Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cycling in Cold Weather: An Admission

Those who know me best are all too aware of how important cycling is to me. Living in a cold climate with dramatic shifts in weather presents me with quite the challenge. Over the course of the last two months, I have learned a few important things about myself that make the prospect of cycling in freezing weather very unlikely.

Example 1: Just over a month ago, I hit the big brick wall of my cold weather cycling tolerance. When I left my house, the temperature was 30 degrees fahrenheit (just a tad below freezing). I was wearing 3 layers on the top, long fingered gloves, a wool snow cap, and long cycling pants. My cycling route was short (just over 2 miles), but it was mostly uphill. Climbs and layers aside, I arrived at my destination with slight hypothermia. I couldn't feel my hands for a good 20 minutes after I was inside, and I spent the rest of the day feeling cold and intensely hungry. Unpleasant doesn't even begin to cover it.
Lesson 1: when riding in weather below 40 degrees, a wind vest is mandatory. It turns out that layers just won't cut it when you are moving faster than 10 miles per hour.

Example 2: Whenever I ride when the temperature is between 40 and 45 degrees, I feel warm enough with layers and long fingered gloves. The persistent headaches, however, are completely new. It turns out that the enamel on my teeth is not as strong as it used to be and cold air against them is causing headaches.
Lesson 2: Either my sinuses need to be clear enough to allow me to ride with my mouth closed or I need to invest in some sort of riding scarf.

::sigh:: None of these changes are fun to contemplate. There is hope, however. Just last week we had a day when the temperature was a 50 degrees. You better believe I rode for the 8 hours or so when we had sunlight.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Confessions of a Californian in Maine

So we lost. And there will be much hand-wringing about the gay rights groups like HRC and NGLTF who poured in amazing organizing resources into the campaign. I have no complaints. As someone involved in the fights against Prop 8 and Maine's Question 1, I can tell you there is no comparison between the two elections aside from the slow, creeping feeling that we lost around midnight after ballots came in. We had a smarter campaign, but it wasn't enough to change people's minds against hate.

There was no complacency among equality supporters: everyone knew the entire time that the vote was going to be stupidly close (news flash: 5 percent is close). And we would have been perfectly happy winning by one vote. Protect Maine Equality (No on 1) made a point of incorporating actual gay people in their television ads (a complete revolution, from my perspective) and keeping their message positive: take a stand, support equality, don't discriminate. Stand for Marriage Maine (Yes on 1) was sneaky and ended up angering many of their supporters, including large numbers of devoted Catholics, who expressed non-stop disappointment in their campaign. For many of them, what they understood to be a virtuous message – maintain traditional marriage as the Church sees it – ended up being quite hate-driven. In those frequent open discussions with people of faith who supported the measure, these Yes on 1 supporters confessed that they wished their church were not involved because it sullied their message of faith. It ended up galvanizing many Catholics to support No on 1. Wow! This was nothing like what happened in California with the LDS.

One thing I do know is that the analysts attempting to explain why a relatively secular and libertarian state went against gay marriage do not really understand Maine. Nate Silver thinks that the vote came down to an urban-rural divide. Queerty blames the ubiquitous "soccer moms." Those theories, while catchy, only partially explains it. Two larger urban areas – Lewiston and Augusta - voted yes by large margins and many rural towns and small coastal islands voted no. After some analysis, I think it's more indicative of the huge cultural differences between southern and northern Maine. If you look at a map, most tourists never go north of Augusta, let alone Waterville, where I live. The rest of the state is huge. Once you get north of Bangor, you run out of coastline. The towns up there are extremely quaint and traditional. Many of the people who live in the north have never been south of Bangor let alone outside of the state and have no desire to leave. While they may be regular church-goers, religion is not the driving force of their lives. Yet, from what I understand, they have no desire to change. One of the full-time volunteers for the campaign described anti-gay harassment in one of those towns on par with levels that I haven't heard about for 15 years. This is the part of Maine where even if you have lived there your entire life since you were 2 years old, you are not a real Mainer and are thus "from away." It is nothing like the Maine that most visitors to Portland, Freeport and the Boothbay harbor experience.

And then there is the question of the ads. In the last week of the campaign, the Yes on 1 side released ads that basically gave people who were borderline supporters of marriage equality an easy out. The message said, in essence, "voting Yes doesn't mean you hate gay people and want to deny them their happiness; it just means you want to keep marriage 'traditional.' We can extend domestic partnership rights later. Vote Yes now." This, coupled with the classic "what about the children" ads gave anyone with creeping discomfort about gay people an excuse to tell a portion of their society that they are not worthy. According to what I heard, the group of people who were most moved by the last round of ads were non-republican women – a designation far more liberal than "soccer moms."

As someone who got married in California when I could, marriage rights represent the brass ring, something the movement should build up to. Unfortunately, I don't think we've done a good job building up the rest of the basic human rights, like being able to work where you want (hello, armed forces?) and protection against housing discrimination based on gender presentation. And while we are at it, what about accepting and promoting the more radical elements of queer people. If that is what comes from this most recent setback, then it isn't a setback at all.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Thoughts on Urban v. Rural, pt. 1

I have the rare opportunity to be teaching a course that thinks about musical cultures through the lens of urban studies. Doing this in a place so remarkably not urban forces me to consider what it all means. Thus, I have decided to write a series of posts contemplating how music from urban centers considers the rural and vice versa. We'll see what this turns up. Thus I present: a blog post in bullet points on rural v. urban academia.

