Monday, October 8, 2007

Cycle Killer: Q'uest-ce que c'est?

As I mentioned on Friday, there was a lot happening bike-wise this past weekend. If you're wondering what I was doing, let's just say it didn't involve fixed-gear freestyling. (And not only because I had the borough wrong.) But it did involve suffering. Lots and lots of suffering.

I'm referring of course to an event that took place at Town Hall on Saturday night called "David Byrne Presents: How New Yorkers Ride Bikes." (As for the rest of the weekend's suffering at Southampton, you can read all about it at Velonews and Cyclingnews.) This was part of the New Yorker festival, which takes place every year and in which people like Zadie Smith, Jonathan Lethem and Salman Rushdie graciously allow the public to pay a Ticketmaster surcharge to eavesdrop on their self-indulgent conversations. Normally, I would avoid this type of thing like a freerider avoids lycra. But this particular event was about cycling in New York. More importantly, it promised bicycle valet parking. And the novelty of that is ultimately what sold me.

The organizers obviously put a lot of thought into the location for this event. Town Hall is on West 43rd Street just off Times Square. And as any New Yorker knows, there's no better place to ride a bicycle than Times Square on a Saturday night. From a cycling perspective, it ranks somewhere between Dresden during World War II and the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in terms of convenience and safety. Then again, perhaps David Byrne was trying to make a point. After all, the theme of the night was "How New Yorkers Ride Bikes," and if you didn't already know, then by the time you got to the venue you had definitely learned that it is under constant threat of death.

The sidewalk in front of Town Hall was mobbed with scalpers and people who in their lifetime had clearly eaten more than their share of granola and dried fruit. We were finally able to make our way to the bike valet, where the volunteers did an admirable job of thinly disguising their disdain for our bikes and handed us a couple of claim tickets. A nearby Bridgestone with colored rims confirmed the direction of their proclivities. (As an earnest aside, though, I will say that I'm sure there were many places they would rather have been, and they did a great job. The peace of mind the bike valet provided was the highlight of the evening.)

(The bike valet--classy.)

The show opened with helmet cam footage of David Byrne riding to Town Hall and narrating as he went. David Byrne has been cycling in New York for 30 years, but he has apparently not yet learned that you do not pass car services and taxis on the right-hand side unless you want to get doored faster than a Williamsburg condo development rushing to get its C of O. The film was cleverly put together to give the impression that Mr. Byrne was cycling right off the street and onto the stage, but the illusion was blown by the fact that he had been cycling in broad daylight and it had been dark out for the past hour and a half.

I suppose it had been unrealistic for me to hope that Byrne would be wearing the giant suit from the "Stop Making Sense" era, but nonetheless I was disappointed that he wasn't. Also, I was never a huge Talking Heads fan, so I'm not sure how he normally speaks. On this night, though, as he promised us a "really big sheeew" (yes, he did an Ed Sullivan impression more than once) he spoke in a halting, distracted, and slightly addled manner that gave me the disconcerting feeling that something was wrong. We were in the orchestra underneath the balcony so I don't know what was going on up there, but the only thing that would explain his demeanor would be that the entire upper level was filled with topless women. Hugh Grant sounds like a cattle auctioneer in comparison.

The first act in this purported bicycle variety show was Hal Ruzal of Bicycle Habitat demonstrating how easy it is to steal a bike. There were a few bikes locked to a rack on the stage, including Mr. Byrne's, which he had duly secured upon entering. Employing a pair of bolt cutters and an angle grinder he liberated everything in about eight minutes. It was basically a reprise of the famous "How To Steal A Bike In NYC" video with a little bit of Angle Grinder Man thrown in. Hal's advice was to get a crappy bike and an expensive lock. I imagine at Bicycle Habitat that the margin on locks must be a lot bigger than it is on bikes.

Next up was Calvin Trillin. If you're looking for the consummate New York City cyclist, look no further than Calvin Trillin. This is the man who wrote "Tepper Isn't Going Out," an entire novel about cars and parking. In fact, during the promotion for that book in 2002, the New York Times review describes how "on a recent Sunday, life imitated art imitating life, as Mr. Trillin was accompanied on a typical weekend jaunt, beginning with a drive to Houston Street to buy smoked salmon, a nice whitefish and other delicacies for brunch back at his home in the West Village." In Manhattan, this is the equivalent of driving to your next-door neighbor's house. At any rate, Mr. Trillin read an amusing essay about his crappy bike. I can't believe he actually rides it though. If traveling from the Village to Houston Street (which is in the Village, mind you) warrants a car, then he must only ride his bike from the bedroom to the kitchen.

