Anyway, I used to listen to WBAI when I lived in Brooklyn. It's a whacky community radio station, kind of the New York City equivalent of KFAI, if it focused mostly on news instead of music. It's the radio station where Amy Goodman's Democracy Now is based, and as you'd expect, on air you'll find lots of older hippies, a mix of left politics and aromatherapy self-help.
When I was unemployed for a while back then, I listened to WBAI pretty much constantly through the day. I remember one guy ranting about the "shredders at Enron" in the middle of the night, predicting a massive financial crisis back in late 2001. I also remember a show where some "doctor" would talk about the wonders of blueberries for two hours once a week. So, yeah.
Well, to my surprise, I'm listening to WBAI again! Eben Weiss, a.k.a Bike Snob NYC, has a weekly hour-long talk show and you can stream it online. If you care about bicycling, the show is a welcome balm. Check it out (click on "Bike Snob" from the drop-down menu).
It's almost a straight-forward call-in show, except that everything is colored by Weiss' ironic sensibility. He begins each of them with a short, well-written monologues, and that's the best part. As with his BikeSnob blog, which has been one of the funniest things on the internet for well over a decade (shoutout to a fellow blogspot user), the writing is excellent, and the combination of a strident content and arch delivery makes it unique.
At the same time, the callers are great as well, combining a strong dose of WBAI wackiness with a wide cross-section of New York City personality types and accents. These are not your bicycle cliché folk, but "regular" New Yorkers, calling in and responding to Weiss' committed bicycling perspective.
Check it out (click on "Bike Snob" from the drop-down menu).
Here's the monologue from the very first show, a wonderful message that captures how I feel much of the time riding around the Twin Cities:
You know, people hate bicycles. They hate them because the people who ride them are too reckless. They don’t stop at lights. They’re dangerous to others…
People hate bicycles because the people who ride them are too vulnerable, they get hit by cars and buses and trucks and they don’t wear helmets. You know conservatives hate bicycles because they don’t shout “freedom” like a big stupid truck. And liberals hate bicycles because they’re not $75,000 electric cars that let you play Cuphead on a giant touchscreen while you’re in autopilot mode on the Henry Hudson Parkway.
You know, rich people hate bicycles because they ruin the neighborhood. And poor people hate bicycles because they cause gentrification. And when you ride a bike, drivers will either deride you as a loser who can’t afford a car…
Or… as a rich and entitled hobbyist who has the luxury of not driving a car like a real working class person in the first place.
It’s tempting to say that people who hate bikes are stupid hypocrites because they’re always contradicting themselves. That’s not true. In fact, bike hate is the great equalizer. Like cycling itself, it’s something everyone can take part in. You’re never too rich or too poor or too rural or too urban or too liberal or too conservative to ride a bike…
Or... to hate those damn cyclists.
If you’re new to riding bikes, this can be disheartening. Here’s what happens when you first start riding. The first thing you feel is joy, because riding a bike is exhilarating. You’re like, "Wow, I can do this every day? This is so much better than the subway! And it’s free. Free!"
But there’s always something around the corner to bust your bubble. Maybe it's all the cars and trucks in the bike lane. Maybe its the cop who gives you a ticket for something you didn’t realize is illegal, or that wasn’t even illegal in the first place. Maybe it's the driver who can harass and threaten you with total confidence that nobody will ever hold them accountable.
Or… maybe it's some stupid newspaper editorial or flier in your grocery store or angry community board meeting about how people like you are selfish entitled whiners who are ruining the city because you’re taking away their parking.
So, it takes determination to ride a bike in this city and in this country. Much, much more determination than it should. As many bike lanes as we have now compared to 10 our 15 years ago, people on bikes in this city are still mostly the little plants who manage to grow in the cracks in the sidewalk.
Bike hate can be totally demoralizing. It can keep you off the bike in the first place or it can keep you from keeping on riding.
But believe it or not, all this bike hate is actually a really good sign. You see, the real reason people hate bicycles is because the bicycle is perfect. The bicycle is the most efficient machine ever devised by human kind. The bicycle is pure motion. They are as close as you’ll probably ever come in your daily life to the sensation of flight. The bicycle is way closer to flight than actual flying. The only time you actually fly is commercial flight, which is a nightmare, whereas if you hop on your bicycle, you’re flying.
A bicycle is 100% joy…
And, it's 100% practicality…
... at the same time.
Kids, adults, commuters, pleasure seekers, bike racers, people cruising the boardwalk on the beach. You can use the bike to win the Tour de France, or you can use it to deliver a pizza. The bike is so easy for everyone to hate, not because its the symbol of a certain type of person, but because it is so utterly universal.
If you’re an angry person it’s only natural to want to beat up on this perfect thing. (It’s like that scene in Fight Club where he beats on Jered Leto, and says “I wanted to destroy something beautiful.”)
Americans have an awkward relationship with practicality, and that includes New Yorkers. Take the SUV as an example: we’d rather cut our dinner with a chainsaw than with a table knife.
The city needs to stop messing around with this tentative "a little bike lane here, a little bike lane there" approach, and the city needs to go all in. We’ve got a transit crisis. We’ve got an environmental crisis. And we’ve got a death crisis. People are getting run down on the streets every day.
And the city also needs to stop sending these mixed messages to drivers. The message now is “we have vision zero, but don’t worry, keep doing what you’re doing, we’re not going to take away your parking.” And “We’re getting congestion pricing, but with all the exceptions everyone’s negotiating there’s going to be like one schmuck in a Hyundai who has to pay it by the time we set it up.” And if we keep going this way, the city is going to have them world’s biggest network of double parking lanes.
We have to go all in on this bike thing. This show is going all in on this bike thing. And it’s starting auspiciously enough on World Bicycle Day.
So Happy World Bicycle Day.
If you miss New York City as I sometimes do, the live conversations will make you long to return. All of the episodes have been good: one episode was about community boards (the New York City version of neighborhood groups), one episode featured a well-known personal injury lawyer who specializes in bicycle and pedestrian crashes, of which in New York City, there are a lot, one episode is about bikes and kids.
All are about New York City, but as with the War On Cars podcast (and even more so, I think), the conversations apply just as equally to cities in the rest of the United States, like Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Give it a listen.
|[A scene from my unforgettable NYC bike ride.]|