How Will We Live Tomorrow? – Geek Edition

The MIT Reunion Committee asked me talk about my bicycle trip at a TIM Talk (TIM = MIT backwards. Same Same but different from TED Talk. Get it?) I took a rather math/physics angle on my trip for the fifteen minutes, which worked well for that crowd. You can decide how it appeals to you.

MIT TIM Talk – 6/9/17 – How Will We Live Tomorrow?

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Everything Wrong with this Country in a Year, a Week, and a Day

A year, a week, and a day after Leap Day of 2016 I received a large check in the mail. How this came to pass is not the ten-second story of a hot-heated bully. Rather it demonstrates the high cost of what’s wrong with our country in a more conscious manner. Call it systematic amorality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When a Porsche crossed my right-of-way in Fairhope, Alabama on February 29, 2016, I flew off Surly and hit the pavement. I received excellent medical care and within four months was able to return to my journey. Although the Porsche driver was legally at fault, it was an accident. Accidents happen.

When I resumed my journey in July I sent a letter to the driver’s insurance agent, Tony Williams of Cincinnati Insurance. I requested they reimburse my direct accident-related costs, $4500, plus medical expenses. It seemed a straightforward settlement for an accident with eyewitnesses and a police report that assigned fault. Within half an hour I received a letter from Mr. Williams denying liability. I was dumbfounded. I decided to make a point about cyclist crashes.

Enter the hero of my story, Danny Feldman, a liability attorney in Birmingham. I’ve never met Danny but he earned my trust on our first call when we said, “If insurance companies did what they are supposed to do I wouldn’t have a job.”

For the next six months, while I cycled across country meeting wonderful people and collecting collaborative ideas about living tomorrow, I simultaneously sued a well-insured motorist who made a mistake. I bear no malice to the driver; it was his insurance company that stonewalled. The details are not so ugly as many cases, but the whole thing was unnecessary. By the time my cycling odyssey was complete, Cincinnati agreed to pay me more than five times my accrued direct and medical expenses. I give all the credit to Danny Feldman, who treated all parties with respect and was extraordinarily communicative to me.

The check that arrived a year and a week and a day after the accident created a conundrum. After more than a year of living independent of money, my trip generated an unexpected windfall. I cannot in good faith keep the money. Besides, money can’t alleviate the backache likely to remain for the rest of my days. I long ago learned to re-envision that discomfort as a lasting souvenir of my adventure.

I decided to give the money away, shared evenly among a dozen organizations that enabled and enriched my trip. I hope it will help them continue their good work toward a better tomorrow:

The Right Question Institute, Cambridge MA, for promoting the benefits of asking as the pathway to understanding and influencing

Warmshowers.org, Boulder CO for promoting fellowship and community among bicyclists

Racine Police Association, Racine WI for encouraging positive interactions between police and citizens

Myrna Loy Center, Helena MT for conceiving of Art in the broadest terms, in the remotest areas

The Circus Project, Portland OR, where I witnessed innovative opportunities for homeless people

The Unusual Suspects, Los Angeles CA, for their work with incarcerated youth (Meisha Rainman) (Nick Williams)

Alabama Bicycle Coalition, Huntsville AL, because Alabama sure needs it

I Heart Ferguson, Ferguson MO, to promote community in the aftermath of tragedy (Councilor Linda Lipka) (Councilor Wesley Bell) (Corliss and Carl Thorn)

Friends of the Clovis-Carter Public Library, Clovis NM, where I witnessed patient, respectful teaching of immigrants

Library Endowment Trust of the Metropolitan Library System, Oklahoma City OK, where I witnessed an enthusiasm for education lacking in the public schools

Florida Restorative Justice Association, Tallahassee FL to promote restorative justice (Julie and Michael McBride) (Kate and Andy Grosmaire) (Evan Wilhelm and Conor McBride)

Many thanks to Cincinnati Insurance Company for being so shortsighted they wound up supporting these great organizations. Even better, perhaps this settlement will make them revisit the precedent of dismissing claims by cyclists out of hand.

 

 

 

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Everything Wrong with this Country in Ten Seconds or Less

I came upon a most perfect example of civic disintegration today. Perfect not just because it exemplifies the brazen meanness of people with power, but also because the incident is so inconsequential, the only reason it could possibly occur is so one person can bully another. That other being me.

