Saturday, December 24, 2011

The State of the [Hipster] Union

Today, December 24th, is a significant day, mainly because it is the day before a significant day.  That’s right, tomorrow is December 25th, which will mark three months since I moved back to Louisiana (wait—you say December 25th is important for another reason?  No, I don’t think so).  To honor the occasion, I think today is a great day for the FIRST ANNUAL STATE OF THE [HIPSTER] UNION.

My fellow Americans free trade coffee drinkers, foreign film fans, independent music playlist curators, and professional photographers (at least on Flikr), let me tell you, the Hipster nation is under attack.  Yes, it seems that everyone these days is jumping on the anti-hipster bandwagon (what a bunch of followers—hipsters were on the anti-hipster bandwagon way before it got popular).  First, it started with the new CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls:

(Really, hipsters listen to Radiohead?  They’re so 2004.)

(Ok, now it’s Coldplay?  Like, sigh, hello 2003.)

Then, Samsung took a shot at hipsters/Apple customers:

For the record, Samsung, baristas require a lot of creativity.  That design in the latte foam doesn’t get there by accident:

(Come to think of it, all I have to do is make that photo black and white and post it on Flikr and I could call myself a photographer).

With all these attacks on our kind, I know it can be tempting to buy a pair of jeans and NOT cut them off, to go watch a studio film, to refer to said film as a movie instead of a film, and to take a picture and NOT immediately post it to instagram.  But, friends, please don’t despair!  There is hope for us out there.  See, when one phone company attacks hipsters, another phone company courts them:

Also, this isn’t the first time Blackberry has gone after that most coveted consumer demographic:

Unfortunately for Blackberry, their logo isn’t a fruit and the name doesn’t rhyme with fapple, so I doubt their efforts will be successful.

Films are also catching the hipster bug.  The trailer for Ewan McGregor’s new flick Perfect Sense shows him happily cruising around on a fixie until the whole world starts falling apart (then presumably, he uses his superior fixie skills to save the world, that part isn’t made clear by the trailer):

I know what you’re thinking:  what does all that have to do with Shreveport?  It doesn’t.  However, there are also some signs that hipsterism is growing in Shreveport.  Exhibit A:  The Shreveport Times recently published an article about the growth of the downtown apartment market, specifically the numerous loft buildings downtown.

She should really do something about that dog.  Any hipster cred her loft earned her was lost when she didn't choose the hipster dog du jour, the Pit Bull:

Anyway, as I read the article, I was excited at the idea that maybe Shreveporters had finally realized there was absolutely nothing appealing about the suburbs.  Then, of course, the first comment on the article was someone saying, “Not for me.”

(By the way, the writer of the article is Kristi Johnston, an acquaintance of mine who is new to town and doing great work for our local paper.  She’s on Twitter, here:  @KNJohnston.)

Still, despite the humbuggery of a lone commenter, there are other signs.  For example, the Pabst Brewery’s website’s PBR locator shows a multitude of vendors of Williamsburg’s favorite brew:

Not only that, but it was SOLD OUT at Strange Brew last week, which can only mean one of two things:

1) I’m not the only person around here that drinks it, or
2) I drink a lot more of it than I should

Also, in my journeys around town, I have seen, more than once, another bona fide hipster riding around town on a white fixed gear bike.

Finally, due to the wonders of technology, this blog hosting service offers a variety of tools to track my traffic, and it let me know that there have been about ten (wahoo!  Ten!  Double digits!) different people who found this blog by searching on Google for “hipster Shreveport.” 

So, to help these people learn their way around, I’ll periodically post reviews of local establishments, where I rate them based on hipster street cred.  Criteria include, but are not limited to:

1) Availability of PBR
2)  If no PBR, availability of some form of very obscure microbrew that probably doesn’t taste very good
3) Bike friendliness (basically, is there a good place to lock up)
4) Organicness

Points will be awarded then converted to a rating system.  Since star ratings are uber mainstream, we’ll do it differently; I think a scale of 1-5 PBR cans is fitting.

Also, in true hipster fashion, I’ll be crowd-sourcing these reviews.  (Crowd-sourcing, for the uninitiated, is where someone else writes the review and sends it to me, then I make three or four small edits and claim it as my own work).  So, if you know of a good spot that needs to be plugged and wish for your work to be stolen plagiarized showcased, you can e-mail me.

For the inaugural review:

NOBLE SAVAGE TAVERN at 417 Texas Street, downtown.

