This morning we received an email from the Superintendent of Schools letting us know that school would be delayed by an hour, because a bear had been seen in the neighborhood. A black bear. We live about six miles from the center of Boston, where there are abundant trees, but the rumble of the city is always in the air. This bear is no doubt confused and lost, likely lulled by the quality of our garbage or our gardens.
My friend John texted me yesterday. He said, “Ok, if you ride bikes you’re one of us. But a guy showed up for our group ride on a full carbon road bike with aero bars. It was an eBike. We realized he had earbuds in when he failed to respond to various calls and instructions in traffic. Turns out, he uploads his rides to Strava too. Is he one of us?”
Someone called the cops on the bear. This feels like a very (sub)urban thing to do. My friends who live in Vermont or Maine or New Hampshire would see a bear and think, “I’ll take the garbage out later.” Still, I can’t blame the narc. We’re a densely populated area, kids everywhere. Black bears aren’t dangerous, per se, but you don’t want them mixing with kindergarteners on their way to school. I worry for the bear though. How will it be corralled? Will it be returned to something like its native territory? If the powers that be manage to get it back in some acceptable patch of woods, how will the bear cope? It will still be lost. It will still be confused.
The guy with the aero eBike might also be confused. Or not. Perhaps he doesn’t understand the culture of the group road ride, or perhaps he just doesn’t care. Maybe he’s riding a bike, so he assumes he’s “one of us.” John’s group said nothing. They made no corrections to his behavior and offered no criticism because they’re pretty chill, though most of them rode away after wondering what they’d just seen. It would have been fair to say, in the interest of safety, “No earbuds, friend.”
Hopefully, we are living in a time of burgeoning tolerance. It’s Pride Month. There are those among us who are frightened and confused all the time. There are others who are who they are, and just want the space to be that person. We may not understand intuitively or even intellectually what they are doing or how they want to live, but that’s not a real problem. None of it limits our ability to live our own lives or ride our own rides.
One of the ways we exclude people from cycling is by defining spaces they can’t enter or don’t feel welcome. In our minds, there is no real boundary. We think all are welcome. But they aren’t. By rule, circumstance or attitude we define spaces where “outsiders” don’t feel they can enter.
As I said, I worry about the bear, who just wandered into the neighborhood, likely for a snack at someone’s birdfeeder or compost bin. What does the bear think now? What does it need? Where are its friends? Is it scared? My sincere hope is that we take the time to care for the bear, rather than deciding it’s dangerous, capturing it, maybe even killing it. As the seemingly dominant species on the planet (Fungi might argue this point), we are awfully insecure, and fear, as we see every single day, often makes people do cruel things.