Self-Preservation: There's No "Me" in Smugness

Hey duders!

Somewhere in the snowy wilds of Canadia, where the men are moose, the women are hosers, and the back bacon runs free, one solitary man is still upset that I pretended to think that Ryder Hesjedal is from the United States, for I recently received the following email:

Nope, i can assure you that you really dont know how to tell a joke. Just stating something absurd is not telling a joke. There has to be a hook beyond the pretence? of ignorance. You may want to review your semi-pro rating. Hopelessly amateur may be closer to the mark.

I enjoyed this tremendously, since indignant emails about inconsequential matters are my favorite form of prose.  As a bonus, this one even features the old question-mark-after-the-misspelled-word-that-the-author-couldn't-be-bothered-to-look-up, which we in the semi-professional writing trade call the "lazy-man's spell check."  In any case, if he doesn't like absurdity for absurdity's sake I only hope he never sees a Steven Wright routine, because he'll be hunting-and-pecking away at indignant emails for the next ten years.

Speaking of false claims concerning one's nationality, the good people of Portland (or, more accurately, its environs--or at least Oregon) have been duped by a wily Australian (or, more accurately, Faux-stralian) bounder and grifter:

Here's how the elaborate caper "went down" (to employ the hardboiled language of police procedurals):

An Australian man on a bike tour through Oregon has learned first hand how supportive and compassionate our community is.

On Sunday, Salem resident Chad Butler was on his way home from participating in the Sisters Stampede mountain bike race when he came across a man from Darwin, Australia named Ian (no last name given) whose rear wheel had been badly damaged after being hit by a van.

Naturally, upon hearing that a person with a bike was in trouble, the smug people of Oregon all put on their helping pants:

After offering to help Ian himself, Butler then made an appeal for others on the OBRA list to step up:

"I'm hoping I can help him find a heavy duty 700c touring wheel. Being that he's currently without the ability to access his bank, I'm willing to be his benefactor, but I'm hoping to find a killer deal amongst our loving OBRA community. Bring it on guys. This fella started his bike journey here in Toronto and has pedaled his way all the way to Oregon, a mecca of U.S. cycling, only to find bad luck. I think we can change it around."

To be a recipient of this kind of assistance is to be, in an odd way, a victim.  Sure, people are coming to your rescue, but they're mostly coming to your rescue to further inflate their bloated sense of how wonderful they are, so what you really are is sort of a smugness piñata being bludgeoned with kindness and bike parts.

As it turns out, though, this man was no unwitting piñata.  He was in fact a professional huckster and confidence man who knew all too well how to extract the sweet, sticky nectar of smugness from the people of Oregon.  Indeed, after BikePortland published the original story, commenter after commenter logged on to share similar encounters with the same individual.  There was this one:

This probably sounds crazy. I am 99% sure that the "Australian named Ian" from today's front page story isn't who he says he is...

I ended up helping him fix a flat tire (he said his hands were pretty useless since his Golden Glove boxing days), and he laid on a sob story about someone stealing his wallet from his bike trailer, and having to wait for cash to be forwarded before continuing his journey (sound familiar?). I lent him $20 as he left camp, and he took my address to mail me payback. I left camp shortly after, and passing through Ashland saw his bike parked outside a bar. I walk in and he is drinking and playing video poker!!

And this one:

This sounds all too familiar to me as well. I helped out a similar fella probably 9 or 10 years ago (same small stature same penchant for tale telling) claimed he had toured all over the country and had actually stopped at Specialized bike's headquarters where he became fast friends with Ned Overend whom he fondly referred to as "Nedley". I actually drove him to a shop in Salem from the side of I-5 where he had his wheel repaired and since he had no money I ponied up the ten or so bucks with the promise that he'd pay me back. Never saw him again until (I think) now...

And this one:

Wow! I ran into this guy at Standish-Hickey in August 2010 in the middle of a tour to SF. The guy showed up with a can of Budweiser, a copy of USA Today ("rubbish" he called it) and said he'd been robbed in Eugene (bags stolen while he used a gas station restroom) and was going to high-tail it straight down 101 to the Australian embassy. He was wearing dirty old bike shorts (in fact, he was generally covered in dirt) and had a cheap 4-man tent without a fly.

