Enthusiasts' Viewpoint

This map is last year's map. But it's the same idea.

"Perfectly Portland" is what The Oregonian called Providence Bridge Pedal. This annual tradition is a community celebration of Portland, the Willamette River bridges and bicycling. It is your one opportunity each year to bicycle across Portland’s bridges.
It is also your one annual challenge for getting across the river if you happen not to be taking part in the commandeering of the bridges, but would rather cross town from one side to the other in order to get to work or to church.

For the record, I get why this is fun. I do. Portland is a generally bike-friendly town, and Portland is also a town that has a river as her east/west dividing line. It's the maritime northwest, after all. There are trees and hills and rivers and streams everywhere, and in the naturally occurring portage that became Portland, the town was built in the trees, up and down the hills, next to the river's east and west edges, right smack on top of all the creeks and streams. Portlanders love their bridges, and riding bikes across them is fun. Usually the cars are in the way, and on some of the bridges, bikes are never allowed except on this one day each year.

Hoards of people get why this is fun. Waves and torrents and streams of brightly colored bicyclists, young, old, wearing regular clothes, or all decked out in Bicyclist's Spandex ... they're all there. Pedaling. Or walking. There are people doing the Providence Stride. And eating. The Bite of Oregon is happening at the same time. Portlanders inherited the Norse enthusiasm for being outdoors for as long as there's summer sunshine, and Portlanders are great enthusiasts.

Ever try to paddle upstream against a tide of enthusiasts? Of any kind? It doesn't really matter what the throngs of people are doing. The stream's torrent is formed by the enthusiasm level of the flow, and anyone who has the temerity to have a different agenda or be going in a different direction is not only going to have a hard time making any headway, but this non-responsive, non-participating, uncooperative person is also going to be quite confusing to the enthusiasts.

What is wrong with you that you do not want to be carried along in the throng? Don't you know this is fun? Fulfilling? Satisfying? Right or true or good or Republican or Democrat or Christian or guaranteed to make you rich if you'll just follow these five steps? What do you mean you don't want to be rich?! Don't be silly. Everyone wants to be rich.

Yesterday, we managed not to get tangled up in the bikes. We found the publicity website before we left the house, extrapolated from the info intended for enthusiastic participants and figured out which bridge was going to be crossable, and made our way across the streams of safety-vested people. We talked about how cool it would be to view the city from the tops of a couple of the bridges.

I have been listening to the political enthusiasts gathering and pooling their streams and torrents of rhetoric lately, too. There do not seem to be any volunteers acting as crossing guards, and there does not seem to be any map -- it's hard to drive around the relentless throngs of people if the throngs aren't following a map in the first place. And I get why it feels good to participate in the enthusiasm of the moment. It's cool to view the city from the top of a bridge.

And if you get high enough, you can see far enough that you might think you can see the whole city, right? Seems like it. (Click on the pic for a good article about the bridges.) It also feels like you're seeing more than usual if you're with hoards of people. And you are. High enough or enthusiastic enough - yeah. That's a viewpoint. That's a perspective.

But it is not all the perspectives.

There are perspectives from the other end of the same Bridge Pedal, perspectives off of last year's map, and perspectives from the pedestrians striding along. And, what most of the peddlers don't realize is that there is an entirely different perspective from anything on the marked routes of the day. There is the perspective of the person trying to get from one side to the other without joining in.

There were conflicts between these perspectives yesterday morning. There always are. A bicyclist trying to make his way around the city was in a really bad place yesterday. Unless he'd paid his entrance fee, he wasn't allowed on the bridge - not even just to get to the other side of the river. Enthusiasts often have a viewpoint oblivious to others. Enthusiasts should learn to listen. And that includes the enthusiasts who attend political meetings in order to disrupt things, and it includes enthusiasts who have started to excuse the most radical, hateful, marginalizing, fingers-stuck-in-ears vituperation. If you can do a Google search for "anti-Obama" and come up with pages of stuff you might want to buy, it might be time to question your viewpoint. It might be time to listen. People trying to get across the river might not be threatening you at all.

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