Thursday, September 3, 2009

War On Road Rage

Frankly, I'm a little too bummed out to really dive into the whole cyclist v car debate that's been raging in the wake of the former future premier killing a bike messenger. The forums have been vitriolic: allegations of drunk driving, drunk cycling, road rage, who deserved what, and so on into nasty infinity. It's sad.

Drivers all over the internet were pointing to cyclists - all cyclists - as erratic morons who dart in and out of traffic for the sole purpose of irritating and frightening them (the drivers). I would challenge any of those posters to spend a week biking to and from work in downtown Toronto, and see how they feel about big-ass cars and stop signs. Scared? I thought so.

I have a twelve-kilometer daily commute, one that takes me along Davenport, Bloor, the Prince Edward Bridge, and Danforth. Bike lanes, if they're there, tend to run over some of the roughest roads I've ever biked. Cars go at higher speeds and are slowed by fewer intersections. There are some especially tense moments right before Yonge Street, when vehicles are merging both left and right in an effort to get onto/avoid Bay Street.

Drivers are afraid of cyclists, and for good reason: manslaughter is a lousy thing to have on your conscience. Cyclists are afraid of drivers, too: being killed is stupidly easy. It's attractive to blame cyclists for getting hit. We are erratic a lot of time, and not so good with the signalling. And, unlike drivers, we don't have to pass a test in order to drive our vehicles, a fact that's been pointed out roughly 80 million times in the past couple days.

On the other hand, people can start riding bikes as soon as they can walk; learning to drive takes a little longer. And financing the kind of infrastructure changes that would license cyclists would be hella expensive, and hard to pay for: who trains cyclists? at what age? at what cost? who enforces these licenses? and don't the stakes seem a little lower? After all, how many licensed drivers kill or seriously injure people every year? Plenty. Licensing cyclists doesn't make reactions time any fast or street smarts any sharper; only hours and hours on a bike can do that. And hours and hours on a bike, in busy traffic, is a tough assignment.

Most of my friends have been hit, doored, slipped in the streetcar tracks, or screamed at by someone who desperately needed to be going 15% faster. We get such little protection - a foot or so of dedicated road on either side of the street (if we're lucky), and a helmet. And...that's it. No airbag. No power windows. No A/C. No turn lanes. That's all the car's domain, and that's fine. It's just hard to understand how drivers can feel so angry at cyclists. What's that all about?

As one person on the internet said yesterday, "If there's really a War On Cars, why are all the casualties on the other side?"

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Big Story

This is just a brief and wondrous shout-out to the entire cast, crew and hangers-on of Big Box Story, the absurdly good musical that was produced by a bunch of teenagers and went on to receive national attention. According to the CP24 newsbrief, the last student production to be mounted on the Stratford stage - which Big Box Story was, last night - was King Whistle!, which is proving nearly impossible to track down.

High school drama? That's actually not unheard of: student drama has been done in both Stratford and elsewhere, and it's always a nice acknowledgment of the high drama that high school tends to produce. Naturally, it tends to take a back seat to "real" theatrics. Big Box Story, on the other hand, is something else entirely.

First of all, it's amazingly polished. Some of the lead roles went to kids in the ninth grade - kids who subsequently had to sing, dance, and kiss each other onstage (insert death by mortification for your average fourteen-year-old). There were a dozen or so songs, plus choreography, and there was rarely fewer than a half-dozen people onstage. Just the kind of mental calisthenics required for everyone to perform is pretty amazing. Oh yeah - how many people is "everyone"? About forty. That's...a lot.

During last night's opening remarks, the Festival's Artistic Director Des McAnuff joked that with a cast that size, "this was the largest opening of 2009." It wasn't just the size of the cast or the age of the playwright that got people buzzing: this was a real-deal Community Event. The Avon Theater seats 1100 people. It was sold out. There were custom-made mugs in local coffee shops and Big Box Story-themed window displays in local boutiques.