Noble Savage is a bar/restaurant downtown.  I’ve never had the food, so I can’t speak to that, but this music joint hits all the right notes (see what I did there?).  The space is an industrial style loft that would not be at all out of place in Wicker Park or Printer’s Row.  Honestly, if it were a condo, it would be my dream home.  Unfortunately, they don’t serve PBR; however, there is an extensive selection of good beer (for these purposes, good means “not made by Bud or Coors”).  The live music was great—jazz the night I went, not sure if that’s always the case—and while the volume was a little loud, the place is spacious, so you can get far enough away that the music doesn’t overpower conversation.  Finally, while there is no bike parking directly in front, there is a Subway restaurant nearby that has a fence that provides reasonably secure bike parking.


This place screams hipster.  Maybe one of my favorite places.  Looking forward to going back.

Finally, Happy Christmas ("merry Christmas" is much too mainstream; besides, the Brits say "happy Christmas" so it has to be a cooler way to say it).

Monday, December 12, 2011

So You Want to Ride a Bike

A few days ago, I made a quick stop at Walgreen’s on the way home from work.  And, since bike parking in Shreveport/Bossier is nowhere to be found, I’ve gotten in the habit of bringing my bike into the store with me if I’m only getting a couple of items.  While standing at the checkout, a man in line behind me started asking about the bike.  I won’t bore you with the specifics of the conversation, but it ended like this:

Me:  “Yeah, I ride about 100 miles a week.”

Him:  “Lucky you, I wish I could do that.”

It seems like every week I have a conversation similar to this.  Last week someone rolled down her car window to compliment my bike.  Several of my coworkers have admitted to being jealous that I ride my bike to work, saying they wish they could do it.  And my general thought afterwards is always the same:

“Well, why can’t you?”

All these conversations have served to encourage me in my efforts.  I’ve started to think that maybe there really is a large group of people out there who, fed up with the many headaches of automobiles, are ready to saddle up and go from this:

to this:

Look at that smile.  No way anyone in those cars is as happy as she is in that picture.  In light of that, I’ve found the subject of my next few posts:  a three part series on bicycle commuting, consisting of:

Part 1:  The excuses and reasons not to bike, and why most of them are bullshit.
Part 2:  The many reasons to ride a bike.
Part 3:  How to do it—getting to work/school in one piece, dry, and in style.

So let’s get right to it, with some of the common reasons that I hear for not riding a bike.  If you’ve got your own reasons that I haven’t listed here, email them or tweet them to me.

#1:  My Job Won’t Let Me

As covered in my earlier, Pulitzer prize winning* post, there are only certain jobs that could make a case for requiring a personal automobile.  If you have a job such as that, you know it.  If you don’t, you know that too.  Hint:  if you never leave your office all day, you don’t need a car.  Just show up on time, look presentable according to the company dress code (more on this in part 3, as we discuss how to get to work looking good), and get your work done.

#2:  It’s Too Far

The easy answer to this would be for me to say that nothing is really too far if you have enough time.  At one time, I was commuting 17 miles each way to work, for a 34 mile round trip, each day.  But, I do realize that might be a little extreme for some, and that not everyone wants to spend almost 3 hours a day on a bicycle.  So the real question I’d have for you is:  how far do you really have to go?  In my experience, people are not very good at estimating distances.  Case in point:

This map shows a circle centered near downtown Shreveport.  The radius of the circle is 15 miles.  For those who’ve forgotten what a circle’s radius is (or, for those from Mississippi, never learned about radii), it means the straight line from the center of the circle out to any point on the circle.  As you can see, 15 miles from downtown Shreveport will take you north past Benton, east all the way to Haughton, south to almost Stonewall, and west almost to the Texas border.  My point is this:  unless you live in far north Bossier and work in far south Shreveport, you probably aren’t as far from work as you think, and you’re probably well within cycling distance from the office.

#3:  It’s Too Hard

This is not true.  It could be easy to watch the Tour de France and expect cycling to be incredibly demanding—and it is if you’re racing someone across a mountain range.  However, for most of us, who only need to travel a leisurely pace across flat ground, it requires very little energy.

