The Change Chronicles: Part 3

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So, in some fairly dramatic ways, it turns out the more things change, the more things change. This is not ideal.

The last few years have been a real roller coaster for my generation. For a while I was thinking, Damn, what is going on? Why are all these people dying/bad things happening/disconnects appearing TO US? Then it hit me – it was not “US” because we were particularly cursed or tragically unlucky. It was “US” because we are arriving at (upon?) a certain age.

When every fashion trend you despise returns (high-waisted jeans I am totally glaring at you), every movie you grew up with is being remade (seriously, Footloose? That borders on sacrilegious), and your icons are leaving you at a pace that defies explanation (Leonard Nimoy, BB King, Dick Van Patten – was Eight really ever enough? – Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Morley Safer, Mohamed Ali, Garry Marshall, Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson (I didn’t even have television growing up and I know The Brady Bunch is just My Three Sons without her), Fidel Castro (who made Che after all), Zsa Zsa, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Mary Tyler Moore (“I’m the Mary, you’re the Rhoda!”), John Hurt, Chuck Berry, Roger Moore (nooooooooooo), Adam West… in only a few short years….), and the political landscape enters into the realm of Mad Magazine, one starts to wonder if they were born under a bad sign.

Turns out no… one was just born a long time ago.

Samantha “Sam” Baker wakes up on her 50th birthday. She reaches for the iPhone on the nightstand and immediately feels a tear in her rotator cuff. She heads into the bathroom to pluck the white chin hair that grew overnight.

I started noticing things were not as they should be about four years ago. My hair color regimen had to be bumped up to every four weeks – which is both costly and demoralizing. My aesthetic expenditures shifted from the lower half of my body to my chin. My skin began to look, well, like someone else’s I remember with love and warmth, the soft and slightly crepe-y feel of my grandma Joan but a grandma I am not (I am still spending money on Hanacure regularly like only a true believer would). Add to this that the creaky knee decided to announce substantial arthritis and then.. the hip. You know who has hip problems? OLD PEOPLE.

How did this happen? I am starting to sweat even thinking about it. #hotflash And just be glad I am not going to publicly regale you with the joys of the onset of “The Change of Life.” At least, not yet.

As the reality of turning 50 looms, it dawns on me that I actually didn’t realize I was getting old. I mean, I can read and count, and I understand through a very tenacious Facebook group (yes – I know Facebook is only for old people now… that is sort of the point here) that my 30th Class Reunion is coming to fruition, so I am clear on the whole passage of time thing, but looking around at my friend group and our lifestyles, I was deluded into thinking that things were not really changing. Not in some sad or pathetic way at all, but in a more authentic and unconventional way: we are doing what we want, how we want, when we want. But, we probably have to come home a little earlier (who goes out at midnight people?) And really, if it is not VIP it is not for me, I mean who can deal with all those people? (To be fair, VIP has always been for me, but at a certain age it is actually a requirement, and one we can afford.)

In some ways talking about getting older amongst ourselves in a jokey sort of way has been a way to own it – but outside of the peri-AARP circle, it just sounds a little sad and creepy. I happen to work around young people and this has a variety of effects: in some ways it keeps me a little bit more on the hipper edge of life, in some ways it accentuates the reality that I am so not hip, which can be it’s own quasi-cool characteristic and allows for a slightly more full embrace of the No Fucks Given position (although truth be told, that has been my life’s work). But mostly it just makes my view into the abyss of later middle age all that more clear.

Don’t get me wrong – I do appreciate the increased freedom to do/say/afford/act as I please, but really, I am not endeavoring to enter the realms of caricature. I just want my hip to stop hurting, to stop worrying about whether or not I actually could grow a full beard, and whether or not someone is looking at my resume and wondering, “How is someone this old looking for a new job?”

Because I am. And there is this thing going on where experience is not actually a sought after trait anymore across industries and institutions (how is that working out for you all in Washington you foolish lemmings?) These days experience translates as: conventional, inflexible, old-fashioned, and close-mided against a world where thinking of the un-thought-of is the goal. I think this is called agism by some. I definitely know that it is a conundrum for me because I am able to think quite far outside of the “box.” It just so happens that I am also old enough to know when relying what has worked in the past is the right thing to do. I mean really people, you still like the damn wheel right? The 60-second minute? Checkers?  Ancient Sumer gave you those around 3500 BCE – not to go all History Teacher on you.

I have no idea where the next stop on my professional journey will take me. I am confident it will be somewhere informative and significant and I know I have a lot more to offer creatively, intellectually, and through straight up hard work so I am excited about the potential of finding something really interesting and inspiring, and dare I say, different. But I am not wishing for anything, I am getting back out there and looking people in the eye with zero fucks, straight up honesty, and fearlessly keeping my chin up because I have a great electrologist.

