What a bicycle America looks like

I’m an awful father. When my daughter went off to college we put her on a plane to Asia and basically didn’t see her for five years.

When my eldest son went to college on the East Coast we took him to LAX with his duffle. “See you. Love you.” I visited him in Philly twice.

At the time it seemed okay. They were adults and had picked distant places and I was about as broke then as I am now and for fuck’s sake, my parents didn’t even tell me goodbye when I was eighteen, and I didn’t care because they were paying the tuition.

But with my last kid I figured maybe I should be more involved so when he invited me to orientation at UCSB I said, “Sure!”

UCSB is what bicycle America would look like. Cars are third-class citizens. Prime parking is for bicycles. Bike racks are everywhere. Pedal paths are the only roads on campus. Bikes have the right of way. No one wears a helmet, kids have wind in their hair, people look happy.

But once orientation began I stopped noticing that and noticed that I was surrounded by insane people. One woman anxiously hooked her arm through her adult son’s, clinging to him like a bad rash.

A father berated his daughter for the classes she wanted to take.

A Chinese couple reviewed the orientation schedule intensely, highlighting and marking it up as if it was the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Stock Market.

I had more practical concerns. What was going to happen when my son woke up after two months of classes and realized THAT THERE IS NO LAUNDRY FAIRY?

It quickly became clear that parent participation in orientation was designed to eliminate a student’s biggest obstacle to a happy college experience: Parents. The kids were gradually separated from the Klingons with a crowbar and taken away from their sobbing mothers and choking fathers, taken all the way 400 yards across campus to be academically counseled in private and advised to wear condoms.

As a booby prize we were shunted off into a series of seminars, each with a catchy title like “Don’t be a sniveling simp,” and “Your daughter will get banged so get used to it,” and my personal favorite, “You can’t do his homework any longer.”

After twelve hours only the moms were still standing. I had distilled the lessons into:

  1. Go away.
  2. Your kid is fine.
  3. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

At night’s end we were hustled into one last session called “Saying Goodbye and Meaning It.” After a full day of serious note-taking, the moms were at an emotional climax. Finally we’d get to discuss what really mattered: The nattering minutiae of off-loading the kids without breaking down into a sobbing, hysterical, inconsolable mess.

I wish I could make this stuff up but I cannot.

“How many electrical sockets are in the dorm room?”

“Can we have laundry service for our child?”

“How can we check up on our child’s homework and class attendance?”

“How do we advocate for a teacher to give our child a better grade if we think he was unfairly graded?”

“Since we’re paying we demand to see our child’s grades. How do we access their academic account?”


“If there are three students per room and our child needs more than her one-third of the space, how do we arrange that?”

“What if we think our child’s roommate is a bad influence?”

“What if we don’t like our child’s roommate’s parents?”

And my personal, all-time favorite question ever in the history of helicopters: “I’ve noticed that no one on campus wears a bike helmet which is very dangerous. How do we make sure he wears one?”

Bicycle America, indeed.

33 thoughts on “What a bicycle America looks like”

  1. Jfm225@gmail.com

    What’s up? Link in email for balance of blog post ends up at:

  2. Clearly, that course is to ensure that the parents learn how to actually parent. I applaud the school for thinking it’s not too late but damn……

  3. Haha! I shoved my son to Arizona State five years ago (he’s a work in progress aka – student for life) and my visits are always an excuse to ride in the desert after being blasted with fog and cold in Northern California

  4. Probably the same mom, that had there kid wearing a helmet at pre school, incase they fell over.

    On an important note, we’ll done, now you’ll have time to ride your bike.

  5. I got shoved out the door, and I’m better for it. Self-sufficiency is grand.

  6. Having just spent 11 days in UCSB San Rafael dorms at the university’s alumni association’s summer camp, I can at least assure you that dorm food is a hell of a lot better than what they served us at UC Berkeley 35 years ago. But you knew that already because you ate at Carillo yourself.

    You should have stopped by for a greeting 🙂

  7. Congrats Seth!

    The laundry room in my dorm was an awesomely quiet place for studying. My send off was a big laundry bag, a few rolls of quarters, and a box of detergent. And now look at me! HA! The joke is on me: I have a degree, which led to a job, and clean undies!

  8. Sounds like my son’s orientation at Texas Tech. One department head even said out loud that if you call your kid, you’re a bad parent. And that he was tired of getting kids who hadn’t been raised to take care of themselves. Pretty hilarious. My mom bought me a laundry basket, and said let us know you got there.

  9. I see a new career counseling opportunity for you Seth! You mentioned the visits to Philly & IIRC one visit was spent in a epic tweed le Beattle paddle battle with a dude named Myles from NY right?

  10. Go Gauchos! That’s my alma mater. I didn’t even own a car for much of my time at UCSB. Skateboard and bikes were the preferred mode of transport both on and off campus.

  11. Parents might find comfort in an offspring who hangs with a religious group that doesn’t party or drink or fornicate and basically turn college into a beige experience.


  12. Here are two that are uniquely upper-class Los Angeles:
    1. What do you do if the mass transit stops running?
    2. How do I know my child will be safe on mass transit?

    Your kid made a good choice.

    1. How do I know if my child is making good decisions? If you did it halfway right, HE AIN’T A FUCKING CHILD.

  13. Casey Maguire

    I like that your son used a Reed College bag at UCSB! Way to recycle!

  14. Love it. At 18, I moved to Israel by myself, learn new language, culture, and 6 months later, in the Israel Defence Forces, living in a pup tent with another person and all our gear, shower for 1.5 minutes once a week, eat Army food and sleep 2 hours a night. Best education ever.

    1. Self-reliance is the key to helping others. Once you can take care of yourself, you can think about those who can’t.

  15. Seth man, you really love to ***. *** a *** – I can see why the *** lawyers *** *** often.

    1. Anonymous man, you really love to hide. Crawling out from under that keyboard is hard.

  16. At Maryland, D1 had a roommate whose mother we did not like. She inserted herself into the discussions among the girls concerning who got the top bunk and how to organize the room. “Shouldn’t we adults just leave and let the girls figure this out?”

    Anyway, bravo Woodrow. Looks like a great place to go to school.

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