• I've been reading many academic discussions of world/global cities and their role in globalization. Theorists like Saskia Sassen contend that urban centers like New York, London and Tokyo are the main conduits of globalization to such an extent that nation-states are no longer dominant. Fun stuff! It's strange to be thinking so strongly about such megalopoli while living in a rural part of the country. It's even stranger to be discussing different genres of music that romanticize rural life but are, in essence, city born. I'm thinking of the folk music revival of the 1950s and '60s in NYC, the university Forró craze in São Paulo, and the modern mariachi sound from Mexico D.F. This doesn't even begin to approach the hybrid genres that accompany these revivalist movements or transnational transformations of folk genres (like cumbia)... What is it about urbanity in the americas that promotes such romanticizations and reinventions? The easy answer might be the legacy of 19th century nationalism with its idealizations of the land. My instincts tell me that it is probably more complicated. Many of these genres also have to do with social class and sometimes persons celebrating the working class from a position of power leads to gross generalizations and vulgarizations. Think of what John Wayne pictures did to generalize the "American Frontier." Thomas Turino contends that urban, middle class appropriations of rural folk music has to do with a lack of participatory music making (see his Music as Social Life) and a larger lack of marked culture. My mind is spinning...

• On a related note, many of my colleagues commute close to 4 hours a day just so that they can live in a reasonably-sized city and work in the country. Other colleagues commute from central Maine to NYC and even Washington D.C. every weekend. They love their urban lifestyles and their research so much that they will do anything they can to stay connected to it. This seems to me to be the polar opposite of the economic factors that drove urban growth during the last 150 years where people migrated from rural to urban spaces for work. But for this particular group of academics, urbanity is such an integral part of their lifestyles that they go through great lengths to maintain it. I would be traveling with them if I had the time to spare and the money to do it. Alas, I do not and I am getting used to life here in central Maine. Odd that.

• Many of my students have great difficulty imagining urban life that isn't like Boston or New York. As a southern California native I feel like I am at a distinct advantage for understanding the newer geographic formations born in Los Angeles that serve as the template for global megacities (a la Soja and Mike Davis). For the first time in my life, I am thankful that I resided in LA for 10 years and not elsewhere. It really does help when I try to explain why people in these global centers would rather stay home than sit through hours of traffic...

On a related note, I miss good cycling weather.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Planning to Cycle the Rural New England Winter

My summer cycling in Maine was nearly ruined by the wettest July and August in recent memory. Of course I got out, but my weekly miles are considerably lower than I would like them to be. In the coming weeks, I'm going to start saving money to buy the necessary gear to equip my bike for commuting in inclement weather. Already the temperature is dropping in the mornings and evenings. Thus, here is the beginning of my planning for cycling on ice and snow!

Studded tires or inverted fat tires: according to most sources, studded tires are necessary when roads become icy. According to NOA, New England's winter is supposed to "mild" while the Farmer's Almanac predicts painfully cold months ahead. Which wins? What is the happy medium between the two winter tire options?

Mud flaps: kind of a no brainer. My cross-bike is practically designed to handle fenders and rain-friendly alterations.

Base layers: think of these as thermal layers for cyclists.

Lubricants: if it gets so cold that my chain freezes up, what do I do? I've heard recommendations for teflon, to sub zero oil based lubricants. I must admit that I'm at a loss when it comes to this one.

Lighting System: My cateye lights just won't do once I'm cycling in rural Maine after I teach. I've currently got my eye on a generator lighting system that powers itself as you pedal.

Any suggestions?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Syllabus - Music and the Global Metropolis

This fall semester, I will be teaching a course at Colby College entitled "Music and the Global Metropolis." I thought it might be fun and productive to post the syllabus minus audio examples on Musicology / Matters and here, for commentary and public use. So please, feel free to use the syllabus as you like!

Music 197 A: Music and the Global Metropolis


Kariann E. Goldschmitt
Lorimer Chapel 001

Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays
1:00PM – 2:15PM
150 Bixler Art and Music Center

Office Hours:

Required Texts:
Thomas Turino, Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).
Mike Davis, Planet of Slums (New York: Verso, 2007).

Readings on Reserve in Bixler Library:
e-Reserves (ER)
Bixler Reserves (BR)

Course Description:

Metropolises bring together diverse groups of people in concentrated locations all over the world. Despite the dangers that these cities represent (violence, crime, and poverty), they also produce an astounding variety of musical innovations. This course is an exploration of the meetings of disparate musical cultures in major metropolises of the world. Throughout the semester, we will study six different major cities (New York, Mexico City, São Paulo, Paris, Tokyo, and Mumbai), the major musical developments to come from them, and the cultural conflicts and celebrations that emerge in contemporary urban life. We will discuss styles such as hip hop, punk, reggaeton, mariachi, nor-tec, dancehall, roots music, samba, j-pop, shibuya ke’i, karaoke, bhangra, filmi, “world music,” and electronic dance music, and how they relate to the urban environments where they were developed and where they continue to thrive.

Throughout the course, the professor will bring audio, visual and participatory examples that relate to the reading. Students are encouraged to do the same so long as they email the professor in advance.

