25 December 2010

Monet, On The Other Side

No, I'm not taking a cycling trip in France with a stop in Giverny. (I did that once, though!)  This is a good bit closer to home and family.  And I am in a place whose name begins with an "F." 

And, much to my delight, I've found one of the best walking/cycling trails I've seen in a while.  Perhaps even more gratifyingly, it was built within the past two years, in a place with a terribly depressed economy.

Think of the places in the US that have been left on the verge of asphyxiation since the housing bubble burst.  I'm in one of them right now:  a county with an official unemployment rate of 18 percent.  That's where I'm going to be this week. 

Yes, I am in Florida.  The weather was warm today, and I overdressed a bit when I rode.  I guess I was expecting a repeat of yesterday's weather, which was cooler.  Before I came here, Mom and Dad relayed some details of the coldest December this area has experienced in the time they've been living here, and for many years before that.  As an example, my mother said, oranges fell off the tree in their yard because they'd frozen.

Well, whatever it's been here, it's still not Bedford Falls.  Last night, I watched It's A Wonderful Life with Mom and Dad.  It's the first time in many years that I've seen the movie.  It's actually a rather good movie; it is cloying and sentimental, which, I suppose, a holiday movie should be, at least if its makers want to have a large audience.  And it does make a timely and timeless point about the human condition.  However, even though it was worth seeing again, I can't honestly say that I saw anyone or anything in it differently than I did when I last saw it.  Then again, maybe I'm not supposed to.  After all, we're not talking about Othello, from which I learned a few new things when I taught it this semester.

About the bike riding here:  There are actually a pretty fair number of dedicated cycling/pedestrian paths that are set off from the main roads. In fact, one starts just down the road from my parents' house.  The problem with them, as in so many other places, is that they begin and end abruptly, and pick up in other places.  Such has been the case since I first came here seventeen years ago. 

It is perhaps the most frustrating in my favorite place to ride around here.  Route A-1A skirts the ocean from Marineland to Daytona Beach. (It may go further in either direction; I know only about the stretch I've mentioned--and cycled.)  It's as beautiful a ride as one can find anywhere, but it's narrow and full of turns.  And some drivers see cyclists as obstacles--to what, I don't know--even when we're nowhere near them.  Of course, that's no different from the situation in so many other places.  But it's frustrating, and even dangerous, to be cycling along a dedicated path that ends abruptly and to have to pedal out onto a roadway where drivers aren't anticipating you.

I guess the situation I've described is a result of two things.  One is that most of the drivers don't use that road on a daily basis, so they have no way of knowing what to expect.  The other has to do with the fact that almost no one here cycles for transportation.  I've seen a pretty fair number of cyclists in the times I've visited, but they were all riding for recreation.  Of course, I'm not knocking that:  After all, that's what I was doing, too. But, having spent most of my life in urban areas, and much of that time in communities where significant numbers of people pedal to work, shop, go to school, visit museums and to other daily activites, I am convinced that unless there is a critical mass, if you will, of cyclo-commuters, non-cyclists will treat cyclists out of ignorance or with disrespect, or even hostility. Lycra-clad racers and wannabes, of which I was both for long periods of my life, do nothing to change motorists' attitudes about cycling and cyclists.

Now I realize I've stumbled over one of the great paradoxes of cycling in America.  The places where people would most want to ride are the ones with the least (or non-existent) cycling culture.  On the other hand, the places where there are the largest numbers of people who use their bikes for transportation are the most congested and polluted, not to mention the sorts of places where people wouldn't choose to take a cycling trip.

Then again, Monet and other artists often had to get away from the art world in order to create their best work.  Would he have come here?  With his bike or on it?


  1. That is a good point, about drivers not using the roads every day and not knowing what to expect. That is one reason I find it stressful to cycle in coastal vacation towns, where most of the drivers are daytrippers. Have a good stay in Florida regardless!

  2. Cycle commuters are rare in North Texas outside the central areas of Dallas and Fort Worth, but I don't get treated with disrespect or hostility very often either.