It's a touch frustrating, because the media was all over the fact that the playwright is an 18-year-old child of Stratford Festival musicians: they sort of left out the rest of the players. This cast has been rehearsing and performing since January, which is a long time to be putting in 10-hour days of unpaid rehearsal. Not to mention many of these students were also involved in Absolute Alice, the show that went all the way to the provincials. Not to mention that they're all full-time students. Not to mention all that previously-mentioned singing, dancing, kissing, etc.

So! Congratulations to every single person in the cast and crew: you are all stars. You were all, by turn, touching, hilarious, goofy, kind, mean, and frazzled. You were all total professionals. You were all so watchable and entertaining, without hitting any of the false notes that sometimes comes from teenagers pretending to be adults. It wasn't even sweet in that aw-look-at-our-kids way: it transcended that, and launched you into the stratosphere. Brava! Bravo!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Drunk and Disorderly

Last night, I had the misplaced pleasure of spending time with a person who actively doesn't like me. As the night progressed, I grew to dislike him right back.

It's unclear as to whether or not this person (let's call him Ted) is specific in his dislike - i.e., me alone - or if he's an misanthrope, or if he was just drunk and being a shit-disturbing ass. It's possible that he was and is all three. Anyway, Ted informed me that I was "outclassed," conversationally. He did this about ten minutes before he drunkenly face-planted trying to hop a fence.

Obviously, this kind of behaviour bothers me a little. It's not impossible that I was outclassed - I'm smart, but I'm not a rhetorician - but the primary concern I have with people like Ted, people who pick fights because they're smart, drunk, bored, want to seem impressive, or whatever other reason, is that often, they're not very good at it.

We all know that blowhard who insists that American football < soccer < "football" (and occasionally, for extra cheese, he throws in rugby to confuse and annoy everyone), but it takes some seriously misguided cojones to sit in a crowded bar and rail about the Jews controlling everything. Even though it was in jest (or so he claims), there are social settings in which one should refrain from shouting about ZOG and its minions. Those settings include: everywhere, all the time.

In addition to the offensive and personal attacks Ted made on his friends and tablemates, there was the problem with his conversation style. He slurred and mumbled, which led to my asking "What?" (as in pardon me, please repeat that; not as in I don't understand what you're talking about), which led Ted to make fun of me for not grasping his concepts. The "concepts" (such as they were) fell from that highly respected school of drunk pseudo-smart conversation. Make a broad and offensive claim, wait for the indignant response, and then mock for either "falling for it" or up the ante to even more offensive schtick.

I did, in fact, fall for it: my liberal education has sort of trained me to raised up them hackles when someone says shit like "The Holocaust didn't happen," even if it's supposed to be a hilarious joke.

The problem was two-fold: Ted was drunk, whereas I was sober; furthermore, Ted hasn't gone to university, whereas I have. Needing to prove that you can push past the drunken barrier and the educational fence must be tiring, and unfortunately seemed to have used all the energy reserves that otherwise would have gone into things like empathy and politeness. This is not uncommon among the drunk and surly set. Needing to be right becomes the top priority. If being right becomes impossible, sardonically dismissing the entire conversation (and the people engaging in it) as a joke saves a bit of face.

I used to engage with this type more. I enjoy a good argument - my parents can totally attest - and I also like being right. In recent years, I made the shift from "being right" to "being heard," which, alas, usually ends up being the same thing. Then I started paying more attention to how I actually felt during these so-called fun debates, and the truth is, they're not really all that fun.

Look, sitting down with friends and getting onto a potentially contentious topic is often a blast: gets the blood flowing, lets you get to know them better, and gives a safe space for healthy disagreement. But sitting down with a stranger who is hell-bent on hurting your feelings is, um, different. It's too close to an actual fight to make it interesting: I spend too much time being mad and not enough time being thoughtful. Plus, it totally makes my stomach hurt.

Anyway, it was educational, in a way. For instance, I learned that I don't want to see that dude again! I also learned that when I get faced with these chuckleheads who perceive my presence as some sort of personal threat or attack, I should just walk away. It's not worth it to me to be right or heard when I'm dealing with these guys (and they are usually guys, for some reason): it's worth it for me to be content.