Tuesday, February 14, 2012

They Think You're Eccentric

Neighbourhood
"I don't want to go around in a car all the time.  I don't think it's healthy.  But if they see you walking on a road out there, they think you're eccentric."

These words were uttered by "Little Edie" Beale, the reclusive cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy, as an explanation for why she finally decided to sell the dilapidated Long Island estate Grey Gardens where she'd been holed up for decades with several dozen cats.The irony of this statement coming from her aside, there is undoubtedly a truth to it.

As a teenager in a New England suburb in the 1990s, I was among the very few students in my high school who did not drive. My boyfriend was another such anomaly. We walked home from school together almost every day and it was just under 3 miles, taking us down the main street that stretched through the center of town and then along a woodsy park road that wound around a lake. I remember these walks vividly, because together with the scenery and the endless deep conversations there was always a degree of dread mixed into it. Everything would be wonderful until someone would drive by and shout something nasty at us. It could be students from the school or it could be adults from town, and the harassment usually varied from random hooting to things like "Whatsamatta kid, too poor to drive your girl to the woods?" On occasion, even a police car would slow down to make sure we weren't up to no good - just because we were walking.

While mostly we were okay with all of this and even found it funny, it would be a lie to pretend it did not get to us on some level. One Valentine's Day we got into an argument, because we wanted to go for ice cream, but both secretly dreaded the idea of walking or riding our bikes there - kind of difficult to maintain a romantic mood while getting harassed. When I think back on this, the absurdity of it overwhelms me. But that's really how it was in our town, at least in the 90s.

In the American suburbs getting around other than in a car is not normal, and I think we underestimate the extent to which this social element is an obstacle to walking and cycling. The majority of people do not wish to be perceived as poor, eccentric, or even "different" as they go out for ice cream on Valentine's Day.

82 comments:

  1. Clear sign of unhealthy bike obsession: When I saw the headline, I was pretty sure this post would be about bottom brackets.


    But seriously, you're right. I'm not sure what I would do, if biking became average and accepted. Segway, maybe? Gotta stay ahead of the normals.

    ReplyDelete
  2. ...and that said, what's more romantic than enduring shared persecution? '90s teens may remember this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhAzOrKOZHk

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wasn't my thing : )

      The shared persecution could be an angle, but I am not a fan of the victim mentality. Instead we dealt with it by feeling sorry for all the so-called normal people. But I think for teenage males it is difficult to be made to feel inadequate or helpless in front of females. I did not appreciate that at the time.

      Delete
    2. You know, the more I think about it, the more I'm sure this is an important post. There's so much that people need to talk about, here! For starters,

      1) Suburban car culture has turned much of the U.S. into a giant Stanford Prison Experiment -- that is, it's a system designed to bring out the latent sadism, driven by pressure to conform, that everyone carries (but that a more humane social environment would try to control, channel, or discourage). Discuss.

      2) The relationships of men and women to public space are not only very different, but follow different life arcs.

      Boys and young men are subject to random, public violence in a way that would be tolerated for nobody else in the culture (in my case, after getting beaten up pretty badly near my house in 10th grade, I didn't go out on the street alone again until after HS graduation. This was in a middle-class suburban neighborhood. I couldn't even say anything about it to anyone, because to admit it is to add to the shame.). BUT, once you get past age 25 or so, the situation flips entirely, and you become the one with the cultural power, and thus the only person who's usually willing to take the lane -- you become The Person Who Will Win In Court. That's if you're white, of course.

      For women, it might be a bit of the reverse -- as a teenager you're somewhat protected by the "don't hit girls" rule, but then as you grow up you become aware that A) lots of men, who hold the cultural power, don't mean well toward you, and B) the culture thinks you're abnormal by default (if male is coded as normal), and therefore weak, and therefore eccentricity becomes something more to be feared. Just speculation. What do you think?

      Thanks, by the way, for mentioning what you've learned about teenage male psyche -- it often seems axiomatic that boys are clueless about girls, but people hardly ever admit to the reverse.

      PS, I looked just like your BF at the time, chin-length fluffy hair, homemade t-shirts, and all. I miss it, sometimes.

      Delete
    3. I know what you're getting at, so don't take this too harshly. But I will dissent from the idea that boys/men face a higher risk of violence at any stage of life then women. Maybe a higher risk of getting punched in the face, but not of violence. The risk of which I think is a big real and perceived reason women don't bike as much as they would want to.

      Delete
    4. I think there are different methods of harassment toward males and females. When I'd walk home from school alone, no one would shout anything hostile at me, but I would be offered rides and the men (always men - no female had ever pulled over to offer me a ride) would get upset when I'd decline. A couple of times I had to run off into the woods. Is that better or worse than the fear of being beaten my boyfriend must have experienced? Not sure, I don't think they are comparable.

