Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"Piteous Contempt"

I'm in the process of reading a book, In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist, by Pete Jordan.

Jordan was pursuing an education in urban planning and transportation infrastructure and such, and wanted to do a year in Amsterdam, where he could observe their well-known devotion to bicycle transportation.  He ended up loving the place so much that he lives there now.

The book is quite interesting; I hope to share my opinion on the overall work when I finish.  In the meantime, I've been making note of some passages which capture my interest in particular.  The author has done considerable research, gathering historical documents about how Holland evolved over the course of the 20th Century, in such a different way than the United States did.

Going back about 90 years (1923)... the automobile was already ingrained in American culture.

[In America] after the populace had taken to cars, cycling was then confined to "telegraph messengers, schoolboys and eccentrics."  He quotes a Dutch reporter in 1923: "The average American feels complete for the first time when he's sitting behind a steering wheel" and such a driver "immediately assumes an air of piteous contempt" toward anyone who didn't drive.

American children could fool around with bikes, but as they aged, their bicycles were expected to be shed along with their dolls and their teddy bears as they matured into full-fledged motorists.

Dutch reporter in 1912, on car ownership in America:

"It's a question of uniformity, not liberty.  The principle of uniformity is stronger here than that of liberty.  Everyone is expected to do what everyone else does.  The smallest deviation from this law will be punished through the tacit disapproval by the combined humanity.  He who doesn't believe this should try wearing a straw hat or a high hat in the "off season," or go strolling in a green tie while knowing that purple is in vogue.

No doubt a lot of that dynamic has persisted ... and I s'pose turnabout is fair play.  I say that, because I assume an air of piteous contempt for anybody who does drive!!

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