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Review of Baltimore's
Halloween Critical Massquerade (2004)

Baltimore’s Critical Massquerade (10/29/04) was an amazingly colorful and festive bicycle ride/party with about 125 of the best looking people in the city participating. Critical Mass is a party and a social protest. It always manages to slow the gears of the great machines of the corporate and government sectors which are enslaving the masses. How can anyone doubt that while so many people are being killed at the moment on behalf of the Holy Fuel that this crazy, Fellini-esque celebration using bicycles, the greatest invention ever, is not an appropriate response? We need a catalyst to slow the madness that is breaking out everywhere and Critical Mass is an effective one.

The Massquerade was the best party I’ve been to since our last Mass (minus K’s___). There were some really historic moments. However, before I go into them an issue came up that is worth discussing first. That’s the course we took. We went East on Mt. Royal Avenue and did not take St. Paul Street. (St. Paul St. is possibly the most dangerous road for bicycles East of Sydney, Australia.) Instead, we took Greenmount Avenue. We went through a very boring stretch of a very impoverished Black neighborhood. While we were outfitted for war against the homicidal drivers downtown this section of town was a very quiet and dull part of the ride.

Was it a mistake? I see two sides that have interesting counterpoints. The people who were very bored by this section could argue that the ride is about bicycle advocacy. Like a sailboat needs some wind so does the Mass thrive with cars, trucks and SUVs to torture. I share this view.

I also think we did the right thing by going down Greenmount. We brought the ride to places where people live among great hardship and despair. Most of us cannot imagine what living on Greenmount Avenue is like. I’m sure it would be like living every day of your life with a deep hole in your soul that never shows any sign of going away.

So here comes the Mass to change their perspective of the moment. Maybe some of the new faces who are finding out about the Baltimore Critical Mass for the first time will join us for the next ride. That would be terrific.

I give credit to the person who was more or less taking us along this route. (One rule we always follow is that CM is leaderless.) The path we took seemed to balance a social statement with the bicycle advocacy statement. If we can keep up this balance Critical Mass Baltimore becomes an even better way to stop the Machine.

Besides the course change there was another cool moment at Lombard and President Streets. Easily the highlight of the ride. A moment like this puts Baltimucho on the map for a lot of people.

Remember that we’re 125 people wearing costumes, signs and noise-makers who are taking up all of the roads we can with our bicycles. (Actually, the abstract, Fellini-esque concept that I have thrown together is not a legitimate costume, as many people quietly, but firmly remind me.) We also had a few young women who are carrying medium-sized puppets on their backs and shoulders. The puppets naturally form anti-war statements. We decided at the start that the entire Mass would stop if we lost one of the puppet-riders due to technical difficulties.

So we’re at a major intersection and we’ve just lost a puppet. At the same time we’ve also got many over-sized vehicles hovering closely behind us whose operators are quite pissed that their escape from the City and return to the safety of the suburbs is not proceeding to plan. The light turns green. The possibility that some bicyclists would be intimidated sufficiently to allow the vehicles through (thus ending the Mass, or if you’re an SUV, our reign of terror) is very strong.

At this moment the person who has been leading the ride gets off his bike, raises it above his head and defiantly indicates that everyone is going to stop. No bicyclists move. The drivers begin using their horns to express their fury. Mike continues to torture them with the bike over his head until the light mercifully changes back to red. That’s when the puppet arrives. When the light changes back to green we take the first road we can. The drivers make their escape and we still have our Mass intact.

If deeds (and not capital) could elect someone to Mayor today I’d recommend Mike, the guy who raises his bike in that pivotal situation in the street with so many people looking for an answer to a specific problem. (I know he’s an excellent singer too, apparently a needed qualification to govern Charm City’s City Hall.)

(btw, I also would like to say that Beth, Jerome, Shari and the gang are also doing a great job of making Baltimore Critical Mass really happen.)

What a great night this Critical Massquerade 2004 was. We rode for two hours and then wound up at a Secret Location (i.e., a new collective for women whose name sadly escapes me now.) So many people helped one another achieve a successful bike ride. We had people corking intersections so that others could catch up. (One masked street corker with the words “kill, kill” written all over his shirtless body was particularly frightening. Move over Jason.)

We had romance, mystery, suspense and the opportunity for a group of people who are united only by means of travel to interact with one another.

It is almost a pity that the weather must now turn cold.

Scott Loughrey

p.s. we also rode past Red Emma’s, at 800 St. Paul Street. (Madison and St. Paul Streets.) Red Emma’s is a collective-run Anarchist bookstore and coffeeshop coming very soon to Mt. Vernon. Stop by when it opens!

p.p.s. the most Critical Mass friendly bike store in town is still Light Street Cycles, in Federal Hill.

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