Trillin was followed by Jan Gehl, the Danish architect, who described how over the past 30 years Copenhagen has been transformed into a pedestrian paradise thanks largely to bicycle-friendly city planning. Gehl was charming, despite an inordinate number of lascivious asides about how much easier it is to gawk at women while riding a bicycle. (Then again, he does live in Copenhagen). The crowd ooh-ed and ahh-ed every time Gehl displayed another slide of a happy person biking in a pristine bike lane, or every time he cited a statistic showing how many people in Copenhagen ride to work. In fact, the only time they stopped sighing longingly was when Gehl off-handedly mentioned that because Copenhagen has no helmet laws people don't need to bother wearing them. Suddenly the audience was silent and you could hear people shifting in their seats uncomfortably. Apparently even the most progressive Americans are not ready to accept the concepts of freedom of choice or personal responsibility.

After that, Byrne brought on the Classic Riders Bicycle Club, who took the stage with their vintage Schwinns. After what was perhaps the most akward 45 second interview I've ever seen, they mercifully left the stage. And if I were planning an evening dedicated to cycling, I would have picked the exact same person that David Byrne picked to follow them--that's right, Buck Henry. Buck Henry is as inextricably linked to cycling as Pauly Shore is to urban planning, and he literally drove at least fifteen people from the theater by reading a lengthy passage from Beckett that somehow involved a bicycle. It was absolutely excruciating, and we were writhing in our seats like there was an electrical current running through them. It did have the unexpected benefit of making anything that I will ever experience from that moment on seem painless by comparison.

(The Classic Riders Bicycle Club)

When a veteran comedian is outstaged by the deputy chairman of the Warrington Cycle Campaign in England, you know the evening is doomed, and that's exactly what happened. Jonathan Wood shared with the audience some examples from his series called "Facility of the Month," which features highlights in stupid bike lane designs. While these ordinarily would have been amusing, after Buck Henry they were gut-bustingly hysterical. One can only hope Henry was taunted by the laughter as he waited for his car service backstage.

My attention waned considerably after this, and I will spare you the details of the rest of the evening. As I've done in so many bike races, I put an end to my suffering by retiring before reaching the finish. There was only one more flickering moment of entertainment between Jonathan Wood and our departure, and that was Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives, who was the only person that evening with enough wit and irreverence to make a Talking Heads reference to David Byrne.

After claiming our bikes, we took our leave and barely made it out of Times Square alive. For those that were there, if the evening didn't kill you, the traffic probably did.

66 comments:

Jim said...

Holy crap.

That whole evening sounds like it was brought to you by the people who give free love, fresh vegetables and drugs a bad name.

Glad I'm too stupid, unsophisticated and uncultured to appreciate crap like that. Cuz if that is what cycling is about, I'd swear off riding, buy me a Chevy Yukon, and take to yelling profanities at cyclists just based on general principle.

Anonymous said...

david byrne came into the bike shop where a friend of mine worked. he shoplifted a bicycle bell! hilarious! i like to think he was too embarrassed to actually purchase the bell.

MH said...

"Apparently even the most progressive Americans are not ready to accept the concepts of freedom of choice or personal responsibility."

Bing bing bing bing!!

Prolly said...

You missed a 27" high bunny hop, a 1000ft long one-handed wheelie, a kid launching over the bank and over a 36" handrail, the same kid doing 360 airs. All on a brand spanking new Brooklyn Machine Works "Gangsta Track" prototype.

someone pulled the plug on the projector during the first screening of MASH, I thought it was you...

Dr. Logan said...

How did you refrain from yelling out requests while David Byrne was on stage? "BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE!!!! PLAY BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE!!!"

Anonymous said...

Holy crap is right Jim! I didn't know if that post would ever end! I think it did give me an insight into your night, I mean, it had me sharpening my spoons halfway through! If there had been one more paragraph I'd be shopping for an eye-patch this evening. Good Times.

Cheers!

Matt in Seattle

starburyfan said...

Byrne actually has a blog of his own that I noticed a while back because of interesting bike rides taken in places like the Philippines. After reading your post, I went to check it to see if he had any words on the evening--he didn't.

http://journal.davidbyrne.com/

@prolly

Was your bike locked outside on Havemeyer St last night? Thought I saw a limited edition orange Iro Angus, maybe it was yours.

Prolly said...

starburyfan,

I sold the IRO to a friend. So it was probably it!

StinkBike said...

