Witnessing the Winter Solstice, it's not hard to imagine why its first observants wanted commemorate the occasion. It must have been scary as hell, a moon like that, and without the lights of the city to dilute its fullness (as they did here). Will the year's crops fail? Are we all going to die? Or, does this foretell good luck? Is this the year my wife will finally buy me that Ferrari I've always wanted?!
One night, after picking up a box of wine from Fred Meyer, I noticed a stolen bike leaning against the rack next to my bike. After confronting the man standing next to it, I got maced, twice, trying to rescue the bike. Initially, I set out to write this story down but It became a much larger story than just this incident. Here are some excerpts.
Houselessness in Portland
It is impossible to discuss bike thievery in any city without discussing, homelessness. The homeless situation in Portland is bad and getting worse:
“[Homeless camps] are ubiquitous all over Portland, mostly because our city has not been able to decide what should be done for our homeless community, beyond a well-meaning but largely inept stop-gap measure of benevolent tolerance, punctuated by fits of police-state cruelty. This has created a weird and horrible game of whack-a-mole between the city and its camps: the homeless are allowed to flourish for a period of time (which they do, with aplomb) until, randomly, the sheriff and a hazmat crew are called in to raze them and any of their structures from the earth.”
“Maybe, long ago, these chop-shops used to operate in the shadows, but not anymore. Now, perhaps because of the sheer number of stolen bicycles to process, and the lack of shadows, they set up tool benches and get to work out in the open, stripping and processing enormous quantities of frames and valuable components to either be sent to other cities, where they can be anonymously sold, or to stay here where they’re pieced together as any of the myriad frankenbikes seen creaking around town.”
Vigilantes are assholes, so why did I become one?
I’m not proud of what I did. So why did I try to take back a stolen bike? Especially, one that hadn’t even been stolen from me.
After having two bikes stolen in Portland, I’ve developed a knee-jerk reaction to bike thievery—not so much one of consideration, or even (dear God) heroism as it is an inability to think clearly, or act otherwise:
“I never felt proud about taking the bike, I was ashamed. I thought that was obvious. I thought it was obvious—a man’s recklessness shouldn’t ever be confused with heroism. And it was reckless, especially for a husband and a father. Foolishly, I expected everyone would be on board with that concept.”
On getting maced
Before getting maced, it’s hard to tell—what’s the big deal?
As far as epiphanies go, getting maced was surprisingly effective. Certainly, it wasn’t as bad as getting shot. But still, a facefull of mace is enough to inspire reflection—to consider the decisions we make in life—about the big-picture missteps that brought us to this unfortunate moment. If only long enough to regroup:
“I’d never been maced before, (check that off the bucket-list). It was alarming how disabling the mace was. I could breathe but the air was spicy and toxic, like sucking in a handful of red-hot tacks. Before being maced, it’s hard to imagine the effect—I once minced a pile of peppers without gloves and spent an afternoon dipping my fingertips into cream. But this was like bathing in peppers, and drinking it in with every breath. Everything was on fire, deeply, and the fire spread everywhere.”
Have we learned nothing?
Somebody (either Einstein, Mark Twain or Benjamin Franklin) once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” I like that quote (though, in my case, I might switch ‘expecting’ for ‘hoping’). That quote handily summarizes the most profound takeaway from this (and similar) incidents: wishing, somehow, I could have done things differently, but also knowing, given a similar opportunity, I’d probably do it all over again.
I loved my white bicycle like some people love their dog. So when the bike was stolen, I went a little nuts.
The bike, an all-white, single speed, had a very specific look, so whenever I saw a bike with even a partial resemblance, I locked in, fight-ready to rescue my beloved bicycle. Occasionally I spotted similar looking bikes on the road, going the other way and, without hesitation, I spun-round and chased them down.
I suppose that must have been very alarming for those poor cyclists. One minute, you’re riding along. The next minute, some asshole pulls up alongside, creeping hard on you and your bike, and then, inexplicably, turns away.
Who even does that?!
This was not the first bike I’ve seen stolen in Portland.
