Sunday, June 20, 2010

Real Ride Hartford (and West Hartford) Bicycle Parade

Awesome bikers from Park Street

Preface: There were photographers with actual camera mounts for their madly expensive gear, so if you want to see "professional-looking" photos, I'm sure those will be online somewhere in a few days.

Saturday evening's bicycle parade made me very proud, happy, and relieved that I live in Hartford. More on that later. We began at Real Art Ways on Arbor Street. Here, people had the chance to tart up their bikes with lights and random art supplies provided by Anne Cubberly. There was a fish bicycle
(perhaps a reference to the quote often falsely attributed to Gloria Steinem?), cat bike, horse bike, clock bike, and demon bike. Those stuck out the most in my memory. Others were piled with lights and glowing orbs. One gal had a plastic flower on the front of her bicycle -- it dispensed bubbles! I did not get the chance to talk to her, but I see a mobile bubble dispenser as part of my future. At least two riders had awesome camera mounts which I am sure enabled them to take focused, high resolution, non-blurry photos that they are not going to be ashamed of showing to the public. There was at least one tandem and it was rigged with a souped up vuvuzela. That I can not describe each and every bike says something about the turnout. There was at least four times as many people there than I expected would show -- some coming down from Boston for the event.

The parade turned right onto Arbor Street, then right up Capitol Avenue. We turned left down Flower Street, crossed the railroad tracks, and then turned right onto Farmington/Asylum. The ride stopped at ArtSpace (555 Asylum Street) so that we could meet up with people who were attending the Art for AIDS fundraiser. It would have made more sense to stop in the back lot instead of on the incline of the street, but it also would have made sense for the stops to last ten minutes or more to allow for a drink/bathroom break. We did not go inside ArtSpace or Billings Forge, so the purpose for stopping at each place was unclear. In the future, more work could go into allowing for people at each venue and on bicycles to mingle, if that's the point. I'm not saying it wasn't fun. I thought it was a blast. But the stops could have been a bit longer. Anyway, I know that the original plan was for this ride to take an hour. I think the route planners forgot that it was going to be a slow ride, made perhaps even slower by the presence of a DJ being hauled on a trailer behind a bicycle. You just can't take corners fast on that kind of rig and who wants to rush along a trailer full of awesome?

From ArtSpace we continued into and through Bushnell Park, but only a sliver of it to cut behind the Legislative Office Building and Armory. We looped back onto Capitol Avenue and then Broad Street so we could stop at Billings Forge. Since an artist briefly spoke to the group, this stop seemed more meaningful. There was some kind of solstice event supposedly going on at Billings Forge. When we rode through, it seemed like only a few people were outside of the venue/compound.

Here is where dynamics got weird. And by dynamics, I mean that almost everyone in the parade was white and we were about to head further into Frog Hollow -- an area I am convinced was virgin territory for a number of the cyclists. Disclosure: I am perhaps being overly sensitive about this because I live here and am very familiar with the area and people. Before heading back on Broad Street and down Park, I overheard a couple people making remarks about how they hoped the musical selections for the area were "appropriate." This was followed by several Speedy Gonzalesesque cheers. Very not okay. Very WTF. Guess this reminded me that I can not stereotype all artists or bicyclists as being open-minded or aligned with progressive values. Maybe instead of a bubble machine, I could rig my bike with a flamethrower in order to more productively deal with racially and ethnically bizarre comments.

Riding up Park Street made me proud to live in Hartford. It was around 9-9:30pm, I'd guess, and the sidewalks were busy. People were outside cheering us. Really cheering us. There is this great vibe that emanates from the area and makes it hard not to smile, honk, wave, and holler back. A strong contingent of kids joined us for a ways, riding their BMX, department store, and low-rider bikes on sidewalks and in the streets. The photo at the beginning of this blog post is of two of them. I yelled for them to join in, and two or three stuck with us for the rest of the ride. These kids made the event seem more like a parade and less like a regular old ride. Another funny indication that some riders had no idea where they were: I overheard one woman getting nervous about the presence of a police cruiser coming down Park Street. Really? Really?! I got stopped by a cop on Park once for looking suspicious while pushing a wheelbarrow filled with shovels and pitchforks. He wanted to know why I had these tools, so of course I told him something like they were for stabbing someone to death and then burying her. My memory on that conversation blurs a bit. Maybe I said they were for farming. I don't recall. A little traffic on the street is nothing they aren't used to. Hell, just a couple weeks ago, in the lead up to the Puerto Rican Day Parade, the street was used to showcase everyone's decorated rides, causing far more severe traffic jams, and the police involvement was kept to a respectful minimum. The government that governs best governs least.