Students will become familiar with the critical issues at stake to these musical communities through a variety of course readings, writing assignments, exams and the development of term paper. Class objectives include:

· increasing basic understanding of the relationship of music and geography;
· developing of critical reading and listening skills;
· understanding the diversity of musical practices in different places in the world;
· appreciating music as a site of conflict and celebration in present day urban policy;
· the development and revision of an original term-paper that meets the academic requirements of the course.

Course Expectations:

o Students are expected to do all reading for the course and have questions and comments prepared before class convenes. The easiest way to succeed is to take note of questions that arise as you engage with course materials and bring those concerns to class meetings.
o Students are expected to keep up with the listening on a regular basis. The musical examples for this course will be available through links on the course website (under “A/V examples”), often in the form of YouTube videos and streaming audio.
o All students with documented disabilities will be given special dispensations if they so require them. Please notify me during the first sessions of class.
o I am happy to answer questions and chat with you about your thoughts and ideas about this class. Please feel free to visit me during Office Hours. I am also available by appointment via email, text or phone and I maintain an open door policy with all students.

Grading and Assignments:

I. There will be two exams in this course: a midterm (worth 15% of your final grade) and a final (worth 20% of your final grade).
II. There will be three short written assignments designed to help you work through recurring issues in the course and help you develop your term paper: one reading response (1-2 pages in length) worth 5%, one listening response related to your term paper (2-3 pages) worth 5%, and a final paper proposal outlining your repertoire / locale of choice, your line of inquiry, and how it relates to the class (10%). I will discuss the details of writing assignments throughout the term. Keep copies of all papers in the case my copy goes astray. Late papers result in a grade deduction of one-third a grade every day they are late.
III. There will be one term paper (7-10 pages), worth 25% of your final grade. You must show evidence of incorporating the professor’s comments on your writing assignments into the final paper to get a good grade.
IV. Due to privacy, I only discuss grades in person. Please make an appointment or visit my office hours if you wish to inquire about your performance.

Grading Breakdown:

15% Midterm Exam
20% Final Exam
20% Writing Assignments
25% Term Paper
20% Participation

Schedule of Class Meetings

Unit 1: Conceptual Foundations to Music and Urban Geography

[Music] / [Global] / [Metropolis]

• Wk 1: September 9 Introduction to Music and Globalization
Bohlman, Philip V. “Colonial Musics, Post-colonial Worlds, and the Globalization of World Music.” In World Music: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. ER
Turino, Thomas. “Introduction: Why Music Matters.” In Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

• Wk 1: September 11 Urban Studies and Musical Participation
Davis, Mike. “Urban Climactic.” In Planet of Slums. New York: Verso, 2007.
Turino, Thomas. “Participatory and Presentational Performance.” In Music as Social Life.

Urban Geography, Community, and Divisions

• Wk 2: September 14 Musical Communities and Music as Culture
Turino, Thomas. “Habits of the Self, Identity, and Culture .” In Music as Social Life.

• Wk 2: September 16 Music Technology and Urbanism
Krims, Adam. “Introduction.” In Music and Urban Geography. New York: Routledge, 2007. ER
Turino, Thomas. “The Recording Fields: High Fidelity and Studio Audio Art.” In Music as Social Life.

• Wk 2: September 18 Cultural Impact of Post-Fordism and Urban Renewal
Davis, Mike. “The Prevalence of Slums.” In Planet of Slums.
Abrahamson, Mark. “Introduction, Background, and Preview.” In Global Cities. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. ER

Unit 2: New York City, United States

The Five Boroughs and the ’70s and early ’80s: Hip Hop, Punk, and Club Culture

• Wk 3: September 21 Downtown to Uptown: The Development and Spread of Disco
Lawrence, Tim. “Pollination: The Rise of the Downtown Party Network.” In Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-1979. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. ER
Lawrence, Tim. “Recognition: The Crystallization of a Sound.” In Love Saves the Day. ER

• Wk 3: September 23 Urban Grit and Noise: Punk and DIY
Polk O’Meara, Caroline. “The Bush Tetras, ‘Too Many Creeps,’ and New York City.” American Music 25 (2007): 193-215. ER

• Wk 3: September 25 Hip-Hop and the Bronx
** Writing Assignment 1: Reading Response Due in Class (5% of Final Grade)
Chang, Jeff. “Necropolis: The Bronx and the Politics of Abandonment.” In Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2005. ER

The City, Migration, and Mobility

• September 28 No Class – Yom Kippur

• Wk 4 TBA Latinos and Música Negra I: Nuyorican Soul and Salsa
Knights, Vanessa. “Nostalgia and the Negotiation of Dislocated Identities : Puerto Rican Boleros in New York and Nuyorican Poetry.” In Postnational Musical Identities: Cultural Production, Distribution and Consumption in a Globalized Scenario. Edited Ignácio Corona and Alejandro L. Madrid. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007. ER
García, David F. “Embodying Music / Disciplining Dance: The Mambo Body in Havana and New York City.” In Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader. Edited by Julie Malnig. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009. ER