It takes a lot of rules for the City of Cambridge to uphold the torch of liberal tolerance. There are signs everywhere, about dogs, children, pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles. Signs denote conventions; signs clarify rights-of-way.

As a cyclist, I appreciate my city’s ease to navigate; though I’m amused by the novel ways we arrange bike paths. My preferred designation is simple: a painted white line on the same pavement as motor vehicles. I have a clear place on the road, separated by a curb from pedestrians, since bicycles are supposed to follow vehicle rules, not pedestrian ones.

That is too simple for Cambridge, which has too many variations. On Concord Avenue the bicycle lane is raised so cyclists and pedestrians are adjacent, a curb above cars, with separate paving and markings, bikes next to the road, pedestrians nearer the trees. This may look safer on paper but in reality it is not. Pedestrians waiting for the bus cluster on the bike lane, cars don’t see us at intersections.

I am riding east on Concord Avenue, on the bike lane, when a runner crosses the road and strides onto the curb just in front of me. We look similar: middle-aged white guys. He’s wearing ear buds. He doesn’t glance in my direction. He turns onto the bike paths and continues his stride. I call out, “Passing in the bike lane.” Nothing. I repeat, louder. I slow down, so as not to run into this man. I call out in a loud voice, “Passing in the bike lane.” No response.

I try not to jump to ill conclusions. Perhaps the man is deaf. I proceed slowly off the bike path and onto the sidewalk. Now two people are moving against protocol and I’m passing on the right. I worry he’ll shift to his appropriate lane. When I am abreast but a bit in front, I say, “You are running in the bike lane,” with more care than the sentence ought to require, but I am over polite in our prickly public domain these days. I try not to sound priggish or righteous: I just want to convey convention.

“Why is it so damned important to you?” The once silent man speaks very loud. “Just go around me, you f#@k#@g moron!”

I do as he says, too shocked to even phrase a retort. I continue on to Trader Joe’s, lock my bike, put my pannier in a basket, and roll through the aisles. Once off the bike, I begin to shake. My head spins in recrimination. What did I do or say to trigger such vitriol?

Trader Joe’s is not a good environment for somber internalizing. My cashier doesn’t ask, “How you doing today?” with his usual joviality. Anyone can see I’m upset. Yet I can’t spill woes simultaneously too vile and too insignificant to a guy in a Hawaiian shirt. Why am I so upset? Am I a wuss for letting this guy get under my skin? Has the foul-mouthed runner already forgotten me, catalogued under ‘losers too easy to pick on.’

This is how we live in the United States these days. The systems and processes that outline an orderly life are ignored. Those who can, flaunt them, with such loud derision that they leave silly souls who follow rules wallowing in doubt. Car lane, bike lane, pedestrian sidewalk; meaningless designations to the guy who plugs in his head phones, tunes us out, and stands his ground wherever he chooses to be. Might is right. The loudest voice gets the attention and his way. The prerogative of the winner surrounded by mere chumps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trip Log – Day 397 – Ponte Vedra Beach FL to Jacksonville FL

to-jacksonvilleDecember 20, 2016 – Overcast, 50 degrees

Miles Today: 28

Miles to Date: 20,733

States to Date: 48

 img_8950I rode into Jacksonville, the United States’ geographically largest city, on a busy Tuesday morning along miles of commercial strip along US 90 west, across a narrow drawbridge into downtown, and through the downtrodden neighborhood around Edward Waters College. The city is sprawling and nondescript as everyone along my Florida route warned. Poetically, I should have completed my journey in St. Augustine, our nations oldest city. But Jacksonville is more appropriate. It is not a city of the past, it is a city of our present, and as such will have greater bearing on what tomorrow portends.

img_8946I arrived at the Amtrak station mid-morning, anchored my bike, and spent the day strolling the St. Johns River waterfront, eating Tuesday tacos and sharing a beer with old friends Jan and Mike Golan, who happened to be in the area for a warm weather break. After they dropped me off for my train, ruminations about my year plus experience began to fill my head.

I kept coming back to a quote I leaned at the Harn Art Museum in Gainesville a few days ago. Ron Garon, astronaut, travelled 71 million miles in space. When he returned he said, “Earth is a fragile oasis with many neighborhoods in a very big universe. We must see ourselves as fellow co-laborers on this planet in a war against hunger, poverty, and environmental destruction. The key is ‘we.’”

