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Critical Mass (9/26/03) - The Concept of Extinction

Review of Critical Mass in Baltimore, Md., 9/26/03
September 2003's Critical Mass was a success. It managed to be fun, too. However, it was very ugly at times.

We meet with more festivity than before, the memory of last month's excellent ride hovering over the air. We have about 45 people. Some of us are wearing funny hats. Instead of the entire group starting off slowly and without momentum D____ jumps up on an elevation and reads a passage from Chris Carlsson's excellent book on Critical Mass. We nod and listen. When he's finished reading he gets a nice hand. The ride is off!

We are a motley crew heading north up publicly-funded Charles street, our rebellion designed to add some festivity to the Friday rush-hour commute. We head east and then south down Light Street, the latter traditionally our toughest street section of town.

As we near Pratt Street the usual symphony of car horns is heard from behind us. Then trouble begins. A local mechanic for a now-boycotted bicycle shop rides up on his bicycle, having been trailing Critical Mass to settle a score (over a woman) with another rider. He attacks him from behind! (Who is this guy, Sonny Corleone?) A scuffle ensues. Minutes later one of our guys has a shiner and the entire group is demoralized. (The Broadway Bicycles employee leaves on his bicycle without being arrested.)

The ride resumes and we are on Pratt Street stalled by automobiles. As D____ points out, none of us will put down our bicycles to aggressively yell at the motorists. None of us are screaming at them and trying to pick fights with them for delaying us. While we continue to encounter those in cars who believe they are entitled to drive automobiles into and try to start fights with bicyclists we share none of this hostility during those times when riding a bicycle is faster than driving.

When at last the automobiles have advanced we head east on Pratt Street with great festivity. Near Calvert Street a CEO-type white male in his 50s uses his horn angrily; stymied, he explodes with extremely aggressive driving directed at the bicyclists near him. Other Massers ride up to control him. A power struggle ensues. He finally gives in. He gets out of his car on Pratt Street, shaking his Club at us. (The Club is a red, anti-theft device which is somewhat heavy.) We talk to him. The standoff lasts for a couple of minutes. We call him Tony Soprano and finally leave him.

More road range ensues when the Mass is stopped at President's Street. A truck driver comes over and challenges the group to a fight. He is about 35 pounds overweight, livid with rage and his blood pressure is in the danger zone. He is so angry at a five-minute delay in his commute that he has jumped out his 18-wheeler to challenge a group of bicyclists to violence. How long can he live like this? How long can all of the motorists live with this much anxiety over a five or ten minute delay in their lives?

At this point in time I think about the last country that the US started a war with (Iraq). I think about the surviving children there now dealing with unexploded cluster bombs that look like toys. They also have Depleted Uranium lurking about which is causing some frightening mutations in newly-born children. The US is militarily occupying Iraq. That means that if a large group of them attempt to put on a nonviolent protest the US-led forces will shoot them. The US has shot into nonviolent protests by Iraqis regularly so far, killing dozens.

With the light still red my mind continues to wander. To Palestine, where currently a colossal wall is being built to imprison 1.5 million, stateless and powerless people. The concept is medieval; and it is happening with our tax dollars. Thirty-six years of unrelenting occupation for the people of Palestine isn't enough. US foreign policy is designed to destroy their spirits and make them feel like animals. Many believe the US continues to lavishly fund Israel's occupation because the US must have unfettered access to Middle Eastern oil. The US taxpayer is forking over a lot of dough to maintain the military occupation of two large populations.

With gasoline fumes rising in the air I also think about the 10 degrees of global warming which is expected by many within the next seventy-five years. That should be enough to submerge New York City and most of Florida. Life along the eastern seaboard of the US will be changed with colossal rapidity. This much upheaval has the potential to unleash violent forces we can not fully comprehend. Mankind can easily reach extinction before the next century. Each year that we continue to consume fossil fuels like gluttons takes the Human Race closer to its final hours.

The light turns green and we continue on. As the ride proceeds we encounter more furious motorists, some of whom ride their cars aggressively at the bicyclists slowing them down. Towards the end of the ride we encounter our first police officer. He tries to stop the CM ride but he's about an hour late. The Massers who have gone the distance repair for libations at the Mount Royal Tavern.

At the Tavern a regular starts a fight with another guy--over a girl. This has been a very violent evening.

We have a nice time at the Tavern. The unanimous consensus among us is that Critical Mass is a healthy (and brief) alternative to unrestrained fossil fuel consumption. It seems preferable to waiting for extinction.

Scott Loughrey

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