The cool rain

April 6, 2020 § 13 Comments

Today is a work day minus the work. However, there is mail at the office that must be picked up. However, it is raining outside. However, it is going to rain all day. However, I have no car. However, I want not especially to ride my bicycle, within the rain or without. However, I possess an amazing technology whose first proven use was between 7,000 and 8,000 B.C.E., and which may have existed as early as 46,000 years ago.

They are called “shoes.” Feet are the new bicycle, shoes are the new tubeless tires. “Cycling in the South Bay” now involves big walking. Distances are shorter. Group rides nonexistent. Steep hill intervals are still the norm. Your mileage will vary.

My office is about seven miles away depending on the route you take. That’s barely a warm-up on the bike, though the return trip will get my heart rate up as I have about a thousand feet of climbing back to my apartment, the bulk of which is steep.

I’ve never actually walked to the office before, but today I’m going to do exactly that, in the rain if it rains, in the sun if it suns, in the mist if it mists.

All of this relates back to the pandemic, of course, during which I’ve had to lay aside childish things, i.e. my bike. It has been interesting to watch people continue to ride, some of them fast, some of them in groups, few of them concerned with the spread of disease and death. Nor is this their fault.

Pandemics occur because people refuse to isolate themselves. Nothing is more human than movement and being out and about; it’s the very essence of society. Without a command to stay home and brutal enforcement to back it, everyone from Boy Scout troop leaders to aerospace researchers to apartment slumlords to residents of the apartment slums will be seeking the exceptions that let them go ride their bikes.

You could call it a failure of people to care about each other but it’s really nothing more than a failure of the rulers to select health over money. And you could get angry about it, as some people have, notably those whose businesses have shuttered, whose income has dried up, whose recreational activities have been euthanized, and who see that despite their sacrifices others blithely enjoy the pleasures of empty roads and a sunny SoCal spring.

Such anger is misplaced. Society is simply people who see the common good and work for it, and people who do not. The former support the latter and always have until the latter simply devour the resources of the former, the society crumbles, and the necessity for joint action for the common good arises again. We are at the tail end of such a cycle, when society, driven by greed, is finally consuming itself, and the survivors are looking around and asking whether or not it really makes sense to define the individual as the supreme social good.

To put it in perspective, a friend who works for a corporation that has access to the best modeling told me yesterday that recovery to pre-pandemic levels is estimated at 27 months. That is a best-case scenario assuming that the lights get turned back on in June. The next-best-case scenario is 3-5 years, a/k/a global depression.

When I see people riding their bicycles happily about the streets I don’t get mad at them; they simply lack the internal thermostat to regulate their own behavior for the good of everyone else, including them. Nothing is more human than the inability to delay gratification, nothing is more forgivable, and when it’s a perfect storm, nothing is more catastrophic.

In that vein, I’m not sure that walking to the office is really any better. If everyone walked to the office to get the mail, the sidewalks would be crowded and the virus would spread. If everyone walked to the office to get the mail, the office would be packed and the virus would spread. On the other hand, my time outdoors has been curtailed and my time around other people cut to almost nothing. Is it enough to slow the spread of the virus? Yes. Is it enough to slow the spread to its absolute minimum? No way. If you want to slow the spread to its absolute minimum you have to quarantine.

What’s beside the point is that walking is a wonderful ersatz for cycling. You go slower, you think more thoroughly, you see more detail. You aren’t hidden behind the glasses, helmet, and clown undewear, and the prep involves lacing up your shoes.

In springtime, the flowers are brilliantly colored and when you walk you can smell their scent. The sky changes hue as you walk, and the penalty for gazing at the clouds isn’t slamming into a parked car or a tree. Birdsong finds your ear, the breeze finds your skin, and that rushed feeling sloughs off like a used and useless skin.

Time slows to a walk. Isn’t that a good thing?


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§ 13 Responses to The cool rain

  • Brian Keller says:

    Excellent, Seth! Two years ago, my wife and I walked about 80 miles of the Portugese route of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. I’d never done anything remotely like that before. Getting to know a country by walking its roads and trails for a week was incredible! The smells, the breezes, the creatures and how they changed, even in that short span, was amazing to behold. I want to do it again, a different route, someday. It really deepens your knowledge of the country and the people.

    How wonderful to do it in your everyday world!

  • Bob Smith says:

    good piece. However, “ersatz” is an adjective, not a noun

  • Dave Tricamo says:

    Once I got over the initial anxiety and horror of this bug I realized something quite special about this lockdown with no bike riding etc… This pandemic has given us the gift of time. So precious. Time to do nothing. Time to turn off our normal routine. Time to stay home with family. And time for so many things we just don’t normally have time for. So, like you Seth, I am staying home and off the bike and am doing new and different things, while trying to do my part to snuff this virus. One can get money, but they can’t get time.

    • fsethd says:

      So true. Remember how before the pandemic everyone bemoaned not having enough time? And now that they have time they are bemoaning all the time they have? From Seneca:

      It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested. But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it was passing.So it is—the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it.


      I cannot doubt the truth of that utterance which the greatest of poets delivered with all the seeming of an oracle: “The part of life we really live is small.” For all the rest of existence is not life, but merely time. Vices beset us and surround us on every side, and they do not permit us to rise anew and lift up our eyes for the discernment of truth, but they keep us down when once they have overwhelmed us and we are chained to lust. Their victims are never allowed to return to their true selves; if ever they chance to find some release, like the waters of the deep sea which continue to heave even after the storm is past, they are tossed about and no rest from their lusts abides.

  • WilyGreek says:

    Walking in the South Bay doesn’t have the same ring to it. Go ride ur bike Seth. Alone

  • Vlad Luskin says:

    I disagree. Nothing wrong with riding alone, especially for transportation.

    • fsethd says:

      Until there’s an enforceable law in place that says otherwise, everyone is free to ride or not as they see fit.

  • Arkansas Traveler says:

    Solvitur ambulando.

  • downwinder says:

    I speed walk 4-5 miles every day and a hill would really be an improvement. You are lucky to have one.

    Watch out for cars. Maybe strap on a lot of bright lights too.

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