Tuesday, May 15, 2012

She'll be comin' 'round the mountain…

…And stealing my hideous 1990s mountain bike from the verge.

Yes, in the interstate move process I finally found a way to excise the hated mountain bike. The very bike responsible for my inconsistent cycling history. After languishing for weeks on gumtree.com classifieds as a 'Buy one 1990s bike, get this one free' listing (Somebody actually bought Ginger's and refused to take mine as spare parts), the 'Radical!' two wheeled eyesore was brought to an inevitable conclusion. I put it out on the curb with a broken blender and let the good people of my part of Perth do what they do best. Nick things.

This is the last I saw of it, in the fading light of day:

*Hiccough* "Kill me."

We drove away to do a single errand taking about 12 minutes. When we came back, it was but a memory, a once proud monument to the purity of the 'Fresh Prince' aesthetic.

I'd like to offer my sincerest apologies to the unhappy thief, though not as elaborate a penance as I offer to the poor bastard who was unfortunate enough to 'steal' the entire box of 1990s CD singles I left on the verge. Nobody should have to sit through that many pop music shout-outs to Ricki Lake.

Sorry, dude.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

He ain't Roadie, he's my Husband.

Except that he is. Both.

Yes, this happened:

"This sweat band is completely essential!"
After being responsible for reintroducing Ginger to the joy of bicycling, he struck out on his own and purchased a second bicycle. A road bicycle. Complete with death-trap shoes - the amusingly misnamed 'clipless pedals' that involve clipping yourself to the actual pedal. Oh, Bike Land - you could have thought more carefully about what you were going to call them. (Yes, I know why they're really called clipless but it's still silly.) Just a couple of extra minutes. But then you couldn't make road bicycling an esoteric cult activity for only the manliest of men with indecipherable jargon to spurn ordinary folk. And if there's two things full-Roadies love, it's the feel of lycra on their buttocks and the spurning of ordinary folk. So understandably, I was concerned that this road bike purchase would open the seventh seal and unleash an anatomically revealing hell into my life.

Thankfully, Ginger's indoctrination into the Cult of Bicycle included his addiction to reading Bike Snob, so he was partially innoculated against full Roadie-fication.

I did say 'partially'.

"We made the inside crotch red to better disguise our bleeding taints!"

The short, fast slide began when a mutual biking friend encouraged him to join her weekend social ride. She assured him that he didn't have to give up his regular clothes if he didn't want to, so off he went to experience the world of Saturday morning social road rides. This exposed the gentle Ginger to the much feared forces of PEER PRESSURE. He returned from his first Saturday morning ride, thrilled by the cycling but telling tales of being mocked for wearing ordinary clothes. Affectionately mocked, but mocked none the less. Also, his nether regions had been tenderised by the road bike saddle, leading to further mocking and the insidious suggestion that he purchase the dreaded 'chamois shorts'.

It wasn't long before a sweaty pair of bib-shorts were festering on the bathroom floor when I rose on a Saturday morning, though Ginger declared that he was still wearing 'normal' shorts over the top of them along with an ordinary shirt. I decided that the tenderness of his groin was a man's private business and let the shorts slide. Then one evening, I went into the room where the bikes were stored and discovered an odd purchase. It seemed Ginger had gone and bought four small reflectors. I picked one up for a closer look and noticed that the edge on one side was jagged and unfinished...brain cogs turning, I picked up a second piece with an equally jagged edge and, yes - they fit together to form one whole reflector. A wheel reflector. I sought him out him and the following exchange took place:

"What happened to your reflectors? Did they break off? That's pretty shoddy."
*Incriminating pause* "Umm..."
"Wait. You... but you... snapped them off your wheels?"
"...Yes?"
"Not for the weight, surely, you -"
"Uh..."
(Wondering who this monster is) "But... how will cars see you at night? That extra 5 grams was really holding you back?! What possessed you?"
"Well..."
"Oh my god. It was Bike Club, wasn't it? A mean boy taunted you until you broke your own reflectors."
"Actually it was a woman."

After I beat him with a citrus fruit filled sock for the prescribed amount of time, I cried myself to sleep, knowing his decline was cemented. It wasn't long before a cycling jersey appeared above the outer layer of ordinary shorts. Then, one Saturday morning I got up early and stumbled into a horrifying vision in my hallway:

"DON'T LOOK AT MEEEE!"




The transformation was complete*.







*Except he also bought a pair of Knog leather gloves, on sale. I suspect they were on sale because they can only be described as, 'Avril Lavigne-esque'. Sometimes a bargain is not worth the potential beatings.

He was a Sk8r Boi, she said, "WHY GOD, WHY?!"

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Australian Car Culture.