One sunny day in June, 2007, at the end of my first day of work at OMSI, I returned to where I’d locked my bike and found it had been replaced with a junker bike with two flat tires. My lock was still there, it had been either clipped or sawed-through and wrapped around the junker.
While I wasn’t excited about the theft, I was also kind of glad to see that bike go. I hated that bicycle and was thankful for the excuse to finally replace it, which is, I guess, if you’re bike is going to get stolen, the best possible outcome.
The white bicycle was the first (and last) bike I assemble from brand new.
I’d recently been hit by a car. The driver was gunning for an open parking spot in the Pearl District (a rarity). The driver turned hard and sent me sailing into a gather of signs for a nearby construction site, mangling my bike as they drove over it. The last thing I remember, as I was launched out of my saddle, was reaching down to the bell on my handlebars for one last, angry ding.
I got a quote from a bike shop for a replacement. It was a modest quote, but realistic. I took that to the lawyers, and returned to the shop with the paydirt. I’d never done anything like that before. The swagger! To walk around the shop and point to rims, components, a frame and all the trimmings, saying “That one.” and “I’ll take that one.” and “Two of those, good sir.” And so on.
I chose a white frame, with silver components. Even the rims were painted white! Even the chain was white. A white chain!
It’s safe to say, I got a little carried away.
Temporary insanity notwithstanding, I’d managed to murder-out a stunning bicycle. Even if it was a boutique piece, it was solid—bombproof.
Likely, that is what lead to the bike’s theft—it was, too pretty.
There’s a valuable lesson to be learned there. About pretty things, about the impermanence of life, and the consequences that come with showing-off—especially if you’re as careless as I was—to have left it parked in a friend’s backyard, leaning against their garage, like a radiant unicorn in the night.
This was on a quiet suburban street in North Portland, not much foot traffic. To get into the back yard, meant moving aside a massive gate, a very loud chain-link fence that creaked and rattled like a marching band every time it opened or closed. We were all inside the house, playing board games, in a room close to the driveway—nobody heard a thing.
Someone passing by had seen the bike, seen their chance, and, like the wind, took it, and disappeared.
What a pro.
I’ve recounted this story numerous times, to many people. Almost every one of them catch on the part where I’m chasing after bicyclists who are riding a similar looking bike. They want to know what I would do if one of those cyclists I chased down were actually riding my bike.
It’s a good question.
In spite of appearances, I’m not thrilled that my first, and possibly only instinct, would be to attack—take back the bicycle, end of story. Especially since so much time has passed now, the bike, if it’s still in one piece, could have been sold many times over by any number of people. Even if it hasn’t been sold, even if I encounter the very thief who took it, I am loathe to admit, they stole it fair and square. They didn’t even have to clip a lock. There’s a solid argument that any cyclist whose bike is stolen in such a way was probably not the bike’s rightful owner in the first place.
The chances I’ll ever cross paths with my dear bicycle again are exceedingly slim. I’d like to think I would be able to behave myself, even if, historically, my track record is not stellar.
Until then, I can only dream, as I often do of my white bicycle, hoping its new rider is giving it a run for its money. Hopefully it’s out there, somewhere, slicing through traffic like the radiant unicorn it was meant to be.
After our ungodly dry and hot summer, the wet has finally returned to Portland—with aplomb. Thank God.
Just in time for the rains, I finished repairing our rain barrels. It wasn’t a moment too soon. At the first hint of rain, they were filled immediately—two, 50 gallon water barrels. I thought this was amazing and decided to look into this further. I have since gone down the nightmarish rabbit-hole that is DIY rain-harvesting where I found this interesting fact:
For every inch of rain that falls on a catchment area of 1,000 square feet, you can expect to collect about 600 gallons of water. So, ¼ inch of rain on an average roof = 3 full rain barrels.
That’s a lot of water.
I have no idea what I’m going to do with that much water.
Also, now that we’re drowning, there’s no need to water my garden from my rain barrels, which was the whole purpose of getting them watertight in the first place.
Actually, that’s not the real reason I built the rain barrels. The real reason I built the rain barrels is for when the big earthquake hits. Not for gardening. Fuck gardening. Who am I kidding? I couldn’t grow weeds if I tried.