      Delete
    5. I totally agree with you -- I did say "random, public violence," which is different from the private and domestic violence that women and girls tend to have to deal with, unfortunately. So, I'm not at all saying that boys experience more violence than girls, overall. I did not at all mean to say that. I do think, though, that when you're talking about walking and biking on public streets, it's public violence from strangers that matters -- and men get way more of that than women do (although women get more than they should, obviously). Here, by the way, are the statistics on the _reported_ rates of violent crime by gender:

      http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/glance/tables/vsxtab.cfm

      And this study is from Germany, and it's not big enough at all, but it does get to the point:

      http://www.bmfsfj.de/RedaktionBMFSFJ/Abteilung4/Pdf-Anlagen/kurzfassung-gewalt-maenner-englisch.pdf

      An important note from it:
      "An overall finding of the study is that not all violent acts are perceived and talked about to the same extent. Certain forms of violence are so normal in men’s lives that the men themselves do not perceive them as violence and therefore have only limited memory of them. Experiences that go unnoticed in male normality include, for example, acts of physical violence in public that are perceived as normal disputes."

      I think there's a lot of violence that people don't call violence -- they call it being a man. And that's not good for anybody.

      Delete
    6. "I think there's a lot of violence that people don't call violence -- they call it being a man."

      Right. I think there is a lot of pressure for men to withstand the sort of overt, competitive aggression that women are not usually exposed to.

      At the same time, men are not exposed to the sort of routine sexual harassment and intimidation than women are expected to not only put up with, but accommodate.

      On some level. people are essentially animals and all we can do is create laws that protect us from each other.

      Delete
    7. "On some level. people are essentially animals and all we can do is create laws that protect us from each other."

      Well, true, but we can also plan our cities to protect us from each other. Suburban streets don't do that -- they actually require you to encase yourself in a steel-and-glass box, because there's nobody looking out for community safety. I kinda think Jane Jacobs was right.

      Delete
  3. Last week I was cycling to work in a red and black houndstooth cape, Russian-looking shearling hat and rhinestone-accented sunglasses. When I arrived at work someone asked me if I thought I was Madame Arcati (a bicycling medium in "Blythe Spirit," which happens to be a favorite movie of mine). As I've been driving less and biking more around town I am starting to get the eccentric label and am completely okay with it.

    I have had some extremely unpleasant things thrown at me while I was on a bike and it kept me from riding for several years. I am now in my 40s and recently realized that the rednecks who threw something nasty at me (poop - not sure of the variety) when I was a teen were still calling the shots when it came to my cycling habits. I refuse to let the jerks have that kind of power anymore.

    Today I embrace my local eccentric status and am aspiring to be the little old lady on a bike who is seen around town and people wonder about because she seems to have boundless energy at her age.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You will have boundless energy experiencing life, while they are sitting on the couch, drinking schlitz, and watching Maury or Jerry. You go girl!

      Delete
  4. Hmm...Seems to me that's the definition of eccentric -- that is, being different, odd....I rather like it (secretly) but of course pretend outwardly not to notice :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. when asked if I would rather be weird or normal, I usually answer that "I would rather my weirder habits be considered normal, but I don't let that stop me."

    My parents used to have a house in the suburbs, and I remember being in an summer education camp (either Math or French or something Good for Me) where after two weeks, the schedule was adjusted so we had fewer breaks but left an hour early, and I never told my mom because I liked having the extra hour to walk around the area and be able to look at the houses, shops and parks that we'd always zip by in our cars.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Just when I think I have a good sense of you as a person, you surprise me. Little Edie Beale? Awesome!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes I have a minor obsession with the Grey Gardens thing : )

      Delete
    2. Absolutely fabulous must-see Maysles documentary! The TV re-make isn't all that bad either.

      Delete
  7. In my teen days, in an (from an outsiders view) idyllic Cape town, I also lived quite close to my high-school (all of my schools, save the middle-school and 3 short years of my life) and either walked or biked to class every day.

    In H.S. I nearly exclusively rode my bike. Thankfully I had a few friends who lived nearby who did the same. At one point we tried to start a cycling club, but alas, the interest seemed to end with the 3 of us.

    We were certainly an anomaly in an environment where the student parking lot was many times bigger than the teachers parking area, and often overflowing...

    ReplyDelete
  8. Velouria, I live in Chicago, and both walk and ride my bike to work, about 3.6 miles each way. I work in a corporate environment, and when I shed my "civies" and put on the suit each day in the washroom, it almost always elicits comments (though after a couple of years of doing this, less than in the past). They range from positive to incredulous (?), but I do secretly like the eccentric image it seems to have cultivated.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Lanza- Hello, fellow Noel Coward fan! I love 'Blythe Spirit'.