When I say that Australia is a car-centric society, I am not overstating it. For decades our national identity has been tied to cars - From the 'classic Aussie argument' of Holden Vs Ford being played out over barbecues and beers; to fathers and sons with little to discuss except how the car is driving; Australians are obsessed with automobiles. They are mass consumers of everything car related - Particularly things which they feel 'personalise' their cars inside and out. In Perth, personal number plates are a common sight and there is less restriction on the number of letters you can have than in say, Sydney. It's not uncommon to see things like a Lancer Evo (I had to Google that, I nearly wrote Nissan Evo) with plates reading ENVEEME or even dilapidated, first car Toyota hatchbacks with names and birth years serving as fair warning to anybody wanting to avoid youthfully precipitous motorists. Interest groups, sports teams, town councils and charities all offer affiliated number plates to the public. It's easy to spot an animal lover by their RSPCA number plate or a Collingwood supporter by theirs.

Cars have become key components of Australian's own definition of identity, particularly in Perth. There's a real sense as you approach driving age that like losing your virginity, one is merely existing until they pop that cherry. As I mentioned before, the word Freedom gets thrown around constantly when most Australians talk about cars. Which they do. Constantly. Cars are not seen as a privilege or transportation. Transport is what people do on public buses and trains. No, cars are seen as a right and consequently anybody not enamoured of cars is a threat to their very sense of normalcy and self. Look through the photo collection of your average Australian family and you will find photographs of cars. I've spent half of my life watching people 'readjust' their perception of me when I say I have never driven a car. They conclude I must either be disabled or some kind of anarchist. Here, you are your car. To reveal that you voluntarily have no car is akin to screaming, "I AM THE ENIGMA!" before vanishing in a puff of smoke mid-conversation. Why are Australians (Perth in particular) this way? This passion did not manifest fully formed, it developed over time and I think I understand the reasoning behind it.



The sheer scale of Australia, the harsh conditions and especially in Perth, the isolation - has helped create a national car mythology. Much like America built its national identity on the mythos of the frontier (I'm referring specifically to the parts of their national identity that butt up against other national identities, like - America: International Sheriff, gunslinger for hire, straight talkin' and sharp shootin'.), the currently dominant Australian cultural identity (by which I mean mostly white, mostly middle and working class men) was built on a foundation of the Bushranger/Explorer myth - the outlaw, the reckless lone adventurer, wandering the vast spaces between pockets of civilisation. There's a strange paradox of rebellion tied to the absolute conformity of car-ownership in Australia. The car has replaced the journeyman's horse yet he still likes to think of himself as straddling the margins despite the ubiquity of car ownership. The very act of travelling is displaying a 'true blue' spirit and exhibiting your toughness and independence as an Australian. Even though most of us are no longer travelling through harsh terrain, the untamed heart of the country looms large in our consciousness, implying every trip is an adventure through adversity.

Australia is a country that in the 1970s began producing and strongly identified with the 'Mad Max' films. The first movie of the series essentially posed the question, "What would happen if we ran out of petrol and cars ruined the world?!" and replied with, "The answer is MORE CARS!" By the end of the 20th century, the family car household had become the 'one car per occupant' household. At the dawn of the 21st Century, Japanese car culture (again, via cinema) began to seep into the Australian consciousness and cars as expression of youth identity had a resurgence. My first years of night-clubbing and pubbing were punctuated by the booming sound systems, rear spoilers and neon lights of Japanese influenced, credit purchased cars cruising the inner city streets. Then something different happened. Gen-Y abandoned road trips in favour of international flights and there - they fell in love with 'The City'.

Globalisation, travel and internet access fed our inferiority complex (Our cities were not 'city' enough! Other people were living cooler lives!) and combined with a period of expansion and overall economic growth (more cafés, apartments, city developments) to make an entire generation long for the idea of urban life. As a nation often struggling to reconcile cultural identity, we're prone to copying others, especially if they seem to offer something more sophisticated than our embarrassingly agrarian past. (There's nothing wrong with agriculture or country living - indeed, they are essential, but younger Australians have actively rejected it for a couple of generations now. A different can of worms for a blog not dedicated to bicycles.) It makes my life easier, as a 'Confirmed Pedestrian', that these shifts are taking place. Whereas 10 years ago I was having to justify my culturally odd disinterest to strangers at technical college parties, now the revelation I have never been behind the wheel of a car usually provokes interest rather than disbelief. Cars are still a big part of Australian culture but a quiet revolution is taking place. The giant 'Holden' shop which at the millennium sprung from the city centre of Perth, selling car branded g-strings along with the Playboy seat covers and fluffy dice was swiftly, brutally replaced not a year later by an Apple retailer. The car shop never reopened within the boundaries of the city shopping district, the car lifestyle accessories being firmly pushed out to the suburbs where car culture still thrives even as bicycle and pedestrian pathways form around them. Slowly, the city becomes a place less for cars and more for people.