In fact, by many considerations, the bicycle is the most efficient machine that’s ever been created.  For example, more than 95% of the rider’s energy output is delivered directly to the wheels.  Compare that to a typical internal combustion engine, which only deliver about 20% of the energy to the wheels (the rest is wasted as heat, light, etc.).  Because of this efficiency, very little energy is actually required to move the bike.  According to Wikipedia The Most Reliable Source Online, walking 5 km/hr uses the same amount of energy as it does to ride a bike 15 km/hr.  (In case you were wondering, anytime you’re talking about bikes you have to measure speed and distances in kilometers).

I know it’s hard to believe me on this until you get on a bike and ride, but it’s really pretty easy to do and doesn’t require you to work all that hard.

#4:  It’s Too Dangerous

Tough.  It’s a dangerous world out there.  However, it’s really not that dangerous to ride a bike.

According to this report by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, there were 630 cyclists killed in traffic in 2009.  While I personally believe that is 630 deaths too high, it also represents only 1.9% of the more than 33,000 traffic related fatalities that year.  You don’t have to be a gambling man to appreciate those odds.  It seems like there’s a much better chance of getting killed in a car than on a bike, so I’ll take my chances with the bike.

#5:  The weather sucks

Yes, yes it does.  You get wet if it rains, you sweat if it’s hot, and you get cold if it’s cold.  But I can also tell you that it’s really not that bad.  I’ve ridden in 100 degree 90% humidity (the breeze as you ride helps cool things down), I’ve ridden in thunderstorms (once you get soaked, you don’t notice any additional rain), and I’ve ridden in subzero temperatures with the windchill reaching -20 (once your legs and blood start pumping, you’ll warm up quick).  Really, though, who cares if the weather isn’t ideal?  Part of the joy of cycling is immersing yourself in the environment, weather included.

That’s what we’ve let cars do to us—we’re now completely incapable of being uncomfortable, even for a moment.  We have remote starters for our cars, so we can start them from inside the house.  Heated and cooled seats.  Air conditioners so potent your vehicle could double as a refrigerator.  We’ve gone soft because of our dependence on cars.

#6:  But I have to do (insert various tasks/activities here)

This is the one excuse that’s hard to disprove, and it’s caused by a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of the car-centric people.  People who use this excuse are looking at it the wrong way.  They say, “Could I replace my car with a bicycle and maintain my exact lifestyle?”  That line of thinking is incorrect.

When I made the decision to adopt a carfree lifestyle, I did so with the understanding that I would be giving up certain things.  For instance, I knew I couldn’t take trips to Sam’s and buy half the store.  For me, the things that I gained from the bicycle made up for what I gave up—your experiences may differ.

The point is that it’s very unlikely you can take your car-focused life and translate it directly to life without a car.  If you like to go play golf 40 miles from home once a week, you aren’t going to do that on a bike.  Have to take 3 kids to soccer and ballet?  Either get them their own bikes or keep the minivan.  Americans have developed a national way of life that is built around automobiles, and until that changes, a carfree lifestyle probably won’t be realistic for most.  However, there’s no reason that most people can’t begin using a bicycle for more daily errands.

* Not really.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Doing Hipsta Things

First off, if you’ll allow me a moment:

Yes, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while.  I recently took destroyed the LSAT.  Scores are to be released in early January, so if you don’t see a post around then bragging about my score, then let’s forget the whole “destroyed” comment happened.  So, November was 100% (read: 75% [read: 45%]) dedicated to LSAT studying.  Also, I’m lazy.  But now that’s behind me, and spending several without venting has left me with plenty to say, so I’ve got at least two good posts in me before going another month without a post.

Anyway, I realized something recently.  The name of this project is [Hipster] Out of Water, and the project was, ostensibly, about finding a home for my hipster lifestyle here in Shreveport; however, up until now my only posts have been bicycling related.  Well, it occurs to me that there is more to being a hipster than riding your fixie around town.  So I donned my cutoff 501s and my city flannel and set out.

First order of business:


Next up, the Shreveport Farmer’s Market.  Honestly, I was a bit unsure of what to expect when I saddled up and headed downtown for the fall incarnation of the local farmer’s market.  I was expecting some combination of these two:

Instead, what I found was:

Along with the largest congregation of bikes I’ve seen at any one place in Shreveport:

Seriously, this was a great farmer’s market.  The selection was great and prices reasonable—competitive with or lower than—your usual grocery store.  There was live music and lots of hot food available to snack on while shopping.  Even the turnout was better than I could have expected.  The market goes on hiatus over the winter, and I’m not sure when it’s scheduled to open in the spring, but it’s definitely something that everyone in the area should check out.  Here’s the website if you want to stay updated with their recent news.  I think they’re on Facebook too.