That big suit makes him look like a douche bag, so much like a douche bag that if I was in a store and saw him I would try to put him back on the shelf in the feminine hygiene isle.

bikesgonewild said...

...sounds like a well intentioned night, gone bad...n'est pas ???...
...classy bike valets...only sold off a few of the nicer bikes, as evening went on, just to cover costs ???...
...while byrne didn't wear his giant suit, it sounds like 'stop making sense' was his 'm o'...
...would trade 'angle-grinder man' for 'grinder chick' on 'letterman' in a heartbeat...
...calvin trillin vs. buck henry in a steel cage match ???...trillin, hands down...much better subtle humor...buck henry's such an acquired taste even his mother was never too sure about him...
...thanks for great copenhagen link...bet not one of those bicycle mounted lovelies has a huge fix-gear stomach tat...
...all in all, sounds like a night to be remembered...until the next morning...
...southhampton ???...one of our local powers, the awesome & lovely barb howe, placed third both days in what looked to be a great cross weekend...despite the nice weather...
...by the way, cycle killer, whoops, i meant ta say bikesnob...bet early cbgb t-heads shows hadda be (r)awesome...

Anonymous said...

As one of the valet bike parkers, we did not mean to show disdain for your bikes. However, we were bored, and the 135 bikes in front of us were the obvious choice for amusement. On the other hand, most of us ride color matched bikes you talk about here, so it is only appropriate...

BikeSnobNYC said...

Anonymous 2:35pm,

You think you were bored out there? You should have been inside! You don't know how lucky you were.

--BSNYC

allenwhy said...

hey bike snob, you didn't mention what kind of bike david byrne rides... i'm dying to know...

Anonymous said...

didn't he get his bike stolen recently?
retribution for all those bike bells?

BikeSnobNYC said...

Allenwhy,

It looked like a Montague folding bike, specifically this one:

http://www.hummerbikes.com/

--BSNYC

Anonymous said...

Byrne rolled up on a Montague folding bike. He had this yellow snowboard helmet, super dorky but not as bad as the Yves Behar version pooped out at the end of the evening.

You can see the bike here:
http://www.hummerbikes.com/
Why is it linked to a hummer? Got me.

StinkBike said...

Douche bag bike, douche bag suit, If it wasnt for "Pyscho Killer" I think we'd have us a total douche bag.

starburyfan said...

I know the "what kind of bike does byrne ride" question was already answered, but I did see him about two years ago on the Q train to Sheepshead Bay once with a bike and his girl who was also with a bike. I had my IRO with me at time.

It was the upright city bike kind, with full fenders and a front basket and rear rack, probably a 3-speed--you know the kind of bike where you don't have to put on bike shorts to get where you need to go. A comfort bike that I would not want to carry up more than three flights of stairs on a regular basis.

Stinkbike said...

The girl he was with probably mistakenly took him for some Summers Eve, Man was she suprised.

Josh said...

"It was the upright city bike kind, with full fenders and a front basket and rear rack, probably a 3-speed--you know the kind of bike where you don't have to put on bike shorts to get where you need to go. A comfort bike that I would not want to carry up more than three flights of stairs on a regular basis."

the bike in this description probably weighs about the same as (byrne's current?) montague folder.

John said...

It sounds like the cloud of smug at that event was pretty suffocating, but at least Byrne himself seems to have his heart in the right place.

Frankly I don't care what he rides. Isn't the whole point that it would be a better city if people other than enthusiasts rode bikes to get places? He'd take a lot of heat here if he was riding a track bike too.

Anonymous said...

dude, how many douchbags on bikes do we need?
(kidding. kinda)

Anonymous said...

sorry, that would be douchebags. or maybe douche bags? bags of douche?
my apologies.

Anonymous said...

bike bell thieves should be horsewhipped, then hung.

Anonymous said...

Write a book.

Will you please write a book?

bikesgonewild said...

...just realized picture at top of post was david byrne in big suit...
...was wondering why you hadn't mentioned fausto coppi's brother serge, in text...

Anonymous said...

Byrne's mannerisms may be due to all the X he scarfed down back in the day... walk it down, talk it down, indeed.

And his bike got stolen....
http://gothamist.com/2007/04/16/byrnes_bike_sto.php

But, hey, give him credit for trying, even with all that mdma stored up in his spinal cord.

leroy said...

BSNYC--

What's the problem with Times Square? I commute through there twice a day to get to the West Side Highway bike path route between Brooklyn and mid-town.

There's so much traffic, no one is going fast enough to be a real problem.

Although I did once have a cab roll alongside my shoe undoing the velcro while I was waiting for the light at 45th Street.