No, the water is a doomsday piggy bank. After the earthquake hits, the big one, and Portland is rubble, our water will surely be shut off. The rain barrels will provide a source of fresh water we can use for drinking (filtered, of course. I’m not an idiot.) and for washing the car.
However, providing a solution for one thing only creates problems for another, and now that I’ve got the water problem solved, I’ll have to buy guns to protect the rain barrels from post earthquake looters.
I don’t think that’s overreacting.
Once, in 2012, after a local reservoir tested positive for bacterial contamination, the City of Portland issued a boil notice for our water supply. Everyone went nuts. There was a run on the grocery stores. The beverage aisle at the Interstate Fred Meyer was decimated within the hour. I was there. I saw it happen since I’d foolishly stopped by for ice cream.
In real life, I saw a guy standing in the checkout line with a cart overflowing with what looked like the store’s entire stock of Mountain Dew. And that was just for a boil notice. There was still plenty of water.
Maybe people just forgot the recipe for boiled water?
I hate to think of what happens to a community when the taps run completely dry. There certainly won’t be any more orderly lines at the Fred Meyer checkout.
Recently, the CDC issued a massive recall on all romaine lettuce. This means we’re poised for another round of scarcity frenzy, this time, for lettuce.
Leave it to Americans to go nuts the moment they’re told they can’t have something. Even if that something is something they don’t want. Not long from now, every anti-salad vegetable-hater will declare the long hand of the government is infringing on their God-given right to lettuce. Keep an eye on Twitter for the upcoming #lettucechallenge, as scores of fed-ups—in another fad-wave of misguided protest—post videos of themselves eating tainted lettuce.
It would seem fitting that, given our universe’s cruel bend to black humor, lettuce should turn out to be the keystone to our social structure, and its sudden and complete scarcity should lead to our country’s implosion.
So, rather than hope my countrymen are capable of holding it together, even for a lettuce drought, it seems the sensible and proactive addition to our earthquake kit are guns. Loads of guns.
And grenades. It’s gonna rain grenades.
E-scooters are finally here! It’s about time.
To be exact, E-scooters are twenty-five years overdue. When I was a kid, the world promised me electric scooters would be ubiquitous by the early nineties. I was also promised hover-boards no later than October 21, 2015.
Life, it would seem, is full of bitter disappointments. So, if we can’t have hover-boards, I guess I’ll settle for scooters. Better late than never.
My review of the electric scooter.
I love E-scooters! They’re ridiculously fun and the vehicle of choice for heavy drinkers.
If I had one complaint, it’s that you have to operate the accelerator with one hand and the brake with the other, which leaves no hands available to operate a phone, let alone a camera. How the hell am I supposed to ‘Gram my scoot?! Come on!
Do E-scooter’s make us lazy?
Yes. But it’s a drop in the bucket. Life remains very very hard.
While life is still crushingly difficult and exhausting, I am pleased to report, that E-scooters take actually zero effort to operate. Any amount of walking I might have accomplished before E-scooters is now a hassle of the past. I’m still waiting though, for the app where I can summon someone to come and pick me up, from my office chair, and carry me to the nearest scooter.
Until then, I guess I’ll just have to walk.
It wasn’t until my second ride on a scooter I discovered just how lazy I could get.
The scooter I’d chosen had a full battery, but there was something wrong with the accelerator. You could feel the drive catch and the scooter pull forward just before slipping and slowing down again. The scooter never got over one or two mph.
I did stop, to look for another scooter I could swap for my broken one, but there was nothing close by. So, like this, I rode a half mile, sputter-stop-starting to my destination, rather than just getting off to walk, which would have gotten me there much faster.
My review of people.
E-scooters are a big change for a city. If it’s one thing people cannot abide, it’s change. As such, our reaction to the dawn of E-scooters has been less than savory.
There’s been a rash of complaints about the scooters being parked in the middle of everything—in the middle of sidewalks, in the middle of the street, in the middle of bike lanes or in the middle of the Willamette River—I don’t know what all the complaining is about. Why is it such a hassle to just walk, or pilot your wheelchair, around a scooter in the middle of the sidewalk?