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December 2017: In Lima at 47 with no make up, no fucks given, and a couple of Pisco Sours.

Sam replies, “I’m 50 years old, motherfucker. I don’t have time for wishes.”

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San Francisco Cyclists: The Mission (mostly) Edition

In a class discussion last Wednesday about cultures of honor (we are reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers) my students asked me if there was anything or anyone that would engender the kind of emotion (rage) that would be required to act out in the way the subjects in the Harlan, Kentucky chapter behaved. Was there something someone could say or do to me that would trigger me. I had to think about this for a while, as I generally avoid that kind of conflict because it makes me uncomfortable, but also because as a woman it is simply too risky to actually address those who act inappropriately towards you in America anymore.

I thought about it for a minute and imagined who could make me feel so angry I wanted to actually do something to them that might be permanently damaging. My former step-mother came to mind because she is a truly Bad Person, but I am trying to let that go, so, nah. Then it hit me: CYCLISTS. My friend Justin has a saying: ‘When I am walking I hate cars; when I am driving I hate pedestrians. But I always hate cyclists’ and as a non driver a third of the sentiment is not relevant to me, but the latter thought: YES.

To be fair, I never really had an opinion on cyclists until I lived in San Francisco. For most of my life I have had a bike, and I have ridden bikes in more cities and countries than I can count. It never really seemed like a “Thing” to me. It was just an activity, or a conduit to one, I suppose.

But since I have been in San Francisco it has come to my attention that the cyclists in this city are the worst examples of people. Now, I am not saying all cyclists are the worst people, but I am definitely saying that all the worst people I have met in San Francisco have been cyclists.

The cyclists in San Francisco act as if they are the most maligned and put upon population that ever lived (puh-leeze), and there are constant outcries about how they are mistreated by cars and public transportation and, well, any one who gets in their way. Which is interesting because they are about the ONLY people you will see yelling at, and accosting, pedestrians, busses, and motor vehicle drivers in this town.

In no particular order here are things I have seen:

  • Speeding down crowded sidewalks (and being annoyed that people are on them)
  • Chasing down and banging on cars
  • I cannot count the broken traffic laws, but mostly it is running lights and I am fairly certain I have yet to see a cyclist stop at a stop sign
  • Shoving people out of the way on Bart (trains and escalators and platforms)
  • Speeding aggressively close to a pedestrian about to step off a sidewalk and yelling “THAT IS JAYWALKING!”
  • People crossing through the bike lanes on foot (I do this in the early mornings on Valencia Street when there is little to no vehicular traffic and limited bike traffic) and a singular rider, rather than negotiating the space, speeds up to ensure proximity and admonishes: “THAT IS NOT A GOOD PLACE TO BE”
  • Cyclists knock over kids and elderly people

My favorite is “Bike to Work Day” which brings out hundreds of the most entitled riders you have ever seen. Those of us who keep our eco-footprints small by always using public transportation are not super impressed with your one day of awareness, by the way. Ironically, a majority of these hyper-aggressive individuals not only ignore traffic laws and signs, but they are riding fixed gear bikes, often with no brakes or single brakes, and frequently they are helmet free.

Oh, and in every example I have listed above, the cyclist was a white male.

Just saying.

The most famous event since I have been back in the city was the guy who plowed through a cross walk and killed a man. In spite of the fact that the guy had no remorse, and blogged about the whole things as he was riding for “time” he only received probation and community service. Gross. [Also, white male.]

Now, I realize that the fact that I can list and identify my issues with San Francisco cyclists definitely suggests that the majority of cyclists cannot be this loathsome, and that these assholes must be outliers. But I am not sure that could or should quell my distaste.

In a very interesting turn of events, on the very same Wednesday that I had been having the aforementioned conversation with my students, I had a very unpleasant experience with just the type of cyclist I am speaking of.

I was coming home at what would basically be considered rush hour and arrived at my Bart station at around 6:00 pm. My station is one of the most crowded, and according to Bart information has the greatest number of people walking to and from the station. As we filed out of the train on to the escalator from the platform a white male cyclist, somewhere in his twenties, approximately 6’1″ maybe 180 lbs, in standard tech-bro normcore clothes (jeans that allowed his Oxford boxers to show and a generic shirt and zip up jacket) with sandy hair and glasses, shoved his bike on to the escalator.

For what it is worth, bikes are not allowed on escalators in Bart stations.

He shoved a few people for the simple fact that the escalator was totally full and held his bike upright resting on the rear wheel so that the front wheel was bumping the woman in front of him. I looked at him as I made my way up the escalator on the left and had a thought of how fun it would be to drop some knowledge on him about how there are no bikes allowed on the escalator.

