Type 2 Diabetic. Bike tour guide. #NextBurgh Flâneur.   Coffeeneur.    Errandoneur
A bike / map geek with a gadget obsession and a high-viz fetish. by Vannevar Bush       about       /       murals       /       Pgh-DC bike maps new

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Touring Cyclists and Homeless Folks: Privilege and Cachet

2.22.2015 6.2m
It's been a long time since I've ridden the bike, it was so good to get out there again. I visited a friend in Squirrel Hill and then rode to a meeting in Shadyside and returned. This was my first ride since installing a Garmin Edge 500 computer on the bike; it's not getting all the wireless sensor info, I need to tweak it all a bit more.

Saw a tremendous image by Dave Simonds at The Economist, from an article Bring on the Hipsters: Gentrification is Good for the Poor. I found the article unpersuasive and without warrant, but the image speaks to a long-standing fascination of mine: society's compare/contrast of homeless folks and touring cyclists.

Homeless people and touring cyclists have so much in common. Both groups certainly reject the mainstream. They put all their possessions and equipment in bags and carry them around in highly outfitted wheeled vehicles. They pay much more attention to the weather than most people; they're living out-of-doors in the weather. They are independent of the 9-5 banker's hours and they don't get stuck in rush hour traffic. At times, they rely on the kindness of strangers. They may smell a little bit. They're sometimes looking for a place to relieve themselves. They're often working out the details of their next meal. They take afternoon naps in parks.

They are perceived and treated so very differently. The cyclist is seen as a positive economic force, a sign of a healthy nascent New Economy, and is generally treated with interest, respect, and hospitality. We point them out to our children: Look, Pat, at the man with the bicycle. The homeless person is seen as a negative economic presence, their status is regarded as a consequence of personal failure, and often the authorities are called to displace them - to any other place. We tell the children, don't look.

Objectively, the two groups have many of the same behaviors although the cyclist can generally be identified by the high-viz and the REI logos on their gear. The difference is a social construct of privilege, status, cachet, and wealth.
Also, one is itinerant and the other is generally a resident; funny how that works.

I think it identifies a perverse schism that speaks to our economic bias and failed social compact.

1 comment:

  1. Vannevar, I hope you are surviving this winter ok. It has been cold and nasty here in Winchester, VA, but I am looking forward to meteorological spring, March 1st. Then the riding will pick up. I think I have seen other posts from you on this subject. The similarities you mention sure are there, but there are just as many and just as stark differences. the homeless person is where he always is and cannot escape at will. The touring cyclist goes back to a successful life after the ride or tour. The time that the cyclist spends imitating the homeless is short relative to the time he spends at his successful and lucrative job.

    Still, the point you make is a good one (in my opinion). We don't just treat behaviors that appear the same in different individuals with the same response. Our response is also conditioned by the appearance of the person exhibiting the behavior.