As for everybody complaining about how e-scooters are causing pandemonium on the streets—I swear to God, if I have to listen to one more person complain about how they nearly killed some guy who was trying to enjoy his first scoot… They say “nearly killed” like that’s a bad thing. Seriously, there are so many people in the world. Thanks to E-scooters, we might finally be able to cull the herd and the only way people know how to respond to this godsend is with a litany of complaints?!
Scootchie Gang: this is why we can’t have anything nice.
E-scooters are a miracle. The best thing since penicillin. The sooner we can get over ourselves and accept that we might never have to walk anywhere ever again, the better. But just like Anti-Vaxxers and Penicillin, all of the people are welcoming this miracle device the only way we know how to welcome any other miracle, with brutality, death and destruction.
If E-scooters have revealed one thing about ourselves, it’s that people are assholes—soup to nuts. You give us one nice thing and we devise endlessly creative and elaborate ways to destroy or villainize it.
Gifs via @pdxscootermess
Author’s note: this story was transcribed using a dictation app. I’ve become exceedingly lazy lately and I’m officially over the whole typing thing. Since I’ve stopped typing with my sandwiches, typos and grammatical snafus are peanut for the course. You should fly it for themselves! Never in the years of scallop has aluminum been more affordable, I think to eat a Diet Coke&
“Our different upbringings made for different outlooks. In Alan’s privilege he expected change; in my non-privilege, I expected struggle. For all his wokeness, he couldn’t escape his American sense of entitlement,”
Erin Aubry Kaplan and white privilege
A few weeks ago I came across an article in the New York Times by Erin Aubry Kaplan. Ms. Aubry Kaplan’s husband had recently passed away. His name was Alan Kaplan. He was a locally renowned high school teacher. He taught American history. In her article, Ms. Aubry Kaplan mourns her husband’s passing and writes of him in loving detail and startling clarity. The piece is heavily romantic, and very thoughtful—I think everyone should read it, and then read it again.
I was grateful to find her article. As an obsessive newshound, I scan both the New York Times and NPR daily for updates that usually leave me depressed and bewildered and angry. So, Ms. Aubry Kaplan’s story was a welcome change.
She wasn’t just mourning the loss of her husband. Since Alan was white (Erin is black) she was also mourning the loss of a companionship that helped make sense of a seemingly senseless world.
At the time of Alan’s death, white people all over America seemed to be collectively going insane, thanks in large part to Donald Trump’s depraved presidential campaign.
White people who longed for a return to the “good old days,” before suffering setback after setback since the end of Jim Crow, then again with civil rights, affirmative action and political correctness. Whites who were then made to suffer the ultimate humiliation that was Obama’s presidency.
And then, Trump's campaign, and it’s racist overtures, popped that cork.
Since Donald Trump announced his candidacy (if you’ve never seen the perverse event, you should, if only for Ivanka’s creepy and incestuous introduction of her father), things have only gone from weird to worse. Every day, the news delivers stories that tell of a breathtaking new low for the country. Before anyone has a moment to catch their breath, that new low is immediately followed by another, lower low. And shortly after that, a lower low yet.
With Alan Kaplan’s untimely departure, in the midst of this escalating national frenzy, I can only imagine how Ms. Aubry Kaplan’s loss must’ve felt especially acute.
They seem to have shared a lovely bond, Erin and Alan, and an admirable respect for one another’s perspectives—always helpful when navigating the inevitable arguments that arise in every relationship. Especially for two people who came from such different backgrounds.
“Our different upbringings’ wrote Erin, ‘Made for different outlooks. In Alan’s privilege he expected change; in my non-privilege, I expected struggle. For all his wokeness, he couldn’t escape his American sense of entitlement,”
It wasn’t even the main focus of her article, but that sentiment resonated with me—privilege is tricky stuff.
White privilege is tricky stuff
Just like any sense of entitlement, privilege operates in the shadows, rarely making itself known unless it’s called out directly. And even called-out, our privilege can seem nebulous and subjective—it can feel like an attack, rather than an observation.