    Bicycles were pretty well accepted in the neighborhood where I grew up--provided the rider was a boy. For whatever reason, girls roller skated or bladed and boys biked, and anyone caught crossing the line was very quickly put into place by the rest of the neighborhood. I failed to adhere to the standard. The teasing and having small things like rocks and water hoses aimed at me was never an issue, because the former were easily dodged and the latter could feel really good on a hot day, but things reached a head when I was knocked off my bike by paintball gunshots to the head and neck, delivered by a nine year old while his father cheered him on (If you've never been shot by a paintball, let me summarize for you: Ow). When we filed the police report, the kid's mother came to our house and screamed me and my parents down, claiming I was 'Mocking them' (the father and son) by riding past their house.

    I was eleven at the time, and while I did get back on my bike a few times after we moved to a new neighborhood, I essentially stopped riding. I knew no one was going to take squishy, splattery ammunition to my face again, but there was a lingering sense I was doing something wrong every time I touched handlebars. This faded as I got older, and I started up again when I began spending time abroad where it was piratical for getting around the cities I was in. The sense of community I found with the other bikers living in the parts of the cities (And sometimes shop owners/cafe regulars) during that time is also what really helped me realize it was something I wanted to take back up when I returned to the states. And I'm really glad I did. I've been discovering a really great group of people in my home town (They have group rides, ride-in theatres, fundraisers, and are generally all-around fun people to talk with), several of which went through similar experiences. I've seen a lot of name-calling out windows, but to be perfectly honest, it's harder now to feel bothered by it. Clearly I'm not the one between us who feels like they're still eleven.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A kindred spirit for Blythe Spirit!! You can't beat a Noel Coward/Rex Harrison pairing no matter how hard you try!!

      Delete
    2. It can't be done! Rex Harrison has a voice that was just meant to ooze and fire off those classic Coward lines. Though the most recent 'Easy Virtue' (Which is my personal favourite of his plays) film adaptation was really very good if you haven't already seen it.

      Delete
    3. I have seen most of Noel Coward's film adaptations but "Easy Virtue" got past me somehow. I am now on a quest! Thanks so much for the shout out.

      (We also have paintball experiences in common - I have three little brothers - but we shant go there.)

      Delete
    4. Both the silent film version and the new one are on Netflix! If that helps cut down some questing time. You're welcome! I always love finding new people to have things in common with.

      Delete
    5. "claiming I was 'Mocking them' (the father and son) by riding past their house"

      Remarkable! If I might ask, how were you supposedly mocking them? I can only imagine they were devoutly religious and considered women on bicycles to be the devil's temptresses or something equally guano crazy.

      Delete
  10. There was no way I was going to fit in in high school anyway, so adding biking to school to the list of uncool things I did wasn't a big deal. Biking might even have been a teeny bit cooler than riding the bus.

    Unfortunately biking for transportation is still seen as an eccentric and slightly dangerous hobby among many of my peer group, although I hope to change that by being normal and low key about it.

    I was passing out flyers at the Copley MBTA meeting yesterday, and a woman I was talking to said- "Aren't you the woman who rides her bike everywhere" ?!?! (my bike and helmet were nowhere near us, and I wasn't wearing anything bike specific).

    I'm not exactly sure what she meant by that. After all, there have got to be a LOT of women in the Boston area who ride their bikes everywhere- You (Velouria for one. I suspect that the combination of distinctive bikes and dressy clothes might make me slightly more remarkable than your average Jane, but still?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ha ha, I am famous as the woman who rides her bike everywhere! seriously!

      Delete
  11. Hmm. I had imagined that New England would have been more progressive about walking/cycling in that era.

    The only thing worse might have been if your boyfriend was seriously into racing and shaved his legs while appearing in public in stretch black shorts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh I don't know. He was skinny, perpetually depressed, had fluffy chin-length hair, wore t-shirts with stuff written on them in magic marker, and did not play a sport. That was plenty to go on in my HS. I don't think bicycle racers with shaved legs were even within the realm of existing concepts in the town where we lived.

      Delete
    2. In that case, allow me to congratulate you for having transitioned to the Co-habitat.

      Delete
    3. : ) The Co-Habitant is pretty eccentric himself, but impossible to harass. I have tried...

      Delete
  12. I watched the original "Grey Gardens" documentary for the first time about a year ago. Of course, I stopped the video to take note of what kind of bike their male friend, the Marble Faun, rode, so I guess that makes me eccentric. It was a Bike Boom 10-speed, but I can't remember the make.
    Even where I live, it seems like driving is less of a priority among many teens. So, you weren't eccentric. You were a pioneer.
    MT cyclist

    ReplyDelete
  13. I live in rural Iowa and we have the sad trend of school district consolidations. As school districts merge the compromise is to put the schools 15-20 miles from the merging towns, near a geographic center of the new district. Thus we have schools located out in the country and no chance for the students to ever walk or ride their bicycles to school. Another compromise is a three town merger with elementary in one town, middle school in another and high school in the final. These schools don't even have bike racks out front anymore.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Jennifer in ScotlandFebruary 14, 2012 at 2:28 PM

    Being made to feel eccentric can be very diffcult to deal with as a teenager. For an adult with a healthy sense of self esteem, it is easier, at least in my experience. Certainly it is not worth compromising on the things that make you happy just to fit in with other people's idea of what is 'normal'.

