Bikes, Death and Sacrifice: A Short Story of my Night and Critical Mass
26 Aug 2006 23:08 GMT
I started out biking from Brooklyn to Union Square to catch this months critical mass bike ride. Saw a friend on the bridge. "I'm heading off to Seaport to see Ted Leo". "Cool, I'm going to Critical Mass." "Have fun." "Later". I made it to Union Sq north by 7pm. Chilled for an hour listening to the Rev Billy give his shpiel with the Hungry Marching band behind him. Flyers galore, beautiful bikes and beautiful people too. About 30 scooter cops on Union Sq. east waiting. Another batch on broadway waiting to snatch us. Fuck it. Let's go.[Critical Mass Roundup || Critical Mass London UK encounters police bully-boy tactics. || US IMC Feature on Critical Mass and Hurricane Katrina]
I started out biking from Brooklyn to Union Square to catch this months critical mass bike ride. Saw a friend on the bridge. "I'm heading off to Seaport to see Ted Leo". "Cool, I'm going to Critical Mass." "Have fun." "Later". I made it to Union Sq north by 7pm. Chilled for an hour listening to the Rev Billy give his shpiel with the Hungry Marching band behind him. Flyers galore, beautiful bikes and beautiful people too. About 30 scooter cops on Union Sq. east waiting. Another batch on broadway waiting to snatch us. Fuck it. Let's go.
I'm near the west side of the square. Looks like we're going this way. Ah shit, here we go. Down 1. 7th. Almost made it. Fuck, coppers. OFF the bikes. TURN around. SPLIT up. Its already chaos. But a nice chaos. The front turns left on 5th and left again on 16th and we're back to Union Square to cartch the end of the ride which is now the front. The mass swarms together and we're off.
We keep going. Up 6th I think. Its pretty fun. Eventually, on some street where we turn right, the cops are there. I turn around, and fuck, more cops. I'm off my bike, and walking with it, write into the cops. This one guy grabs me and says, "Why you running away?". "Because you're chasing us!", I shout. Then he gets closer, and whispers into my ear, "Just play stupid." A bit shaken up, I do what he says and I just kinda fake being an outsider caught up in it all. He lead me to the corner, grabbing my bike with me, and then lets me go. Sheesh! That was close.
It takes me about 30 minutes to find the mass again. I find an arkansas imcista, and after some phone calls, and following the green hats and a mini mass down 12th (escorted by scooters!), we're back in the mass. Nice! Going up Ave A past tompkins and its beautiful. We head west to 1st ave, going slowly and its great. Open. But we're so slow, waiting for all the lights. Sitting ducks. And we're trapped again. That fuckin big white shark copper with a neck that breathes grabs some friends. TURN around again. Off the bikes! And its 9pm or past and I think we're done. We never made it to Grand Central, or the east river, but it was alright.
"How was your ride?" I say to a friend on the phone. "Good, but we both got tickets." "Fuck. Well, i'll meet you at a bar in brooklyn and we'll share stories." "Ok, see you there."
On the way to the Williamsburg bridge, a group of 4 of us are together, sharing stories of the night. "You used to live in San Diego, also? Cool." "The mass isn't that big out there, but they got a nice pirate radio." "What are you doing out here?" "Interning with Times Up actually." "Awesome." We're about to go the downhill side now. "Is your friend ok on that fixed gear?" "He's never ridden one before. And theres no brake." We see if he wants to switch, but he's ok. Down the bridge, I'm off to the bar, ask her if she wants to come. "Maybe." Ok, see you later.
Meet up at the bar. Tell our stories. Drink and eat some veggies from his bag. A girl comes in that I've met before. We look at each other, and try to figure out how we know each other. A half-hour later, we still can't figure it out, although we found a mutual friend. Getting hungry, we're off to get some tacos, and see more friends. She invites us to a "swing" party in central park in the future. "Cool. See you later."
My one friend just returned from Argentina. His stories are incredible. The educacion popular, the stencils, recuperated factories, assambleas, piquetes, and daily struggles of ordinary people breaks down the mental barriers to what we think is possible. "Can it happen here?" "It has before."
