Saturday, March 25, 2006

Think Spring

Years ago I met a man who told me that he and his family had once lived on a street with great neighbors. They had lots of street parties and he could wander out in his front yard on a summer evening and find someone to talk to. He said that he and his wife decided to buy a fancier house, but when they moved they discovered that not all streets were like that. Their new neighbors were not chummy or chatty and they never again found that sense of community.

It hasn't been a particularly hard winter but I'm ready for Spring. I took my bike out for the first time today. Despite a little freezing rain it was a good ride, and I found myself wishing there was something fun going on outside where I could be part of my community.

My mathematician/juggler cousin told me about San Francisco's Urban Iditarod, also known as the Idiotarod, which is held each March on the day the Iditarod starts in Alaska. In the SF event people pretending to be dogs pull shopping carts and the route includes many stops for beer. According to my cousin it retains a nice element of the bizarre but it has become a victim of its own success---too big and too slow---so he says the Ann Arbor shopping cart race is more fun.

I suppose I could ride my bike around town looking for other bicyclists. Critical Mass is a movement in many cities in which bicyclists meet up on the last Friday of the month and just, well, bike around. That sounds benign but things can get interesting when thousands of bikes converge during rush hour. Critical mass is also more than a bike ride in that it is an exercise in people-driven organization. For example, it has spawned the term Xerocracy---the idea that nobody is in charge, but anyone who has an idea should print it up, xerox it, and pass it around (literally or figuratively).

My town has some summer festivals, but the weather is iffy even in June so they don't start till July. It also seems that any event that's organized by City Hall is by definition going to be a bit lame. They're like work events organized by HR... too concerned about getting sued or offending anyone and not open to individual initiative.

For example, we have a busker festival that's pretty good but the buskers are screened to ensure there's no unwholesomeness. Compare that to a Fringe festival where shows are chosen by ballot and there is no screening whatsoever. There's an extra frisson if you don't know what will happen---good, bad or weird. Like during a musical at the Toronto Fringe when a guitarist called Bartok Guitarsplat just suddenly took off all his clothes. It wasn't even completely gratuitous: after that, we didn't ignore the music.

In neighborhoods in East Africa there is a tradition of impromptu parades in which a bunch of (mostly) women and kids bang empty beer cans together and ululate, and people they pass join on. I can't remember why they occur, but they're fun because they seem joyful, unplanned and goofy.

So I guess March in southern Ontario is not the time to be longing for a spontaneous outdoor community event. Even the Engineering students (the wildest of the campus rowdies) are buckling down in preparation for finals. Maybe I'm too old for it anyway. Or maybe I just gave up looking for that friendly street.



Kelvin said...

Kia Ora (Hello) from a blogger down under in New Zealand. It seems the same the world over. Most people are too busy with their life to worry about anyone else. In the old days, life was slow and people had more time. Enjoyed reading your blog.

BULLSEYE said...

Well, alrighty then...