22.8.12

Joe Soucheray Secretly Likes Bicycle Boulevards

[Rough sketch of Joe's thought process: turning right until you turn left.]
Under normal circumstances, I avoid Soucheray column the way Meg Tuthill avoids apologies. Trying to make sense of Joe Soucheray is like playing pinochle with an ATV salesman: you don’t know what the rules are and dialogue only makes it worse.

Soucheray personifies the conservative side of St Paul, in that he's a toothless patriarchal SUV reactionary clinging to a mythological image of the past where change is a four-letter word who somehow channels generous slices of St Paul's id through his pasty lumpy body to project it into a force of NIMBY nature that can flatten bicycles in its path and toss aside local transit projects like a teapot in a tempest. He’s a man making his living recycling false parables of autonomy into a soothing quasi-religion called “garage logic” in a futile attempt to prop up fading local media empires with economic stimulus from Viagra ads.

(Actually, I don't wish him ill. Hell, if "garage logic" means being able to fix it yourself with metal tools, then I’m all for it, though nowadays cars are opaque black boxes with nothing but expensive proprietary technology. And now that I think of it, this could very well be a description of what I do here, if you replaced truck engines with bike chains and a 50s car-soaked historical imaginary with a the image of a streetcar in 1905.)

So the other day, I found myself in a my neighborhood library paging through the St Paul Pioneer Press, our local newspaper. I was trying to find actual news articles about St Paul, which has become more and more difficult to do since the once-important rag has pretty much shrunk down to one actual local reporter for the entire metro area. I was having no luck finding news, until I glanced the ghastly Soucheray visage next to the headline:
Local businesses are in the way of prettier bike rides

Oh no, not again, I muttered, and yes, there was yet another Souche-bag anti-bike diatribe plopped onto the bottom of Section B, which was otherwise nicely festooned with stories of dog shows, petty crime, and a big color image of blonde kids on a slip-and-slide. I sighed, and read through a few of the predictably paranoid paragraphs before shoving the paper aside in favor of he slightly-less-useless Minneapolis daily.

For the next few weeks I tried to lead my life as if I didn’t live in a reactionary city, as if the civic culture surrounding me wasn’t dominated by a misanthropic troll.

Still, something didn’t sit right. At nights I tossed and turned while Soucheray’s gnarled ghost materialized in my dreams right next to Shatner. Something was amiss. Something didn’t add up...

Restless, I pried myself out of bed, flopped into my slippers, turned on my computer, and opened the saved file of Soucheray’s anti-bicycle column. In the dark hours of the night, I was surprised at what I found. Soucheray begins with a simple statement of fact:
Transit for Livable Communities next intends to turn Charles Avenue in St. Paul into a bicycle boulevard from about Rice Street to North Aldine Street, two blocks west of Snelling Avenue.

But then he drops a revelation:
Charles Avenue could stand a bit of beautification, if, in fact, roundabouts, bumpouts, medians, landscaping and sidewalk art are not ultimately rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Charles Avenue has become a bit of rough and tumble below, say, Victoria Street and is not exactly the first street that comes to mind when Mom wants to take the kids for a bike ride.

This paragraph should shock you. Read without sarcastic scare quotes, taken at face value, Joe Soucheray might very well stating his support for a  bicycle and pedestrian project if, in fact, attempting to divine the a literal meaning in his columns isn’t like re-wiring the neon signs in Block E.

He continues with some more bitter approval:
But let's give the unelected activists who have gotten their mitts on federal grant money -- your money -- the benefit of the doubt. For much of Charles Avenue, such improvements might very well introduce a note of civic integrity. The roundabouts alone might prevent morons from getting their crotch rockets up to about 110 mph in a two-block stretch.
[If Soucheray were a cute cartoon bear...]

Granted, that’s kind of like when I say, “let’s give this leathery snipe making his living sewing distorted animosity the benefit of the doubt.” But still, the literal meaning of these words suggests that Soucheray likes traffic calming. That he couches his admiration with desultory scorn is just a unique character trait, akin to the one grey Care Bear with the raincloud on its belly.

While a precursory reading of Soucheray’s column suggests that the entire thing should be read with the tone of the sarcastic kid from junior high, my background in literary analysis suggest an alternative interpretation, that the tone here contains a poignant tinge of tragic irony at Soucheray’s bizarre fate, that a once vituperative detestable naysayer has become a reluctant admirer of traffic calming and walkable urbanism.

Soucheray continues his column with a few halfhearted complaints about the light rail train (and even those aren’t so bad), before describing the troubles of an upset business owner. Yeah, OK.

The rest of the article is beside the point. Read charitably, ol’ Joe favors the Charles Avenue bicycle boulevard. He wraps up his column by saying, “it might just work, both as an improvement to an avenue that needs some freshening and as a calming balm for those heathens still relying on the old minivan,” before ending with the admittal that the bicycle boulevard is “possibly even productive.”

I don’t’ know. Perhaps Soucheray has a love of the city shoved extraordinarily deep within him, buried like a family secret. Perhaps his strange ode to winter bicyclists from a few years back was an odd moment of truth, an eye of understanding in a hurricane of spittle.

I do know that I’ll sleep better knowing that Joe Soucheray is coming around on bike boulevards and walkable streets. It almost makes me pause to reconsider some of my long-held assumptions. Maybe someday soon there’ll be a grocery store in downtown St Paul, bicycle punks hanging out by the downtown train station, people leaving the skyways to eat lunch in parks, and St Thomas students sweeping the sidewalks of Summit Avenue.

I can dream, can’t I?*

[People leaving downtown St Paul office buildings to eat at food trucks outside.]



*Damn you Shatner!

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