Guess I should ask Mr. Byrne what kind of bike bell he recommends. That would probably make all the difference in the world.

Or I could move to Copenhagen. But then the commute to mid-town would be a bear.

Brian said...

Just so you know, David Byrne has aspergers and has been known to have a difficult time on stage if he's not performing.

bikesgonewild said...

...interesting, brian...informed myself about asperger's syndrome on yer prompting...maybe thus the fascination w/ the bell, if comment was true...

...i threw an easy dig @ mr. byrne near the beginning of my first post...fully retracted, sir...do stand by my early statement that early 'talking heads' gigs at hilly's 'cbgb' bowery club, hadda be awesome...everybody was so raw & real in the beginning...'mabuhuay gardens' here in bay area, asian supper club by early evening, punk & new wave @ night...ramones, richard hell, t-heads, patty smith & pistols, were all such a great kick in the nads for the music biz...still love it...

...oh, ya, bikes n' stuff...right...sorry, i'm trippin' here...

Anonymous said...

I live in Copenhagen and it drives me mad that the rest of the world think it's so great that we all ride to work. The reason is totally f'ing simple. Cars here are taxed at 180% so a basic Honda Civic for example will cost about $50 000. Families have one car if they REALLY need one, those who live in the city make do with the admittedly good public transport and bike lanes. Don't for a minute think that in the middle of february when it is only light for 6 hours and freezing cold most of us wouldn't rather be in a car!

Anonymous said...

david byrne once went to a friends bar and tipped her $2 total on a few rounds of drinks for both him and the two girls he was with. another friend of mine put those $2 in the juke box and played nothing but talking heads. byrne left shortly thereafter. good times.

Clayton said...

worth note, byrne's never been diagnosed with aspergers. he did, however, once say he might have "borderline aspergers," which is clearly silly. i'd attribute his peculiarities on stage and on video more to classic narcissism than anything else.

stinkbike said...

In my professional opinion I would say Byrne is a text book example of Douche Bagism.

He preferes to act in the manner of a Douch Bag instead of "Lke Humans Do". Which is just another example of ego stroking Douche Bagism.

Stinkbike said...

*like

Sean Lynch said...

'Cycle Killer'

Good name for the luxury SUV dealership I'll open right in the middle of the proposed bicycle district.

I was thinking right between the pedalphile and that messenger bag place, Chrome Depot.

mojito said...

"Buck Henry ... literally drove at least fifteen people from the theater by reading a lengthy passage from Beckett that somehow involved a bicycle."

That's the same Beckett - Samuel Beckett - that wrote 'Ping', right? If so, I pity you deeply.
I think Beckett would have related to the wagon-jumpers in the trend of fixed gear bikes because he too was at first considered unusual and tried desperately to be relevant yet cutting edge.

Actually, perhaps a reading of Ping (or the eponymous Bing) would have been more fun and relevant. Look for the word "fixed" and wonder whether the association with pretentious twaddle really is coincidence (apologies, I have no idea how to the link thingy http://samuel-beckett.net/ping.html). Read that while you listen to "Stop making sense."

Sean Lynch said...

Beckett "ping" clicky thingy for mojito.

meep said...

copenhagen person>
I understand your sentiment in reverse. As much as I love cycling, it's awful when it's 100ºF outside and a bicycle is your only mode of transportation. You get used to it after a while, but still...

gwadzilla said...

okay...

I did not make it through all the words

nice post

what I read of it...

gwadzilla said...

oh...

here is a link where I converted the Talking Head's song Psycho Killer to Bicycle Stealer after David Byrne got his bike stolen

http://gwadzilla.blogspot.com/2007/04/david-byrnes-bicycle-stolen-in-nyc.html

Eric said...

HOLY SHIT, I'm so happy I didn't go to this. I had a ticket too.

Thanks for confirming I'm not a complete idiot!

A Pedant said...

The apostrophe goes after "Qu", dude.

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Anonymous said...

you probably thought that commenting on hal ruzal's advise that to avoid having your bike stolen ride a cheap bike and buy a expensive lock had to do with the profit margins was oh so sardonic. silly you, for you've maligned the integrity of one of the most honest men you will ever meet. what hal says is what hal believes. he has not ever nor will not ever become a part of capitalistic smoozing. i've not seen hal for years but when i knew him i did so intimately, and have no doubt he is still the shining light i knew and respected.

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Big Looser said...

the most akward 45 second interview

Erm... awkward!

I told you I was obsessive-compulsive.

David said...

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Check out my blog:

http://journal.davidbyrne.com