It Feels Good to Be a Victim Again
by Don Osborn
Not a picture of Don...
Recently I discovered a new group of which I am a part. This poor, much-maligned group has to deal with broken glass on the streets, cold weather, careless cars, snarling canines, even flat tires! That's right folks. I can now self-identify as a "bicycle commuter." It was a revelation to me and I was surprised I hadn't thought of it earlier. I've been biking to work for about 3 years, and it had not occurred to me to identify myself as part of the bicycle commuter "community." I live about 7 miles from where I work, I'm healthy, I have a bike, I enjoy riding, why not ride to work? It just made sense. Oh the naiveté. Had I not heard that no bicycle commuter is an island?
What happened was I was trying to avoid getting hit. A good friend of my wife's was in a fairly serious bicycle/car accident last year. She was biking along and blammo, a car pulled out right in front of her. She slammed very hard into the side of car. She claims that her helmet saved her life, or at least saved her from serious head injury. As it was, she had to take some medication for a while, and refrain from a lot of normal activities, but overall came out pretty unscathed.
As my biking season (approximately March into November) was beginning again I thought I should do whatever it takes to make myself as visible as possible. You may know that in bicycle terms "visible" and "safe" are code for "dorky." Yes, I was willing to wear the neon vest, use lights, possibly even put reflective tape on my helmet and bike. You know what? I don't care how dorky it looks. If all of my efforts cause one car to stop when when it would have otherwise hit me, it will all be worth it.
So I began doing some research about the most common types of accidents. I also wanted to find a better bicycle route from St. Paul to Minneapolis. In doing my research I discovered some internet forums dedicated to bicycle commuters. I don't want to mis-characterize these folks. They are good people. Heck, they're resourceful and self-reliant. But there is understandably some complaining about non-observant drivers. (I do this myself). It can foster an us-vs.-them environment. That's when I basically said, in paraphrase of the Office Space song, "damn it feels good to be a victim." Here was a golden opportunity for me to be a victim, and I hadn't even known it existed. Growing up I relied on the skateboard/freestyle bike/outcast groups. Later, it was the "not really going along with mainstream life at my college" group. Currently it is usually the "homebrewer/useless columnist" group I associate with. But now, a whole new way to be a victim was available.
It's probably not a modern phenomenon, this penchant to huddle in groups and finger point at outsiders. In itself, belonging to a group of people with similar interests, or belonging to a community (neighborhood, church, etc) are good things. You develop friendships, share knowledge and experience, and overall increase the quality of life. It's when you call upon your membership in a certain group to develop a psychological attitude of victimhood that I think you're going too far.
Examples abound, and any column that fails to provide some should certainly be deemed incomplete. However, the examples are politically charged (sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, etc), and for once I don't think I'll push that button. You know what they are. So you are part of a group that occasionally finds out that life is not always fair. I'm part of some of those groups too. Do your best to change your world. Try to make a difference for you and your children. Then, get on with living. Profound words, I realize. Still not satisfied? OK here is one non-politically-charged example. I was quickly reading through the aspartame victim site, but stopped when I got to the "I used to drink 8-10 cans of Diet Coke every day" part. You know what? There is no way you should have thought that was an acceptable part of your diet. Heard of water? You're not a victim. You're just kind of stupid. It happens.
Back to bicycling, the commuter group is not all bad. It's funny how identification with a group can form an instant friendship or at least rapport with a total stranger. Two examples happened to me just this week. I was biking west on Summit Avenue when a road biker came up behind me. I ride a hybrid bike (think mountain bike lite), and he clearly could have blazed right on by. Instead he slowed down and started chatting. He then rode at my pace and we talked for a couple miles. He bikes from St. Paul to Bloomington. He used to live in Uptown, but moved out here so he actually would have further to bike each day. He used to live in Seattle and hasn't even owned a car for 10 years. He bicycle commutes all year round. It was a nice little chat and we wished each other well at Cretin Ave, going our separate ways. Later in the week, I was at the bike rack when I discovered I had a flat tire. A guy came down to his bike and saw my situation. He said he used to work at a bike shop and soon my tire was off and turned inside out while he was looking for the source of the puncture. He must have helped me out for a good 15 minutes, time that he could have spent getting on home and getting on with his life. My point is that membership in a group can be a good thing and it probably most often is. Sure it feels good to be a victim, but it feels better to be turning the crank.