So after 15 plus years living in San Francisco I finally made it to Critical Mass, sort of. I wasn’t part of the actual ride for reasons to be explained below, but I was there for just about everything else.
I got there early, having rushed through my cheeseburger and beer because I was worried about my poor bike chained up on the sidewalk outside. This was the first time I’ve ever left the bike anywhere downtown other than the very secure underground garage at work. I have two locks and it’s such a cheap bike that no serious thief would want it but I worry none-the-less.
The crowd came and came, though I think the cold and damp kept many people away. At first we all milled about together but as more people arrived the crowd started dividing itself into smaller packs. The similarities to a dog park dynamic were really driven home when two guys with vintage springer fork bikes came upon each other. It was remarkably like watch two cockers finding each other and sniffing the hell out of each other’s butts.
Outside of the small groups of friends there formed four distinct cliques.
The exhibitionists – These were the people in weird costumes and on weird bikes roaming around dying for people to notice and acknowledge them.
The pot smokers – Hippies, yuppies and young ones. Surprisingly only about half the pot smokers rode fixies. Another myth shattered.
The beer drinkers – This is where you found the other half of the fixies. The rest were cruiser type bikes. Which, if you ask me, is the correct bike for a beer drinker. Fixies take too much concentration to be ridden under the influence.
The protein bar eaters – I’m almost ashamed to admit that this is into the category I fell. Who knew I’d be among the healthy ones. Though I did avoid the spandex for this occasion. (Much to my testicle’s dismay.)
So as the crowd gathered so did my apprehension. You see for most of the participants this is a social occasion and I am not a social person. I try to be, as evidenced by my attendance, but once again I failed to connect with people.
That’s not entirely true. Out of the crowd of thousands I did manage to talk to two people. The first was a woman who when told that the secret target of tonight’s ride was the bay bridge got to point out to the sharer of that secret the news copters hovering over the bay bridge. We had a good laugh over his embarrassment and a brief chat about the cold weather.
The second was a beer-drinking Mexican man who was visibly that people wearing Mexican wrestling masks knew nothing of Mexican wrestling. When the first one wondered by was unable to name the wrestler whose mask he was wearing my acquaintance screamed, “Then take it off!” When I correctly named the wrestler I got a playful but painful slap on the shoulder. When a second masked rider failed the identity test, and I was able to provide the answer, my new friend said, “Hey, lets go kill them.”
All this went wrong at 6:15. Both the people I had spoken to decided they had waited long enough and left. The lateness alone wasn’t the real problem. It was that the organizers were busy kissing up to the media. It looked like a slacker wedding receiving line.
Unfortunately, left to my own devices, I got to thinking, and what I was thinking was that we were little more than lemmings waiting to lead off the cliff. Anarchist lemming perhaps, but lemmings none-the-less. Like all political shows we were the puppets and meant nothing to the leaders till they fulfilled their need for media exposure. You see I get cynical and spiteful when left alone in the boring cold. So at 6:30 I decided I’d had enough and headed for home.
On the ride home I saw waves of police ready to keep people off the bridge. I asked a reported on a corner on Market street if he knew they were planning on storming the bridge. He told me that the organizers had told the media and the police that was going to happen. Just a stunt to try to fire up the crowd.
Fortunately the lemming analogy fell apart later in the evening as groups started shooting off in their own directions. That’s the anarchy I was looking for. Maybe I’ll try again when it isn’t a big anniversary when they’ll be fewer posers such as myself gumming up the works.