I did not say anything to him because: 1) It had been a long day and really what point would there be; 2) as a woman I do not have the freedom to say what I want to men because there is ALWAYS the very real reality that it could be dangerous to me.

I made my way through the turnstile and headed up the stairs to exit the station. As I reached the top of the stairs I became aware of the fact that this cyclist had sprinted up the other stairs (so clearly he did not NEED to be using an escalator…) and as I stepped off the stairs, he physically blocked me with his bike and got in my face yelling, “YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH HOW I HAVE MY BIKE ON THE ESCALATOR?!” I looked at him in total shock and took my ear buds out.

“Are you talking to me?”

“YEAH, BITCH I AM. YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH HOW I TAKE MY BIKE ON THE ESCALATOR? YOU WANT TO SAY SOMETHING TO ME? BITCH?”

“Uhh…”

“YOU GOT SOMETHING TO SAY?!” (At this point, he is still physically obstructing me while I am trying to walk, and takes one hand off his bike raising it as it to… well, who knows.)

“Are you serious? FUCK OFF.”

“YEAH WHATEVER. BITCH.” Now he swings his leg over the bike and begins to pedal away – through a very dense crowd – and yells back, “I WOULDN’T HAVE FUCKED YOU TEN YEARS AGO!”

Wow. He went there?

And he rode off up the sidewalk towards Bartlett regardless of the steady stream of foot traffic in both directions from the station. Then he crossed 24th on the diagonal, from the SE corner of Bartlett and 24th to the NW corner.

Now this encounter brings up myriad issues, not all related to cyclists, but likely all related to white male privilege, and in my neighborhood, the two more often than not overlap. And then of course there are the obvious facts that I am completely within my rights to look at people around me and not only for general safety and awareness, and his waning insult suggests his problem might have had little to do with any look I gave him, but much more to do with some larger issues he has, dare I say, with women. 

Here is the (hardly inclusive) list of things it brought to my mind:

  • How is it possible that no other person stopped to see about this potentially problematic situation?
  • Who the fuck was this kid?
  • Would this have happened had I not been a woman, walking alone (albeit in a crowd)?
  • Would this have happened had the cyclist not been a white male? (I tried to replay the situation where the rider is black or latino or Asian or female and the resulting image is laughably fictitious)
  • Who the fuck is this kid?
  • How is it that the most offensive and entitled cyclists are the ones who do not follow the rules?
  • Why did I not think to retort that his aggressive ass was not supposed to be on the escalator in the first place?
  • Did he think I said, “Fuck YOU” prompting his retort about how he would not have fucked me ten years ago? Or is this just the go-to kind of insult for a young man to level at a middle-aged woman?
  • Did he think I would have actually ever wanted to fuck him? (I know this is not the issue, but it makes me think about how homophobic straight guys always think gay men will want to get with them – and I had to remember that a great number of young men in San Francisco must somehow by into the mythology that San Francisco women are desperate for them.)
  • Ultimately, my largest question (aside from what I should do about the situation) was: WHAT IN THE HELL WAS THIS KID’S DAMAGE?

This is the kind of shit that ONLY women have to put up with. And I know it is not only from cyclists, but anyone reading this can be absolutely sure that this little prince would not have done this to a man, or a woman who was with a man. Further, not that I should ever need to say this, but let me add that I was dressed completely normally, coming home from work carrying a load of stuff – there was nothing setting me apart from any other person returning from work that day, and certainly nothing sexualizing about my appearance.

The situation agitated me enough that I spoke to the Bart station attendants the next day, who told me that they were terribly disappointed I had not come back in to report the man the night before, and that they did have him on video in the station as a matter of policy if I wanted to file a police report. I considered it for sure. At this point I have not done anything else about it, but I certainly have considered how the experience speaks to so many of the social issues we are facing in our society everyday including white male privilege, sexism, misogyny, entitlement, dangerous self-interest, ageism, to name but a few.

It is a shame that this guy was on a bike because all it does, even in my rational mind that knows it is unfair, is make me more unforgiving of the bicycle culture in San Francisco.

At the end of the day, if I had to name a group of people who bring our any sort of Hatfield-McCoy energy in me, it remains SF cyclists. How unfair it is that I am unable to express this because of cultural norms that endanger me for responding to this sort of thing in kind.

Earlier in the day when I had arrived at my answer for my students, their response (many of them skaters and riders) was a chorus of agreement, and nearly every one of them had a story about an egregious act perpetrated by an urban cyclist. As Malcolm Gladwell would say, one example is just that, but 30 is a pattern.

Watch yourself out there people.