    ReplyDelete
  15. It may be useful to note that the "education" starts early. I entitled my little contribution to this theme "The Weirdness of It" after the nine-year old son of a friend told me that I lived a "weird" life. I thought that was kind of funny, actually.

    I believe one of the reasons that cycling was reborn as sport comes out of this attitude. My dad tells me he wouldn't have been caught dead cycling in the 1950s. By the 1980s, however, it was fine, provided the cyclist was wearing the uniform -- black shorts, colorful jersey, gloves, etc. Too, because the uniform mostly comes from European racing attire, you could say stuff like, "Oh, yeah, this is how they do it in France," and that would make it cool. Totally.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm about the age of your father it seems. Wouldn't be caught dead cycling to high school in the 50's? It wasn't an alternative at all. Might as well bring your teddy bear to school. Bicycles were children's toys.

      Everybody walked to school, and in big clusters formed of peer- and in-groups. A few boys had cars, but they also had greasy hair and leather jackets. and hung around together for illegal grag racing after school. And dropped out of school...

      I didn't get on a bike from the time I was 13 until I was 18. At that point I started cycling to collage on a ten-speed with drop handle bars. This was in 1963. I was so "wierd" that people were pretty much speechless and I never caught any guff over it, just open-mouthed stares. Even cops waved and smiled. As far as I know there were about 5-8 transportation cyclists in this city at that time, a city today famous for it's bicycle-positive attitude, out there on the west coast in the Oregon fog.

      But one thing you say rings true: The fact I was on a "racing bike" with 10 gears and drop bars made me "serious". People said it looked so "technical". And it was English to boot. I can imagine how that attitude would have been magnified by the 80's, but by that time I had been living in Europe for 10 years.

      Leo

      Delete
    2. In yesterday's post there were comments from a reader in Oregon describing how people in his town used to ride for transportation in the 60s on single speeds with coaster brakes. Even within the same region there can be such different narratives.

      Delete
    3. Only "fancy" guys rode bikes with speeds and hand brakes back then. I rode a BMX bike to school, paper route in the snow, to the burger joint to stuff 5 burgers in my jeans' pockets, to be savored later. Single speed, coaster. When the hills got steep, I got off and walked. Flat? Walk. Crash and broken bones? Either ride or walk. Crash and break a tooth off? Go to school, figure it's a problem at lunch.

      A few years ago my pinky was hanging from the bone due to a mishap on my work lunch hour. Had to take a recess; life really doesn't change much.

      Delete
  16. Velouria stated "In the American suburbs getting around other than in a car is not normal, and I think we underestimate the extent to which this social element is an obstacle to walking and cycling. The majority of people do not wish to be perceived as poor, eccentric, or even "different" as they go out for ice cream on Valentine's Day."

    Also, the "hurry-sickness" of many of our contemporaries with long commutes from the suburbs and their seemingly segmented days can be full of anger at this predicament. This anger seems to sometimes be easily triggered by a walker or a biker who at face value can innocently represent a potent refutation of the life-style of "hurry-hurry" with its suppression of time for self and loved ones. I was lucky as a child. My leisurely after-school walks along the riverbank of the Smoky Hill River to my friend's home still nourish my fervor for walking today, for making the time for same and for biking. As always, thank you for an abiding post. Jim Duncan

    ReplyDelete
  17. When they hear I commute by bike to work they say, "Is that safe?" and I reply, "I'm not going to hurt anyone."
    When I commute in the winter they say, "Aren't you cold?" and I reply, "I'm the only one that gets here sweating!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am pretty wimpy and only bike when it is above 25 or 30. But I had someone say to me. "Don't you get cold". I said just dress like you are skiing. He declared he had just skied in -20. Still won't bike in anything less then 50.

      Delete
  18. fun story. a very profound reason that made cars so popular in southern europe was the fact that one can make love in them (try that on a bicycle or in a bus).
    it was some time ago. i visited rome with my then girlfriend and one day we ventured out to the architecturally interesting district of EUR. a world of monumental modernism with a fascist history just south of the city centre. we took the bus there and explored the neighborhood. our eyes were on the buildings, on the flights of stairs, on the daring architectural lines and on the sculptures. - when crossing a small park close to local parking lot, it seemed to me it had just snowed. but it was not snow covering the grass - it were of course hundreds of condoms. now i knew where we were. we had found one of these unmentionable places that exist in every italian city. the place where lovers go to have some private time away from their parents' houses where they live until they get married. - we looked around and realized that all the cars we had passed had steamy windows, some of which were covered with newspapers from the inside. sitting in the bus on our way back we held each others hands and smiled. feeling like teenagers returning from the 'forbidden place'... - too young to drive or without the means for sophisticated lovers' shelter.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I grew up in Central Europe. I used to walk 5km from school by my own choice. Then I switched to a grandpa's bike from the 40s. I loved it. I still love walking but now I live in New England so I got a dog and no longer I have to feel like some ... white trash while walking. It bothers me deeply that people behave this way... Anyway, great post, it reminded me again. I stopped perceiving it but it is always on the subconscious level.

