Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The concrete fishbowl and the hive mind

Despite being “the city among the trees” Atlanta is a quintessential car-friendly city. Atlanta is also encircled by I-285 which develops the “perimeter” keeping Atlanta proper inside and the country, along with its corresponding stereotypes, outside or “OTP”. A car is needed to connect one suburb to another.

A condensed history from the past 25 years consists of whiteflight, housing projects, urban renewal, urban sprawl and a growing populace making the cityscape very dynamic, with changes occurring frequent enough to shock even the few that deem themselves Atlanta’s own and neighborhoods wealthy and poor intimate enough to be within a mile from one another.

In a sense, we live in a fishbowl whose inhabitants have created a culture dependent on automobiles.

But all this is quite obvious to Atlanta suburbanites. What is unseen however, what lurks in the city’s seams and ravines through our neighborhoods is the dreaded and hideous HIVE MIND. The hive mind is a school of strangers, in this case usually those that have bought an expensive car only to look good while they’re stuck in traffic, driven by a collective unconscious where each individual combines their psychokinetic powers to work like a city-wide machine, have a hive memory set which then focuses their disdain on those who want to swim like a different fish, those that want simply to jump out of school.

The hive mind makes it impossible to get from A to B in less than 30 minutes, even if it’s a 2 mile commute. The hive mind creates smog. The hive mind makes our roads dangerous. The hive mind is programmed to do the same, over and over. The hive mind consumes other motorists to keep alive. The hive mind forces the naïve to submit to their will, to assimilate. The hive mind of motorists work against cyclists and pedestrians. The hive mind does not want anything to get in their way.

The debate of why some (some– I am a motorist sometimes as well) motorists see cyclists as a threat or in some cases as a target is never ending, but only when you don’t consider the obvious: driving in Atlanta will inherently make you pessimistic. To be a cyclist in a city like this one needs to be optimistic, and optimists quite frankly have more fun. According to Robert Anton Wilson, “Optimistic people live longer than pessimistic people… pessimists are miserable.”

It’s rare to see someone looking happy stuck in traffic. Unless they are scared (or bonking) cyclists generally seem pretty damned happy to be on a bike.

Alan Harrington in his Immortalist talks of the mythical “the great big computer in the sky” watching and recording our actions, judging those that succeed and those that fail, and divvying out passes for those deemed worthy enough to enter when they hit the pearly gates. He speaks to the tendency of nonperformers that in moments of failure they try to hide themselves in a group, thinking that they won’t be noticed. Which he then parlays into the idea why some people like to bring others “down to their level”.

Given that perspective, it is an easy conclusion to make why some pessimistic motorists dislike cyclists. Misery loves company.

I ride long rides in attempt to burst the hive mind bubble, physically to get out of congested roads and metaphysically to reclaim my mind. One hole in the hive mind bubble exists northeast of the city where I-285 meets E. Ponce De Leon on the route to Stone Mountain and beyond. Cycling toward this cross over point, motorists have a tendency to lash out like crocodiles in a moat, with two points of access to the freeway and two points of exit. At this juncture cyclists contend with Stone Mountain tourists, motorists in need of gas and your everyday pessimist. The moat is at its most dangerous level as you cross the overpass, and the danger level does not dissipate fully until you cross over Mountain Industrial Blvd., and that is despite the bike trail that runs parallel to the road up to the mountain. (I have been hit from behind by another cyclist on account of a car that decided to cut me off. I and the other cyclist braked for our stop sign the pessimist decided to drive through their stop sign, forcing us to ride into one another. Pessimists can be quite crafty.)

Taking the Norman Rd. route I would say that the danger of the pessimists and their hive mind begins to dissipate after you cross over Memorial Ave.

Other routes to burst the hive mind bubble do indeed exist in other areas of the city, but not due north, for two reasons: the hive mind of pessimists has sprawled beyond the bubble and it’s too damn hilly to escape with a full head of steam, which also makes it difficult when pessimists use their weaponry, which sometimes consists of what remains of their 100 oz. diet cokes.

We, being those who want to reclaim their mind need to come together and work as a team to find other holes that exist in the hive mind bubble. I know of other routes, one being off Roosevelt Hwy., but I am not comfortable in advocating that route for the novice, despite being a relatively flat ride at some points. Be aware of concrete arteries that dissect the road which make it even more challenging to escape, leaving open the chance for other random acts akin to the Stone Mountain moat.

Inside the bubble, there are indeed numerous “safe zones”. These “safe zones” act like the zone in Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” where it can appear peaceful and harmless, with no visible dangers anywhere. Lucky for us the laws of physics apply in this world, there is no need to throw a cloth-tied metal nut ahead of you before cycling into a new area. Some popular “safe zones” are Inman Park, Cabbagetown, the parts of Candler Park that do not have pedestrian islands jutting out into imaginary bike lanes. Oakhurst and Kirkwood. Grant Park, Ormewood, East Atlanta, and Decatur. But there are powerful hive mind currents to cross in order to connect to these neighborhoods. These currents run high in pessimist numbers with a concentrated collective power of psycho kinesis, powerful enough to convince some cyclists to ride without helmets.

Riding in numbers or carrying a flask of whisky to keep your courage is advised.

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