Then, of course, I went to the Robinson Film Center for my indie film fix.  Remember, for a hipster, a steady dose of independent film is as necessary for life as air (or clove cigarettes)—but I digress…  The Robinson Film Center, located here online and here on Twitter, is a great place to watch a film.  Comfortable seats, large theater, and a cool setting.  The building has the whole industrial loft feel, and it’s decorated with movie posters from the various films either produced or set in the Shreveport area.  It’s not the Alamo Drafthouse (but then, what else is?), but it’s definitely the best place in the area to watch a movie.

Art people, don’t worry, I didn’t forget about you—just haven’t had a chance to get to it yet.  I’ll hopefully be making it to Artspace and the R.W. Norton Gallery soon.

Finally, coming up over the next few days, a three part series of posts on the reasons against, reasons for, and methods for bike commuting (really, you thought I could go a whole post without mentioning cycling?).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

First post back. Advance apologizes for a storm of negativity.

Ask most who know me, and they’ll say that I’m an easygoing guy.  I’m not easily roused to anger.  I get along with most people.  Most people get along with me.  And I really like it that way.  Sure, I’ve grown slightly more irritable and cynical as I’ve aged, but for the most part, I like to keep my mood somewhere north of peachy.  Which is why I hate to have to do this post.

I know it’s been a while since the last post.  This first post back was supposed to be an apology for taking so long, a rant about moving and cable companies, an update on the Great Shreveport Biking Experiment, and an announcement of some (relatively) exciting blog news.  Seriously, I promise, I was.  The post was even half written.  Then I saw this new General Motors ad:

I almost let it go.  I almost wrote it off as tilting at windmills by a desperate company grasping at straws.  But then I had a couple glasses of hipster smugness potion, aka organic Malbec from some obscure region of Argentina:

(editor’s note:  Actually, it was a $4 bottle of Wal-Mart Malbec).

There are so many different reasons that this ad is infuriating that I’m not even sure where to begin.  First, the obvious.  Why does any college student need a new car?  Why does someone need a car payment in addition to student loans, books, room, board, random student activity fees, mandatory health insurance, and beer expenses?  According to The College Board, the total sticker price of attending four years at a public university as an in-state student will come to over $92,000.  The above GM ad showcases a new GMC Sierra, which, after the student discount, costs only $29,482!  What a deal!  Do our kids really need to add another $30,000 to the already ridiculous cost of college?  We have become a nation of borrowers, of over extenders, of rent-to-owners, of paycheck loan customers.  If you were wondering why that is, it’s not because of evil liberals spending money on NPR and Planned Parenthood.  It’s because of the mindset that leads to advertisements such as these.

Second, the ad just assumes that cycling sucks, and that cyclists are embarrassed to be seen cycling, and that if only we could afford a car, we could ditch this child’s toy for good.  Are there people out there that think cycling is uncool?  Sure.  Are there maybe a few cyclists who would gladly trade their two wheels for four and a door, if financially possible?  Sure.  But for most of us, we made a conscious choice at some point to trade our car keys for Kryptonite lock keys.  We choose our bikes over cars.  Many cyclists are even car owners themselves, and even choose the bike over the car every day they head out to work.  And I, for one, am damn proud of my bike and my lifestyle choice.

Hey GM, you know what?  You’re actually right.  Reality does suck.  Unfortunately for you though, you’ve lost your grip on reality.  The reality that sucks is that you’re a failing company that for decades refused to innovate and lost your market share to Japanese companies.  Then, when you realized that good old-fashioned jingoism wouldn’t be enough to sell cars, you came hat in hand to Congress begging for a handout.  (Actually, you didn’t exactly come hat in hand, unless that phrase now means, “I took my private jet to get there”).  You lost touch with your customers, and ended up needing an emergency $49.9 billion of taxpayer money in order to stay in business.  Guess how much bailout money Trek received?  Oh by the way, Trek makes all of its bicycles in the U.S., at its factory in Waterloo, Wisconsin.  Just a quick search of GM factories shows locations in Japan, Vietnam, Australia, Colombia, and Canada. 

Yeah, reality does suck.  It must suck to be able to see, to almost be able to touch your upcoming demise.  To know that times have changed, and you just can’t keep up.  To know that your only hope of survival is to prey upon our kids who aren’t yet smart enough to know better.  You’re basically cigarette companies in the 1960s.  I can already see the next GM campaign:  a greaser camel urging kids to buy Chevys because “all the cool kids are.”

