There's an undeniable poignancy to the ghost bikes that are scattered throughout the city, and I have a lot of respect for the sentiment behind them. However, I have to say that I personally don't like them. In fact, I don't like any memorials. I don't like tombstones, or mausoleums, or urns filled with ashes, or graffiti murals in peoples' memory, or tinted rear SUV windshields etched with murdered victims' names in gothic letters. Certain memorials are like submissions to the fixedgeargallery, in that they're more a testatment to the maker's vanity than they are to the thing they're supposed to represent. I don't think I'm the only one who's seen somebody with an elaborate crying Jesus tattoo in memory of a dead relative and thought, "Wow, you were just waiting for someone to die so you could have an excuse to get that."
Still, though, as memorials go, the ghost bikes do have a certain dignity--unlike the clustercoitus on Broome Street this morning:
Commuting by bicycle in a city like New York has an added dimension in that you're often interacting with the very machinery that drives our popular culture. Film shoots, Presidential visits, parades, protests, and world-altering terrorist attacks are just a few of the things that you're liable to encounter on your commute here. And today it was a bunch of idiots pointing their cameras at a dead actor's building.
Certainly this is a juicy story, and while there are certainly more important things going on in the world (like the fact that people who are rich and dumb enough to eat sushi every day are apparently risking mercury poisoning), it would be naive not to expect the media and the public to be obsessed with it. Still, though, I'm not sure why people have to stand there filming the actual building, or just what it is they expect to happen. Are they hoping to score an interview with his ghost? Do they think his corpse might come back for that massage? Are they expecting Jake Gyllenhaal to ride up on a horse in full cowboy regalia, bawling and bellowing, "Oh, Heath, I cain't quit you!"?
In the hope that seeing things from their perspective might help me understand, I stepped in amongst the cameramen, set aside my dignity, and took a photo myself. For an instant, I was one of them, and I suddenly knew what it was like to join a fraternity, watch the ball drop in Times Square, or take part in any other mass act of stupidity far greater than yourself. Becoming part of that group temporarily diffused all sense of shame and personal accountability I might have had. I then looked at the photo I had taken:
I was wrong. They hadn't been shooting the building. They had been filming the flowers. If you look closely you'll even see a camera on the sidewalk, getting a rat's-eye view.
I was now even more confused.
But there was one thing of which I was now certain. On a commute bookended by memorials, I had been forced to contemplate my own mortality, and I was surer than ever that should my demise "drop" prematurely and I join that great "collabo" in the sky, I don't want anybody to make a ghost bike for me. Fortunately, though, I think I've engendered enough ill-will in the cycling community that it's pretty unlikely anybody will.
But if you must do something, you can ghost ride a Trek Madone 6.9 straight off the Manhattan Bridge. In fact, you're more than welcome to do it even while I'm still alive.