Critical Mass Vancouver March 2011

icon1 flick harrison | icon4 Mar 26, 2011| icon3

This month's mass was gettin' bigger, as the sun came out and the DST-change made it brighter.  The weather was threatening as late as 4 pm in my neighbourhood but it ended up being a beautiful day.

First surprise of the Mass was the giant American film shoot occupying the Art Gallery square before us.  What made it a little more surprising was that one of the ride veterans led the start of the ride through the film shoot - or so we thought.  It looked like a good bit of fun and a political point well-made when we started passing right in front of the camera.  But then he stopped, took two steps up the Art Gallery stairs, and the guy started explaining why we were going to occupy the gallery steps for 20 minutes until it was time to leave on the ride.

Uh-oh!  I signed up to make a statement about bike culture over car culture, not to make a statement against Hollywood Film Productions.  I make plenty of those every day, and while I like the idea of earning everyone on set an extra 20 minutes of pay while slowing down the Hollywood agenda by several nanoseconds, I had no clear reason to throw Critical Mass into a head-on, high-stakes confrontation with max-pressure location managers, whose chief activity all day is cajoling people to  get the hell out of the way and let them get on with their work.

Besides, the police on bikes who were waiting around to escort Critical Mass could, at any moment, throw themselves into the dispute with uncertain consequences.

I turned my bike around, awkwardly, and left the confrontation behind.  So did everyone else, after a few muddled moments. The film-set walkie-talkies never stopped squawking for a second. The location manager shouted "thanks very kindly!" and told us she would "pay it forward" which she said was the name of the film they were making.

The guy who wanted to occupy the steps (don't know his name, but if you've been to the ride, he's the one with the big tall sign on the back of his recumbent) explained that Critical Mass should be something factored into the city's planning around other special events, and therefore the film shoot shouldn't be happening there on the last Friday of the month, and even if it was, we had just as much right to the square as them.  I wasn't sure this was legally true, and checking the City's web site, there's more than a heads-up required for a right to the square. Then again, it says only non-commercial events have a right to be there, and the shoot was definitely commercial.

As for the civil society question - does Critical Mass have more moral right to occupy the Art Gallery lawn at that moment than the film production - well, as they say in legal thinking, "Your right to swing your arm ends where your neighbour's nose begins."  There was no benefit to us in gathering our bikes smack dab in front of the camera rather than gathering them off to the side, on the empty part of the square.  So, by doing so, we were just making a nuisance of ourselves, confronting a group of folks who have no obvious allegiance in the battle of the bike.  Sure, you could say Hollywood movies represent big capital and thus inherently fall on the Car Side, but then, I think that's a bit abstract and unfocussed for a monthly event that is already accused of having a cloudy message.

I mean, think headlines: "Critical Mass broken up by police after occupying Art Gallery square, blocking film shoot."  Huh?  I thought Critical Mass was that bike thing.

In any case, being thrown into a confrontation without any warning is not the best situation in which to make level-headed decisions.

So off we went after that, circling the downtown, crossing Granville Bridge, then heading to Kits.  I had some good chats about the upcoming elections, about how to wire a home stereo unit to a car battery and properly maximize the sound volume coming from your bike.  We stopped at the beach for a little party - hackysack and dancing.  It was very odd, and unexpected to me, but fun.  I will stop and dance to Chuck Berry any day of the week.

Then back on the road, over the Burrard Bridge, where we met our first hater - a guy in his car yelling "YOU GUYS ARE A JOKE!" but he wasn't laughing, stuck as he was behind the ride. Five minutes of his 2-hour commute wasted on a beautiful sunset bridge with a view of the mountains so beautiful I'm scared to show you a picture.

Like a miracle, that was also the moment when the cars in the oncoming lane just generally started honking and tooting their horns, waving and giving us the thumbs-up - one after the other.  Suddenly the scary shouty agro guy was in the minority, and he even got tired of yelling at us.

By the time it got dark, my legs were tired and feet cold.  And then we all split up.

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