"Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest." ~ John Stuart Mill
Whither Ye Olde Bicycle?
Once upon a time there was a little boy who lived in a vast and rich country. He rode a bicycle around his little bucolic hometown, fearlessly covering miles and miles of treacherous highways and byways. The little boy did not wear a helmet.
Maybe you have already guessed that the little boy was me. If you have, then you realize that this is not a fairy tale, even though it may seem like one to a young person reading this today.
Many other children (and some adults) rode bikes in those days, too, in fact, almost all of them. Not any that I can ever recall wore helmets, either.
In those long ago playful days of our youth, we rode our bicycles with reckless and joyful abandon, initially unheeding of the cautious admonitions of our elders . . . but let us ride they did! Sure, skulls were cracked and bones were bruised and broken. I suppose some kids actually died, too, and I think our parents said things such as, "Let that be a lesson to you," or "That is why we must pay attention when we are riding," when they did.
People in those days seemed to have more common sense than they do now, and they obviously realized that few of life's lessons are effectively taught by rote. Our fresh laughing faces shone brightly as we rode off, warned, but unhelmetted (hey, nothing against helmets--wear them if you want!) and largely unrestricted, into the big exhilarating world to embrace experience, that time tested and best of all teachers.
Once, when I was about four and had just learned to ride, I was careening full speed down my street when I broadsided a very large sedan exiting a perpendicular alley. Incredibly, my miniature baby Schwinn actually bruised the big bad Caddy (I was hammering, dude!), but it's a good thing I ran into him instead of vice versa. A skeptic may simply dismiss me as a quick study, but not once since that day have I ever collided with a moving automobile again while riding a bike--touch wood!
Speaking of bicycles, have you seen those ungainly creatures resembling nothing more than a plump Ninja turtle wobbling around your neighborhood on a two-wheeler?
Bristling with various radios, cellphones, and automatic weapons, all wrapped up in black kevlar, and, yes . . . securely helmetted, police are now routinely deployed downtown on fancy mountain bikes in their never ending quest for "public safety." Typically emblazoned with a contrasting white banner across their backs proclaiming POLICE, these new pedaling centurions serve as an annoying reminder of how pervasive the saturation of Law Enforcement personnel has become in our communities and locales.
When I was growing up, the cops around our small hometown pretty much concerned themselves with breaking up bar fights or locking up and guarding some real criminal they might apprehend in the rare case of fraud, assault, or murder. Before the advent of the new breed of revenue collector/social nanny/anti-terrorist storm trooper, the only place one usually even saw a policeman was directing traffic in the middle of town or at a big high school basketball game.
It is amazing to me that people wonder why their tax bills are so increasingly enormous while the ranks of their euphemistically labeled "public servants" continue to swell unabated, not only to ride herd on us on their fancy new mountain bikes, but now to conveniently protect all and sundry from that burgeoning new and all-encompassing modern shibboleth, "terrorism."
Things have changed much in 40 something or so years, and not for the better I am afraid, if you happen to be an individual. I say keep your helmets and your bicycle mounted swat cops, and your constant shrieks of terrorism, too. I'd rather just take my chances without all that.
On the brighter side, that huge female cop on bicycle patrol with the crew cut and the permanent sneer seems to be getting a little smaller!
Have a free day!