Friday, September 30, 2011


Hey, so, I've read some interesting stuff in the bikeosphere this week, so how about I let other people do my work for me and just link to them? /lazy

First off, if you like bikes and you like comics and you like humor, you need to put Another Bike on your RSS feed, like, yesterday. Even if you only like one or two of those things, still read it. How can you not love a girl who treats her new bike to a bath by candlelight?

Credit to Lulu @ Another Bike

Second, Sam at Brown Girl in the Lane perfectly sums up how I often feel when I think about people I know taking preventable car trips (FYI, most car trips are preventable), and how hard it can be to support them in their decision:

When I see a friend is a car, I immediately think of studies I've read, about the toxins the very existence of car creates, about the number of lives lost....for no good reason.
It is at times like this I wish I could get a lobotomy and just put myself out of this misery. I wish I could just forget everything I've read, everything I've seen, and everything I've smelled and just be happy and enjoy the fact that I'm lucky to live in a world where so many people are privileged to have such an abundance of luxury. [....]
But I can't forget it, and I'm not being honest when I say that I can really, truly appreciate this gift.

Thirdical, a recent only-tangentially-related-to-bikes article at NY Times caught my eye: Keeping (Weaker) Eyes on the Road. Apparently, people seeking license renewal in New York will no longer have to take eye retests. I didn't know that any state required retests, so I did a little digging and found out that most states don't require a retest if you renew by mail (Maryland is one of the few exceptions, although you can have eyes as bad as 20/100 and still drive here with a doctor's note). I do sympathize with sucky-eyed folks who are in danger of losing their licenses, since I know first hand that not being able to drive and living somewhere that isn't transit or bike friendly is a major handicap when it comes to employment, social life, education... well, everything! It's incredibly isolating. However, that pain just doesn't compare to the thousands of people who die every year in car accidents, many of them caused by people who should not be driving. (P.S. I include myself in this. I don't believe my optometrist should have written me an exemption, because I don't believe there should be vision exemptions. I'm still planning on taking my driver's road test because I've put a lot of money into this thing, but I also think a truly safe driver vision policy would be one that excludes me and people whose eyes are even worse than mine. And I don't plan to actually drive.)

Finally, is bicycle commuting really catching on? Well, it depends on where you live, but I'm pleased:

Credit: The Atlantic Cities. Boo on you, Newark!

Who's that at the largest increase in the Northeast US? Why, it's my old hometown, Pittsburgh! And coming in at #2? You guessed it, Baltimore! As I've never ridden in any area other than Baltimore City and County, I don't know how our cycle facilities stack up against more world-class places like NYC or Boston. I do know, however, that in general I feel very, very safe riding in the city, and while I can imagine things being better (as can anyone who doesn't live in Amsterdam or Copenhagen), I'm ridiculously pleased with the amount of lanes and sharrows we have already. Also, 1% ride share seems kind of low, I'd say the ratio of bikes to cars is more like 1:20 or even 1:10 on the Avenue or around JHU. But if they're only counting people commuting to jobs, that changes things, I don't even commute to a job (because I don't yet have one).

Pittsburgh being at #1 is a surprise, because it's just so ridiculously hilly everywhere. You'd have to be pretty athletic already to tackle Pittsburgh as a transportation cyclist. I also don't remember many lanes, although I wasn't looking for them when I lived there. I'm going back in two weeks and I'll look for bike infrastructure then! I would definitely continue riding if I moved back to Pittsburgh, although I'd have to get a bike with more than seven speeds. More like thirty-seven.

The biggest increases, though, came from the Midwest, although the overall percentages there are pretty tiny, except for Minneapolis (which I gather is a lot like Portland, only with snow, so, worse than Portland). If you live in the Southeast or certain parts of the Southwest, sorry guys, better luck next time.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Attack of the 40-Foot Priusmonster

Yesterday afternoon as I was about to go out for my near-daily ride, I caught a commercial that didn't seem to be doing a very good job of telling we the audience what we're being sold. I quipped to Rob that "it's another hybrid car commercial" since earlier we had seen a puzzling hybrid car ad that involved a guy buying ice cream and getting dissed by a little kid. However, that's exactly what it turned out to be.

I don't need to explain why this is a terrible ad, although I will. First of all, holy nightmare fuel, Batman! Toyota's managed to come up with a monster even more terrifying than the Burger King, one which will subsume our own bodies into its lump of undifferentiated mass, only briefly allowing us to decouple so as to perform small tasks like squeezing toothpaste. You don't even know what product it's selling until most of the way through, by which point you're already so grossed out by this lurching golem that you probably don't even care. Yeah, car that plugs in, whatever. What happens when that thing goes to the bathroom?!

Also, this is the car they're selling:

They're on a family vacation in the formless void.
I mean, I'm sort of a car racist (they all look the same to me), but even I can see that this isn't exactly a "hot" car for "cool cats." It's practical, but that's about all it has going for it, and in a world where people depend on their consumer products to sell them not just a better product, but a better life, Prius just doesn't cut it.

Also, think for a second about the NAMES of hybrid cars. Prius. Volt. Yaris (car or birth control?). Fucking Leaf. With the possible exception of Volt, these don't sound like vehicles meant to tear up the pavement. They sound like some kid's science project. Maybe Europeans would buy a car called "Leaf," but 99% of Americans, Canadians, and Australians (i.e. the world's biggest per capita fuel hogs) will scoff at it and keep on looking for something that's cool. Like it or not, looks and names matter, and the majority of people from the individualist nations aren't going to buy something named after the photosynthesizing organ of a plant.


