Saturday, January 01, 2005

NYE Critical Mass

New Year's Eve was spent at a bikey friend's party and was quite fun--probably the fourth most fun NYE of my life. Critical Mass happened to fall on NYE and the ride itself was very pleasant--not super fun, but pleasant. I saw Dana, a UIC Circle Cycle Club leader who I met at the 2004 CBF fundraising gala, and Susan a 2004 CBF bicycle ambassador. Both of these girls are really cool and I like running into them. They are also still both in undergraduate, and relationships with younger women provides a different vibe and perspective because in general my friendships skew older than me.

In the early/middle part of the ride on South Michigan I almost lost the Mass when I stopped to help a kid standing on the median curb yelling for a spare or patch. I wheeled around and started digging for a patch when suddenly cars were whizzing by us. When I finally handed him the patch he pointed across the traffic and said that it was for 'that guy over there.' We waited quite a while for a red light and walked our bikes across the stopped cars. After we were safetly across we learned that there were several other people who stopped and were already helping him, so I wheeled around to try to find the rest of the Mass. Along the way people yelled to me, encouraging me onward, that the 'rest of them' went 'that way'. Nice. I found the Mass and joined the rear of the pack.

As much as I hate people to flat during the Mass, I do love seeing the community's response: help is immediate, excessive and sacrificing. Anyone who stops and actually provides assistance is pretty much guaranteed to Lose the Mass and miss the rest of the ride--and yet people always stop to help. How great is that?

Nearing the end of the ride I heard a man citing court cases, so I dropped back to ask him if he was also an attorney. No, but he does IT for the Center on Poverty Law. This organization is suing one of my clients in a case I worked a lot on. Several times at bikey functions I have met people on the opposite side of this issue and have gotted into discussions with them about it. I knew the story behind this case for several years before working at the firm and thought that my client's position is laudible even before I began working on it. After doing extensive document review and speaking with employees of all levels in the client organization, I am even more committed to this position. My anti-litiguous attitude makes me bristle at the plaintiffs in this case because I don't think that litigation is the best way to resolve the situation, but is instead extremely expensive to both sides and wastes money that would be better spent to address the problem they are arguing about the best way to solve. Additionally, this particular case is frustrating for me because both sides have the same goals and are composed of like-minded, public-interested oriented people whose views overlap incredibly on most topics. They are litigating only a sliver of difference on how to best address a very serious, complicated, compelling problem. It all seems like an incredible waste of effort by otherwise very good organizations.

Unlike my other conversations with bikey people who are involved with this issue, I actually enjoyed this conversation. Since David only did the IT aspect of the case, he wasn't rabidly committed to his client's position and instead wanted to actually discuss the issues instead of merely arguing that his side was right. We tiptoed around a lot of concrete issues because I couldn't violate my duties to my client--which he was very respectful of. I was free to tell him that as an attorney, as a liberal, and as a student of public housing and welfare issues in colllege, I didn't have any qualms about defending my client in this issue. In addition, as our conversation meandered around some of the different issues facing displaced public housing residents, I mentioned my work with the extensive police brutality Burge investigation. This seemed to provide credibility to my claim to be a liberal and that I wasn't just a brain-washed pawn of the city. He had reseverations about his employer's position in the lawsuit also, and wanted to bounce some ideas around with someone who knew the issue, and would speak about the theories and complications invovled. We had a very satisfying conversation because neither of us was dogmatic and admitted that it was a very complicated issue with no easy answers. He raised some very compelling questions that I will have to ponder over--I may try to look him up to continue our conversation.

David broke off from the Mass just before the best part of the ride: a dance party broke out! We did a roundabout at the Polish Triangle between Ashland, Division and Milwaukee and then Alex took his bike/sound system onto the triangle itself and then the whole Mass joined him. For a few moments it just seemed like this was going to be the end of the ride--but then a few people started dancing. Soon, damn near the whole crowd was dancing and bystanders joined in to become participants. Todd climbed up onto a structure (dumpster?) and his dance quickly turned into a striptease until he was only clad in his boxers. Of course, Terry had to join him and quickly pulled her dress down to her waist--that girl gets topless at every given opportunity.

The music lowered and cops descended upon the group as Todd and Terry wisely descended from their dancing platform. I manuevered over to Todd with the same focus that one police officer did. I didn't say anything and simply observed, ready to provide him with my professional services to prevent him from being arrested if the situation became dicey. He handled the cops really well by questioning exactly what he/we were doing illegally in a respectful but not submissive attitude. After a bit of hassling, the cops calmed down and wandered through the group, occasionally investigating the contents of parked bike baskets, but basically convinced that while unorthodox, we weren't any sort of threat.

Towards the end of my stay, a girl was lifted into a tree and the cops quickly threatened to arrest her. Almost immediately after her feet hit the ground she began dancing. It was hilarious to watch the cops threaten to arrest her for climbing the tree. She sassily responded, "How can I be climbing a tree, I'm just dancing?" Some of her friends started a silly line dialogue of "what tree?" "I don't see a tree--do you see a tree?" "Free the trees!" I don't think the cops really are used to such silly, light-hearted, non-violent crowd behavior and didn't push the issue.

Shortly afterwards another ridiculuous dialogue broke out after they told us we had to leave when a person yelled, "we're waiting for the bus!" and everyone started clamoring in agreement. The officers shook their heads in vain and argued that we were not all waiting for the bus. "but what else would we all be doing at a bus stop?" The officers asserted against the tumult that we could not all be waiting for the bus, when a person piped up, "sure we are, it will just take a long time because only two bikes are allowed on a bus at a time." Our crowd almost lost it laughing--and the cops seemed to be struggling with laughter in the face of this ridiculously false, and yet undeniable argument.

Everytime I have encountered CPD officers during the Mass I have been basically satisfied with their behavior. They seem confused and cautious by the group. On the one hand we are flagrantly breaking traffic laws and there is some public drinking and pot smoking. We certainly are drawing attention to ourselves and look like a rag-tagged bunch. On the other hand, we are ridiculously happy and non-violent. Unlike the NYPD, I can sense the CPD officers' hesitation to hassle a bunch of silly cyclists. Still, like all cops they always need to appear in control of a situation and this can lead them to be more assaholic than I would prefer. At the same time, they don't seem at all anxious to actually arrest anyone in front of the group. Would you want to arrest someone for a minor reason in front of thier friends? Would you want to arrest a cute dancing girl on NYE? I realized that the cops were bracing for a long NYE filled with drunken/disorderly/violent assholes and at first glimpse they probably thought that we were going to kick off that evening.

Once the tension with the cops was cut and the dance party died down I determined that it was safe for me to leave and headed home to get ready for John's NYE party. Smiles and giggles abounded.

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