Best of all, this huckster doesn't even have to bother to look the part of the long-distance bicycle tourist:

(When not grifting, "Ian" plays Homer J. Simpson at children's birthday parties.)

This is because the Religion of Smugness expressly prohibits its members from inferring anything from someone's appearance, even if it's in their own self-interest to do so.  This is why they get taken by people who claim to be riding from the North Pole to Tierra del Fuego but look like they've just hastily slipped on an ill-fitting jersey in the bathroom of a greasy spoon.

Of course, one might argue that it's always better to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I'm not so sure.  Maybe I'm just a cynical New Yorker, or maybe I'm just a plain old-fashioned misanthrope, but if I were approached by a man who looked as though he's just had a hot date with a hot open turkey sandwich and who spun a baroque tale of misfortune in an ersatz Australian accent I suspect I might be disinclined to help.  Then again, I'd probably also be disinclined to stop and help if I were to witness a zombie attack, which is what a reader tells me other cyclists failed to do in the case of that horrific face-eating incident in Miami. (And yes, if you're reading this outside of the United States, it's officially come to face-eating here in Canada's Dockers.)  Anyway, here's what happened:

In the Herald video (, a naked Eugene walks west on the sidewalk alongside an off-ramp of the causeway. A bicyclist speeds past Eugene just as he turns to something in the shade, in an area obscured by the tops of palm trees.

After a couple minutes, Eugene rolls Poppo's body into the sun and begins stripping off his pants and pummeling him. Later, the footage shows Eugene pull Poppo farther up the sidewalk. Though the view is partially obstructed by the mass transit rail above, Eugene appears to hunch over and lie on top of Poppo.

The footage shows a bicyclist slowly pedaling past the men about halfway through the attack, followed by a car slowly driving on the shoulder of the ramp. Cars regularly pass by the scene from the beginning of the attack, but their view was likely obstructed by a waist-high concrete barrier.

Two more bicyclists cross the scene before a police car drives the wrong way up the ramp nearly 18 minutes into the attack.

Notice how the article implies the cyclists simply ignored the attack while at the same time providing a ready-made excuse for the drivers, as though people who ride bikes are somehow worse people who drive cars.  If anything, though, this horrible tale underscores our shared humanity regardless of what sort of vehicle we operate.  The truth is that, whether we're straddling our crabon Fred chariots or tapping at the gas pedals of our bloated SUVs, we're all unified in our compulsion to get as far away as possible from two naked men writhing underneath an overpass.  It's one thing to stop and ask a stranded cyclist if he needs help fixing his flat or offer a stalled motorist the use of your cellphone; it's quite another to stop and try to ascertain whether two pantsless people are making love or just eating each other alive.  You can call this self-preservation instinct mercenary if you like, but I choose to find it oddly comforting.

But while cyclists may shy away from zombie attacks, they have no inhibitions when it comes to telling other cyclists what to do.  In particular, cyclists love to bark orders at each other, and one of the most popular orders is the admonition to "Hold your line!," which I heard recently in Prospect Park:

There I was, piloting my smugness chariot and taking great pains to ignore any zombie attacks or hapless Australians that might be hiding in the bushes, when I heard those words: "Hold your line!"  At first I thought they were directed at me, which was perplexing since the long wheelbase of my smugness chariot makes any kind of weaving almost impossible.  But then the riders pictured above appeared, and I realized that one of the Fredericas (possibly the one with the pink hot pants) was yelling at the guy on the hybrid.  This seemed wholly unnecessary, for not only was there plenty of room on the park roadway, but hybrid guy also appeared to be adhering to his "line" quite linearly.  Really, telling strangers in the park to "hold your line" is for the sort of people who need a "tactile signal" to tell them where their handlebars end.

Most of all, though, I was disappointed because both riders were wearing fanny packs, and I'd like to think that there's a greater sense of community and respect among people who wear butt-pouches.  Given the amount of derision they're subjected to, you'd think they'd at least look out for each other.
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