If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have co-written and performed a medium-sized hit song 17 years ago, it’s like this: Every so often, you’ll be minding your own business, trying to edit a review of the new Destroyer album, when someone will send you a link to a video of SF Critical Mass bicycle activists going all Teen Hulk on a minivan driver—and you will hear your own song playing in the background. Towards the end, when one guy gets especially violent, and starts bashing the hood and driver-side window of the vehicle with his U-lock, you will feel strange. Not Neil-Young-hearing-Donald-Trump-using-"Rockin'-in-the-Free-World"-at-campaign-events strange. But strange.
I'm not a religious man, but even Dante himself would struggle to improve this line from the SF Gate story about the incident to describe what hell must be like:
"The cyclists then lectured the Zipcar driver for several minutes while Harvey Danger’s 'Flagpole Sitta' blared from a speaker attached to another cyclist’s backpack."
It's enough to make you take public transportation.
I already can’t decide what to think about Critical Mass. I agree that righteous protest movements should be belligerent and obstreperous. Bicyclists should be able to share the roads, and car drivers won’t give ground until they’re forced to. And I have an emotional connection: Five years ago, one of the best people I ever knew was struck by a car and killed while riding his bike to work—on a committee whose job was to devise ways to make his city (Charleston, S.C.) more bicycle-friendly.
Cars are toxic and horrible, and the world is dying. These all seem like obvious truths.
However, I also think that bikes v. cars absolutely does not rise to the level of a civil rights movement and find it difficult to sympathize with this particular window-smasher. (Which is not to say I don’t empathize with the onset of explosive rage on city streets when my special zone of integrity has been violated—I just don’t think that rage is ennobling.) As anyone who reads I, Anonymous or, really, any part of social media will tell you, the battle between cars and bikes is almost always a competition for who can be the most loathsome.
But in this instance, these people only seem like dicks. They went looking for a particular kind of fight, found one (never hard), and took a cheap shot when they lost.
The bicyclists sound petulant and infantile, and the driver (of a Zipcar, FWIW) just seems like a beleaguered guy trying to get where he was going—namely away from the angry, aggressive mob surrounding him on a dark street. The larger context of this issue—environmental and economic depredation, complicated class prerogatives, various big lies about America—is entirely nullified when you hear the voices of the supposedly aggrieved Critical Massers. “You’re not going anywhere,” says one of them. “He ran me over!” says another (who was had been shifting position to ensure he got run over). “My new helmet, too!”
They sound like babies. Massive babies. With weapons.
Cars, again, are toxic and horrible. But it turns out they aren’t the worst thing.
People are the worst thing, always.
(Perhaps I will see things differently when the water wars begin in earnest.)