    ReplyDelete
  20. One of the things I regret most in my life was giving up my eccentricities to become a school teacher in the south. Now that I've moved to my dream country I'm finding it hard to be my old self. I still am concerned with what people will say, what people will think, if I will lose my job. I've lost too many jobs by being a little too weird, a little too colorful, not going to the right church. It's wonderful to wander the streets here though and lose myself in the quietness of being a European crowd. It's lovely to just walk.

    Skipping... that was the one thing we all got to do as little girls. The world needs more skipping....

    ReplyDelete
  21. It does get tiring to explain over and over that no, my license was not taken away for drunk driving, in fact I DO drive sometimes.

    Back in high school (in the NJ suburbs) I had both a car and a bicycle. The car was nice in the winter, but because of traffic I learned that it took me half as long to bike the two-mile trip as it did to drive, so I often rode anyway.

    I was even a varsity athlete, but I ran Cross-Country, so I had a few friends who not only would rather bike than drive sometimes, but would actually jog to the mall.

    ReplyDelete
  22. So is your HS boyfriend reading this? ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Highly doubt it! Though I would not mind if he did, there is nothing here he would find offensive.

      Delete
  23. I completely understand Velouria, I grew up in Easton, MA which is about 30 miles south of Boston and had the same experience. Walking to/from school = harrassment sometimes physical. It did not help I walked alone and was a punk rocker. Then when I was old enough to drive and I would bike places people always said, "Get a car" I found it funny when I did have one and they'd shout it. Even today when I visit my parents they want to drive to the pizza shop which is 2 blocks away. They don't understand why I walk everywhere nevermind bike. I am told constantly by them I am too old (I will be 31 next month) for bike commuting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My parents still live in the town where I spent my teenage years (28 miles from Easton), and they are coming around to seeing bikes as normal and viable for transportation. There are bikelanes now painted there, actual people on bikes, etc. Also, my parents were visiting me the other week and we drove from Somerville to the MFA. Sitting in traffic and watching the cyclists pass them one after another, they said "No wonder you ride a bike here, it's faster!" Cycling is slowly winning : )

      Delete
    2. What 31? you're a baby. I'm a few years older. Driving a car does not mean you are grown up....go to a major cycling city and you will see plenty of actual old people commuting by bicycle.

      Delete
    3. 31 is totally a baby! Wait till you turn 33 like I just did : )

      Delete
  24. I went to boarding school in New England (in the 90s) and everyone walked everywhere. Day students who had to drive to school in their cars were thought of as déclassé townies, though certainly everyone was more than willing to smoke weed in said cars.

    People doing the dominant behavior within a culture seem always to find a way to look down on whomever is doing something less common. This is one reason emphasis, even "positive" on cycling subcultures really turns me off . . .

    ReplyDelete
  25. When I was 20 or so I started taking hour long brisk walks at about eleven in the evening in a fairly successful attempt at combating a problem with chronic insomnia. After being stopped three times by the police I took up cycling by resurrecting my Dad's old ten speed. A young man walking in the suburbs a night is apparently suspicious, one riding a bike apparently less so.

    The only deep conversations I had when I was in high school took place entirely within my own head.

    ReplyDelete
  26. In the UK, although pedestrians are routinely treated as second class citizens, at least this kind of abuse is not common. It is completely normal for cyclists in the UK though. We are lucky that the driving age here is a little higher and car ownership amongst schoolchildren is extremely low.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Too many people never forget the perceived boost in self-importance they experienced when they began driving cars. Ask any 16 year old how important a car makes a man.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Even after many years I'm still amazed when my coworkers, family and friends say things like "I can't believe you bike to work every day."

    It takes 1/2 the time the T takes and saves money. It takes probably about the same amount of time as driving, but I don't spend money on gas or, especially, parking. Not to mention health, environmental, and other benefits.

    I can't believe they *don't* ride a bike every day.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I graduated HS from Davis HS, Davis, CA in '72. Ranchers kids from outside town drove trucks. Townies rode bikes. Richies from Westside drove cars.
    I had a choice: I could either ski or pay for car insurance. I chose skiing until I was almost 21.
    In those days, I was pretty much branded a 'loser' by anybody who hadn't been skiing with me. Commuting to school, classes, groceries, shopping: all done by bike: an old Raleigh Grand Prix I picked up at a garage sale for $20, and sold for $80 ten years ago.
    It wasn't poverty, rebellion, or apathy. It was priorities.

    ReplyDelete
  30. sing it loud and clear sister!