• Wk 4: September 30 Latinos and Música Negra II: Reggaetón
Marshall, Wayne. “Dem Bow, Dembow, Dembo: Translation and Transnation in Reggaeton.” Lied und populäre Kultur / Song and Popular Culture: Jahrbuch des Deutschen Volksliedarchivs 53 (2008): 131-51. ER
Marshall, Wayne. “From Música Negra to Reggaeton Latino: The Cultural Politics of Nation, Migration, and Commercialization.” In Reggaeton. Edited by Raquel Z. Rivera, Wayne Marshall, and Deborah Pacini Hernandez. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. BR

• Wk 4: October 2 Urban Folk Music and Class Mobility
Turino, Thomas. “Old Time Music and Dance.” In Music as Social Life: the Politics of Participation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Unit 3: Mexico City: The Biggest City in the Western Hemisphere

Intranational Musical Genres: Mariachi and Cumbia

• Wk 5: October 5 Mexico City and the World
Davis, Mike. “Treason of the State” and “SAPing the Third World.” In Planet of Slums.

• Wk 5: October 7 Cultural Industry and Mariachi
Sheehy, Daniel E. “Mexico.” In Handbook of Latin American Music. 2d Edition. Edited by Dale A. Olson and Daniel E. Sheehy. New York: Routledge, 2007. ER

• Wk 5: October 9 Transnational Hybrids: Cumbia and Tecno-Cumbia
** Writing Assignment 2, Listening Response Due in Class (5% of Final Grade)
García Canclini, Néstor. “Mexico: Cultural Globalization in a Disintegrating City.” American Ethnologist 22 (November 1995): 743-755. ER

Transnational Music of Mexico: Rock en Español, Nor-tec, World Music of Mexico

• Wk 6: October 12 No Class for Fall Break

• Wk 6: October 14 Rock en Español and Border Music
Kun, Josh. “Rock's Reconquista.” In Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. ER
Dillon, Hope. "Café Tacuba: Forging a New Mexican Identity." Journal of American Culture 20 (1997): 75-83 ER

• Wk 6: October 16 Mexican World Music
Gonzales Aktories, Susana. “Lila Downs: The Voice of a Butterfly.” Lied und Populäre Kultur / Song and Popular Culture: Jahrbuch des Deutschen Volksliedarchivs 53 (2008): 153-166. ER

Unit 4: São Paulo, Brazil: Urban Jungle and Folk Music Revivalism

A City of Division and Peripheries
• Wk 7: October 19 São Paulo and Spatial Segregation
Caldeira, Teresa P.R. “São Paulo: Three Patterns of Spatial Segregation.” In City of Walls: Crime, Segregation and Citizenship in São Paulo. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. ER
Davis, Mike. “Illusions of Self-Help.” In Planet of Slums.

• Wk 7: October 21 Developmentalism and Regional Folk Music Reinvention
Davis, Mike. “Haussman in the Tropics.” In Planet of Slums.
Caldeira, Teresa P.R. “The Increase in Violence.” In City of Walls: Crime, Segregation and Citizenship in São Paulo. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. BR

• Wk 7: October 23 Drum ‘n’ Bass in the São Paulo Periphery
Fontanari, Ivan Paulo de Paris. “Globalizing the Periphery: Transnational Extensions and Local Tensions in an Global/Underground Music Scene in Brazil.” Echo: A Music-Centered Journal 8 (Fall 2006). ER

Immigration and Transnational Identification

• Wk 8: October 26 Brazilian Cultural Capital
Ortiz, Renato. “Legitimacy and Life-Style.” In Latin American Cultural Studies Reader (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 474-497. ER

• Wk 8: October 28 Regional and Folk Music and Cannibalist Aesthetics
Olson, Dale A. “Music of Immigrant Groups.” In Handbook of Latin American Music. 2d Edition. Edited by Dale A. Olson and Daniel E. Sheehy. New York: Routledge, 2007. BR

• Wk 8: October 30 Brazilian Hip-Hop
** Term Paper Proposal Due in Class (10 percent of Final Grade) **
Pardue, Derek. “Hip Hop as Pedagogy: A Look into ‘Heaven’ and ‘Soul’ in São Paulo, Brazil,” Anthropological Quarterly 80 (2007): 673-709. ER

Unit 5 Paris, France as Cosmopolis

Chanson, Parisian Electronic Dance Music and Hip-Hop
• Wk 9: November 1 Parisian Chanson and the Legacy of Colonialism
Looseley, David L. “Chanson as National Myth: The Authenticity Debate.” In Popular Music in Contemporary France: Authenticity, Politics, Debate. New York: Berg, 2003. ER

• Wk 9: November 3 Parisian Hip-Hop and Electronic Dance Music
Hawkins, Peter. “MC Solaar: A Gardiner of Words.” Chanson: The French Singer-Songwriter From Aristide Bruant to the Present Day. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000. ER
Prévos, André J. M. “Postcolonial Popular Music in France: Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture in the 1980s and 1990s.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA. Edited by Tony Mitchell. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002. BR

• Wk 9: November 5 Midterm Exam (15 percent of Final Grade)

Unit 6 Mumbai, India

Film Music Producer

• Wk 10: November 9 Mumbai as Cultural Producer
Davis, Mike. “Slum Ecology.” In Planet of Slums..
Neuwirth, Robert. “Mumbai: Squatter Class Structure.” In Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World. New York: Routledge, 2006. ER

• Wk 10: November 11 History of Bollywood and Film Music
Sen, Biswarup. “The Sounds of Modernity: The Evolution of Bollywood Film Song.” In Global Bollywood : Travels of Hindi Song and Dance. Edited by Sangita Gopal, Sujata Moorti. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. ER

• Wk 10: TBA Contemporary Bollywood and NRI Culture

North Indian Classical Music, Light Classical and Popular Music

• Wk 11: November 16 Bollywood and Classical Music
Booth, Greg. “Pandits in the Movies: Contesting the Identity of Hindustani Classical Music and Musicians in the Hindi Popular Cinema.” Asian Music (2005): 60-86. ER

• Wk 11: November 18 Non-Cinematic Popular Music in India
Manuel, Peter. “Popular Music in India: 1901-1986.” Popular Music 7 (1988): 157-176. ER

• Wk 11: November 20 No Class!

