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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