But of everything about this ad that upsets me, I think the worst thing is that I’ve actually been pulling for you, GM.  The Detroit story is a true source of American pride.  Detroit is everything that America stands for.  It’s a workingman’s city.  You live there, you work hard.  The weather sucks, but so what—you put on the damn hardhat and get to work.  Everyday is a struggle, and you slog through it, making products that make Americans proud.  Hell, living in Detroit is basically analogous to riding a bike.  Sure, there are easier places to live, but you choose to live and work in Detroit, just like I choose to ride a bike when it may sometimes not be the easiest way.  I was on your side.  Even if I wasn’t buying cars, I was pulling for you to make it.  No more.

Reality does suck for cyclists though, for one big reason:  GM, and the other members of the worldwide automobile-manufacturing cartel.  GM’s vehicles helped to cause more than 32,000 fatalities in the United States last year.  For a comparison, firearms killed about 31,000 Americans.  In other words, automobiles are actually more effective killing machines than machines that are purpose built to kill things.


Okay, good to get that off my chest.  Now I can get back to my usual musings about obscure hipster stuff.  Check back soon, lots of hipsteriffic activities planned for the weekend, including art galleries, farmer’s markets, and old Brando films.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Do You Have Reliable Transportation?

As much as I might like to go off the grid, I can’t (how else could I write this blog); therefore, the job search has begun.  During an interview today, I was asked a strange question:  “do you have reliable transportation?”  Ostensibly, they’re asking, “can you get to work on time?” but what they really mean is, “do you own an automobile?”

Admittedly, this is not a strange question for some jobs.  Someone applying for a traveling salesperson position would understandably be expected to have a vehicle.  However, for a position that does not require traveling—you know, most jobs in America, the kind where you show up to an office and stay in one location all day—how you come and go from that office should be of little concern to your employer.  They shouldn’t care if you wanted to get to work in this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or even this:

Just kidding.  No sane person rollerblades, even if they are motorized.  Anyway, society’s general perception is that the only way to consistently get to work on time is to drive your own personal vehicle.  Even if you’re driving this beater:

Let’s see if we can find any evidence to show that cars are actually more reliable than other forms of transportation.

The first thing to consider, of course, is commute times.  In some big cities with heavy automobile traffic, bikes, trains, and even walking make for faster commutes than driving.  However, even I will concede that this isn’t the case in most areas; most automobile commutes are probably faster than biking or walking commutes of the same distance.  Although not according to this report from the Public Policy Institute of California:

Again, though, I’m sure there’s an explanation there.  For one, California has several large cities, where people generally tend to commute shorter distances, and over short distances biking has a time advantage over vehicles.  Also, it can be reasonably hypothesized that those who commute by bike probably have shorter distances to commute than those who go by car.  For example, a commute from my home in South Bossier to downtown is 7.6 miles and would take 16 minutes by car, according to Google Maps.  The same trip by bike, however, would take about 45 minutes according to Google.  So there, I’ve said it:  automobiles are a faster way to get to work than biking.  But does that necessarily mean more reliable?  No, it just means that someone biking to work needs to leave earlier than one who drives.

So if the distance/time of a commute does not make a particular commute more or less reliable, then let’s examine the things that do create delays in a commute and cause a person to be late to work.

First, and probably the excuse most used by drivers:  “I got caught by a train.”  I’ve used it once or twice myself.  And it’s understandable.  Look at the following screenshot from an Idaho commission planning a railroad overpass:

One train intersection, in IDAHO, causes an estimated 110,286 minutes in delays a year (sure, that’s an estimate for 2025, but I think the point still stands.  So, keep that one railroad crossing in mind when you consider this:  according to the Federal Railroad Commission, there are about 228,000 at grade railroad crossings in this country.  That’s a whole lot of minutes.  Before you point out the obvious, I’m not suggesting that bicycles can magically cross a railroad crossing that is occupied by a speeding freight train (although that would only be slightly less dangerous than a typical bicycle commute).  However, the cyclist does have the advantage of being able to skip to the front of that long line of traffic that will accumulate at the crossing.  And that waiting for that long line of traffic to clear after the train passes takes almost as long as it took for the train to go through the intersection.

