Sunday, September 23, 2012

In which I am almost murdered to death by hipsters.

I ride my bike a lot in New Orleans. It’s often the most efficient way to get from place to place, as long as none of those places is the West Bank. Riding my bike, for me, is a leisurely activity here: In Colorado, bike riding involved pedaling laboriously up the sides of mountains and careening at break-neck speeds down inclines that may as well have been completely vertical. It induced in me a sort of incoherent, helpless terror.

Here, though, everything is flat. Everything is actually more flat than flat things are, seeing as most of New Orleans is below sea level. So cruising around on my adorable little city bike is not only easy, but very zen. I get to look around at all the iconic New Orleans architecture, culture and vegetation, all the while moving quickly enough to avoid becoming a target of random street crime, which, while unlikely, is something I am constantly paranoid about, in much the same way that I worry about whether or not I'm cleaning the cat box frequently enough, or what would happen if I ever ran into Brad Pitt in his office at the TFA building. 

I share the streets here with the drivers of New Orleans, all of whom are absolutely batshit insane, and also with other bikers, all of whom appear to be hipsters with death wishes.

First, the drivers. Because this is the South, people here tend to be pretty nice. You can chat on the street or in line at the store and come away thinking, “Aw, isn’t it neat how people of all types and walks of life can co-exist here and just be cool about it.” And that’s awesome. It’s one of the things I love about living here. But when those same nice people get behind the wheels of their cars, it’s like a switch is flipped in their brains, and all the crazy they’ve been repressing their whole lives is suddenly channeled into a wild melee of murderously aggressive road rage.

I used to be a polite little biker, obeying the rules of the road, pretending to be a nineteenth century English sailor as I signaled semaphore directions with my arms, riding along the shoulder, trying to stay out of the way.

I quickly realized, after coming within inches of being killed by an speeding Prius, that this was in fact the way to ride my bike around New Orleans if I wanted to completely fucking die. Since that is not my ultimate goal, I now wear the brightest colors I can and ride down the middle of a lane, taking up as much space as I possibly can, and slowing down when cars pull up behind me. In my brain, I narrate my interactions with drivers: Bitch, if you want to pass me, change lanes and pass me. Yeah, honk all you like. I’m not moving. You’re gonna have to suck it up, move four feet to your left and haul your shiny metal ass around me. And so forth.

But it works. I’m safer that way because it inconveniences the drivers around me, forcing them to alter their course and therefore giving me a precious buffer zone from their homicidal designs in which I can stay alive.

But other cyclists don’t always share my wanting-to-keep-breathing ambitions. Hipsters are a plague upon New Orleans in much the same way that cockroaches are, swarming to underground grunge bars and wandering, listless and mustachioed, through the Warehouse District, searching for PBR and scarves to wear when it’s 300 degrees outside. And it seems that all of these hipsters have bikes. Little narrow ones, with curved handles and removable seats that they carry around with them after they lock their bikes to benches and street signs.

Bike-riding hipsters weave back and forth among the cars of New Orleans, reveling (ironically, I’m sure) in the adrenaline of their constant near-death experience. In the Quarter a few weeks ago, I was riding behind this hipster girl whose bike did not have brakes. Like…they just weren’t there. In order to stop, she removed her right foot from the pedal and contorted herself so that the sole of her shoe was pressed against the top of her back tire, so that the friction slowed her down. I stared at her for the full ten minutes it took to get down to Jackson Square, watching her strange bike Pilates, and wondering how she managed to move like that in her overly starched skinny jeans.

Sometimes, the hipsters congregate. They come together in Biblical proportions, from every corner of the Bywater and also probably Treme, for special hipster events. Dirty Linen Night, for instance, was packed to the gills with hipsters. As I rode through the CBD, I was forced into a sea of hipsters wearing sullied white garments and horn-rimmed glasses, the smell of cheap wine and body odor in the air. I was drowning in hipsters. They were everywhere, and I knew in that moment that those were the last seconds of my life. I was going to die there on Julia Street, trampled by Converse and thrift store flats, as an uncaring, overly-jaded mob of young hipsters fulfilled their instinctual mandates to find other hipsters, mate, and make tiny ironic babies.

By throwing my weight into forward momentum and unabashedly crashing into a number of pedestrians, I managed to escape that fate, leaving a band of disgruntled unwashed hipsters in my wake. And as I pedaled away, I muttered with loathing, in the same way I would about a cockroach appearing suddenly in my room, “Fucking. Hipsters.”

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