Monday, December 28, 2020

Hindsight is 2020

As 2020 comes to a close, now seems like a good time to look back at a year like no other.

It's been a while since we've had such
a "White Christmas."
I'm going to start this by mentioning that I don't know how much biking material will be in this post. We had a big winter storm come through our area beginning on the night of Christmas Eve, dumping over a foot of snow, and that meant no Christmas bike ride this year. Even now, on the Monday after, my street is still a thick sheet of ice since no city snowplows ever rolled through my neighborhood. We are low priority, I guess.

Sorry to say, but the Covid-19 pandemic will NOT be over when the new year is rung in. It's crazy to think about the fact that it started almost a full year ago, first being reported in China last January - though it didn't really come to dominate our news and our lives until March when everything shut down. More than 300,000 people have died here in the U.S. since then, and the spike in cases is far beyond what it was back in March. Hospitals across the country are overwhelmed and healthcare workers are exhausted and desperate. Yet somehow there are huge swaths of the American public who refuse to even believe that it's real - even when they're dying from it. Without getting too specifically into the politics of it, I'll just say that the national-level response has been a disgrace. And the state-level response, depending on the state, has been equally pathetic. I felt pretty good about the response by our Governor here in Ohio, at least early on. But when our state's excellent health director started getting death threats and had to resign as a result, the state response has become much more anemic.

Prior to the coronavirus, most of my posts at the beginning of 2020 dealt with my project of restoring this beautiful vintage Specialized Sequoia. I had just finished it when everything "hit the fan."

I was looking back at my blog posts from the past year, and mentions of the virus come up in the majority of them, beginning in March ("Corona Virus Blues") and continuing right up to now. There are posts about working from home, working on bike-related projects during the shutdown, a Covid-19 bike boom, and escaping the quarantine by bike. It's kind of funny to think that someday those posts could be part of some future historian's study of life during the pandemic. A modern Journal of the Plague Year, if you will, as I'm reminded of Samuel Pepys, or Daniel Defoe, in that regard.

The pandemic has already changed many things about our culture and society - both for better AND worse. I'm saddened to think of all the businesses, particularly restaurants and small family-owned businesses, that have either closed or will close before it's all over. I'm frustrated at the way fake news and conspiracy theories have replaced reputable news and common sense as the guiding forces of so many people. I'm concerned that the pandemic has really exposed the serious weaknesses and inherent inequalities in our systems, including economic, political, and healthcare - and I fear that the people who benefit from those weaknesses and inequalities will prevent anything from making them better. I'm not an optimist, and I haven't been since 1992 (yes, I can actually pin it down that specifically).

But have there been any good things to come out of this dumpster fire of a year?

Well, I think it has made people (at least some people) consider what is really important. For every one selfish and ignorant person who refuses to wear a mask because of a twisted and self-indulgent interpretation of "freedom," there are perhaps several more who are making sacrifices to help an elderly neighbor. I think a lot of people have gained more appreciation for family, and cherishing whatever time they are able to spend together.

I've hated many aspects of trying to teach remotely - but I've loved the fact that I've been able to see my wife and my own children so much more during the day (in between our various zoom meetings, etc.). I know that when I do have to return to work, that will be something I will miss.

And, as was mentioned in the post about a pandemic "bike boom" - it seems that a lot of people have come to rediscover the joys of riding a bike. Being stuck indoors has made people crave some kind of release, and bicycling turned out to be a great way to find it. Living so close to a national park, I could see firsthand how people were flocking to the park to enjoy the simple pleasures of a hike or a bike ride through our natural resources.

Here's another thing: people have been driving less, and there has been a marked improvement in the quality of air and water in some places. I wouldn't be surprised if car-related fatalities for 2020 show a significant dip compared to previous years, too.

There is a vaccine now, which means we can almost see a light at the end of the tunnel. But the challenge, as I see it, is staying healthy until one can actually get the dose, and that could take months. When that time finally comes - maybe some time next summer - when we can feel comfortable enough to sit in a theater, or a restaurant - when we can hug that friend or relation without hesitating - when we can begin to feel "normal" again - what will we do? How will we respond? Will we be ready to to make serious changes to our addiction to oil? Will we finally be ready to address issues of inequity and very real weaknesses in our safety net and access to health care? Will people keep riding those bikes they bought - or shove them back down in the basement?