• Wk 12: November 23 Light Classical Music
** Term Papers (25 percent of Final Grade) Due!
Manuel, Peter. “Cassettes and the Modern Ghazal.” In Cassette Culture: Popular Music and Technology in North India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. ER

Unit 7 Tokyo, Japan: The "Postmodern" City

Post World War II Development, J-Pop, Karaoke, Shibuya Ke’i

• Wk 13: November 30 Tokyo Post-WWII
Atkins, E. Taylor. “Bop, Funk, Junk, and That Old Democracy Boogie: The Jazz Tribes of Postwar Japan.” In Blue Nippon: Authenticating Jazz in Japan. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001. BR

• Wk 13: December 2 Contemporary Tokyo, J-Pop and Karaoke
Shimatachi, Hiro R. “A Karaoke Perspective on International Relations.” In Japan Pop! Inside the World of Japanese Pop Culture. Edited by Timothy J. Craig. 2000. ER

• Wk 13: December 4 J-Pop and Shebuya Ke’i
Toth, Csabah. “J-Pop and Performances of Young Female Identity.” Young 16 (2008): 111-129. ER

Hip Hop, Video Game Music, and Cosplay

• Wk 14: December 7 Japanese Hip-Hop
Condry, Ian. “A History of Japanese Hip Hop: Street Dance, Club Scene, Pop Market.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA. Edited by Tony Mitchell. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002. ER
Condry, Ian. Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006. BR

• Wk 14: December 9 Contemporary Japanese Popular Music
Mattar, Yasser. “Miso Soup for the Ears: Contemporary Japanese Popular Music and its Relation to the Genres Familiar to the Anglophonic Audience.” Popular Music and Society 31 (2008): 113-123.

• Wk 14: December 11 Video Game Music and Cosplay

Final Exam TBA!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Notes on Being "From Away"

You may have heard, but I no longer live in Los Angeles. And I no longer survive on merely "two wheels." Last month, my partner/wife (depends on state) and I packed up our cat and our household and high-tailed it across the country to Waterville, Maine where I will be a Postdoctoral Fellow of Non-Western Music at Colby College starting September 1. While I'm grateful for the job at such a nice educational institution, some very basic things about my life have fundamentally changed.

I now live in rural New England. I live in a state with around 1 million residents and a city with around 12,000 people. Everyone knows that I am not from around here. Mainers have an expression to describe people like me – "from away." And that isn't necessarily a good thing. In the campaign to preserve the right for same-sex couples to marry, the opposition is quick to inform voters that the other campaign is using dollars and personnel "from away." (Technically, both sides are doing this but no matter.)

The climate and food politics are really different here. The locavore movement has been huge in this region for quite some time, which specialty license plates saying "support local agriculture" and the Hannaford's supermarkets featuring "local produce" alongside produce from Mexico and California. Also, many restaurants proudly support local agriculture. I often hear, "Maine was local before it was trendy." All of this local agriculture is really different from what I am used to. When I go to Farmers' Markets, I will encounter produce that is about 6 months off from what we used to get in our CSA box in Los Angeles. We are still eating a lot of chard, kale, and squash. It also means that I'm more likely to encounter blueberries and goat's milk products than I ever thought possible. Unfortunately because Maine has been trapped in unseasonal rainfall and a nasty bit of blight invading crops, it means that all produce is much more expensive here.

The rain also means that I am riding my bike significantly less than I used to. At first the rain was completely discouraging, but now I am of the opinion that unless the forecast predicts a 50 percent chance of rain or more, I will ride if possible. But thunder storms (and flood warnings) happen, and I'm still not riding as much as I'd like. Whereas a typical week in LA had me riding between 150-250 miles a week, here I'm lucky if I can hit 90 miles. It's quite depressing. Sure there are cycling clubs and groups in my area, but people here are content to do 30 miles maximum. They all think I'm a little intense in my desire to go long.

And cycling is really different here. The air is clean. There are no major climbs. There are significantly fewer cars on the roads. Cyclists ride two-three-four abreast. And there are cows and wild turkeys alongside the roads. Often when I ride around, I never have to stop at a traffic signal. There is less of a need to fight about cycling etiquette because there is so much more space. Whenever I talk about my collisions with cars in Los Angeles, people just don't understand. Cycling culture shock is not something I expected in the least, but there it is.

