Monday, August 29, 2011

Bloody-Minded Collectivist Cyclist (an Irene-delayed post)

Read an interesting article by British environmentalist George Monbiot, about how the car is turning England into a nation of antisocial bastards. First, I love that you can use the word "bastard" in the headline of an editorial over there. But more importantly, he makes a lot of good points, and gets in some well-deserved cracks in at Americans and Australians. The article's from 2005, but as cars still exist, I think it's relevant. A quote:

"When you drive, society becomes an obstacle. Pedestrians, bicycles, traffic calming, speed limits, the law: all become a nuisance to be wished away. The more you drive, the more bloody-minded and individualistic you become."

I can say without a doubt that this is true for me. I've logged around forty hours in a car since getting my permit in January, and while it hasn't turned me into a Tea Partier, I have noticed subtle shifts in both my mood and attitude during and after driving. My fuse is shorter, and considering that it's already pretty short, that's saying A LOT. Extrapolating from this, I come to the conclusion that if I had to spend two hours in a car five days a week, I'd basically become a fire-breathing dragon.

Get out of my way, I'm a motorist!

In a car, you basically can live in a pod if you want to, shuttling from home to work and back on an interstate where you won't have to see another living soul other than yourself and the shadowy beings ensconced in their own pods. Never before in human history has it been so easy not to associate with people you don't choose to associate with, and at the risk of being controversial, I think that's a bad thing. When you don't know that people other than you and your immediate family exist, when they're only hypotheticals, it's easy to say things like "schools (other than my kid's school) are over-funded" or "Social Security doesn't help me, why should I pay for it?" Because you have less real-world experience. And sure, a commute is only a small fraction of one's day, and maybe not everyone feels as I do. For all I know, everyone else in a car is appreciating the full and rich humanity of every other human being on the road. But I am saying that I, personally, feel a lot more misanthropic (and keep in mind, I'm already pretty misanthropic) toward humanity after being in a car, and probably less inclined to support social programs to benefit those ants who dare to suck my mighty fumes.

I also feel less creative after I've taken a long drive or car ride. I'm one of those writers who needs to work over an idea ad infinitum in my head before I feel comfortable enough to write it for real. (Note: don't be this kind of writer if you can possibly avoid it! I'd be so, so much more prolific both blog-wise and fiction-wise if I could "write by the seat of my pants." Alas, I am and will always be a follower of the 99% inspiration, 1% perspiration philosophy.) And the one thing that makes me get into the groove of writing, aside from smoking which I no longer do, is physical activity. Either walking or cycling works, but cycling has the added benefit of getting me to my destination faster, and varying the sights I see along my journeys, which aids in my ability to put together my plots and rework my sentences over and over (and over (and over)) again. I don't know exactly why exercise works this way for me, but it does, and driving for me is like an anti-exercise, making me less able to think and write than I would have been if I'd just stayed home.

I thought these "quirks" were limited to me, a by-product of being an old (in relativistic terms) practically-non-driver who hates cars, and also of being a hot-tempered rage-face in general. Yet, I've been driven in cars with people who are normally very sweet-tempered and not normally prone to rages who get absolutely apoplectic when things slow down or pedestrians step in front of them or they are stuck behind a bike. I won't name names but think about who I ride with most often, heh. I don't think it's that far-fetched to speculate that the car has something to do with this Jekyll and Hyde transformation. And I also don't think the liberal vs. conservative/collectivist vs. individualist dichotomy is that far-fetched either. Perhaps someone in the liberal media should conduct a survey seeing if long car commutes correlate with conservatism on the political spectrum.

Monbiot is also a pro-nuclear environmentalist, so clearly this is a man after my own heart!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Going to Centralia

Last weekend, just because we could, Rob and I took a weekend vacation to East-Central PA. The highlight of the vacation wasn’t the tiny alternative comic-con we went to on Sunday but, instead, a trip to Centralia.