So, who are these ads meant to target? Certainly not the average American driver, who doesn't give a shit about fuel efficiency and is far more concerned about horsepower and carrying capacity. And not the true environmentalist or sustainable transportation buff, since they're already either riding bikes or taking public transportation as long as the location of their job allows it. (Newsflash: it's greener to buy a used car than a hybrid.*) And it's not meant for the cheap and/or poor, since hybrids are exponentially more expensive than standard cars, even used hybrids.

I can only think that they're targeting a very specific audience: upper-middle-class "environmentalists" who want the whole world to know how sustainable they are, but wouldn't be caught dead riding the bus because, well, ew. Essentially, the greenwashed. And that's a piss poor marketing strategy because outside of maybe Northern California, there just aren't that many people with the combination of tons of disposable income and the smug desire to do something to "help the planet" without doing something actually radical such as not driving.

I'm torn between wishing hybrid cars had a better marketing department and saying "well, at least if everyone keeps buying SUVs that will get rid of all that oil that much faster." I very much believe that the disconnectedness created by car culture is extremely damaging to society and that even if they could be made carbon-neutral (and that will never happen), cars are bad. It's not just about the carbon emissions or the smog they create or the fuel they waste, although that's a large part of it. So yeah, car companies, continue to mis-market your own product. It will just bring my car-free/lite utopia that much quicker.

But if I were writing ad copy for an electric hybrid car, it might go a little something like this:

Voiceover: "Hello, I'm Antonio Banderas."

He's got a little bit of a Tommy Wiseau thing going on here.

ANTONIO BANDERAS leaps into the driver's seat of a cherry-red electric hybrid convertible. On the seat next to him is a Zorro mask, a copy of Atlas Shrugged, and a taxidermied deer's head. He guns the engine, and with a mighty squeal the car--complete with fins and lighted rims--speeds down a canyon inexplicably studded with sexy nightclubs.

Antonio Banderas: "When I get out of the movie studio, I don't want to take time out of my busy schedule of ab crunches and photo ops to get gas every week, instead of every week and a half. That's why I drive the Chrysler Lightning. It'll really give you a charge." (Suggestive grin.)

ANTONIO BANDERAS pulls up to a red light. Next to him, in his own retro-styled hybrid car, is DON DRAPER.

Don Draper: "Remember, when you drive an electric car, you're really keeping a lot of emissions out of the air. That means you can smoke as much as you want." (Takes a puff.) "Ah, that's smooth."

Antonio Banderas: "My wife, MELANIE GRIFFITH, really likes the car too."

Don Draper: "Women can drive?"

They ride off into the sunset.

*When you consider the implications of the Jevons paradox, and that the mpg of a 2012 Prius is only around 42 highway/36 city (Rob's Hyundai gets 35 highway/25 city)... I'm not even convinced that a new fuel-efficient standard car is worse than a hybrid. I have personally experienced the truth of the Jevons paradox, as owning my bike (which certainly counts as an energy efficient vehicle compared to walking) makes me much more likely to leave the house and travel long distances for little or no reason at all ("hey, you need one thing from the store, well I guess I can go get it for you") that I never would have if I were on foot. Of course, the extra "emissions" generated by someone on a bike are tiny compared to the "emissions" I'd generate simply by sitting around at home expelling CO2 at a more leisurely rate. But if people are driving hybrids more just because they think they're greener--and there's no "if" about it--then hybrids may turn out to be more damaging to the environment than Hummers ever were. At least people know that Hummers are bad.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Room: The Play

Sunday was my 30th birthday. I'm not a big birthday person, and haven't been since the age of twelve (nothing is more tedious than adults who make a big fuckin' deal out of their birthday, just saying), and prefer not to do anything special for the day aside from going out (or calling in) for a nice meal. I am certainly not the kind of person who goes to the theatre for my birthday. But, as luck would have it, His Roomliness Sir Tommy Wiseau was appearing the day before at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, MD for a special live version of "The Room." No amount of emphatic typography can accurately capture the joy I felt at learning of this event.

For those not in the know, The Room is an epic saga of infidelity, betrayal, football, lies, and covert recording techniques, brought to you by the ambiguously European auteur Tommy Wiseau, who really did wear these pants:

Only $29.99 at Hot Topic!

I've seen The Room: The Movie about four times now, I think, which is four more times than any sane person, but I'm not a sane person. I'm a bad movie aficionado. And while I was basically expecting -- and would have been happy with -- a staged version of The Room, the play was way different, being more of a broad comedy (instead of a "quirky black comedy"... what T.W. called his masterpiece when people didn't appreciate its dramatic aspirations) with a fair amount of improv, caused by Tommy purposely throwing off the rest of the cast. He may not have been in on the joke before, but he is now.

There were also a number of changes to the cast and plot, although all the best scenes and lines are still there. Relatively minor character Scott was a main player, and was the main foil for the actor playing Denny (who did the best job in this aside from the Wiseauminator). A new character, Travis, added a musical flourish:

Yeah baby, open your hard to me.

In closing, go see this if you're a fan of The Room. Or even if you're not, what the hell. I gather that the Silver Spring theater puts on live showings every few months, although this was the first with The Tommy Himself. I'll miss his leather pants and surprisingly sculpted upper body when I see it next time, but he's so busy with publishing The Room: The Bookconverting his film to 3-D, and in general milking this puppy* for all it's worth. A full touring schedule would tear him apart.

(These pictures were taken by Rob, who has a way better cell phone camera than me.)

* Hi, doggie!