March 28, 2005: Society, heal thy freakin' self
You know, I'm completely fed up with the social rift that has polarized our country. This bullshit has got to stop, but it won't stop until people wake up and realize that "we're living in a society!" Yeah, that's right, there's 300 million other people in this country, and if everybody acts with the me-first, my-way-is-the-only-way attitude exhibited by many of the more prolific advocacy groups as well as the President and many of the Congressional leaders, then we have damaging divisiveness and complete policy gridlock ad infinitum.
So how do we begin the healing process? By acknowledging the value of compromise and cooperation and working to develop these values at the local level.
Take for example, today I was out running along the little stitch of single track that runs in the median of Balboa Avenue here in EG. It is a beautiful stretch of path under the cooling shade of stately Eucalyptus trees that offers walkers, dogs, runners, and bikers a fun respite from the perils of pavement. Along the way, I passed three boys ages 12 to 14 digging a freeride course along this trail. I passed them, but immediately turned back because I wanted to offer them the benefit of my immense wisdom on the subject of public discord.
If you live in any of the few remaining semi-rural areas in the Bay Area, you've probably noticed the proliferation of homemade freeride courses. The offspring of modern mountain biking and 80s BMX freestyle riding, freeriding is just that: free riding. Outfitted on tricked-out BMX bikes and specialized full-suspension mountain bikes, freeriders do all kinds of sick jumps, tricks, and crazy obstacles for the pure thrill of it. Often, freeriders build their own freeride courses in vacant lots and other undeveloped areas. These courses feature massive jumps intended to catapult the rider high into the air, obstacles such as narrow plank bridges spanning large mud pits, and high-banked twists and turns.
These courses require vision, tools, design, and hard work, and the kids who build them should be commended for their initiative and industry. The problem is, they are often built right in the middle of existing multi-use trails by kids who don't think about the bigger picture. Compounding this situation, non-bike trails users are often very prone to overreaction when it comes to issues of trail sharing with cyclists. But as both a biker and a non-biking trail user, I know that these freeride courses cause a lot of inconvenience to everybody except freeriders.
I first introduced myself to the lads as a fellow rider who cut my biking teeth on BMX bikes back in the day. I then gently eased into my point. "The problem is fellas, if you build your jumps right in the middle of this trail, you're eventually going to end up pissing off other people who use this trail all the time. I'm talking about old people, moms with strollers, people walking their dogs. This trail is used by a lot of people, and it's only going to take a couple of uptight people to start complaining before suddenly somebody passes a resolution to ban bikes from the area or somebody twists an ankle climbing over one of the jumps and sues. You know how American society is."
These are good kids and they listen politely and attentively to what I have to say. Hey, I'm a realist, and I can see that they're not fully convinced. I go through my whole schpiel, thank them for listening and then move on. I could only hope that they would give it some thought.
The next day, I walked past the burgeoning freeride course and was a little disappointed to see that additional jump building had been done on the main trail. Oh well, I tried.
The next day, while passing through again, I saw my teenage friends. I said hello again, complimented them again on their hard work, and very gently repeated my plea from two days ago. Stressing again the need to proactively work to avoid conflict, I repeated my recommendations for how to build a non-intrusive, socially acceptable freeride trail. Rather than build the jumps right on the trail, where all users have to climb over them or trudge off the path into the wet, muddy, and knee-high grass, they should build their jumps on parallel spurs that come off the main trail. This way, they could use the main trail for building up speed, then switch off to a side trunk for the jumps and obstacles. Pedestrians, other cyclists, and strollers can then still use the trail unimpeded, and the freeriders can still have their killer course.
This seemed to resonate with them. You see, it's not enough just to tell kids they can't do something. Adults need to do a better job of meeting kids halfway by offering helpful suggestions that are genuinely intended to support the kids' interests. The next day, I came by again and was thrilled to see that indeed construction had stopped on the main trail and the kids were building their jumps, turns, and obstacles on newly developed side spurs.
These kids should be publicly recognized and commended by the Half Moon Bay Parks and Recreation Department or the El Granada Water District or whatever municipal entity has authority over the Balboa median. Whoever is in charge of this median should contact these kids and offer them tools, advice, support, and even a small financial grant or award. Too often, adults completely blow kids off and give them no respect, and this only fuels the youthful angst.
What can three kids with shovels and a freeriding dream teach us about healing the social and cultural rifts that plague contemporary American society? How about a little something called compromise. These kids were able to see the bigger picture and realize that to get what they wanted, they needed to make some concessions, and they did. Rather than risk losing everything (the right to ride in the median) for immediate satisfaction, the kids considered the needs of other human beings and made concessions for them. I know, what a concept, eh? In that sense, these teenagers showed more intelligence, diplomacy, and compassion than all the Republicans in Congress.
In a democracy of 300 million people, the needs of the many must outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. America needs to learn this lesson, but it's clear that our inspiration for such revelation will not come from our political leaders. Their agenda is not ours, it is their own and that of their backers. Americans must take the initiative to start healing our differences at the local level, among friends and neighbors in our own communities. Only when we all have the wisdom and compassion to put ourselves in the other person's shoes and try to understand other people's needs and concerns can we figure out how to go from blue and red, to good old red, white, and blue. These kids in El Granada deserve recognition not only for their hard work, but also for having the sensibility to WANT to make things work. My helmet is off to you boys!
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