The Anglo-Saxons of the so-called "dark ages" believed in something they called "Wyrd." It's from this word that we got the modern-English word "weird" (and why, incidentally, Shakespeare's witches in Macbeth were called the "Weird Sisters"). The belief in Wyrd was essentially that the skein of any person's fate was woven long before they were born, and nothing they do can change the outcome. But even as we cannot change the outcome of our fate, we can control our response to it -- and it is our response to it that determines what kind of person we are, and the way we will be remembered. This past year has been a reminder that life can sometimes deal us things that we simply can't control. But we can always control how we respond to them. How will future generations view our response to this very weird 2020?

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Bike Safety 101: "This Is Johnny's Car"

Covid is surging. There is a vaccine currently making its way to the highest-risk folks - but the rest of us still have a long wait. Schools are "online" again as our region has reached the "purple zone" on the state's risk-level color chart. I'm working from home, alongside the RetroKids and my RetroWife. We're all on computers in separate rooms fighting for internet bandwidth and distraction-free zones for our various Zoom meetings. 2020 is drawing to a close.

Damn, that sounds almost post-apocalyptic, doesn't it?

So I'm digging around through some old boxes in my basement, looking for what, I don't even remember, when I came across this:

I have no doubt that this little bike safety pamphlet is older than I am. I don't even recall where I got this nostalgic gem, but as usual, I couldn't throw it away. It's a voice from a much simpler time. In the context of our current realities, from pandemic to political, finding this felt a bit like Charlton Heston finding the statue of liberty at the end of Planet of the Apes. This faded little pamphlet is clearly evidence that our world was once a different place.

"This is Johnny's car" and "Johnny is a safe 'car' driver . . ." the pamphlet proclaims. You see, while ostensibly promoting safe bicycle riding, the true message is pretty clear. A bike is something for kids - just a step on the way to the real goal of any true-blue (and staunchly non-socialist) American - Car Ownership.

The safety advice is pretty typical for the time, which I assume to be pre-Bike Boom, and relatively benign - mostly phrased as what Johnny does or doesn't do.

"Johnny Doesn't . . . "

Johnny Doesn't Wobble - on purpose or by accident. "Be sure you ride your bike well before you go out on the highway." Well, at least they admit he's allowed on the roads - but I'm a little surprised they encourage kids (the obvious target audience) to ride on the highways

Johnny Doesn't Let Anyone Sit On His Lap - Ever.

Johnny Doesn't Hog the Road. "Always ride single file. And just like slow cars . . . keep right so faster cars can pass."

Johnny Doesn't Hitch a Ride. "Ever run head-on into a wall? You will if that car stops"

"Johnny Does . . . "

Johnny Observes All Traffic Signs. "For extra safety, he walks his bike across busy intersections. You should too." A bike is "equal" to a car -- but don't go getting any ideas now. 

Johnny Looks Before He Leaps. "Cars don't barge out of driveways and alleys into traffic. You shouldn't either." (except when they DO!).

Johnny Uses Directional Signals. That's nice -- I encounter a lot of drivers who don't.

Johnny Has Lights for Night Riding. "And a horn or bell, too." Funny thing, when the CPSC started regulating bikes in the 1970s, they specifically decided NOT to require lights. But yes - definitely use them.

The tailfins on that car give a clue as to the age of this thing.

"Safe Bike Riders Like Johnny Make Skillful Drivers"

Now there's something I can definitely get behind. I'm convinced that people who routinely ride with traffic are generally more observant and better able to predict the behavior of other road users. I sometimes describe it as "Spidey Sense" - and it comes from knowing how badly most drivers drive, and how clueless (or even aggressive) they can be when it comes to cyclists. I also recognize how much that carries over when I'm in my car.

The pamphlet also explains that according to state law (Pennsylvania, in this case) a bike and a car are the same - and subject to the same rules. Good to know as a cyclist - but it's something that probably bears repeating to drivers more. Equal in the eyes of the law - but the real problem to us as riders is getting drivers to recognize our rights - or even to respect us at all. Especially when their attention is compromised by that addictive attention-sucking cell phone. But then again - such things were the stuff of science fiction when this pamphlet was published.

In that same box, I found a few other old pamphlets with similar, and sometimes dated, safety advice.

The Bike Riders Rules for Safety from Employers Mutuals (sounds like an insurance company to me) suggests that kids only ride on streets where traffic is light, dismount and walk at intersections, always pull over to allow cars to pass, and (oddly, if you ask me) always park your bike on the sidewalk. 

The ABC of Safe Bicycle Riding from the Bicycle Safety League looks to me like something that would have been hanging from the handlebars on a new bike in the early '50s.

There was another one that was more like a little handbook than a pamphlet: Fun on Wheels from The Insurance Office.

This one has so much to it I may have to save it for another post. But it all begs the question, where the heck (and when, and why?) did I get all these things?