While The U.S. has always been a nation of takers, Americans pride themselves on having earned everything, thinking everything what’s ours, was either hard fought, or fairly given on merit. The notion that privilege has, throughout our lives, secretly worked on our behalf, is not a popular notion. Nobody likes to think they’re much better off thanks to a lifetime of preferential treatment.
And the other end of the spectrum isn’t much better. Those of us willing to challenge our luxurious station, are often prone to taking it way too far, until it’s clunky and disingenuous.
We are all too familiar, to the point of cliche, with showboating white liberals, slumming for street cred, eager to point out the injustices of their white privilege, but who’re largely uninterested in learning any humility from it. As a liberal, I’ve often felt frustrated by the obvious oxymoron that is our sense of entitlement to a platform of influence so that we may broadcast (often at the expense of already-marginalized voices) our half-assed epiphanies, fishing for congratulations.
There’s a lot of that going around these days—especially during Trump’s presidency. To criticize our own whiteness seems zesty and refreshing. But also useless, if it’s just noise. I might even go one step further and suggest we’re only making things worse, if we’re taking up all the air in the room, taking it away from someone with something real to say.
Shortly after reading Ms. Aubry Kaplan’s article, it would turn out, life would deliver an encounter with my own privilege, the gravity of which I could have easily missed entirely.
A seemingly unrelated traffic skirmish
It was on the way home from work. A speeding SUV swerved into the bike lane where I was riding. I was churning away, head down, biking into a sturdy headwind. It was sunny and hot and I was carrying a heavy load in my backpack. After having just climbed a long hill, I was delirious. There was a car, roaring up from behind me. By the time I noticed the car, it was too late. It was right up on me—I braced for impact.
Surprisingly, thank God, the car sped past, so closely I could feel its right mirror just skim past my shoulder. The pressure of the car, sucked at me, as it sped away. The car swerved back into its lane, just before hurtling through a red light.
It was a close call. I don’t know if the driver almost ran me down on purpose or just out of carelessness. Either seemed equally bad.
Though I was surging with adrenaline, there was no way I’d be able to catch them. They were going much too fast. And even if I’d caught them, what would I do? The last guy I was able to chase down jumped out of his car and broke my glasses and my nose.
I was glad I stopped though, since it was just then I noticed a police cruiser right beside me. The cop had been right behind the SUV the whole time.
“Yes!” I yelled. “What are the chances?!”
The officer was looking at me, over his sunglasses.
I yelled, pointing up the street, waving my arms frantically. “Did you see that asshole?!”
He said something, a question maybe (his window was up), and pointed at the SUV, which was now almost out of sight, still swerving.
“Go!” I shouted, waving him along. “Go get him!”
Finally, the cop gave a little thumbs up and put on his lights, and siren, and ran the red light, chasing after the SUV, which the driver was likely expecting since they were already pulling over.
Justice! I thought. Thank God!
The light finally turned green and I dug into my pedals to catch up, hoping to get there in time to watch the police officer yank the driver out of their SUV and arrest them. Maybe even tase them. I hurried, not wanting to miss the tasing. I could even offer my statement, if need be.
Sure enough, the cop caught up to the car in no time, but instead of pulling them over, he sped right past the SUV. The cop turned the corner and disappeared, out of sight.
Maybe he got a call for somewhere else? I’d like to think he did, since that would offer a logical explanation as to why he didn’t pull over the SUV. I suspect it was a chickenshit move: he wasn’t in the mood to pull anyone over but couldn’t just not do anything, since I’d been right there. I’d seen the whole incident.
The SUV didn’t go anywhere after the cruiser sped past. It just sat there, with the right blinker on. As I approached, I could see the driver’s window rolling down (never a good sign). Sitting in the driver seat was a thin man with a neck-beard and missing teeth. He sneered at me from his open window and said, “That’s right, asshole.”
A little bit of humility goes a long way
I rode home, furious, smouldering at the injustice of it all. I was also angry with myself, since I was so worked up, I hadn’t thought to captured the guy’s license number or any identifying number from the police cruiser. Soon as I got home, though, I was going to call the police and report the incident anyway.