My journey has been a mere 20,000 miles and change, but I’ve also focused on the illusive ‘we’ that is our nation. ‘We the people’ are an incredible bunch, like no nation that’s ever existed. Yet we have so many challenges: among ourselves and amidst our seven billion neighbors. I’ve learned…

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Oops, the conductor just called my train. Time to roll north into the deep dark of this longest night of the year until we reach tomorrow. All aboard!

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Trip Log – Day 396 – St Augustine FL to Ponte Vedra Beach FL

to-ponte-vedra-beachDecember 19, 2016 – Fog, 60 degrees

Miles Today: 33

Miles to Date: 20,705

States to Date: 48

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Saint Augustine is a lovely town, even on a grey day. The Visitor’s Center gives a good overview of the city’s history. The architecture is rich and varied, the scale very approachable. My favorite building is the gorgeous Ponce de Leon Hotel, once the flagship of the Flager hospitality chain, now the home of Flager College, named for one of Florida’s early developers.

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The ride up A1A is particularly interesting two months after Hurricane Matthew. Along my route I’ve witnessed Katrina reconstruction ten years on, Sandy reconstruction four years later, and now more recent repairs. I pedaled past lines of pick-up trucks for carpenters, plumbers, plasterers, and painters; dump trucks carting beach sand, and bobcats spreading it all over. These ever frequent, ever more powerful weather events are a new economic engine.

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Trip Log – Day 395 – Gainesville FL to St Augustine FL

to-st-augustineDecember 18, 2016 – Clouds, 80 degrees

Miles Today: 78

Miles to Date: 20,672

States to Date: 48

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Another day of terrific bicycle touring in a state I find much more bike friendly than anticipated. After two hearty bowls of steel cut oats, coffee and oranges right off the tree, I crossed the double helix pedestrian/bike bridge that connects Gainesville to the University of Florida medical center.

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I rode sixteen miles along the Hawthorne Trail, skirting Payne’s Prairie, ascending to hardwood hammock and rolling along cypress swamps.

From Hawthorne I enjoyed designated bike paths along FL 20 and 207 all the way to St. Augustine. The tailwind on my final push was handy since my hosts asked me arrive early to go to a party: always a good motivation to pedal hard.

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Jackie and Crunch are recent landlubbers; for three years they lived on a boat. The party was at their old marina. I learned about an entirely new way to live from well-tanned folks with few possessions and myriad tales of how they weathered Hurricane Matthew.

imgresAfter nightfall my hosts drove me through downtown St. Augustine’s famous Nights of Lights Festival. Jackie, who is a professional tour guide, provided a rich narrative to the sparking illumination.

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Trip Log – Day 394 – Gainesville FL

to-gainesvilleDecember 17, 2016 – Sun, 80 degrees

Miles Today: 10

Miles to Date: 20,594

States to Date: 48

Challenging things have occurred during this journey: gale winds, heavy rain, flat tires; but so far, never all at once. I was fortunate that yesterday’s flat was a slow leak that enabled me to roll to my host’s door in a university town full of cycle shops just before a layover day. First thing this morning I put Tom in shipshape, stopped by Super Cool Bikes, got another spare tube (I carry three) and topped off my tire pressure. Then I explored Gainesville.

img_8893The Florida Museum of Natural History has the largest butterfly collection in the world – more than nine million specimens plus a huge butterfly cage. It also contains timely exhibits about Florida’s ecology. I suppose it makes sense that the last area of our country to take its present shape will be among the first to shrink as climate change continues. Easy come easy go in the land of sinkholes and real estate hucksters.

img_8897The Harn Art Museum has intriguing exhibits despite few ‘name’ pieces. Shows about Frida Kahlo, African masks, The Guerilla Girls, and photojournalism of the Afghan war are all excellent. Of course I was drawn to Stuart Robert Purser’s whimsical painting of cyclists.

I rode through University of Florida campus on a sleepy Saturday; most students are already gone for break. Downtown was even sleepier, though Gainesville has a lovely public library.

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-3-13-44-pmI headed to my next host’s early as she invited me for early supper before the Veterans for Peace Solstice Concert, an annual event that included some awesome musicians and one of the best Crosby Stills Nash and Young cover bands ever. Gotta love grey haired ex-hippies rocking out to ‘Carry On’ in the Unitarian Church.

Gainesville FL, Lawrence KS, Austin TX, Laramie WY: blue bubbles amid our nation’s political red sea.

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