    Living in the burbs I certainly feel Outsider-ish. While I get good enough feed back form people- it still is the kind of feedback that puts me as the weird one. I am the crazy bike lady and yes people who are my friends do describe me that way to others. In a fun loving way- but still. I don't mind being eccentric. Although for a while I wasn't sure if I was ok with it you know. Secretly I do want to fit in. and sometimes I do feel tired of being different and on those days I just drive to be under the radar. But along with my being ok with being eccentric I feel it frees me up greatly to do lots of other things. Soon enough I'll be old and then it will be cute again.

    ReplyDelete
  31. OMG I can just picture you and your BF wearing plaid shirts and REM tshirts walking home from school. Did you look like Daria?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. More like Darlene from Roseanne. We did own REM t-shirts, though not usually worn at the same time : ) I also liked to wear vintage dresses with combat boots - you know, like Babes in Toyland. Maybe with a plaid shirt over the dress for good measure. This all ended by my junior year of HS though and I started to wear '40s skirt-suits instead. They were confused times.

      Delete
  32. That's why I found it impossible to move to the suburbs... where everyone drives everywhere. They don't even have sidewalks.

    I remember one day we were looking at houses to buy and had not seen a single person on the street for miles. Then a large car appeared... the automatic garage door opened and the car vanished.

    Statistics show that populations in cities with sidewalks have better health, just because of the walking.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I am fascinated by this post. I had my first visit to the US three months ago, to the Mississippi Delta. I was astonished that nobody walked anywhere. People would offer me a lift in their car for a trip of one kilometre.
    In Belfast, where I live, it is normal to pass dozens of other people walking to the city centre in the morning and to join other cyclists at traffic lights.
    Yet, even here, there are people who sneer at me when I am out on my bike, and I have puzzled over this. It isn't about presuming me to be poor or defending a car culture; it is something else. People will shout at me from cars to try and break my attention and make me fall over; it's like shouting boo.
    It's about them thinking that cyclists are too serious and need to be reminded that they have removed themselves from the rest of society.
    And I remember that i did this as a child: I would shout at cyclists: hey, mister, your back wheel's catching up with your front. Or I would shout "puncture' and laugh when they stopped to check.
    Like most contributors to this debate, I am comfortable in my cycling; I don't need to defend it to idiots who behave like this, but I think the question of WHY some feel affronted by cyclists is an interesting one.
    Beyond that, you do have a problem in the US of people regarding the car as their natural habitat, eating shit food and taking no exercise. I just think these are different issues that overlap. In a society like mine that is not as fixated on the car and in which people do walk to work, there are still many who for some reason find cycling ridiculous and let us know it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I will be in rural/suburban N Ireland in May; will be fascinating to compare to New England.

      Delete
  34. Some of the stories here I find remarkable, I thought there was a bit of antipathy to cycling in the US but nothing like this.

    Thinking back though I do remember watching a programme called 'World's fattest city' about Dallas, there was a woman on that who lived in the second or third house up a street and she would drive the fifty yards to the end of the street to use the mailbox or drop off her kid at the school bus stop. I guess that's all part of the same problem.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well be careful... there are a lot of fat cyclists. If that woman rode her bike to the mailbox she would still be chastised.

      Delete
  35. This was so true for where I grew up as well (suburban segueing into rural Ontario). I would have never even thought to walk or bike home from my high school, and knew no one else who did so in anything other than extraordinary circumstances.

    Recently, however, it occurred to me to look up on Google Maps what the distance actually was between the high school and my parent's house. And it turns out that it is exactly the same distance as my current commute - a measly 5km! Mind you, 5km on a rural highway with traffic going 60-80 km/h, without sidewalks or a paved shoulder to ride on, but still. The EXACT same distance.

    And yet it never crossed my mind that it was feasible (let alone easy) to make the journey other than in a car or the school bus. It's truly amazing how our habitual environment narrow our thinking.

    ReplyDelete
  36. It wasn't normal to walk back then, it still isn't now. See here:
    http://bostonbybike.blogspot.com/2011/12/be-american-save-your-legs.html

    ReplyDelete
  37. So true. I didn't want to get a car or drive because I thought it was bad for the environment and unnecessary for my needs. The school, the mall etc were all within walking distance, and I could bike into the city centre easily enough. I waited much longer than most to get my drivers licence because I knew I could not afford a car, my parents were certainly not going to buy me a car which was the custom in the area, and I wanted to save what money I had. Now there is graduated licencing in more and more states and provinces so kids aren't getting their licence until they are at least 18. In Ontario it has been so expensive for years and years to get a drivers licence, that most urban people don't bother until they really really need to drive.
    And then my twenties and thirties.... It is assumed you are very very poor if you do not have a car, or at worst weird/eccentric. And I live in a rural area which is similar but different from suburbs. Out here you really do have long distances between places and things, but it's wild space instead of track housing. But nothing is terribly far away, in fact even closer than commutes I had in big cities.
    Another factor is that as a walker or cyclist is that you are very visible and easy to harass.