Another common cause for tardiness (or at least, excuse for tardiness) is the flat tire excuse.  Yes, it’s amazing that anyone can drive anywhere at all based on the number of alleged flats that motorists receive each year.  In fact, according to (only the most reliable source on the internet), there are seven flats per second in this country, resulting in 220 million flat tires per year.  Again, this is not to say that bicycle tires do not also get flat; I’ve had more than my fair share of flats.  But I am saying—no, more than saying, I would even bet—that I can fix a flat bike tire faster than you can change your car’s flat tire to the spare.  I’d even bet that half the drivers out there couldn’t change their own flat tire.  Bottom line, if you leave at your normal time driving, and I leave at my normal time biking, and we each get a flat, I’ll probably still be there on time, and you’ll be late.

Then, of course, there are those creaks and clunks and strange lights on the dashboard—uh-oh, your car needs work.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any statistics as to the average length of time per year that an average car is in the shop.  However, I didn’t find an AAA stat that the average driver spends $7,000 in car repairs for every 15,000 miles driven, so we know it’s expensive.  But we’ll save that for a different post.  Whatever the actual number is, though, I feel confident in saying that my bike will spend less of its life in the shop than your car.  Most bicycle repair problems can be prevented by simple home maintenance, and even issues requiring a shop visit are usually quick trips.  For example, on Monday I noticed that my bike had a loose headset.  A quick trip to Scooter’s Bike Shop and it was fixed, for no charge, in less than five minutes.  Try to get anything on your car fixed in five minutes.

So those are the first three delay causes that I could think of, mainly because those are the three that I used regularly back when I drove a car.  To me, it’s plainly obvious that bicycles are actually a more reliable form of transportation than cars.  Actually, the only way to be completely free from mechanical problems is to walk.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Great Shreveport Biking Experiment: 24-Hour Check-in

Well, the Great Shreveport Biking Experiment has begun.  For those just tuning in, the experiment is:  can this Chicagoan readjust to life in Shreveport, without sacrificing the lifestyle that I’ve grown accustomed to over the past several years—mainly cycling and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer (decent organic food and great coffee come in as close seconds on the lifestyle priorities).

There’s no update on the PBR front yet (check back tomorrow), so today we’ll just cover the cycling.

In anticipating the move, I had two main concerns about riding in Shreveport:  1) hostile traffic that’s unaccustomed to cyclists, and 2) the not exactly ideal bridge/river crossing situation.  Well, I’ve covered about 40 miles now over the past 24 hours, and first impression is that I was wrong about one, and right about another.

The traffic isn’t so bad.  For one, there are a lot fewer cars on the road than in Chicago.  For another, there aren’t any parked cars to open doors into traffic.  Also, so far, drivers don’t really seem too concerned with a cyclist on the road.  In fact, at this point the horn-honking tally is at four.  That’s roughly a 10-miles/honk ratio, which is par for the course in Chicago.  I have two guesses as to why this is:  1) drivers see so few cyclists that they’re confused, and their minds are so occupied with the confusing sight of a grown man on a bicycle they forget to yell something, and 2) since there aren’t many cyclists here, the drivers have not been cut off by this person:

I was right that the bridge situation sucks.  If you don’t know anything about Shreveport-Bossier, here’s the deal:  Shreveport and Bossier are divided by a big river.  Not Mississippi River big, but a lot bigger than the Chicago River.  Also, unlike the Chicago River, the Red is not crossed by thirty or so bridges.  Instead, it’s crossed by five.  Here’s a map for your understanding:

Of the five, two of them are Interstate Highways, and one is a two-lane road with traffic at speeds of about 60 mph; that one is also out of the question.  On the above map, the red dots represent unusable bridges, and green represents the usable pair of bridges.  So that leaves two viable options for bicycle traffic, each fairly close to downtown.  I suppose that isn’t the worst thing in the world if your starting point or destination is downtown.  However, if, like today, you’re in south Shreveport ("School" on the map) and trying to go to south Bossier ("Dad's House"), the bridge situation results in an extra 10 miles or so of riding.  Also, the bridges are bigger hills than any in Illinois.  However, there are worse things in the world than getting to be on the bike a little longer with a good hill climb thrown in.