Because not everyone knows the story: up until 1964, Centralia was a hamlet in the heart of anthracite coal country. Somehow or other, the coal underneath the town caught fire, and the town had to be evacuated and the residents paid off, except for the dozen or so stragglers who stayed behind, because one’s town being on fire is merely a small, temporary imperfection along the lines of having to deal with a drum-playing neighbor and isn’t the kind of thing you should, like, run away from as fast as you can. It’s the inspiration behind the movie and video game “Silent Hill,” which I’ve never seen or played, and also the Simpsons episode where they have to move Springfield because it’s taken over by a landfill. (Ix-nay on the asshole-tray!) In addition to rousting out the last Centralians, PA also knocked down the last houses, which is kind of a shame because you don’t really get the same ghost-town effect when it’s just a collection of broken foundations. There’s enough coal under Centralia to keep the fire going for another two hundred years, and it’s likely to swallow up a few other towns as it burns. So, now you know.

The first thing you run into when you finally find Centralia (this is a challenge!) is the interstate, closed due to damage, which you can walk on:

This stretch of interstate goes on for around a mile, and is covered with graffiti, which ran the gamut from the bigoted:

To the scatological:

To the inspiring:

To the nerdy:

There are also three well-kept cemeteries, including this small Orthodox one:

And then the town site itself, which doesn’t look like much anymore since they tore down the houses and uprooted the street signs. But the town is where you get the best view of the fire, as you can (kind of) see here:

There’s also an area where you can literally put your hand into the rocks and feel the fire, which is cool as hell, and also illustrates the utter insanity of anyone who chose to remain here. If I’d had my hand in the rocks more than half a minute, I would have gotten burnt. I bet I could have fried an egg in this little rock niche:

Gotta say, PA’s tourism board is really missing the boat here, though. Where are the tourist shops with T-shirts saying “My Town Burned Up and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt”? Rob says it’s because “nobody wants to remember Centralia,” but the next day we went to the town of Jim Thorpe, which capitalizes on the execution of the Molly Maguires, which you wouldn’t think we’d want to remember either. Nobody even died in Centralia! I mean, it’s certainly not a pleasant history lesson, but it’s interesting, and we ran into a dozen other people while we were there (including two guys who drove Jeeps onto the broken interstate!), so clearly there’s a market for tours, knickknacks, and other things to drain rubberneckers’ pockets. I have ideas, PA! Call me!

Centralia's past vs. Centralia's future.
Ultimately, I came away from this trip struck by how many differences there are between Western and Eastern PA. We’re bituminous, they’re anthracite. We put French fries on our sandwiches, they have a lot of Amish people. Like two different planets, really. I was also struck by just how empty a lot of the eastern part of the state is. Except for Pittsburgh, Western PA is pretty rural, but not to this extent. There was just a lot of nothing from Centralia all the way down to Philadelphia, which became very concerning when it came time to find a motel. So, go to Centralia, but get a reservation first! This message brought to you by the Centralia Tourism Board.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Breakfast at Twilight #4 Is Out and Buried Under a Cat

I've been living in Baltimore for a week now and it's pretty awesome! The neighbors are friendlier, the sights are interesting, and the bike lanes and public transportation are existent. And while I will put up a big-ass update post with pictures and such soon, I still can't find my camera in the moving boxes and bags and I sort of hate pulling pictures from my phone. Also, I've been spending too much time on the Internet, as evidenced by the fact that I haven't even finished a book this month. (The book I am reading, The Godwhale by doctor-turned-SF author-turned-doctor T.J. Bass, is awfully written but awesomely idea-ed. It's the sequel to a book that's even worse and I don't really know why I'm continuing to read it except that it's a fairly unique dystopia and I love me some dystopia fiction. Maybe I'll put up a post about it at some point. But basically if you enjoy 1970s-era environmental dystopia and don't mind reading sentences like "now the more purposeful cutaneous capillaries puckered to conserve heat," these are the books for you!)

A zine so awesome, it killed a cat.

