Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Sustainable Puerto Rican Hobby and The BP Oil Spill

The inestimable and unimaginable horror of the BP Oil Spill reminds the nation with unmitigated restraint several critical issues impacting the future and beyond. Specifically until the nation lessens its nightmarish and unholy addiction to oil and other resource depleting practices this generation fails not only the planet but also our children and their future. Against the backdrop of this mind numbing environmental disaster a recent news article nonetheless managed to shed a bit of light on an otherwise gloomy news day of the BP oil spill.

Each summer and every other Sunday in Chicago's Puerto Rican community a number of individuals and families constituting the Chicago Cruisers bike club wait for the “blast of a brass horn.” [1] Why? The horn initiates a bicycle trip to a Chicago landmark. The bikes however are beyond the simple and stripped down two tire bikes of my youth.

In contrast these bikes are customized with “sparkly or crushed-velvet banana seats; balloon tires; re-chromed handlebars with speedometers, side-view mirrors” and some even have attached boom boxes. Cruiser member Luis Maldonado for example customized his newer model with a 6 x 9 inch bass speaker, car stereo CD player and an iPod! From Maldonado’s bike crooned “salsa singer Victor Manuelle.”

Many of the bikes have both the U.S. and Puerto Rican flags and the name of their bike club. The owners of these works of art share a “passion for vintage bikes—mostly 26-inch Schwinns.” A partial scope of the Schwinn models includes “Phantoms, Typhoons and Apple or Orange Krates” with many members scouring flea markets or garage sales looking for bike component parts. My favorite are bikes with family histories such as ten-year-old Alejandra who inherited her Sting-Ray Orange Krate from her grandfather who rode the bike to grade school.

I found the above article encouraging because rather than add to the intensive and craziness of Chicago traffic the Cruisers pedal to area highlights and thus are not exploiting the limited natural resources mother earth offers. The Cruisers remind us that the nation has to disentangle itself from its over reliance on oil and gas and further allow a glimpse into the anti-bike norm that the U.S. promotes.

While Chicago has some bike paths, the high volume and pressures of urban traffic and addiction to the false norm that the road “belongs to automobiles” fails bike riders. When Lansing, Michigan, could have constructed a network of bike paths near MSU, area residents protested and in a city with huge massively wide roads, placed students at risk. In one instance for example a driver and vehicle killed a young MSU student while she was attempting to cross from one side of campus to the next.

In contrast, to the anti-bike norm other nations such as Sweden have constructed amazing bicycle paths that traverse urban and rural areas. On all my trips there I witnessed teachers and students heading for school outings and numerous others heading for work on their bikes in all sorts of inclement weather. Beyond the pro-bike culture Swedish towns are also heated collectively from steam that is fed from city steam plants. Thereby offering a sustainable approach away from oil and gas while also keeping costs down in heating area homes. The BP oil spill accordingly offers an opportunity.

Specifically the U.S. must fundamentally re-examine current federal leasing of public lands. Yet it must go beyond harmful leases with defects that permit ad hoc exploitation, injury to wildlife and which jeopardize the livelihood of area communities. At a core level the nation must adopt bona fide policies and practices and incentives to promote if not accelerate sustainability. For a start it could turn to indigenous customary practices in areas of scarce natural resources that allowed their survival into the present.[2] Finally while cars serve a purpose in certain situations, the “car as king of the road culture” must not only shift but also promote sustainable and alternative practices.

In sum this author sends mil gracias to the Chicago Cruisers for their addiction to Schwinn bikes with a Puerto Rican cultural twist. Honestly how can our antepasados who witnessed the exploitation of the natural resources of their communities not help but shine blessings on the Cruisers for a hobby that also reaches beyond an addiction to vintage bikes.

[1]This blog drives from a much appreciated news article. See Serena Maria Daniels, Tricked-out Classic Schwinns Inspire Nostalgia and Respect While Bringing Together Parents and Kids In A Hobby for The Ages, Chicago Trib. June 16, 2010, at 1.

[2]In the past as in the present indigenous communities continue confronting harm that endangers area resources and thus their survival. For a couple of examples reference the acequias of New Mexico that distance indigenous custom and practice from the industrialization of rural communities, or the ongoing systemic housing development of huge mansions in rural areas that threaten the cultural survival of Indian nations.

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