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Published: November 6th 2003
After a ninety mile ride into Davidson the day before, and with an imminent journey up into the Smokey Mountains, I had no desire to push myself on my ride into Charlotte, North Carolina. Looking at my maps, I guessed that I had little more than thirty miles to ride, although I was not entirely confident in my distance gauging since I had so drastically underestimated my trip the day before.
I had spent a good portion of the morning resting, reading “Sports Illustrated,” acquainting myself with my hosts’ dog and icing my knees before my ride. Around noon I finally got out the door and enjoyed the freedom of a marked bike lane for the first few miles of my trip.
When my host Fuji had left for work in the morning, he had pulled up the cuffs of his pants, hopped on his bike and rode away down the bike lane. I’ve yet to see an unused bike lane on a city street or an ignored bike path in a park. People seem to want to ride, but not everyone feels safe sharing the road with three ton trucks. Even though I’ve ridden across Europe and worked as a bike messenger, I’ve still had my own unpleasant encounters with cars, including one that broke my hip.
Bike lanes create a boundary between cars and bikes, and allow average people to seek an alternative to their automobiles. A helmet and a bike rack can change one’s perspective dramatically as a bicycle becomes more than just a childhood recreation, but rather a practical mode of transportation, albeit on a smaller scale than a station wagon. Commuting by bicycle changes my stress levels every time. Instead of arriving at work frustrated with the morning rush hour, I find myself smiling at the sight of gulls dipping across the Chesapeake Bay. And at the end of my day I channel my pent-up aggressions into my pedals instead of raging at the other drivers around me who have exchanged a chair behind a desk for a seat behind a steering wheel. By the time I’m in astride my bike I’ve already beaten them all to the gym and gotten my cardiovascular workout for the day.
There is also the knowledge that by riding my bike I’m doing my part to support our troops. Every mile that Iride my bike is one less mile that I need to drive my car and burn gasoline. And every drop of gasoline saved is a drop that will not be paid for with the blood of our American soldiers, or their enemies.
The Bush administration says that we aren’t fighting a war in Iraq for oil, but let’s get real about it. If Iraq didn’t have oil and wasn’t in the middle of the largest oil deposits in the world, it would still be a has-been backwater. It was only with oil profits that Saddam Hussein was able to become a geopolitical force, and it is only the oil that maintains our interest in Iraq.
Following World War II American oil companies invested heavily in Saudi oil fields, and when Saddam Hussein threatened the oil reserves of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, America responded. Democracy in Iraq would be nice, but stability is just as good. As Dick Cheney said himself while CEO of Halliburton, “The good Lord didn’t see fit to always put oil and gas resources where there are democratic governments.” http://www.citizenworks.org/corp/warcontracts/halliburton.php
The Bush administration may profess altruistic goals of deposing tyrants, eliminating weapons of mass destruction, enforcing United Nations resolutions and protecting the world from terrorism, it seems to have no desire to pursue such goals in countries devoid of oil.
Even though the people of Zimbabwe are denied basic civil liberties and political opponents are murdered by a dictator, the Bush administration has yet to intervene there. Even though North Korea admits that it has nuclear weapons, the Bush administration has not invaded there either. Even though Israel has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, American troops have yet to oust a disrespectful regime in Jerusalem. Even though Latin American soldiers are trained at Fort Benning, Georgia to commit acts of violence to further political goals, the Bush administration has yet to close down the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security and Cooperation (AKA the School of the Americas).
What Zimbabwe, North Korea, Israel and Fort Benning lack, and what Iraq possesses in abundance, is oil.
I’m not condemning all automobile owners in America for the deaths of Iraqis and Americans in our quest to protect oil, but I would like to point out the complicity and the cost of our oil addiction- we fight wars for oil, and people die in those wars. We support undemocratic regimes with oil reserves, such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. We pollute our water and air with our automobile emissions. The cost we pay at the gas pump is not the only price of our oil addiction. We spend billions of dollars each year to maintain the world’s largest military and deploy it to oil spots around the world. Our sons and daughters die and kill for oil, although our leaders will tell us that we fight for democracy, or human rights, or respect for the United Nations.
Like an addict in denial, most Americans can’t even see that they have a problem. Just as a junkie knows the next fix will bring freedom and bliss, Americans believe that the newest car will make them happy. Car commercials are filled with glorious vistas and lonely mountain roads- a stark contrast to the reality of billboard panorama and congested urban highways. But we believe in the promise that if we roll up the windows, turn on the air conditioned, turn up the stereo and shift into overdrive we will escape our dismal automobile-polluted existence.
While I don’t live car-free myself, I try to minimize my addiction by getting into the bike lane as much as possible. Our country’s infrastructure is built around the personal automobile and presents quite a challenge to any other form of transportation. But my bike represents a real escape from the traffic jam. I don’t need to depend upon high octane fuel or a turbo charger to get my kick- I ride as fast s my legs can take me. I’m never denied the HOV lane, and I don’t have to pay any tolls. I can ride wherever my tires can take me. When the Hummer is stuck at the bottom of the mountain for lack of an eight foot wide road and a gas pump, I’ll be at the top, relishing the glorious descent ahead of me.
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