    ReplyDelete
  38. The police car didnt slow down because you were walking, it slowed down because you were kids and kids that arent actively engaged in an approved activity are usually up something... unapproved. LOL ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  39. RE: malachi's comment. Yes, I do see the perplexing animosity towards cyclists but it isn't nice to harass cyclists or freak them out and make them fall. I bet we've all almost tumbled because of some rude comment. I get alot or yelling, screetching, horns blaring... especially in the summer. And sometimes litter tossed on me! It isn't right or fair to treat anybody that way. I have a hard time believing they are jealous, but I see it more as a power trip. We're all working for somebody, having a hard time etc, it's easy to pick on an eccentric getting around on a bicycle. As a cyclist you are extra vulnerable. People tell me that I look so serious on my bike. I'm concentrating on the road as I bike with heavy traffic on a sketchy highway! And some of these people actually bike, so they know how it is. I'm actually having fun looking at all the trees, hawks, eagles etc, but it is hard work. Also, people will be offended that I do not wave at them. They are going by at 80km/hour, unless I know your car I do not have time to wave, or even see anybody waving.

    ReplyDelete
  40. I have actually told a dumb-butt who said something like that I'd meet him at the track with my Mustang next Street Fights,and that he was neither my God nor paying my bills so I didn't give a hoot,LOL! :p I ride for me,not for anybody else-not evenany reasons green,for the sheer pleasure it brings to me,not anybody else. You keep it up as long as you enjoy it,Velouria,don't give a hoot what the "Me!Me!Me!" morons think :)


    The Disabled Cyclist

    ReplyDelete
  41. Living in Portland, in my circle of friends, many of the things I do are just normal....being mostly-vegan, riding a bike everywhere, not owning a TV, participating in silly themed bicycle rides, dressing distinctly, knitting...

    I forget how unusual this all is sometimes. And then, say, I get a job at a suburban office. And then? I am the resident freak. You rode your bicycle here? Don't you have a car? People your age knit? You *never* watch TV? Don't you miss cheese/bacon? And people seem to think that I do these things to intentionally be eccentric, which drives me nuts. They seem to do it because they can dismiss the "weird" things I do, since I'm such a freak, after all. Haha! That April! So weird! >_<

    I am thankful, though, that I am no longer in middle or high school, where any kind of behavior outside of the norm seemed to be taken as a personal affront to many folks. I was seen as strange then, too, but I think mostly out of ignorance of social rules....

    ReplyDelete
  42. This entry reminded me of the short story "The Pedestrian" by Ray Bradbury: http://mikejmoran.typepad.com/files/pedestrian-by-bradbury-1.pdf

    Like some others here, I was already perceived as very eccentric by almost everyone in my HS, so not having a driver's license didn't overly change that. My parents actually really pushed for me to get one, but I guess I just... didn't see the point, even though I lived in far-flung suburbia (my suburb wasn't even connected to a major city!). I've hated riding in cars ever since I was a kid, and had always pictured myself living in a city, ever since I knew what they were. I guess my logic was, I'd only be using it for a few years, so why get it at all? (And then I did try to get one and failed six times, so there's that.) There are still people who think it's weird I don't have a license but I don't have to TELL anyone and the harassment from strangers is so much less in cities.

    Even though it would have made getting around as a teenager quite a bit easier, I never cycled, maybe because I didn't see anyone else doing it? Although last year, my dad told me something surprising, that he wanted to ride his bike to work (something that would have been feasible) when I was in HS but my mom wouldn't "let" him because she thought it was a trashy thing to do. (She's one of those "drive to the end of the driveway" people.) That almost made me cry and it's one of the reasons I wish so hard that cycling was mainstream, because I know my dad hates driving and riding in cars almost as much as I do and it pains me that he felt forced to do it when he didn't have to, because of social reasons.

    ReplyDelete
  43. When people laugh at me because I tell them I would prefer to cycle somewhere rather than get a ride in a car, I tell them that cycling is the way of the future. If they want to discuss it further, which is not usually the case, I tell them that it won't be too long before cars are too expensive to run due to rising petrol prices. I also tell them that it is much quicker to go by bike than by car and I don't have to worry about parking. These are pretty sound reasons and not the product of weirdness or anything but they still think I am weird!

    ReplyDelete
  44. I am surprised at how few people were able to walk/bike to school even in years gone past, especially the previous Ontario posts.
    I was in high school in the early 2000's and very few people drove to school. There was a pretty even split between buss, parents dropping you off, and walking.
    I was in Niagara Falls, which is a suburban city, so 80% of the students would have had a 40 min tops walk.
    It might factor in that I lived in a pretty poor town although in the more well to do section.
    I still live near my old high school and with a student population of around 1,000 kids the student parking will usually have around 40 cars.
    I guess that is one of the pluses in living in a poor town, you get out more.
    I have few of the biking issues mentioned in the previous comments. Sometimes I get bullied by traffic but it is usually from people with American licence plates, most people just assume I am some poor kid working at a hotel and don't think it the least bit strange.
    I guess we had it pretty good.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Great post :)

    Great comments.