Rural New England also means that I am now the proud(?) owner of a car. I try to avoid using it whenever possible, but I'm driving much more than I want to be. A few weekends ago, we drove to a camp site with our bikes in tow and went for a nice ride around a Maine peninsula. It was beautiful and vastly different from what I am used to. We'll see how I continue to adjust in the coming months.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Notes on Transitions

So the ALC was great (except for the rain on Day 6). I returned and almost immediately graduated from UCLA and proceeded to pack up my life for a big move. In 3 days I will board a plane with my partner, my mom, and my cat for Maine where I will begin a postdoctoral fellowship in non-western music at Colby College. Big news and big changes!

The huge contrast between riding my bike everyday for the AIDS/LifeCycle and temporarily returning to life in LA has been a little rough. I did a couple of nice and long rides before all of the huge changes got under way, but I have mostly been living a very different lifestyle than I would prefer. For the last week I have lived life in LA without my bike or my scooter and have instead been using a variety of buses to get around town (and the occasional car use). As a result, I have been cranky and extremely sad about seeing the incredible disfunction of the city. Why, for example are major roads like Beverly and Pico so poorly maintained? Why is the city cutting back on the 704 line (the rapid line that runs along Santa Monica Blvd.) when ridership is so consistently high? But I suppose I will have to let go of all of these LA specific problems along with the sad condition of my home state once I board that plane on Tuesday.

I have been fretting for the last few weeks about the fate of this blog. What will happen to my thoughts on urban life on two wheels when I will be living in a small town and once again be a car-owner? What will happen when I am forced by cold weather to stay off my bike saddle for months at a time? Honestly, I haven't been a very good blogger since I started the home stretch of my dissertation. But now that I have more time to contemplate bigger ideas, I have decided to use this blog for a slightly different purpose than it was originally intended to do. The theme of this blog will shift to a more general contemplation of sound studies, urban studies and social media. The specificity of LA, and more broadly southern California, will disappear almost entirely in place of my contemplations of living my pro-bicycle lifestyle in a very different environment.

In coming posts, expect to see my thoughts on my fall and spring courses at Colby College. Fun times!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Stops, Starts, and the Dangers of Hesitation

Warning! Snarky Post Below

In honor of Bike to Work Day, I must register the following complaint about cyclist - motorist relations. And no, I do not wish to address the infamous Hummer v. Cyclist incident (check this for LAPD's horrifying response at a recent City Council meeting). Rather, I want to discuss something much more fundamental.

You know you have seen them. You are stopped at an intersection and just within eyeshot you see a cyclist riding in tiny circles just behind the limit line. If you are a driver, you probably tried to ignore this strange behavior. After all, who in their right mind would ride in tiny circles in the middle of a busy intersection? Better yet, you may remember that cyclist with clipless pedals frantically trying to keep from falling with quick jerks, tiny slides forward, or what have you (what I call "a failed track stand").

Fixed-gear cyclists and wannabe track racers listen up: it's ok to put your foot down when you are stopped at a major intersection. In fact, it's probably a much safer option than riding in tiny circles. I've seen this ridiculous behavior more and more on my daily rides through town, and it is almost completely exclusive to commuters who don't wear helmets (itself a sign of the wisdom of the rider). At it's worst, those "circle riders" (is that a good name for them?) selfishly endanger other cyclists by hogging the most visible area of an intersection. It also inconveniences pedestrians (you know, the people who ALWAYS have the right of way?) by not allowing them to cross the street. As someone who can't do a track stand, I respect those cyclists who can effectively come to a complete stop, balance, and restart without putting their foot down. But the circles? Please. You aren't that cool and you look like a fool and only irritate everyone else around you.

Another problem I've recently noticed on my rides around town are the overly courteous drivers. You know who they are. They obviously have the right of way, yet they don't take it because they see a bicycle and assume the cyclist will do something unpredictable and stupid. The whole chain of events is incredibly disruptive to the flow of traffic and only aggravates everyone involved. When I signal that I will make a left turn, I normally stop to yield to oncoming traffic. Once my foot is down, that's it. Any excessive courtesy doesn't help me because I have to restart from a stop anyway. I've gotten to the point lately where I have to signal to oncoming traffic to please, for the love of god, take your right of way! I fully realize that some of my less well-mannered fellow cyclists might be perpetuating this behavior, but I really wish social norms were much more clearly established. However, it should not be so difficult for me to negotiate a left-turn into campus...

I'm a person who likes ambiguities. I am a humanities scholar after all. But in social contexts like traffic, hesitation and ambiguity only cause problems. People fail driver's exams for not being decisive. This is why all drivers have to pass tests about the rules. Simple things like stops, starts, and yielding to oncoming traffic should not be difficult negotiations. C'mon people. There are bigger things to worry about. So let's get out there and ride safely and predictably.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

that 30-30

I owe the readers of this blog a real blow-by-blow of what happened from days 16-30. But since time and patience are limited commodities, I must sum up.

How did I fare in my crazy training schedule?
For all days but one I rode the minimum of 30 miles. The one day I rode fewer miles was the night before my weekend of riding over 90 miles two days in a row. I think the excess of what followed justified a little leniency. I discovered that weekend that I am getting much faster in my cycling. On day 20 (96 miles), I rode through heavy headwinds and still finished in the top ten percent of riders. On day 21 (93 miles), I finished in the top five percent. There is something to be said for the kind of long-term endurance over many days that I now have. It's great.

