First Ride

Originally writen on Friday, February 27, 2004

Tonight was my first ever critical-mass ride. I’d read about some of the rides in San Francisco and also in Chicago. I’d read about Chicago’s finest lining the streets, and in some of the more extreme cases snatching people off their bikes and arresting them. I certainly hadn’t expected to see a small squad of 1980’s full dress Kawasaki’s, with screaming red and blue lights, parked caddie-corner to the supposedly unofficial meeting place. The small crowd of less than thirty slowly drifted in under the never-ending rain and chatted with one another. Some small introductions were being made between riders. No one was attempting to hold court and everyone seemed pleasant and eager to go for a ride around the city.

Truthfully, I had half expected there to be a sense of rebellion or disregard for authority. However, there was no such feeling. After thirty minutes or so of waiting around for the last few riders who might be coming late, someone suggested we start and off we were. We slowly rolled towards the first stop sign and suddenly a moto-cop swung in next to the front of the peloton and proceeded to follow along like you see the support guys do on the Tour de France.

The rain started falling harder. We meandered through downtown heading west up hill a bit through the Pearl. Most everyone’s bikes were equipped with headlights and taillights and a few were wearing helmets. I felt a bit out of place with my fixie and no lights. No lights would later become my undoing.

The police were quite polite at first. They kept an entire lane open for the mass, strayed a bit through the turns to ensure a safe crossing, and even exchanged pleasantries with a few of the riders. We turned south on 23rd and then left onto Burnside. As we reached closer to Powells Books I started to feel like there may be a little tension building. The mass rode more quietly now compared to the hootin and hollerin earlier in the ride. I was in the front of the mass and suddenly about four or more moto-cops sped up the street past us. After a few more minutes I looked over my shoulder and realized that there was only half of the original mass left.

We were at a stoplight across from the bookstore, a nervous female voice behind me wisely suggested that we get off our bikes and wait for the rest of the pack on the island; there was confusion, uncertainty… what were the red and blue lights up the street all about? Were they at the venue where an all ages punk show was about to begin, or did they stop the second half of the mass?

No one knew for sure what was going on with the lights. Three or four moto-cops rode onto the island and circled us like a pack of lions waiting to pounce.

Suddenly one called and said, “Hey!” his tone sounding a bit out of order for the circumstances… “You there in the green jacket.” I looked around the few massers and back at him. “Me” I said pointing at my chest. “You don’t have any lights on your bike and you can’t ride it anymore for the rest of the night. If I see you riding it at all I will give you a ticket!” he quipped.

There I was, a grown man, being scolded like a child on a busy street corner in a major urban center on a Friday night. I turned to talk to my friend about the situation. A masser suggested that we all go off in different directions and meet up at another location to continue the ride. I knew my time was done ‘cause I couldn’t afford the ticket. I walked my bike down a ways towards the Burnside Bridge, threw it over my shoulder as I descended the stairway down to the trail along the river, and rode home like a scalded dog.

Having come from a place where people could care less if you are a cyclist or a plastic bag floating across the road, and bike lanes are twenty or thirty years into the cities budget plan, I feel happy to be in Portland. And I will certainly continue going to the Critical Mass rides on last Fridays. To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, one of our lands most vocal lovers of freedom; I love my damn country and I have a right to exercise my Goddamned rights.

No comments: