Nope, It doesn’t surprise me at all.
As I have mentioned in some previous columns, I like to bike ride. I don’t race at all, save for a brief flirtation with low-level, “category 5” racing in the mid-80’s. I ride for the physical enjoyment, the exercise, all the usual “feel-good” reasons. I’ve been doing it for some time, I guess, having gotten my first “ten speed” as a teenager. ( And Parent units; Bikes don’t have ten speeds any more. It’s an old term and you give yourself away when you use it, so please stop using it. ) I’ll digress for a moment, and mention that for a long time, say the 1890’s, until approximately the 1930’s, indoor track bicycle racing was more popular in this country than baseball or football are today. It’s hard to imagine people packing into New York’s Madison Square Garden, not to watch the New York Knicks (whoever they are.), but to watch powerful, skilled athletes race fixed-gear bicycles around a banked track at blinding speed. And none of them used steroids! Imagine that.
But, there’s another reason I ride: I like to observe things. Lots of things. Things about our society, things about life in general. Oh yeah, during the warm summer months, I like to observe attractive women. I do not apologize for being in good health. Anyway, over the past twenty-plus years, I have observed a lot of things from my bicycle saddle. And I’m able to do this unobtrusively, since bicyclists tend to blend into the background. (Admit it, you see us, but you don’t really “see us” do you?) I’ve ridden through urban housing projects, where drug dealing is done right out in the open, and no effort made to hide it. And I’ve ridden through some of the most exclusive suburbs west of the city of Boston. On one occasion, I rode right into a “Gated Community”, right past a security guard, who smiled and waved as I rode past. Amusing, because for all he knew, I could have been the “psycho of the week”, there to cut up all the nice rich people with a big bread knife. I rode around for a bit, taking in the swimming pools, tennis courts ( Boy, those people play a lot of tennis, it would seem.) and enormous, landscaped lawns. I am guessing that the bill for landscaping one of those lawns is surely more than I earn in two years. Oh yes, almost every driveway had at least one pricey SUV parked in it. I’m talking Range Rovers, Land Cruisers, and the Mercedes Benz models. One driveway had a Hummer parked in it. I’ll bet that really turns heads at the country club. Sigh… I rode out again, in time to catch the guard, who was now sitting inside his little booth, looking very bored. I didn’t catch whether he was armed or not. I understand that many of these gated communities have armed guards after dark. Lovely, considering that the typical private security guard would, in all likelihood, shoot himself in the foot.
Of the things I have seen, some have been hilarious, and some, well, nasty. One time, I had just ridden past Inman square in Cambridge. I stopped for a red light, as any real cyclist should. From somewhere behind, I heard several loud, hard-on-the-eardrums, cracks. Gunfire. Someone apparently felt the need to express himself by robbing a convenience store, and had fired several rounds. So, that was scary. Needless to say, I vacated the area pronto, and it was some time before I rode through Inman square again. Another “nasty”: On a hazy Sunday afternoon, the Massachusetts State Police were in the process of removing a dead body from the charles river, right near the Hatch memorial band shell. ( That’s the place where they have those great concerts on the Fourth of July.) As it turned out, the body was that of a known homeless man, but that was as much as anyone knew.
Perhaps the nastiest thing I have seen in recent memory, was an automobile on fire, fully engulfed by flames. This was right near the Alewife MBTA (Boston’s mass transit system) station. I had been riding the local roadways for the better part of the afternoon, and saw the black smoke, rising from a short distance. I approached, and joined several other cyclists and rollerbladers, to watch this rather unusual spectacle. People were being kept at a safe distance by police, and that was a good thing. Let me say that to see a car on fire, in person, is very different from seeing it on tv, or in the movies. the “KA-WHAP” sound, made when each of the four tires blew, made people jump back several more feet. I later found out from a bike patrolling Cambridge police officer that the car, a late model Ford Mustang, had been stolen from the Alewife station, and that the thieves, apparently not “pro’s”, had fudged up the electrical system of the car, causing the fire. Sadly, the thieves didn’t burn up with it. Oh well, guess you can’t have everything.
I’ve seen plenty of good, funny things as well. Among these, is a young woman who does a “Robot Mime” performance in Harvard Square. She does the robot moves perfectly, and some people are convinced she is some sort of mannequin, since she can stand motionless, for considerably long periods of time.
Nope, I’ve seen her stop for a break, and she’s quite real. Last time I checked, store mannequins didn’t eat pizza. But how does she do those moves? Heh, some things you see around Harvard Square are worthy of a David Lynch movie. ( He’s never around when I need him! ) There’s the guy who wears a “sandwich board” which always has some sort of religious message on it. (“The Rapture is coming! Are you Ready?”). I’ve been tempted to stop and tell him that I just saw Jesus, and he’s heading this way. No, I thought better of that idea. ( Read, I chickened out.) And there was the woman who hung out anywhere on Mass Ave, between Central Square and Harvard Square, and was always doing a very bad rendition of “God Bless America”. I use past tense here, since I have not seen her in over a year. Oh yes, there is the area known as “The Pit”. Heh, when they rebuilt Harvard Square more than ten years ago, they wanted to design the subway entrance to have “aesthetic appeal”. So, the area around the subway entrance is “sunk” several feet, and lined with benches. Well, it instantly became the place for the local “punks” with their leather outfits, spiked purple hair, and chain jewelry, to hang out. A few kids, some runaways, and some trying to escape the oppression of affluent white suburban life, have made the pit a “home away from home”. For the most part, it’s part of the show, but I’d avoid it after 9 PM. And oh yes, there’s the occasional protest. Guess some people just can’t let the sixties attitude die with dignity. One group was demanding an investigation into who really killed Kurt Cobain. Hoo-boy. It’s amusing, knowing that some of these kids are participating in behavior which will someday keep them off the Supreme Court. Oh well. And some things I have seen are just funny because, well, they just are. An example of this would be the endless line of vehicles, waiting to gain entrance to Walden Pond Beach on a hot summer day. It stretches, sometimes for more than a mile on route 126. From a bike, you can see that there are no smiling faces behind the wheels of the various vehicles. I have often wondered how many divorce proceedings begin right there, in those lines of cars and pricey SUV’s. What’s even more amusing, are the ones who try to “beat the system”, by parking in an illegal spot, and sneaking into the swimming area through the woods. This never works, but they keep trying. ( Word to the unwise: Soccer moms, unless you are a serious cyclist, avoid wearing spandex shorts, okay? )
So, what’s my point of all this? Well, it occurred to me the other day, that nothing seems to surprise me any more. I used to keep a mental inventory of everything I had seen on a particular ride, but now, a lot of things just go right past me. Is this a “good thing”, or a “Bad thing”? Well, that’s a tough one to speculate. There is one thing I have seen that did surprise me however: They put Christmas Decorations up, over Mass Ave. in Cambridge! Horror of horrors! This is Cambridge after all, the center of “Uber Liberalism” in the northeast. Surely, someone could manage to tie Christmas decorations in with the “imperialistic, white-male policies of the Bush administration”, or something like that. After all, in the lily-white town of Lexington, a very concerned group of citizens managed to put a stop to the town’s nativity scene, which had been a holiday fixture on the town common for more than eighty years. ( Yeah, that’ll show Ã”em! ) Perhaps a demonstration needs to be arranged, to protest Christmas decorations in Cambridge. It wouldn’t surprise me.