Critical Mass April 05

We had another really lovely Critical Mass here on Friday night. I think we may have reached 2,000 riders, but at least 1,500. It was huge! We went south for a change, along the waterfront, wrapped around the ballpark and across the venerable 3rd Street bridge into the eerily emerging city-state of Mission Bay and its fortress-like biotech UC campus. Not much going on there on Friday night though, but the balmy weather and beautiful early evening light underscored how nice the new public park waterfront and campus panhandle will be in a few years.

The worst incident of the night erupted towards the end of our meandering towards 3rd Street when a few blue-collar guys were stopped by an idiot on a bicycle who appointed himself Czar of Stopping Oncoming Traffic. I rode past as one of the workers was yelling, “Hey I’m tired and I just want to go home!” while one of his pals gave a firm shove to a bicyclist, hurling him to the ground. I heard later it turned into a full-fledged melee of fisticuffs… glad I wasn’t around for it!

But that’s the deal with Critical Mass. It’s what you make it. If you don’t like stuff going on, you have to intervene and make it different. I’ve done that plenty of times, but I–like many of my friends who have been part of this for years–am pretty tired of newbies (the next generation, for better AND worse!) who don’t quite ‘get’ the culture (or maybe they’re just the logical descendents of the always lurking Testosterone Brigade) and repeatedly ride into oncoming traffic when there’s absolutely no need to do it.

Predictably it loses whatever friendly vibes may have been possible by the mutual drive-by and turns into a macho and pointless confrontation. But that was only a tiny part of the evening. We carried on along the 3rd St. light rail line, still being built, premonitory ghosts of gentrification to come dancing in the shadows of the old warehouses and victorians of Dogpatch, until we turned west on Cesar Chavez. We took the bike bridge AND the underpass with our thousand-strong gang, and by the time we emerged into the Mission, families were pouring out to greet us, little kids grinning with wide-eyed amazement and joy, whole clans of Latino and African-American families waving and laughing from their balconies on the new Hope VI housing projects. It was one of those magic moments when all the self-ghettoizing and ostensible irrelevance of bicycling and Critical Mass vanish in the exchange of laughs and waves, everyone joined together in that elusive taste of a real urbanity, a city life shared and worth sharing.

The ride continued up to Guerrero where we took the new bike lane, along with the rest of the street, and rode out through the San Jose cut for the first time ever, before turning back on Arlington and riding back north, bobbing over to Church and I took off at 24th, having had a typically fantastic Critical Mass experience. Lots of good conversations, old and new friends, the usual… but as I lamented with Iain Boal along the way, if only we could figure out a way of taking this kind of experience and energy into other spheres of life!

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