Yes, as of this morning, with 90% of precincts reporting it looks like Ralph Nader and his running-mate, the Swiffer® WetJet® All-In-One Power Mop, have taken a narrow victory:
Unfortunately, Nader could not deliver a victory speech, as he was on the set of a new buddy comedy called "Click It or Ticket" in which he co-stars with Martin Lawrence. (And I'm not going to spoil it by telling you which one will be wearing the fat suit.) But if you saw the speech I'm sure you'll agree the Swiffer was eloquent enough for the both of them:
It's truly inspiring when you consider that we are one botched stunt away (Nader always performs his own stunts) from being governed by a household appliance.
Moving on, I recently received an email from a real live publicist, who informed me that the New York City PBS affiliate WNET would be showing back-to-back episodes of the series "e2" on November 6th. One of these episodes, "Paris: Vélo Liberté," is narrated by Brad Pitt and is about the Vélib bike-sharing program, and apparently screener copies were available on request.
Now I don't know about you, but when I hear the words "Brad Pitt" and "PBS" used together, I pay attention. And when I also hear "bikes" and "free DVD" I know I've just stumbled onto something big. Not only that, but I'm very interested in bike-sharing, since I am the inventor of the "Take a Pista, Leave a Pista" program. So naturally I requested the DVD, which I watched with interest.
Of course, I have two requirements when watching anything that has to do with France. Firstly, I need to see the Eiffel Tower immediately. Secondly, there had better be baguettes. So I'm pleased to report that not only did the episode open with this tantalizing "up the skirt" shot of everybody's favorite antenna:
But there was also a baguette in a bicycle basket:
As well as sur la table in a spartan kitchen and accompanied by olive oil and wine:
Sufficiently convinced that I was watching something authentic and authoritative, I allowed myself to pay more attention. With the help of city officials and people involved in the Vélib program, Brad Pitt explained that Paris has recently begun taking away space from cars and giving it to other forms of transit, and that the plan is to cut traffic 40% by 2020. Obviously, Vélib is a part of this, and it's become the largest and most successful bike-sharing program in the world.
Basically, the way it works is that you pay a modest subscription fee, and you can then use the bikes free for the first half-hour. This is to encourage the kinds of short trips Parisians tend to make, such as going to the market to purchase baguettes and cigarettes, picking up their corduroy sports jackets from the dry cleaners, and cheating on their spouses or life partners. Once you go past a half hour, you're charged, and the charge increases exponentially. While this is a good thing in that it keeps Vélib turnover high, I would imagine it has also taken a bit of the passion out of aldulterous liaisons since visiting lovers are no doubt reluctant to go past the half-hour mark. Here we see what very well could be a frugal sex partner rushing to the nearest Vélib station after a truncated rendez-vous:
And efficient copulating followed by quick riding isn't always enough to save you money. Apparently the fine for running a light in Paris is €90 (which even at the falling exchange rate is still almost $4,000):
As for the bikes themselves, it seems the program's architects faced a significant challenge in convincing people that riding a bicycle is not a symbol of lowered social status, and that the Vélib is not their "grandpa's bicycle." At the same time, they also had to design something durable that could be ridden by a variety of people day after day. Unfortunately, their original design was already taken, hence the appearance of the Vélib as it is now. Of course, it may seem ironic that the host country of the world's most famous bicycle race has to persuade its citizens that they won't look foolish on a bicycle. Then again, when it comes to the Tour the French have mostly been pack fodder since like 1985. Also, road cycling isn't always pretty--even in Paris:
Hence, the Vélib bike:
I should point out that the subtitle above refers to the bicycle, and not the rider.
I should also point out that one of the few problems with the Vélib program is that people generally don't return bicycles to stations that are situated on hills, since Parisians only want to ride down hills and not up them:
This means that the hilltop stations need to be replenished via truck. I found this interesting in that this innate aversion to climbing might very well explain why the French perform so poorly at the Tour. To address this problem, Vélib planners will soon start giving riders who return their bikes to hill stations 15 free minutes. Not only will this serve as an incentive to climb, but over time it will probably also restore the French to Tour greatness thanks to these frugality-inspired hill repeats. Beyond that, the better climbers will almost certainly use their 15 free minutes for their sexual liaisons, which means that these liaisons will be more likely to result in pregnancy, which in turn means that the next generation of French people will probably be great climbers. So I would expect a long streak of French Tour wins starting in around 2030.
By the way, if you're wondering how these bikes are maintained, at least some of them are serviced on a bike shop barge that travels up and down the Seine:
I agree that a floating bike shop is a "brilliant idea not to be missed," and it's also a great argument for having a full-blown bike-sharing program here in New York City. After all, we New Yorkers are an island people (mostly) and there's water everywhere. I often fantasize about being a seafaring bike shop proprietor, complete with a tri-corner hat, eye patch, and a parrot who repeats my bon mots. In fact, most of the Great Hipster Silk Route travels along the East River. I smell something, and that smell is opportunity (with a hint of low tide).
Indeed, it would appear that Parisians are making great strides in reclaiming their streets from excessive motor vehicle traffic. Unfortunately, one of those strides apparently includes something called "Friday Night Fever," which is kind of like Critical Mass on rollerblades:
And perhaps best (or worst) of all, Vélib stations are becoming big pick-up spots:
I was disinclined to believe this, since it was Brad Pitt who was making this claim, and while a woman at a Vélib station might enjoy being hit on by a movie star she'd probably just hit a regular person with her baguette. But then they interviewed some goofy French comedian who corroborated Pitt's claim, so there you go. Just remember, though, that while the first half-hour is free some of those STDs can last forever.
In any case, it was pretty interesting and since PBS is free you might as well check it out tomorrow night. (It's on at 9:30PM, at least here in New York.) And while we don't have a full-blown bike-sharing program here in New York we are getting more protected bike lanes: