Friday was my first anthrapological expedition for a while. I didn't exactly don my pith helmet - instead, I donned my bike helmet and took part in a "Critical Mass" ride around the CBD and over the Harbour Bridge. My reasons for doing so were two fold - first, you only get to cycle over the Bridge once a year, and secondly, I need the exercise to help me sleep.
Let me just say at the start that I have never seen such an enormous crowd of ferals gathered together in one place in my life. It was like half the township of Nimbin had jumped (or cycled) into the local teleporter and materialised in Hyde Park. It's not like you see lots of ferals together in one place very often - they're like the homeless. You see the odd mad sod wandering down the street muttering to himself about alien space rays before begging for cash, but it's not like you see a tent city of them in Hyde Park once a month.
Critical Mass, like many things in our society, appears to be an import. I have heard and read about similar groups overseas. Funnily enough, all the members appeared to be madly against globalisation, but I doubt they would see the funny side in them being members of a globalised cult. It would not surprise me to find that this cult started in that fountain of all things evil - the US.
The idea behind Critical Mass is a bit like those feminist "reclaim the streets" marches that used to happen with regular monotony in the 80's and 90's. You never seem to hear about them these days. I just scanned the SMH and there was nothing in there about this ride either. I guess they are no longer newsworthy events. Boring. Give us something new and exciting to report!
Anyway, the original concept was that a group of cyclists would get together once a month and ride as a group slowly around an area blocking traffic at peak hour and "reclaiming the streets" for cyclists. What started as a radical anti-authoritarian protest movement has metamorphised into your usual well organised boondoogle. I counted 8 police outriders on motorbikes (with lights flashing and the whole works - I felt like I was the GG being escorted somewhere), half a dozen marked cop cars and most of the cycle cops in town (all on their bikes of course), which numbered 20 or 30. It was well organised chaos. The only thing we were missing was a Police chopper, some cops on horses and the dog squad.
The web site said to meet at the Hyde Park fountain at 5.30pm. I duly saddled up and rode into town expecting to arrive just before 5.30pm and then we'd all join up and ride over the bridge. Bzzzz - wrong. I met up with two other blokes on the ANZAC bridge and we rode in together, and then we sat around near the fountain for an hour whilst the ferals got organised. That was no mean feat. I was amazed that so many had made it there almost on time, since very few seemed to own a watch. Keeping time is just so capitalist, man. Too organised for me. In fact quite a few didn't seem to own shoes either. They did however own an impressive collection of haircuts and facial jewellry, and many sported shirts promoting the Greens, or stickers proclaiming that, "No Iraqi died to provide fuel for this bike". No, but some probably died to supply the diesel for the ship that brought it to this country.
The police were of course all there at 5.30pm, lined up in a neat row, looking on with bemused expressions at this laager of louts. Those that had been on one of these rides previously were not bothering to look at their watches, as they knew something I didn't - they never start on time (I found this out from chatting to a cop later on who had done a few). One thing the cop did tell me is that the bike cops don't shave their legs. They had been taking bets to see if anyone would dare to wax their legs, but none had been game enough to do it yet.
I wrote last year about how I tried to pick the political persuasion of people cycling in from the North Shore, and how I thought most of them probably voted Liberal. Well, her sample would tell you that most cyclists in Sydney are scruffy, ride bikes with a resale value of between $30 and $60, and ride them because they can't afford to buy a nice second hand 4WD. My survey of commuters coming over the Harbour Bridge on the other hand tells me that most cyclists are well dressed, well groomed professionals that ride bikes that cost them between $800 and $5000 and they probably own a BMW or an Audi.
As I was sucking on my Chuppa Chup, a dumpy lesbian asked me if she could use my bike pump. Oh for crying out loud, who seeks to embark on a ride over the Harbour Bridge with flat tyres! That about said it all for this crowd as far as I was concerned. They were so fixated on photocopying the pamphlets for the anti-war teach-in at Sydney Uni the following day (I am not kidding), that they forgot to check and prepare their means of transport. Frankly, I thought teach-ins died out back in the 20th century - like at the end of the 1960's. Next thing, they'll be sporting afros and cork shoes. The really hilarious thing about the bike pump episode is that they dyke did not know how to use a bike pump! She normally took her bike to the petrol station and filled up there from the air hose. My pump was no use as her tyres used car type valves, but I spotted a bloke that had the right type of pump and borrowed that on her behalf. It was the same type of pump that we used as kids - you had to screw a flexy hose into the end and then attach that to the valve. She had no idea how to do it. I had to show her how to use the pump, and then pump up her tyres as she had no upper body strength. Strewth!
Rent-a-crowd really was the best description for this mob. I am certain that some probably turned up on foot with "save the dolphin" banners and went, "bugger, wrong week, different protest" and walked home. I did spot a few people wearing lycra like myself (which denotes firstly someone that has a high enough income to spend $250 on lycra shorts and a shirt and secondly denotes someone that cycles far enough to work up a sweat), but the rest were wearing hemp. Personally, I would not like to ride very far in hemp. It sounds much too much like a hair shirt to me. Wearing hemp makes you a "milk and bread" cyclist - ie, someone who rides to the local shop for some milk and bread, and no further. The idea of doing a round trip commute of say 35 kms would probably be as alien to this mob as eating a T-bone (especially a whale T-bone steak).
