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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Menace to society

The sidewalk vigilantes strike again. These cowardly little men think they can take it upon themselves to rid the illustrious Ciutat Condal of the “menace”.

That’s right. “Menace to society”.

A term I’ve heard
personally - which was used to refer to us bicyclers by a long time resident, and anglophone, of this city. But his sentiment seems to reflect the general climate of anti-bicycle hysteria.

Before I get to the contingent events that lead up to the damning label of “menace” I’d like to point this out:

My bicycle tire was stabbed.

Someone maimed my bike. Not realizing the full extent of the damage, I went to a regular gas station and tried to pump the tire (I thought it was a simple flat, not a stab wound. I suspected foul play at first, but then decided I was being paranoid – until I saw the gash …).

I ended up going to Probikes on Villarroel 184, which is a great bike shop, should you ever need one, and they were kind enough to give me a second-hand tire for free, and to replace the tube for 8 euros, labor included.

Two days later, paranoid delusions overwhelming me, I have my bike sitting right in front of my apartment door, in my building, when at 1 in the morning I hear a loud hissing noise. About 2 seconds approximately. Sure enough, when I open my door, I realize my back tire, the same one that got stabbed, has blown out. Completely. The same moment that I opened my door I heard the downstairs neighbor’s door shutting. Without any solid evidence, but merely using what I thought was logical deduction, I envisioned my neighbor sneaking up the stairs and stabbing my bike tire. Maybe I almost ran into her one day. Maybe she hates guiris. Maybe she's a mal follada with a thing for bike tire stabbing.

The problem is she’s a typical 80 year old burguesa Catalana, rubia de pote* Her insane collie – I kid you not – takes her for walks. She’s so slow that the dog leads her on their strolls through the Eixample. Logically deducing, once again, I would have to say the possibility of her sneaking up 20 or so steps, stabbing a bike tire, and sneaking back down those 20 steps in time to slip back in her apartment before I opened my door are almost impossible (hissing noise-to-door opening about 20 seconds, approximately).

Crazy next door dog lady is not the culprit, after all. I went back to Probikes the next day and found out the culprit was a defective valve on the tube, which they promptly replaced.

Of course, this doesn’t solve the mystery of the stabbed bike tire.

Since the bike ordnance laws, the hostility to bikers has been palpable, as if, suddenly, we were aggressors in a city full of garullos driving scooters and two ton Seats and trendy Minis bought on credit. As if we were “menaces” to society.

Meanwhile, the sidewalk hero still roams the neighborhood, as do his minions:

The sidewalk hero. His shirt reads: BIKES on the sidewalk. NEVER AGAIN.

The bus drivers, I suspect, are also angry because I, out of sheer necessity, have to ride in their lane. I have also locked my bike to the post of their bus “counter”. This is where, at the end of their routes, they tick off a little contraption in a box, mounted to a pole (yes, my apartment is at the end of the bus line). This hadn’t been a problem before, but since the bus counter thing is probably considered a mobiliario urbano, that is urban furniture (how's that for abstract legalese), it’s illegal to lock your bike to it. And my bike was never in the way. Really. No pictures, unfortunately.

I swear I could go on. There are other people I could suspect, and more bizarre stories. But, alas, I have no concrete evidence. I carry my bike up to my apartment now.

Luckily the bike ordnance laws have eased up. I guess people are complaining.

They are going to install new bike stands. Soon, hopefully. And it is now “permissible” to “zigzaguear”, or zig-zag - i.e. swerve between obstacles. That’s what you do on a bike anyway, right? A car in front of you: you ZIG. Then ZAG. It’s as easy as that. Who the hell would stay behind a car that's spewing out smoke when you could just zig ... and then zag? Who’s the genius who tried to prohibit zigging and zagging? And for that matter, I’m sorry, I’m not two tons of steel barreling through the streets, I’m not a menace to society, and if I see a red light, and no one at the intersection, you know what? Fuck it, I’m going through it.

One day bicyclers will get fed up with this anti biking crap and do a Critical Mass. I witnessed one of the first gatherings in San Francisco. From the intersection of Kearny and Broadway, down to Market, there was nothing but cars honking and people yelling. Throughout the city bicycles had reclaimed the streets. Apocaliptico. I saw a guy jump out of his Mercedes and attack a bike messenger, because he was late. Other bikers retaliated by slamming their U locks on the hood of his 500SL. A friend of mine lead a charge to the Bay Bridge, which later backed up with miles of traffic. I only wish I was in on it. I was working, sadly enough, but could see it all.


* rubia de pote - Peroxide blonde. Very common here, as there are few natural blondes, and the common supposition is that "blondes have more fun". Therefore, many brunettes dye their hair in pursuance of this elusive state of "fun".

UPDATE: originally I put rubia de botella, and someone corrected me. They said, "what botella?"