolled through.
And context definitely matters. One of the vehicles who charged us Friday night, as we came out of the Plaza, was an ambulance. What kind of inconsiderate assholes would hold up an ambulance? Not even Hells Angels have the balls for that, right? But this was on the Plaza, in Kansas City, and he didn't have lights/sirens going, and he was from Raytown according to the decals on the thing. Meaning he was just another driver, and when he decided to just drive at us, he was a a road-raging asshole, not an ambulance driver. We didn't delay him by much and if he'd had lights & sirens going, I guarantee you we would have ditched into sidewalks and ditches and let him go, because emergency vehicles running hot is one sort of motorist I've never, ever seen Critical Mass not yield to.
The news coverage, they were trying hard to get this into a two minute window, and why we are there is complicated. It's a protest against the way cyclists are marginalized and treated as third or fourth class citizens on our roads. It's also a show of numbers, saying look here, it's not just that one guy you saw on the way to work, there's a bunch of people cycling for transportation. It's a show of what's possible when a group takes direct action and asserts itself. And it's a party, true story. Drinking is involved and I won't tell you I've never smelled the aroma of a certain medicinal herb legal to varying degrees in about two thirds of the states. Which makes me thing the KC Critical Mass is a bit more anarchistic than in cities where the mayor rolls with the group and a police escort corks the intersections.
Part of the appeal of Critical Mass is we turn the tables on the motorists for a few seconds. The times I've been climbing Main from the Plaza up into Midtown, it's six lanes, the outside lane is for the bus mostly. But there's on-street parking, and I've been threading the tiny gap between the parked cars and the line marking the outside lane and been passed by a pickup's wide-ass mirror maybe six inches from my head and 30 miles per hour. This happened yesterday, and it wasn't even a surprise. The asshole driving the truck really didn't figure me getting there alive even mattered, he had to charge up that hill and damned if he'd even move within his lane to give me some breathing room. Is Critical Mass running a few people through a red light to stay together 'illegal?' Yep, so is passing a cyclist with less than three feet clearance but cunts do it all the time. And they pretend they're the aggrieved party if you ask them about it.
My friends who responded to the news story with dismay, my reaction was to invite them to come next time. Trust me, Mass looks different from the bike saddle. We're not trying to be dangerous, we're having fun and making a very legitimate point at the same time. Transportation isn't just about cars any more than eating is about frying pans.
So come play with us. I suggested drinking is involved, and it often is, but Randall and some of the other regulars don't drink at all. In Randall's case, he drank his limit, others just don't think booze is so much fun. Then, as on any golf course, there's that other group, and Sunfresh's liquor department profits mightily from us the last Friday of the month.
And of course I played with my speedlight.
A girl got hurt at the skatepark and someone bitched on Facebook the next day that someone had called an ambulance against her wishes. It wasn't me but that's only because I didn't see her go down. The flip side to all the fun that is Critical Mass is this is not a group which embraces helmets overall, and while they won't save you from extreme accidents, a helmet can keep a minor fall minor. And if I see you take a nasty shot to the head, I don't care if you have insurance, or if you protest a bit, I'm going to err on the side of caution. A friend of mine almost signed off on the ambulance who came for his son after a skateboard fall in the driveway, and an hour later it was emergency surgery and two weeks Children's Mercy intensive care—if my friend had signed that slip he'd have been buying a funeral instead of a hospital bill.
The group finished up near the bridge I married Corinna on. The Central viaduct's lower deck is only about a mile from our bridge but it's way creepier. I actually don't have any pics from that part because by then it was super dark and I was exhausted and honestly a bit drunk.
And definitely come join us on October 30, Westport Scumfresh around 6:30 p.m. It's the day before Halloween so it'll be lousy with costumes, a lot of them fantastic, and we'll go make things hot for the natives together.
And if you're nice, I'll take your picture. Probably with the neuralizer attached. You know, Men in Black, most documentaries aren't as compelling but that one really worked. And my SB-800 is definitely a neuralizer.