But! This post is actually an official announcement of my new zine, Breakfast at Twilight #4: The Bike Issue. My new zine touches on such hard-hitting topics as:

  • My history with driving, and also cycling
  • Confrontations with drivers
  • How to bike in suburbia without getting murdered
  • Beginners' Gear 101
  • My beef with athletic cycling
  • A very short urban planning history
And more! Okay, no, that's pretty much it. It's forty pages, quarter sized, and pretty text-packed except for some hand-drawn illustrations. If you want it, copies are $1.50 and you can Paypal me at blacklightdiner at gmail dot com. Outside the US, please add a little for shipping. Distros who want a copy, get in contact, and it will be available at my own distro (for the next month or so that it's open online) once I hook up the scanner. But what I really want is trades! My zine reading has really slacked and I don't know why, except that I haven't gotten very many new zines in the mail lately. So if you're someone I've traded with before, or even someone I haven't, email me. It will be awesome.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hampden, hon!

Over the weekend, I moved to Baltimore. The general sequence of events:

Saturday, 9:00 AM: Pick up truck. Find out Rob is awesome at driving truck as long as I don't talk too much about the questionable racial politics implied in The Jetsons. Talk about it anyway because that's what I do.
Saturday, 10:00 AM: My parents and sister arrive from Uniontown, PA. My dad immediately made himself useful by managing to Tetris almost all of our belongings into a 16' Budget moving truck. Considering that we couldn't even manage to get everything into a 24' truck when we moved to Towson from Pittsburgh, that represents both an incredible downsizing of stuff on both our parts as well as some first-rate packing on my dad's part.
Saturday, 1:00 PM: Break for lunch. I ribbed my parents for a while about having to drive less than a mile to the nearest restaurant, but these are the ideological sacrifices that you make for people who are helping you out. Although I still maintain I could have biked there faster.
Saturday, 3:00 PM: Commence unpacking. Find that almost everything fits, and that unpacking is way easier when you don't have to move heavy oak pieces up and down narrow row-house stairs. Come to the conclusion with your significant other that stairs, while a useful invention of mankind, are best avoided in any apartments we may rent in the future.
Saturday, 8:00 PM: Break for dinner. Retrieve cats from old house. Are slightly amused that the cat that reacted the worst to moving last time (her behavior earned her the title "Queen of the Rafters") is apparently unfazed, and that old cranky cat is reacting the worst. He's still hissing and swiping at legs. Make a crack about how this will be the last place he ever lives and feel bad about it because that means he might die here and that's morbid, but REALLY, it's just that we hope to be here at least five or six years and he's already ten and cats don't live THAT long. Except for this cat. If Oxford turns out to be the feline Jeanne Calment he's gonna have to suck it up.
Sunday: Let's just not talk about Sunday, okay?

The apartment looks like this, except that there's all kinds of stuff in it now which makes it look like a hoarder house but we're totally not hoarders. Except of LOVE. And canned goods.

The many colors of our new apartment. Just add boxes.

So far Hampden is pretty awesome although we haven't really done anything here yet because we had to go back out to the suburbs for irony and necessary house supplies. I also haven't been able to do any exploring on my bike but SOON, hon, soon. Thanks to Rob (who will read this post) for agreeing to the move and being awesome at driving the truck, and my parents and sister (who probably won't), for being a major help! Even if they do hate to walk.

Also, I have a new zine! Well, I have a new zine PRINTED but not yet collated because of the move, and I don't know when it will be collated. By next week, definitely! It's all about bikes, suburbia, how to start cycling for transportation, fucking drivers, pet peeves, and more. Okay, not really that much more. It's forty pages, which is the longest zine I've ever written and it's even longer than that because for the first time I wrote it on a computer, not a typewriter, which means the words are smaller and closer together. Figures that when I decide to write a 24-hour zine, it actually turns into a week-long project.

In lieu of cover image, please accept this similar concept.

If you want one, it's $1.50 Paypalled to blacklightdiner at gmail dot com, or a trade. Trades are awesome! I haven't been reading very many zines lately besides the ones submitted to me for distro consideration. You can email for my address. That needs to change.