Self Indulgence 101: A study in the cycle embrolio

Tuesday’s Oregonian ran a front page, above-the-fold headline and article on the conflict between bicyclists and motorists. Unfortunately, the headline writers should have read their own story because it was actually a conflict between mass transit and a bicyclist-no motorist was involved. But the Oregonian wanted to treat it as a cultural piece about the trials and travails of those who ride bicycles. What they got was a story about incredible self-indulgence, a reckless disregard for anyone else’s needs, a Joe Six-pack who took matters into his own hands, and a reenactment of the old DeathWish vigilante heroics that left onlookers cheering.
Let me set the table for you. A bicyclist, at the height of rush hour, rides his bike across the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland, eschewing the bicycle lanes that taxpayers have paid millions to create and maintain, and riding instead in the traffic lane. A TriMet bus, loaded with commuters headed for work, squeezes by the bicyclist and tries to continue to its next stop. The bicyclist, apparently enraged that someone would have the audacity to pass him, begins pounding on the side of the bus as it passes and then speeds up and pulls in front of the bus when traffic forced the bus to stop. The bicyclist refuses to move and the busload of commuters sit, stalled, unable to reach their jobs or destinations because his self-indulgence is more important to him than anyone’s needs on the bus.

Not only were the passengers held captive to this moronic act, but cars, trucks, and other buses were similarly stalled on the narrow lanes of the Hawthorne Bridge, unable to pass, unable to continue on their normal course of life and business because one man thought he was more important than everyone else. Because one man, a self-described bicycle activist, thought his rights were superior to everyone else. Of course, no help was forthcoming from the driver of the bus.

It’s about then that a Charles Bronson-type passenger decided to take matters into his own hands. He pushed his way through the passengers crowded at the front of the bus, exited, grabbed the bicycle and the bicyclist and tossed them to the curb. The bus and its passengers were then able to proceed on to their destinations. What the Oregonian didn’t report, but which is probably true, is that when “Bronson” returned to the bus, he was greeted with a standing ovation and a lot of rueful looks that said, “Gee, I wished I’d have done that.”

But no story is complete until the lawyers get involved. Now the “bicycle activist” is suing Tri-Met-now get this-for $625 in medical expenses, $15 in property damages (his bicycle) and $62 in lost wages. Oh, and I almost forgot, $48,000 in non-economic damages (mental pain, suffering, embarrassment, etc.)

But there is good news in this story. The “Charles Bronson” in this story remains unidentified. (By the way, the whole thing is caught on the bus’ automatic videotaping mechanism, and they still can’t identify “Bronson.”) A whole busload of people and nobody knows this guy. Come on. This is reminiscent of one of the scenes in Death Wish when, after Bronson pops one of the mugger cretins that raped and killed his wife, in front of witnesses, suddenly “nobody can remember nothing.”

Unlike the Oregonian, this column is not written about lifestyles, or the competition between motorists and bicyclists, or the virtues of mass transit and bicycles. Rather this is about an ever-increasing migration toward self-indulgence-a belief by some that their rights trump every other right or need in society, an unwillingness to yield to the common good. It permeates society in general, including the press and politicians.

Oscar Wilde got it pretty close to perfect when he said, “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.” This kind of selfishness thrives, in large part, because of the fear to step up and call foul, to avoid a scene, to yield rather than resist. We are now seeing a new breed of cultural bullies that prey upon this timidity. As a result, we see a bicyclist willing to stop traffic and delay commuters. We see a group of environmentalist willing to burn down businesses, destroy power lines, and create havoc because they want to live in a tent in the wilderness. We see a small band of abortion foes willing to kill doctors in the name of stopping abortions. And we see major news organizations willing to betray their country’s security for a story or a new book.

It’s time to stop this and begin to act again with respect for the rights, needs and desires of others. Or better said by my daughter, “Get over yourself.”