On the way home, a friend yells my name and i stop on the road. "Later!" I scream to the other friends are long gone by now. On the right side of a two way street. On the side but a little in front of a parked car, right beyond an intersection. I'm facing the direction that traffic is going in. My back is to the cars coming at me. This friend and I talk a little. Haven't seen him in a while. Forgot that he moved here. Its nice. A friend calls, and damn, its M. I haven't talked to him in a long time. Say goodbye to my friend right there, pick up the phone, standing with my bike, and we're chatting. "Whats up!?" "Nothing, just got back from S." "Cool, are you going t-ughghhg shit" ....screeeeeeeech......plop.... "Are you ok? What the fuck was that?" My back is wet. My bike got pushed into me leg; something hit me. That car is screeching away. What the fuck is going on? "I'm ok, M. Its just, (turning around), oh shit. Let me call you back." YOU OK?" "Yeah, i think this guy just got hit. Later."
I saw him fall on the ground. I didn't know if he got hit on the street or thrown from the car. I didn't hear anyone walking behind me. FUCK. He's bleeding from his head. Bright red. Its forming a puddle, heading toward my bike. SHIT! SOMEONE CALL 911. The blood by his mouth is bubbling. "IS HE BREATHING?" A nurses assistant checks and thinks he's breathing." "Are you OK?" onlookers say both to him and me. I respond; he doesn't. WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED? The side mirror of the parked car is smashed. Some car hit this pedestrian, smashed him against the side of the parked car right behind me, and then a bottle flew out of hand, getting my back wet; then he pushed into my bike pushing into me. I think thats it. SHIT. He's dying. The cops, firetruck and ambulance are there in minutes. "What color was the car?" "Black." "What kind was it?" "I don't know." "What was the license plate?" "I don't know."
They lift him up on stretchers and take him off. Someone interviews me. They ask me again about the car. A chief or something says to me, "He's probably not gonna make it." He's already lost a couple pints of blood.
Before the cops came, all of us bystanders were thrown into this situation together. Figuring out what to do next. Its all been seen before on TV. But the bright color of the blood hits you and you know this shit is real. And this guys family is gonna be torn. And the driver who hit him is gone. He'll probably get caught soon. What is manslaughter these days? 25 years-life? And if he's not car, he'll be plagued by it in his dreams.
And all this on a night where i was celebrating bikes. The damage of cars to the planet is sometimes so abstract because we're forced to just make due and live with it. Railing against global warming and pollution, the global death urge, feels different than seeing a car murder someone in your face. But is it so different? On the way home, after the sirens and interviews were done, I thought to myself, "What am i supposed to think? How am i feeling?" I felt lucky to be alive, I felt horrible that this other guy was dead, I felt mixed feelings about the driver who killed him. Should he go to jail forever for this? I felt confused about the car. Should we punish the carmakers and not the drivers? Who's really driving us to death? Why is this so common?
I heard once that an artist proposed to add something to the vietnam memorial in washington DC: a printer spooling out lists of all the dead killed in car accidents. Our "other" sacrifices. Sacrifice sometimes seems like the only word to describe it. The random bodies thrown to the gods, the acceptable lot of death that only smoothes the pavement more. We seem to think secular society gave up sacrifice years ago, or that sacrifice only occurs by soldiers in war to consecrate the nation. I don't know though. More people die in car accidents than all our wars combined.
Who are the real victims of sacrifice? Who is really consecrating the nation, making it sacred? Or are we consecrating something else? What? Cars? Transportation? Speed? Oil? Technology? Individuality? What is the meaning that all these bodies, like the one I saw last night, give and to whom or what do they give it? Its easy to say thats its meaningless death. I don't think so though. The consistency, normalcy, complacency, and universality of such deaths in the USA are too blatant to ignore. If the highway is our national graveyard, the cars the tombstones, the police and ambulances the priests, then what is the prayer that ties it all together?
Some will say, the violence of our subconscious. The violence of capitalism. The violence of nation-states. The violence of patriarchy. But the violence of car accidents, the violence that kills cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers daily, is, in some strange way, a guarantor of safety and peace. "At least, we have something stable in this country." Human roadkill. Our gift to the roads that separate and connect us. A common melody within a world of chaotic change. Our sacrifice. Our sick, fucking sacrifice.