    Harassment while riding and walking was one of my main reasons of moving away from Texas [1989].
    When I got to Boston that fall I was so impressed that I could walk and ride anytime and never get harassed [at least in Somerville and Cambridge]...plus I could actually go on a date by bike :)

    antbikemike [blogger will not let me post by my name?]

    ReplyDelete
  46. Well, in my neck of the woods (Eastern Europe), walking is usual. Cycling, also, was normal in the past.

    But... since the 90s, we have been hungry for western (and american) culture, and we forgot some of our own values.

    Using huge SUVs even for short rides is seen as a status symbol by some. And on the outskirts of the city, suburbs have appeared (yes, car centric, far from schools, shopping areas etc). Getting a car is seen as desirable (given that in communist times, having one was a sort of a privilege).

    Drivers disregard pedestrians sometimes, and honk or shout 'get out of the way', but walking is not seen as a bizarre activity.

    The bycicle on the other hand, was left out of the picture for city use, good only for kids, and the poor who can't afford cars. Thankfully, it's coming back in full force in my town. Ridership is increasing each year.

    Fritzescu,
    Bucharest, Romania

    ReplyDelete
  47. It is interesting in the persective our culture has on riding bikes vs. driving cars. I had no problems with riding a bike or walking to HS, but for me that was the 70's. Before the current idea that children weren't safe doing that, and before parents' status was what their child had acquired or accomplished. The most 'harrassment' I got then was the whistling or cat calling by male passersby. While a little demeaning, it certainly didn't scar my psychy. I also lived fairly close to the beach, so everyone rode a beach cruiser, and it was common to see a rider towing a surfboard trailer (I haven't seen one of those in awhile).

    But as I moved into working class adulthood, improved my financial standing, commuted 40 miles to work, bought a house in the nice side of the county, my dependence on my car increased. As did the perception (by society) that if you had to ride a bike, walk, or take the bus to work, you were probably not able to afford a car and your employment ranged from housekeeper to fast food clerk. It seemed that riding a bike was still accpetable, but it had to be for excercise, competition, or recreation, and required the appropriate equipment and attire!

    I no longer live in the city, where admittedly, riding a bike on the roads here would be downright dangerous, but have recently started acquiring vintage bikes (Raleigh Sports & Vintage Schwinns). Tho' I don't plan on riding them here or commuting (I'm retired), I plan on moving to the bike friendly community of Ft Collins, CO in the near future (as soon as this housing market turns around!). I can't wait to be in a city where bike culture is embraced....now to start planning that eccentric wardrobe!

    (for another interesting story on the extreme car vs bike ideal, read http://www.theurbancountry.com/2012/02/awkward-moments-in-chinas-car-culture.html)

    ReplyDelete
  48. Even in [very] urban, New York City, where cyclists are becoming quite ubiquitous, the bike commuter falls within two groups - 1) traditional eccentric and 2) uber hipster. Regular socially acceptable folks do not commute by bike, although I have found that once you are labeled as socially acceptable, the fact that you bike commute somehow enhances your cool quotient.
    Though my favorite commute story occurred in Nashville. I was there for a meeting near vanderbilt U/Music Row area, which is perhaps a mile, at most, from the "Downtown" area. Having some time to explore before my meetings, I decided to venture downtown and see what there is to see. It appeared from the map to be an easy stroll down the main avenue, which it was. Upon my return, telling folks that I had just visited the downtown, I was asked how I traveled there. When I told them that I walked, noone would believe me. They thought it was insane. Noone would ever think to walk 15 minutes or so....

    ReplyDelete
  49. How true! I live in the country (read: no sidewalks, no streetlights lots of back roads), and walk/ride my bike everywhere. This has led to my being known as "that bike girl", and not in an admiring way. At times, I admit that I feel like a performing dog when I'm riding my bike or walking to town, but I've come to realize that I can't control other peoples' opinions of me. Instead, I just continue doing what I love to do and enjoying the wonderful benefits of the exercise and pleasure I derive from my transporation methods. If that makes me an eccentric, then bring it on!

    ReplyDelete
  50. I was one of only a few adult people (well, I was in my late teens) in my whole town who cycled in the early 2000s. As I think on it, I don't ever remember seeing another cyclist...

    I was a concern to my parents who worried about my reckless behaviour -- why couldn't I just drive like my peers? There were A LOT of blind corners and fast cars in my town, and drivers wouldn't have been expecting a slow-moving cyclist around the bend.

    I used to get stopped by friends and family members on my cycle to work (3 miles down the road) to ask if I wanted a lift -- and they'd look so upset/worried when I politely declined!

    The only bad experiences I ever had were the few wolf-whistles by men driving past me. I went out and bought a few high-necked athletic tank tops and wore those. Problem fixed.

    ReplyDelete