Any Injuries?
In the last ten days of my 30-30, my recoveries got longer. Often, I felt fatigued for the first ten or fifteen miles each day. It took me until Thursday (day 25) before I felt good again, and even then I felt like I was always edging close to an injury. My final weekend of longer rides was scary. Clearly, pushing it into my threshold would have resulted in injuries to either my ankles or knees (hello I-T band!). Nothing happened, but the last few days were scary.

I finished my 30-30 incredibly close to my fundraising goal. I did not make it, though, and I will likely not raise enough money to earn a fancy AIDS / LifeCycle jersey.

In other news, I have joined Team Marriage Equality (although my name is not on the team page yet), a Life Cycle team that aims to draw attention to marriage equality rights for gay and lesbian couples. I'm not sure if we are going to order team jerseys or anything, but I am very excited about this.

** Next post: Bike to Work Week!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Days 14 and 15: Hot fun!

Day 14: I did a short ride up Nichols Canyon to Mulholland Drive and down Sepulveda with Lauren S. on the warmest Sunday in recent memory. Lauren doesn't normally climb hills and considering the intensity and heat of this particular route (ahem... 15% grade on Woodrow Wilson Drive), I was impressed with her good attitude. At one point during the rolling hills on Mulholland, Lauren and I met some of the LA Wheelmen. What a good natured cycling club! I need to remember them when I want to have a good ride at a chill pace (or a crazy 400-miler... who does that?!). Good times! We also saw the Shifting Gears crew on Sepulveda. What a cruel climb to do in the heat since there is no shade... Poor gears! Total miles: 35.

Day 15: PCH / Latigo / the valley / Topanga Canyon
Chad and I had this crazy idea of doing a long, hill-intensive ride on Monday. What we didn't anticipate was that it would be a blazingly hot day. Even though we left Santa Monica at 7AM, it got really hot by 8:30AM (smack-dab in the middle of our 7-mile ascent on Latigo). It was so hot, in fact, that we decided to trim the route when we reached Kanan-Pt. Dume. Our trip to the valley was hot and uneventful. All of the major corridors between the valley and malibu always astound me. Cars move at such high speeds even though they often only get two lane roads. The temperatures in Agoura Hills and Calabasis were awful and made me wish we were back on Latigo Canyon... Our return ride up Topanga Canyon featured some very rude cars (why honk when the cyclist is as far to the right as possible?) and extremely warm gusts on our decent back to PCH. (Hint: cyclists are not supposed to work that hard on downhills.) Ironically, the riding was easy once we got to PCH and both of us felt fine. Wind is such a strange mistress... We ended our day with a lunch stop in Santa Monica. here's the route. Total miles: 66

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Day 13: ALC Day on the Ride

For today's training ride, I went out with hundreds of LA area ALC riders for the "Day on the Ride," a 65-mile simulation of the LifeCycle experience. I was determined to not get caught in the hoards of riders (I hate cycling crowds. Who knew?) so I rode out with the fast Training Ride Leader (TRL in these parts) who also happened to be ex-child star Chad Allen. BTW, he is really good humored about his past as a teeny bopper. I informed him that my sister used to have his picture on her wall and he laughed about it and said "it was an interesting way to grow up." So much fun! All of the faster riders (including Dario, David, Melissa, Tom, Chad and the other members of the team "Funky Monkey") played cycle-tag throughout the day and traded off who was in the lead. I felt completely challenged by riding with such great athletes. Also, Dario had a minor spill (complete with bike flip) when he hit a crack in the road just was we were turning onto Westmont from Gaffey. It was an elegant spill yielding only minor scratches on his arms and legs. If you are going to fall, that's how you want to do it... I was afraid that we was really hurt, but he did just fine.

Day on the Ride is never an "easy" ride. The ALC planners always try to set us up with a challenging, yet doable, route through the South Bay area. We had the big climb up the north side of the peninsula early on and another slow climb after lunch. Predictably, I had some difficulty on those rollers. They are a challenging set of hills. And with the temperature edging up to the high 80s and sand all along the beach bike path (NO!), it was a challenging day. I rolled across the finish line around 1:30.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Days 11 and 12

As part of my preparations for a long weekend of riding, I have limited my riding for the last couple of days to the closest imaginable neighborhoods.

Day 11: I rolled out of my apartment at 5:50 AM to meet up with riding buddy Chad for a morning spin down to the Marina. It was somewhat celebratory as I recently heard some good news. We also stopped by Groundworks Coffee on Main Street for some hot morning beverages. It was fabulous. Also, I made it to work with plenty of time to prepare for my TA duties. 6AM it is! For those interested, here's my (abbreviated) morning route to the Marina. Total miles (with commute): just shy of 32.

Day 12: Afternoon rides are never very fun, but today it was just downright irritating. Maybe I should shift my Friday strategy? It is a little tough to do otherwise since I teach in the morning, and I normally need those morning hours to prep for section. Today, it was windy as an added bonus, numerous things happened to me to make this ride less than pleasant. Much of this had to do with bad luck and poorly chosen route. I elaborate below:
• I got lost in the Palisades two times.
• I neglected to bring enough liquids for a warmer-weather ride and had to stop after 15 miles to get more.
• A truck knock a tree on Upper Mandeville Boulevard blocking traffic in both directions. I helped with its removal as much as I could in my cycling cleats.
• A fellow cyclist flagged me down to help him with his flat tire.

