Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Dionysian Bicyclist

Kevin Kelley celebrates his bohemian, carefree youth in an NPR article entitled "The Universe is Conspiring to Help Us."

When I was in my 20s, I would hitchhike to work every day. I'd walk down three blocks to Route 22 in New Jersey, stick out my thumb and wait for a ride to work. Someone always picked me up, and I was never late. Each morning, I counted on the service of ordinary commuters who had lives full of their own worries and yet, without fail, at least one of them would do something generous, as if on schedule. As I stood there with my thumb outstretched, the only question in my mind was simply, "How will the miracle happen today?"...

One year I rode my bicycle across America. In the evenings I'd scout houses for a likely yard to camp in. I'd ring the bell and say, "I'd like to pitch my tent tonight where I have permission. I've just eaten dinner, and I'll be gone first thing in the morning." I was never turned away, not once. And there was always more, like an invitation into their home. My job at that moment was clear: I was to relate my adventure, and in the retelling of what happened so far, they would get to vicariously ride a bicycle across America — a thrill they secretly desired but would never do. In exchange I would get a place to camp and a dish of ice cream.

Of course, if Kelly had been black or female, he might not even be alive to brag about his exploits. Then and now, such Dionysian adventures are largely reserved for the young males of privileged classes. Back then, they were on the road hitchhiking--on one level gloriously liberated from social responsibilities, on another publicly celebrating the advantages of their class. How many of them would risk stopping for a "hitchhiker" today?

We cyclists want to believe that the world is our oyster. But only the young and the foolish--and the privileged--can afford to deny the existence of evil.

(Thanks to Steve Fox for this story)