Heads were going to roll!
But, what would I tell them, exactly? As I rode on, I started to think it over: the guy almost hit me with his car before running a red light, sure. And he was driving an SUV that was red, maybe. Or green. And there was the police officer who gave chase, but kept on chasing right past him. Could I identify the police cruiser? Yes, it looked like a police cruiser…
And so on.
There was something here, something I recalled from Ms. Aubry Kaplan’s article that kept nagging at me, and I couldn’t place it.
The more I thought about the injustice I felt and the terrible call I was about to place to 911, the more ridiculous it seemed. What information could I possibly provide that a 911 dispatcher might turn into a valid report? I wondered if the dispatchers ever just put a call on mute and get some shopping done, online. Or, maybe they do that most of the time? They should. I bet they get a lot of yahoos—people calling in, making demands. Something needs to be done about this or that. Yadda yadda.
Eventually, thankfully, before I called the police, I realized how stupid my story was going to sound. I thought better, and decided to just keep it to myself.
But I couldn’t just move on. Something was nagging at me, a moment of sobriety, maybe. I went from feeling indignant, to resigned, then to feeling stupid, ashamed to have gotten so carried away with myself.
Who the hell did I think I was? Wasn’t this just like that hilarious scene in The Big Lebowski? Didn’t a 911 dispatcher have everything better to do than listen to some hysterical cracker on the line, demanding results—or else!
Or else, what?!
I remembered all the way back, to Ms. Aubry Kaplan’s quote about privilege and perspective. And I remembered the moment the cruiser pulled up next to me at that red light.
I was so relieved!
I was relieved partially because I normally run red lights with impunity and, this time, I had decided to stop. But, also, I was relieved because I’m white, and life has taught me the police are good and helpful, which they are, except for the ones that shoot and kill people who don’t need to be shot and killed. While I was surging with relief and gratitude, many other people in that same situation might feel the opposite of relief and gratitude, and for valid reasons.
Really, I should thank my lucky stars, barking orders at a police officer and eagerly waving my hands at him wasn’t taken as a sign of aggression. I know that’s a pretty low bar for gratitude, but if it’s one thing we’ve learned from several recent, well-documented police murders, it’s that a lot worse has happened, provoked by a lot less.
Privilege, perspective and a worsening status-quo
As far as epiphanies go, the whole premise of this epiphany is silly. It’s silly, the main takeaway I got from Ms. Aubry Kaplan’s article wasn’t even the main point of her piece, but an aside about privilege and how it can influence our perspective. It’s silly this brief aside, which is really just common sense, should haunt me as it did and inspire me to consider race and privilege, in a situation that had maybe nothing to do with racism. And it’s silly I should then ruminate on this epiphany at such length, thus turning myself into one of those self-congratulatory, gas-bag liberals I love to lampoon.
I guess you take what you can get. And besides, this is important. It’s important those of us with privilege should be shown how ridiculous we’re being. On the regular. Otherwise, we’ll quickly and happily forget our place in the world and, left unchecked, escalates until we end up doing and saying dumb shit, thinking it’s completely normal.
Would I have noticed my privilege, had I not read Ms. Aubry Kaplan’s article? I like to think I would. But it’s likely the gravity of the situation might have been lost on me. I might still be fuming at the officer who disobeyed me, who just kept on driving.
I am grateful for Ms. Aubry Kaplan’s excellent article. I’m grateful for her dear husband—the man who saw the world as a place he could change, rather than a world that was full of immovable, unfortunate truths.
I still agree with Mr. Kaplan on that point: things are rotten all over and the world needs change. The world needs people who think, against the odds, it can be changed. Maybe that’s my privilege talking, but it could be worse. Over the years, privilege has whispered a host of little lies in my ear—of those sweet nothings, the conviction that we shouldn’t have to stand for a lousy (or a worsening) status quo, is not so terrible.
Ms. Aubry Kaplan is the author of “Black Talk, Blue Thoughts and Walking the Color Line,” a book I haven’t read yet, but look forward to. If you haven’t yet read her article, you should. She teaches writing at Antioch University.