What is happening in Chicago?
Innocent people mowed down in the street. Terror creeping steadily into our everyday existence. A sense that there is no corner of the city where one can safely walk the streets. It is a new evil we meet, one without its origins in poverty, or social injustice, or hatred, or greed. One that seems beyond our powers of defense, leaving us to cower before it.
I am talking about bicycles. And the idiots who ride them.
I know it sounds harsh. But I have been in Chicago for a long time, and am well-acquainted with its culture. Not the culture that's meant to be good for us, which is served up in this city by the same people who took the Coke machines out of the high schools, but the traditional culture of the neighborhoods. And, trust me, it is not a bike culture.
Traditionally, in Chicago, the people who ride bicycles are:
- Children, who ride on the sidewalks if they want to live to be adults;
- Teenagers, until they are old enough to handle a drunk on the El;
- Hipsters, who are sort of clueless about a lot of things;
- Tourists; and
- Other morons.
"Tourists" include commuters who live in the suburbs. The "other morons" all go to Northwestern and/or live on the lakefront. Everybody else drives, walks, or takes public transit, although I have actually known - personally - three adults who do not fit into one of the categories, above, and who rode bicycles in Chicago. One was hit by a car. Of the other two, one was a physicist and the other from France, so they're excused.
The problem with bicyclists in Chicago is that they think they're in Europe. I know this because I can determine the demographic of the riders by looking at their faces, and they are all the faces of people that I can imagine saying one of the following,
"When Jonathan and I were in Prague last year, it was so refreshing to see people on bicycles."
"Wow, dude, like, when I was living in Europe? Like, NOBODY drives a car there, dude, EVERYBODY has a bike. Yeah, I spent a semester in Spain."
What these possibly well-intentioned and marginally intelligent people don't get is that bicycles, everywhere on the planet except the United States, are a legitimate form of transportation and are taken seriously by those who wield them. They are popular with people who don't have a lot of cars or money, not with people who can afford special bicycle apparel, or who are riding a bicycle because it gives their abs a good workout. And people in Europe tend to be very well-mannered with the use of their bicycles, as opposed to American urban bicyclists who seem to feel that riding a bicycle gives them a special dispensation to exist on a higher plane.
Not a day goes by, during the commute to my place of underemployment, that I am not witness to a flagrant traffic violation, usually dangerous, by a bicyclist. Much more frequently than those committed by cars. Yesterday, in the six short blocks between the train station and my job, I saw three of them:
- A man who ran a red light, and proceeded to turn left into a group of people crossing the intersection;
- A woman riding the wrong way down a one-way street;
- A man pedalling his bicycle twelve inches from the front of a bus, the driver of which really REALLY REALLY wanted to go faster than 12 mph so that all of his 75-or-so passengers could get to where they were going on time.
All of these within 15 minutes. During rush hour.
What's a mere mortal of a pedestrian to do? One can make a scathing remark, and I do - usually involuntarily - when I behold a particularly shocking display of utter disregard for the rest of humanity by a bicyclist. But that's not enough. I'm a Sicilian. I want revenge.
Nothing that would cause permanent damage, of course, that's bad karma and not how I roll. However, I would consider paintballing their freakishly ugly shoes because the karma incurred by causing distress and dismay to the bicyclist would be cancelled out by the improvement to the shoes. Unfortunately, it is difficult to hit a moving target with precision, and one does have to be careful about whom one paintballs in Chicago
Maybe flashcards. I had a friend who had flashcards in her car: "Fuck you", "Asshole", and "Learn How to Drive", from which she could make combinations. My concerns here would be the portability of the cards (they would have to be quite large to gain the attention of a passing bicyclist), and that someone other than the cyclist might take umbrage, another thing to be careful about in Chicago.
I think that the best idea would be to create a Facebook page called "The Halfwit Hall of Fame", or some such thing, and post pictures of bicycle traffic offenders in Chicago, preferably flagrante delicto. Perhaps they can be shamed. If not, then perhaps the pictures will achieve such notoriety that no one will ever want to date the offenders. Though I struggle with the idea of who would want to date them now.
I think I've finally discovered a plausible use for social media.