I hope this ride was educational for non-local or non-bike-commuters, as the amount of broken glass in the bike lanes and streets is something that a large number of people are now aware of and could complain about. There are some immediate infrastructure differences between Hartford and West Hartford. The moment we crossed into the suburb, the pavement became smooth. The only real debris there was roadkill. While a less comfortable ride, I felt safer in Hartford. Cars seemed to give us more space and props in the city. The horns were cheering us, not expressing impatience with us and then zooming past at 50 miles per hour. During the week, I experience plenty of impatient, distracted drivers whizzing past me in the city, but on Saturday night, they all seemed chill.

And then we crossed into West Hartford. The pavement became so smooth and we could hear the sound of our tires against it, which is to say that nearly all of the observer encouragement ceased. While passing one of those restaurants with outdoor patios (I know which one, but I'm not going to give them free publicity) on Park Road, we actually received polite golf claps (not to be confused with booty claps. we received no booty claps that I am aware of). There were a few cheers, but the ratio of noise to people was sorely disappointing. C'mon! Live a little! It's okay to break with decorum, particularly on a beautiful Saturday night in the summer.

Around this area, someone asked, "What are you doing?" to which I responded, "Riding a bicycle!" Duh! "But what for?" "To ride. Because it's fun." Someone else jumped in to give a convoluted explanation of what we are doing. My policy? When people ask stupid questions, keep the answers short so that they can understand. If we were riding for "something" we would have had signs or shirts announcing that probably.

We turned onto South Quaker, then left onto Boulevard. Here, the street got very dark and even quieter. Up in the Center, we did some zigzagging and I did not bother paying attention to all of the road names. Some of the people dining outdoors
on LaSalle Road were more supportive. We looped around, returning to Main Street and then cut through Blue Back Square. Again, a decent number of people outside, but too, too quiet. We took Farmington Avenue down to Sisson Avenue, Capitol Avenue, and then Arbor or Orange (depending on whether or not the cyclist felt like following directions), back to the Real Art Ways parking lot. The only part of the ride where there were impatient motorists seemed to be on Farmington Avenue, in West Hartford Center, and Blue Back Square. But for the few jerks behind steering wheels, there were a number of patient motorists who waited calmly while everyone passed.

Despite the amount of broken glass and potholes, I do not think anyone popped a tire. I only saw one person fall, and it was one of those "can't get my foot out of the clip" incidents -- toppling over, more than a violent collision. She said she was okay. I heard something pop or snap on another rider's bike but don't know what happened. Some shit fell off my bike when I hit one of the many potholes, but the lost items were not integral to the operation of the machine, and I basically knew they were not going to stay on because I rushed the decoration process.

It was heartening to see so many females and even a few children riding, which of course begs the question -- why am I not seeing this many women on the road normally?


kanishka said...

i can't believe i missed the saturday ride! i was out of town, but still, if i had kept up with what was coming up, i could have re-arranged things...actually i don't have a bike for a week until the xootr shows up

i also was close to boston sunday, but didn't realize if i had gotten there earlier that they were doing bike not bombs annual fundraiser ride

there is probably some amazing, fun ride happening right now as i type and i'll find out about it next week

sounds like a great ride. sorry about the racist part. i hear you on the activity/life and unkept roads versus calm perfectly kept roads.

Schleppi Longstocking said...

I also tend to tune in too late to events going on. It sounds like they are going to try to make this parade a more frequent event.

I think Critical Mass is this Friday.

kanishka said...

yeah, really want to go to that, my new bike shows up next monday. i might figure otu something though

i mentioned to people organizing education strike panel at 7 pm friday at la paloma cafe to link up with critical mass as a pre-event event.

Roger said...

Hello all, I was one of the spectators at Plan B that night that did enjoy the parade going by. I was so intrigued that I want to join the next run. I was glad that I was able to Google the topic and find the story and a blog to go along with it. I was particularly interested in some of the onwers of those bicycles that night that had a great safety device of LED's on them. How do I stay informed on these rides. I love to ride but at times it does get boring alone. Thanks and nice parade.

Interstatement said...

Hey Roger,

By all means, join in! We try to keep people aware of upcoming events on this blog, so this is a good place to hear about local rides.

As for LED's they are pretty easy to find these days. I know some of us raided Walgreens right after Christmas and bought their battery-powered strings of lights on sale cheap, but there are plenty of bike-intended lights for sale at many price points.

Anonymous said...

Yes, broken glass on the road can be a major problem. On one of my commuting routes I used to average a flat tire a week, all due to glass. And now we have glass in the bike lanes! What kind of inconsiderate people would break glass in the bike lane? Glassholes!