“Sir, if you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this city, you must not be satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares, but must survey the innumerable little lanes and courts. It is not in the showy evolutions of buildings, but in the multiplicity of human habitations which are crouded together, that the wonderful immensity of London consists.” — Dr. Johnson
I hold that if a modern actually followed me around and observed me, he (or she!) would grow bored and fall asleep; they may imagine themselves to have time-warped. I believe my brother-in-law said something along the lines of “You are the true hipster. You do things they would do, without knowing they are supposed to be cool.” If that is my title, so be it. I press on.
The new “hip” thing I have picked up this weekend is riding a bike. This arose from a tragedy. This weekend I received the dreadful news that my lovely Toyota blew a head gasket; while waiting for the news, I wrote a forthcoming poem (full of angst and anguish) about my deep disdain for the automobile. (I here spare you from my poetry, dear committed reader.) We must observe, as a race of humans with feet, knees, legs, that the automobile makes us less human. Take this moment to close your eyes and imagine your town without any cars. What do you see? What do you hear? What can you DO? Beautiful isn’t it? To walk wherever your feet may take you without getting blasted by a Mac Truck, to hear human voices mingled with their feet tapping against the concrete, to hear birds singing for joy that the monsters are gone, these are beautiful, other-worldly joys, and I think we should all take up metaphorical weapons against those dreadful dragons spewing smoke and smog and making men mad who would otherwise be quite sane and happy.
“Such was the happy garden-state,
While man there walked, driving no crate.”
C.S. Lewis makes a striking comment in The Abolition of Man that any generation who feels they are freeing themselves and “defeating” nature with stupid inventions like the automobile are only creating new ways in which man is fettered. Modern Americans have to have a car. Whether they can afford it or not, it is a necessity. This is just another way to be chained to something that our generation had no say in because a future generation thought they were freeing men and defeating nature. They were doing no such thing; they’re intentions, good or ill, only created new beasts that roam this world largely for ill-means. Go drive your car to Boston and back; I will walk outside and touch a tree.
Enough. I am done. So the news about my car blew my own head gasket, and I resolved to finally begin biking. I will get the ugly part out of the way first. Yes, I write with a rather sore neck and tomorrow will be painful. That is it. The rest is happy, joyful bliss. I took off this morning, and not being able to attend my traditional Anglican (not Episcopalian!) Church, for lack of an auto, I headed to the campus of UNLV.
It has been five years since I rode a bike. Five years ago, I was rooming with a buddy in Chattanooga; he is an avid biker (I think he road from Waterloo to Cleveland one time), and I thought, “Hey, this is great, I’ll join.” So I bought a bike from some bro and his son on Craigslist, took it out to the trail by the Tennessee River, rode about two miles and never once got back on the bike.
Well, now I don’t have a car, so I am forced to ride this beast. I bought a Giant Escape (?) bike, got myself a nice basket, named it “Snowmane,” and took it out for a spin this morning. I took off at about 9:00; it was partly cloudy and roughly sixty-five degrees; thus, I wore my K-State hoodie, which I eventually had to discard to display my EMAW shirt.* Those items, with my brown Royal’s cap, I looked as misplaced and Kansas as possible. My course sent me out on Bonanza for less than a block before I took to Pecos for about a mile heading south. Many of the more major streets in Las Vegas are six lanes total, the far right lane will often have a bus in it. Unfortunately, Pecos is one of the streets that does not have a bike-lane, though the city is doing a decent job of creating more, I hear. Anyhow, this was the worst part of the trip because I had to stick to the sidewalk. I nearly drove an old man off into the street today because I’m still figuring things out. From Pecos and Charleston though I cut across through some pretty sketchy neighborhoods. (On my way back I heard a woman yelling and something go “bang” from inside a house. Though it wasn’t the “bang” of a gun, but the “bang” of a door slamming or something hitting a wall.) I thought about driving this at night and scurried my way out of there, hooking up with the bike-lane on Sandhill road and eventually what is known as the I-515 Trail.
The I-515 Trail is, from the little I am on it, a dumpy trail. Fittingly, it rides up against the interstate and is not the quietest of trails due to this. I hear it also attracts a good number of homeless people, but I know this not from experience, for I left it almost immediately for one of the “Wash” Trails.
Las Vegas has a number of disconnected trails for bikes that go along the old washes that I don’t believe are used any more. Your iPhone map will make it look like there is a river; there is a little trickle of water surrounded by concrete that reeks like sewage. But this was by far the most enjoyable part of my trip. I see the usual homeless people, other bikers, and people walking their pets or just walking. The path is wide enough for me to easily avoid them and not endanger their lives. About a quarter of the way in on this trail, I noticed a familiar looking man. Indeed, he noticed me, for he sold me my bike yesterday. I saw him riding both on my way to UNLV and my way back, and I am content to know he saw me using my new bike.
So on one side of the trail is the “Wash” and on the other side is a cinderblock wall with purposeful graffiti that is interesting to look at; typical modern art, that is. I think one person took the “Wash” literally, for she was carrying clothes in her hands as if she was heading down to it. On two occasions I passed busy roads by climbing up a pedestrian bridge. The first is Boulder Highway, also known by its better name Fremont. The second is Desert Inn, named after the old casino that I think does not exist any more. On both of these bridges, I have a pretty spectacular view of the Strip, downtown, and Mt. Charleston in the background. These views made the trip worth it, aching neck and all.
I eventually had to get off the Wash Trail, but it does a nice job of cutting diagonally toward campus. From here I took Twain and paid homage to my literary friend. Emerson is also nearby, but I have no reason to take, or read, that road or writer. The plan this morning was to take Topaz, but finding out it was a gated-community, I wrapped around to McLeod. I then hopped on Viking, crossed Eastern—the “old road I used to take back when I was a mindless car-driver”—and weaved around to Flamingo, where I gave a glance and a bow to the Bellagio, crossed, and hit up Harmon, which has bike lanes and takes me to UNLV. The majority of the streets I take are either dead and sketchy enough to not need bike lanes or they have bike lanes. This was pure joy, with the wind whipping in my face, bugs hitting my eyes and mouth, feeling either cold or hot but never sweating; I felt like I was seven again, and I loved it.
In total, the trip is a little over seven miles one way. It took me fifty minutes outward, but I cut off ten minutes homeward. There are the obvious noted benefits of riding a bike, the least of which is that you help the environment. But I think, if anything, the bike gives you a different sense of freedom that you simply don’t have with a car. You see and notice things you would have never noticed before. In a car you are primarily trying to stay alive and not kill anyone else; on a bike you are viewing, smelling, feeling, hearing; you replace the racket of the radio with the quiet of the town; you find out that the quiet of the town really isn’t that quiet; you, in some sense, begin to see the town differently; you see it almost as it should be; you see it, and naturally Vegas, not as the Roman Coliseum of autos, but as the large playground of man.
Written at The Desert Schooner,
Las Vegas, Nevada
The Lord’s Day, October 25, 2015
Painting: “Repairing the Bicycle”
By John Quinton Pringle,
Oil on canvas, 1889
*On my wearing a hoodie in sixty-five degree weather, I must comment that I had resolved not to be like everyone else here and only wear hoodies in fifty-degree weather or colder. I have quickly abolished that resolution. I am a wretch and, worse, a wimp.