People Are People: Dealing With It

Like many people, I prefer to focus on aspects of life that are pleasurable and that do not pose a challenge to my meager intellect or trip the hair trigger of my moral outrage. Unfortunately, in a world filled with injustice, famine, war, toxic baby toys, and sitcoms starring Charlie Sheen that have lain waste to the entertainment landscape with their seven-year reigns of terror, this can sometimes be very difficult to do. Still, I try my best, which is why football and/or soccer star David Beckham's recent purchase of a "fixie" (forwarded to me by a number of readers) is big news in the carefully "curated" Universe of Fatuousness that I inhabit:

Strolling down a Santa Monica street with a brakeless fixed-gear bicycle in one hand and a wallet containing millions of dollars in the other, he looks like a hunter who has just shot a particularly robust pheasant. This photo is still more proof that the fixed-gear trend is almost exactly like a horror movie villain, in that every time you think it's dead it emits a blood-curdling squeal and springs violently back to life. Furthermore, with each ungodly resurrection its appearance grows more garish and sickening, as Jared Leto's arrival at the MTV Video Music Awards on his new Chari & Co. douche chariot (also forwarded to me by a number of readers) illustrates:

The continued existence of the MTV despite the nasal exhortations of the mid-1980s is proof that our society is sick, and in terms of cultural fare its Video Music Awards show is a bucket of fast food chicken that is rife with salmonella. Here is what salmonella looks like under extreme magnification:

("We're salmonella, but a lot of people confuse us with syphilis.")

And here is what it sounds like after you think it's dead but emits a blood-curdling squeal and springs violently back to life.

But as assiduously as I strive to focus entirely on these sorts of current events, even I sometimes fall victim to actual "news." This usually happens when I turn on the television and actual news is on it and I am too lazy to change the channel. (Obviously turning the television off altogether is not an option. TVs are like refrigerators; they need to be running pretty much all the time.) For example, this morning that Imam who's building that mosque or Islamic cultural center or whatever it is in downtown Manhattan was talking, and I accidentally found myself paying attention. Like coffee, religion props people up and gets them through their day, and in this sense I believe that religious institutions are like Starbucks in that there are way too many of them and they sell a lot of crap--the only difference is that at least Starbucks pays taxes and offers WiFi. So I find myself approaching a debate about the opening of any religious institution (or, for that matter, a Starbucks) the same way I do the World Series, in that any hopes I do have regarding the outcome are informed only by my underlying belief that the entire sport is stupid.

Anyway, contemplating religion is a sure way to lose one's faith in humanity, and any I may have had left was badly shaken by this story which I received from someone at "Bicycling:"

I realize that sharing such a story on a Monday is a fine way to cast a pall over the entire work week, but once I lift the Veil of Denial I tend to find myself swamped with ugliness. I also couldn't help considering it in the context of this blog post, which innumerable people have forwarded me since it was published and which many you have probably seen already:

While the ironically-named Felix Salmon makes a number of good points, I was somewhat troubled by the following paragraph:

In what universe do nearly all motorists follow nearly all the rules? Certainly not in New York City. Not even in my Universe of Fatuousness is this the case. Sure, motorists do not break the rules in the same way that bicyclists do--for example, you won't see 10 or 15 cars roll through a red light at a busy intersection, and it's rare (though not unheard of) for drivers to use the sidewalk. However, when you consider the number of people who drive above the speed limit, or drive while talking on the phone, or drive with suspended or revoked licenses, or drive with lapsed insurance, or the drivers who live in New York but register and insure their cars out of state, motorists are certainly as wont to break the law as cyclists. They just do it differently, and usually with more disastrous consequenses. Consider this horrible story:

Until I read the above article this morning, I was still lodged in my Shell of Denial, but this finally pried me out of it like a deftly-wielded lobster fork. A cyclist who runs a light or salmons is only breaking the law at that moment, but the woman driving with a suspended license is breaking the law from the moment she puts her car in gear, and the reality is that streets are just as full of rogue drivers as rogue cyclists. Cycling aside, it's hard to imagine that anybody who's ever driven a car in New York City could make this statement:

The motorist-motorist encounter, by contrast, is very highly choreographed, with lights and lanes and speed limits and indicator lights and even a dedicated corps of traffic police to enforce the rules. The rules aim to minimize car crashes, and again, as a general rule, they do a pretty good job.

I do my share of driving and I had no idea all that cutting people off and speeding and changing lanes without signaling and blowing through stop signs was "choreographed"--no wonder I find driving (to say nothing of cycling) in New York City so irritating. And I can't believe anybody who's spent any time in New York City at the helm of any vehicle could make the following statement:

Yes, having a one-way system means you’ll sometimes have to go a couple of blocks out of your way, but cars do that automatically, and most of the time they’re going slower than the bikes.

I can't possibly the only person who's almost been killed by a driver speeding down an entire city block in reverse to snag a parking space.

Again, Salmon makes many excellent points, but I was dismayed to see he fell into the same trap (or, in his case, net) as most other people who try to address this issue, which is to suppose that drivers and cyclists and pedestrians are somehow "different," or that their nature is somehow determined by their vehicle. Excluding for the moment the fact that many people are pedestrians and cyclists and drivers at various points in the day, a considerate person is a considerate person and an idiot is an idiot, and both will behave as such regardless of how they are propelling themselves at any given moment. "People are People," sang some awful 80s band, and saying drivers rarely break the rules but cyclists always do is like saying poor people commit crime all the time but rich people rarely do. Of course rich people are criminals too--they just rob you differently.

Of course, there are signs of progress in New York City--or at least of smugness, as one reader informs me:

However, the author was apparently still disappointed for a number of reasons, among these being the fact that there were no small children among the cargo:

There are two Cargobikes but no children. In all fairness the kids might have just been dropped off at the daycare center but again, seeing people carrying their precious cargo around on bikes is the surest sign of the perceived danger being low.

Oddly, I see cyclists carrying children on bicycles all the time in New York City, though rarely in cargo bikes. Of course, this could be less because we have a poorly-evolved "bike culture" and more because, in New York, cargo bikes are affectations for loft-dwelling single people who have too much disposable income. But I guess in the World of Smugness, not having a small child rattling around in your cargo bike is the equivalent of putting a brake on your track bike. Somehow, it makes you a "wuss."

It's heartening to know that, should we one day finally rid ourselves of religion, we'll still be able to judge each other based on vehicle choice. People are people after all.

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