Similarly, the standard of what constitutes heroic behavior is also lower in 2008. The bike-tackler, Patrick Pogan, is a third-generation police officer. I wanted to know more about the Pogan family, so I strapped on my “investigative journalist” helmet and Googled vigorously for almost two full minutes. I finally uncovered this New York Times article from 1991, and since I’m not a real journalist nor am I bound by any real journalistic responsibilities, I will go ahead and assume that the Pogan mentioned herein is the bike-tackler’s father, as the bike-tackler himself would have been only 5 at the time (or negative 5 in “hipster years”):
So it would seem that tackling someone riding his bike is in 2008 what rescuing someone from a wrecked subway train with the jaws of life was in 1991, because Pogan Sr. not only stands by his son (as you’d expect him to) but is also proud of him for what he did:
"He's my son. I'm proud of him. He's third-generation that's been serving the city," said Pogan Sr., who was at home in Massapequa Park, LI, today and said he had not seen the video. "These people are taking over the streets and impeding the flow of traffic. Then you gotta do what you gotta do," said Pogan, 51.
I’m not sure what’s causing both maturity and heroism to recede so quickly. Maybe it has something to do with global warming. In any case, it would seem that Long and Pogan were two melting icebergs on a collision course—though in fairness to Long it would appear that he did try to avoid the other iceberg, which proceeded to topple him from his bicycle in a decidedly un-iceberg-like fashion.
Yet try as I might, it’s hard for me to feel outrage. The world can often seem vicious and arbitrary, and this video would seem to be a good example of that. However, while you can’t account for everything, there are some immutable truths in this world, and knowing them can give you a significant advantage. And one of the most important truths I’ve learned is that where there are crowds there is stupidity. When large numbers of people get together, stupid things happen, and you’re almost always better off simply getting as far away from the crowd as possible.
For example, I regularly pass an Apple store, and for the last few weeks there has been a line around the corner. As you probably know, this line consists of people who are waiting to purchase the new iPhone. Many of these people not only own iPhones already but actually use them while they’re waiting on the line, presumably to tell their employers that they will not be getting any work done today because they are waiting to purchase an item designed to help them be more efficient. Apparently, they’re not aware that Apple is creating these lines on purpose, and they’re unwitting participants in what is actually a giant Apple commercial. Instead, they think that despite the iPhone’s popularity Apple might suddenly decide to stop selling the phone forever, and that if they don’t wait on line today they’ll never, ever own one.
And that’s just one benign example. In that case all that happens when you get to the front of the line is someone gives you a phone in exchange for the full retail price, hours out of your life, and a sizeable chunk of your dignity. Stupid, sure, but better than a kick in the teeth. But most crowds are even worse. Beyond over-hyped products, other things that draw crowds are fires, mass suicides, genocides, riots, parades, and Bon Jovi concerts. All things you’re better off avoiding. In the best case scenario, you see or receive something awful. In the worst case scenario, you get hurt.
One of the things that make cycling so great is that it enables you to avoid crowds and pointless delays. Few things are more satisfying than effortlessly weaving your way through a traffic jam. So while I’ll begrudge nobody his or her Critical Mass, personally I don’t understand the appeal of forming a crowd and creating a pointless delay. And it is a delay, whether you’re in a car or on a bike. I once accidentally got caught in a Critical Mass ride while out riding. I felt like a dolphin ensnared in a tuna net. One second I was sailing along, and the next I was trapped among a bunch of people with rickety bikes rolling on wobbly, rusty brown steel rims on the verge of collapse. It was like watching a Beatles “Yellow Submarine”-esque cartoon LSD sequence where all the bicycles were rolling on pretzels. Sure, they had taken back the streets, but I wish that as a cyclist they might have saved a small sliver for me so I could get to where I was going.
People do need to see other people out there on bikes. They need to become accustomed to them so they learn to respect them, and they need to see how practical and effective they can be so they consider riding them themselves. Many cyclists illustrate this day after day, not only by riding their bikes to and from work during rush-hour but also by using them for recreation and even racing on them. A driver who sees you zip past as you ride your bike to work, and then sees you riding your bike to dinner later with a date, and then sees you going for a road ride that weekend doesn't realize he's seen only one rider—as far as he knows he's seen a bunch of riders, and he sees them using their bikes successfully. Effectively, you’re a Critical Mass of one. Meanwhile, a mob of people on crappy bikes blocking traffic one day a month isn’t a “mass” at all. At best it's a party. At worst it’s effectively just one big stupid person.
Stupidity breaks out in groups, and when people gather expect stupid things to happen. You may or may not encounter a stupid person or stupid thing individually as you go about your day, but you’ll definitely encounter one in a crowd, and Christopher Long encountered one in the form of Patrick Pogan. On the other hand, intelligence travels alone, but it travels swiftly, and consequently it's not only more effective, but it also generates much better word-of-mouth.