Finally, though, there is one negative that I never expected:  bike racks.  Specifically, the lack thereof.  Really, is there one anywhere in Shreveport?  I can’t continue to park like this:

That's it for today.  To anyone reading in Shreveport, if you see a guy in a black helmet on a black bike, feel free to say hello.  For everyone else, please be considerate to the cyclists you see on the road.  Remember, all we're trying to do is get to work and get home, just like anyone else.  Some have families to get home to, and all of us are somebody's sons or daughters.  Spare the 15 seconds it may cost you in order to slow down and pass safely.  After all, bikes belong on the road, not chained up and painted white:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Are Bikes Cool? (buckle up, it's a long read)

Ask ten people why they don’t ride a bike and you’ll likely get ten different reasons:  “I don’t want to get to work sweaty,” “I’m afraid of traffic,” “it takes too long,” or even, “I don’t know how to ride a bike.”  However, I believe that it all really comes back to a singular underlying issue:  Bicycle riding is not cool.  At least not in America, not yet.

Sure, Lance Armstrong is cool enough.  But he may be the only cool cyclist in America, and that’s setting the bar pretty high for coolness.  As badly as I want to be cool, I’m not going to climb the Alps and beat 150 other people across France SEVEN TIMES.  Unless you’ve done that, to most of America, you’re just some weird guy that wears spandex and shaves his legs.  (Important note:  not all cyclists wear spandex and shave their legs).

Don’t believe me?  Fine.  Let’s look at the evidence.  And by evidence, I mean the most solid, undeniable way to prove anything in America—Hollywood.

Exhibit A:  The 40 Year Old Virgin.  One of the great comedies of the past 10 years, and also one of the great examples of the prototypical uncool cyclist:

Note the nerdy grin, the ultradork helmet, and the windbreaker.  (Seriously, James Dean would be rolling in his grave; I didn’t realize it was even possible to dork-up a red windbreaker).

For those unfamiliar with the film, it’s a story about a dorky guy, who is, as you could guess, a 40-year-old virgin.  The fact that he rides a bicycle is used as a punchline repeatedly throughout the movie.  Sure, it’s not the only thing that makes the character a dork, but it works.  And it works because Americans already think bike riding is dorky.

Then, there’s the epic TV series Arrested Development.  If you haven’t seen it, you should.  Last I checked, the whole series was streaming on Netflix.  Watch it.  And when you do watch it, you’ll notice that in the early episodes the main character, Michael Bluth, rides a bike to work.  When I first saw the show about six months ago, I thought that was awesome.  I thought, “Here we have a normal, semi-cool, average American who has made the great decision to improve his life by riding a bike to work.”  It only took a couple episodes for the show to make me wrong.  His bike riding soon became a joke, as he was shown sweating profusely on the way to work:

Yeah, he’s sweating—he’s also wearing a full business suit in Los Angeles.  Hell, I sweat just sitting at my desk while wearing a suit.  Throw a change of clothes in a backpack and change at work, Mr. Bluth!

In fact, he decided that riding a bike to work was so unpractical that the only thing left to do was buy a car.  But, unfortunately, cars are expensive and his family was broke, so this is what he ended up with:

Really, Michael?  Even the stair-car is preferable to riding a bike?

Wait a minute, you say, surely Hollywood can’t be that biased against cycling.  Hasn’t there ever been a movie with a cool guy on a bike?  Well, there was one, once, sort of.  In Two For the Money, Matthew McConaughey is a laid back former football player (you know, his character in every movie) who rides a bike to his job as a small time sports betting advice guy.

Early in the trailer, you see several scenes of him riding his bike, and damn does he make it look cool.  Of course, it’s McConaughey, who makes damn near anything look cool.  But, as soon as he gets into the big leagues and goes to work in New York, he has to project a different image, an image that only a Mercedes (or is it a Porsche) can project.  So, no more bike.  The message?  Bikes are cool enough if you’re living some sort of simple, no frills life with little responsibility and no real status, but if you want people to take you seriously, you’ve got to ditch the toy and get a real means of transportation.

Okay, so Hollywood hates cyclists.  So what?  All the cool urban kids on the east coast ride bikes.  Fixies are cool now.  Who cares about Hollywood?  Well, the truth is that while bikes have experienced a huge boom in popularity in major urban environments, mainstream Americans in flyover country still see them as toys, the province of children and dorks.  And as long as that’s the case, no large amount of people will choose to ride bikes, and drivers will continue to see cyclists as inferior.  Luckily, though, there’s a way to change this, and it starts with… Hollywood!  Yes, the cause of the problem can also be the solution!

