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« Some I remember | Main | Crank Length »

Moving Target

Paul Theroux wrote a series of essays in a book titled “Fresh Air Fiend.” One of the stories is called “The Moving Target,”

It starts out by talking about a traveler named Nathaniel Bishop, who in 1877 rowed a small boat from upper New York State to New Orleans. A distance of 2,600 miles.

On arrival in New Orleans, as the exhausted Nathaniel Bishop tied up his boat, a group of young drunks approached, mocked him, swore at him, and threatened him with violence. Theroux commented:

“This, I have come to think, is a very American reaction, rewarding eccentric effort with scorn and violence.”

Theroux then goes on to write about a man named A F Tschiffely who in the 1920s rode a horse 10,000 miles from Buenos Aires to New York City.

His two and a half year journey took him over the Andes, through Central America, across deserts, swamps, and jungles. However, his worst part of the journey was traveling through the United States.

Cars would deliberately swerve close to scare him and his horse. He had bottles thrown at him, and shouts of “Ride ‘em Cowboy.” In the Blue Ridge Mountains a driver sideswiped him injuring his horse’s leg. Then honked and waved in triumph as he drove away.

After two more serious incidents, Tschiffely had to abandon his ride in Washington, DC and finish the final leg to New York by train. Theroux goes on to write about intolerance towards cyclists and runners, or anyone engaged in any form of exercise in public.

After reading these accounts of how things used to be, I am reminded of a line from the 1969 movie “Easy Rider.”

“Americans talk a lot about the value of freedom, but are actually afraid of anyone who truly exhibits it.”

Isn’t that the truth? Haters are “Equal Opportunity” bigots. It is not just about race, and it probably never was. It is simply prejudice toward anyone appearing different, or doing something different, or behaving differently than the perceived norm.


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Reader Comments (3)

Nothing to add to your thought-provoking supposition other than I have experience it and don't know how to combat it other than to continue to be myself. Thanks for the post.

March 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGene from Tacoma

Why are those events remembered? I am sure the “Victims” made sure they were. But history has a funny way of being seen differently by succeeding generations.

It seems to me those two went to “da Hood” without Street Smarts (something cycling instills). A case of privilege, an elitist’ attitude towards a society different from their home country. Money allowed both to do something extreme, and felt their rank in society was not respected. Or, it was others who failed to see the valor in what they were doing. Kind of like rich people climbing Mount Everest. But just because you climbed Everest doesn’t make you Reinhold Messner.

Anyway, that is different than working men riding their bikes. For they don’t have a Cause, or, are not riding to Save the Earth, they aren’t even riding to Live Longer. At least I have never thought that. Seems if I don’t support bike lanes, or commuting, or riding my bike “instead of driving my car”, I must be anti-bike, or at least against this whole Bike Movement. That makes riding more political than innate.

Too bad more don’t have the Freedom to Ride Without a Cause.

March 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

You hit the nail on the head once again. There must be something in American culture about beating the weaker to prove that you are the stronger. Maybe it's just abusing someone because you think you can get away with it. Look into the Stanford Prison Experiment.
I did a self contained tour from Seattle to San Francisco in 2005. The traffic was light and most drivers paid me no mind other than maybe a friendly wave; Maybe because the economy wasn't doing so well. I did the same tour on the same dates in 2014, to introduce a friend to touring. The traffic was heavy and aggressive. In Washington state I was abused in one way or another by drivers four or five times a day. It's good that I didn't carry a weapon or I might have used it several times when people were just purposely mean. By the way I never had a lick of trouble with the logging trucks on either trip.
If I ever do that tour again I will start in Oregon. Washington doesn't deserve my patronage.

March 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRob H

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