Eventually, the mob left Hyde Park and rode straight into the normal peak hour traffic jam near David Jones. We sat in traffic for a good ten minutes before getting to the point where we could do a lap around Town Hall and then on to the Bridge. The Town Hall lap was interesting, as we stopped at the intersection outside the Town Hall (which is a major intersection) and we stopped there for a good 10 minutes. Many bemused pedestrians pulled out cameras and camera phones and took photos of this mass of hemp clad, cheering maniacs in the square in front of them. Most of the mob got an enormous kick out of all the attention. Personally, I thought it was like be a gladiator in front of a baying mob and I was waiting for someone to release the lions from the QVB building. My favourite bit in the traffic jam was when one of the cycle cops spotted a bloke in a car yapping on his mobile - he was right next to me. He rode over, stuck his head in the window and said something like, "That's a really dumb idea mate", and I swear the motorist just about pooped himself there and then. The look on his face was a sight to behold. He got away without a ticket though - lucky sod.
First point about protests - many are doing it for the kicks. There is a bit of a thrill being the focus of attention of so many people, including the odd older guy in a suit who took exception to people on two wheels and who yelled abuse about, "people who want to get home". From what I could see, most of the people in town couldn't care less about getting home. After all, it was Friday night. Most wanted to get to the pub, and then worry about getting home. I guess the heckler has an evil wife waiting at home who will make his life difficult unless he is home by 6.30pm on the dot. We blocked traffic for quite a while, which didn't seem to bother too many car drivers. Since the cross city tunnel opened, traffic through the city has been a nightmare, and I reckon many didn't even notice the impact of our ride. It was just another horror Friday night in Sydney traffic for them.
After Town Hall, we meandered up past Parliament House and then onto the Bridge. All traffic going north had been shutdown, so we rode across the Cahill Expressway with no cars, and then onto a car free bridge (at least the four western lanes were car free). Traffic was banked up for miles, and most drivers had given up and gotten out of their cars to have a look. Some tooted and waved in a friendly manner, but one Guido got grumpy and shook his fist and said a few choice words. We just rang our bells and tooted our horns and laughed at him. Poor sod. I look at these Guidos in their flash cars and wonder how much they owe on them, and how long it will be before they are repossessed and end up back in a car yard on Parramatta Road waiting for the next idiot with small balls to come by.
Note about greenies that don't cycle much - they might be skinny, but mung beans are not good for fitness or speed. They rode at a stately 6-10 km/h, which is slower than I walk. I nearly fell over a few times (I saw one courier who did in fact fall over - they never travel at under about 50 km/h, especially when they are on the footpath). Once we hit open road, I put my feet down and made it to the middle of the bridge right behind the cops on motor bikes. At that point we stopped and waved at people above us doing the Bridgeclimb, and waited for the rest of the pack to catch up. I looked back down the bridge at several thousand tree huggers that filled all four lanes and stretched all the way from the middle of the bridge back to the expressway. I don't know where these people live, but there were a lot of them. It was like watching fleas climbing up a dogs back.
There were three hippies in particular that stuck out. One had a face like the Elephant Man. He was a very wierd looking guy. His jaw was about six inches longer than normal and his teeth stuck out in all directions. Ick. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fans may remember the name of the character that Arthur Dent kept on killing, and the description of how his fangs stuck out all over the place when they finally met and he tried to kill Arthur. That was this guy.
Another guy had what looked like a shopping trolley attached to the front of his bike, and by the look of it, it contained all his worldy possessions. He looked like a homeless guy that also had a bike insread of a shopping trolley or enormous collection of garbage bags. The last guy was clearly retarded. I guess he rode a bike because he did not have the brain power to drive a car. He was also riding a BMX type bike, which is not the best thing for riding any distance.
Here I was thinking that cycling would introduce me to a world of elite athletes, and instead I end up with a bunch of soy drinking, tree hugging, hemp wearing, bearded, homeless dykes and wierdos. To cap it off, we visited some relatives on the weekend and I passed a pack of Accenture guys out for a ride. Now that is what I expected - to be grooving with a bunch of fit, highly paid, globetrotting MBA-type consultants. In future, I will have to read the fine print on these bike ride brochures more closely.
After the rest of the mung bean powered mob arrived near the middle of the bridge, we continued on our merry way and rode up through North Sydney to where the the Friday night noodle markets are supposed to be held. However, as a sign of intensely good organisation, we arrived on the one Friday night when there were no noodle markets. That meant hopping back on the bike before the speeches about no blood for oil started (and before my sweat started freezing) and zipping back home. It took me a good two hours or more to make it to North Sydney and about 45 minutes to get home. Never ride with Greenies. They can't shut up, and if they ride too fast, they can't talk about their latest workshop based around recycling sheep toenail clippings, so they dawdle. On the other hand, they can't be too poor, as most had a fairly expensive digital camera lurking in one of their hemp shirt pockets (and hemp shirts are not that cheap). I like to call it disaffected hippyism.
There was one other point that I almost forgot - the intense religiousity of the whole thing. Apart from Mr and Ms Mungbean getting an almost sexual thrill out of the attention that they were recieving, they were also all totally manic about their passions regarding War, oil, cars, trees, hemp and other things on the Green agenda. I have never been exposed to such a manic, committed mob. They were as fervent a crowd as you could ever hope to meet. I could suddenly see where suicide bombers come from, along with the members of the Spanish Inquisition. For this mob, it was all black and white. Unlike us cynics, who see plenty of gray and don't get wound up about much, this lot were fanatics. They had that mindset - that light in the eyes, that makes them very, very dangerous.
That's why they should all be conscripted into the Foreign Legion and shipped off to fight in Syria. If they can be indoctrinated so well with the Green agenda, it shouldn't be too hard to turn them into gung-ho types.