Remember ten years ago, back when street drag racing had been extinct since the 60s, and “tuning” was only for car dorks who desperately hoped that having a faster car would somehow make them more attractive?  Remember, back before The Fast and the Furious?  But now, based on the high number of modified Civics and Corollas out there, it’s hard to imagine a time when wasting money on your $4,000 1993 Civic Del Sol wasn’t cool.  That’s what The Fast and the Furious did for car tuning.  Nothing makes something popular quite like Vin Diesel cracking skulls.  Of course, the die-hard original nerds may resent the movie for making it trendy, but I bet they are also secretly thankful, because now there’s a much larger group of society that thinks they are cool (note:  I’m not part of this much larger group.  I still think they’re dorks).

I’m convinced that all cycling needs to blow up is for Brad Pitt to saddle up on a fixie, kick some bad guy ass, then ride off into the sunset with (insert up and coming hot girl actress here).  Well, I’ll settle for Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

This could well be the first movie ever to prominently feature a cycling protagonist who is not nerdy, or a loser, or a hippie, or any combination of those.  Will the movie suck?  Most likely.  Will hipsters and cyclists hate it?  Definitely (see also: skateboarders’ opinions of the film Grind).  But will it also rake in ridiculous returns at the box office?  I hope so.  Gordon-Levitt fresh off his Inception success, as well as a couple other indie pictures that look decent, could have enough star power to carry a movie to box office success.

Am I worried that this movie will inspire a wave of cycling in America, as Fast and Furious did for tuner cars?  Not at all.  Other cyclists may scoff at the newbies and call them posers, but as far as I’m concerned, more bike riders is better for biking.  Especially if it’s more cool cyclists, and less spandex.  Finally, I should add that I’m not knocking spandex—it’s the best stuff out there for riding if you're trying to go a long way quickly, but it also scares the hell out of most Americans.  No one wants or needs to see your junk.  Save the spandex for racing.  There are plenty of cycling specific clothing options that look like normal clothes:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hello, Shreveport

On June 5, 2007, I packed everything I owned into my (Dad’s) Honda Accord and put Shreveport in my rear view.  To hear me tell it then, I was leaving for good—the world was wide, the opportunities boundless, and by God I was going to conquer.

My head was filled with visions of suits, power, and money.  Back then, success was measured only by the amount of overtime hours I put in, the value of my car, and the thread count of my suits (super 120s or bust).

Then something strange and unexpected happened—I changed.  Gradually, other things became more important.  More hours at work meant more money, but also less time home with my best friend, Rameses.

Call it disillusionment, call it burnout, or call it my transition to full-fledged hipster.  Whatever.  I’m moving back home, back to Shreveport, back to where it all started, back to refocus and reassess and rediscover the important things in life.  Bottom line, success to me is now about the content of my life, not the contents.  I want to spend time with family, split a six-pack with my brother, do some writing, and ride my bike.  I’m getting back to basics.

Of course, I’m not going off the grid, even if it seems like I’ve gone off the deep end.  I’m refocusing my efforts on finishing college and getting my accounting degree (probably the most practical, least-hipster degree choice there is).  I’m not giving up my love of suits.  I still want to be someone that makes a difference in the world, that provides for my family, that people look up to and respect.  But I’m going to do it on my terms.  I’m going to make things happen instead of having things happen to me.

Now, it’s easy to think that moving back to Shreveport will be easy.  After all, it’s where I’m from, it’s familiar, I’ve got family there, I’ve got a support system, and I’ve got opportunities.  But it’s not going to be all easy.  Specifically, I know that I’ve changed a lot over the past five years, and it’ll be a serious readjustment to acclimate myself to life in Shreveport.  Some serious issues that I’ve been stressing about:  will there be Pabst Blue Ribbon? will there be hipster clothing available? will there be others to discuss fixed gear bikes and obscure foreign films? can I really continue to ride my bike everywhere?

My blog is going to become a sort of experiment in change, as I try to find a way to assimilate without losing the lessons and experience that I’ve gained since living in Chicago.  I feel that I can really help Shreveport in a positive way.  In fact, sometimes it seems as if I was meant to take the life course that I did only so that I could return to Shreveport wizened by life in the big city.  And you know what, I think Shreveport is ready for it.  Groups such as A Better Shreveport (<a href=>Link here</a>) show that there is a strong movement to help Shreveport make the leap and become a 21st century city.  There’s farmers’ markets, community gardens, bike lanes, dog parks, neighborhood cleanups, and lots of other great developments there, and I look forward to doing what I can to help.