Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Perfect Storm

What's a cyclist to do when nasty weather won't quit?

Resigning myself to drive was bad enough. But now one of the cars needs work again. Ordinarily at this time of year we would simply send it to the mechanic for as long as it takes. I don't need no stinkin' car. But with snow still on the menu, the bike is not the best option.

Fortunately, the pattern seems to have shifted enough just to drench me with an endless hypothermic downpour. No problem. I've even commuted in a wetsuit.

It's hard to get excited about buying a new car when much better technology could be coming soon. We'd throw down for a Prius, but what if something more like the ever-useful small station wagon comes out soon after we enslave ourselves to a car payment?

An automobile is the most expensive piece of disposable crap we have to buy to function in American civilization. No one can deny that the ability to transport ourselves and some equipment fairly quickly across moderately long distances proves extremely useful. Cars filled a niche that had already been created by our use of space as the country developed. In a way, we inherited an existing mode of life from the natives, although we moved on a different schedule and used the land more harshly while we remained on it.

Mobile society lays nomadic wandering on top of a private-property grid in an uneasy merger with an Old World-style division of city states, aristocratic holdings and small farms. Europe had done away with most of its migrants and nomads by the time the first waves of settlement headed for the New World. The wanderers who came over wanted to establish their own land holdings. But with a large land area to settle in a short time, swift mobility remained as important as personal ownership of real estate. It was the dawning of the age of wish fulfillment for the common man. That was not immediately clear, but look at it from our perspective now.

The automobile is all about wish fulfillment. The advertisements are full of fantasies of speed and maneuverability. Go wherever you want, whenever you want, for work or play.

As with any set of wishes, unintended consequences abound. So here we are, in a time when a working class income puts you in a slum if you live in a city large enough to have public transportation, and behind the wheel of a decaying crap-box if you live in a more dispersed community.

Or riding a bike in the rain, if you have chosen to try it.

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