On the plus side, I had friendly conversation with everyone I encountered on my ride. Also, the actual riding was great. I felt really strong on Mandeville's slow ascent and had no trouble going full strength on the last, tough grade increase. Lesson learned: leave the house by 1PM on Fridays to avoid weekend traffic. Total miles: 31 (though it felt longer)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Day 10

For my first year on the ride, the Bel Air climbs route was one of the most intimidating rides we did. Wednesday morning, I did the most difficult parts of that ride by myself: Sarbonne / Stradella / Roscomare to Mulholland Drive. It was actually much easier than it used to be. (I distinctly remember feeling nauseated my first time attempting this ride.) The only difficult part was navigating a higher volume of traffic on Mulholland as I rode out to Encino Hills. Who knew so many people treated that road like a highway in the mornings?!
I finished off my day's riding by heading to UCLA to pick up my vegetables from our local CSA (complete with panniers and a rack). As part of a special event, the UCLA CSA hosted a screening of The Garden, the oscar nominated documentary about the closing of the South Central Community Gardens. As an aside, it turns out that UCLA CSA has noticed that some of us like to pick up our vegetables on our bikes. Check out this article. Note a certain familiar cyclist (not I!) in the second photo.
Total miles (including commute): 35

Days 8 and 9

Day 8
On Monday I decided to be nice to my body and do some casual climbs up Mandeville and Bundy – two of the most popular climbing spots in Brentwood. Something must be changing with my body because it felt really easy and painless (even the final push on Mandeville when the grade increases from six to ten percent). There is nothing like a low-intensity ride to make the training process doable.
In the afternoon, I made a trip to REI and finally obtained two very important items: Pearl Izumi's Sugar cycling knickers (with the world's best chamois), and full-fingered gloves. Spring is deceptive in Los Angeles, and on some occasions the morning temperatures in places like Mandeville can get dangerously cold. During Chad's 30-30, I rode dangerously underdressed and stopped being able to feel my fingers. This was grave news for my considering that cycling is a sport that depends on manual dexterity for safety. Eeek! So rest assured, dear readers, that I have no intention of freezing on my 6AM training rides around the west side of LA. Total Miles: 30.

Day 9
On Tuesday, I rolled out of the house at 6AM on the dot to do my morning training AND make it to work on time (that plan was successful). On my way up 26th, I saw all of the LaGrange morning riders preparing for their weekly spin down to the marina. I rode on without them down San Vicente. On my way back from the marina, I was overtaken by their pack. For just a second I understood why pack riding is so appealing: everyone was talking and pushing themselves and they were entirely visible to morning drivers. Chad was with them and we talked for all of 20 seconds.
I am not fast enough for LaGrange, but being around them in the middle of my 30-30 did raise an interesting thought for me. Over the last week or so I haven't suffered from any lethargy after a ride. The training has been working, but I worry that I have hit a plateau of sorts.
All of this means that my normal pace is no longer pushing me on a day-to-day basis and I need to change my gearing to get a better workout or I need to start switching things up. I suppose I can wait until the 30-30 (or even the LifeCycle) ends to really push my thresholds. But something needs to change if I'm going to see any improvements. Total miles (including commute): 34.


In other news, I have decided that I need to spend at least as much time on my research as I do on my bicycle saddle. It seems kind of obvious, but as the LifeCycle takes over my life in the coming weeks, this will prove to be quite a challenge. In other eco/community news, I plan to attend a screening of The Garden tonight at UCLA. I'll post my Day 10 entry once I ride home.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Days 3-7

Day 3: marina, mandeville, and wind. I am slowly learning that afternoon rides in the springtime in Los Angeles are a bad idea. Reason 1: more wind! I moved my tire size down to 23cm from 25 and every gust pushes my bike around like it's nothing. On days like last Wednesday it was SCARY!!
Reason 2: afternoon drivers don't like bicycles as much as early morning drivers. There was a lot of impatience on the road. Also there were an inordinate number of women who angrily honked at me that afternoon. What gives? I was in the right side of the lane near the shoulder. And, I was being perfectly safe and courteous. Some things in life I will never understand.
On the plus side, climbing mandeville (a 7 mile moderate hill) in the afternoon is great! There isn't much traffic and less traffic means fewer chances for accidents. When I got home I felt a strange compulsion to eat lotsa matzo. I made some matzo ball soup, charoset, and drank some wine. It was lovely day of riding and celebrating. Total mileage (including commute): 45.


Day 4: Almost immediately after my teaching responsibilities for the day ended, I left UCLA for Malibu with fellow graduate student CedarBough. It was a quick, fun spin and we even met up with some triathlon guys on San Vicente. Unfortunately, we made a bad decision when entering the VA on our way back to campus resulting in a pinched tire for my cycling buddy. Too bad because it was otherwise a perfect ride. Total mileage (including commute): 47.

Fundraising: My dollar count topped $1200 on Thursday which made me feel incredible! You guys are awesome!


Day 5: After teaching discussion section, I loaded up my panniers and rode straight down PCH to Laguna Beach for a family passover seder. Aside from the weather being really gloomy, it was a fun ride. Aside from an abnormally large number of phone calls, and the huge amount of extra weight I was carrying, I feel that I made pretty good time. When I was just south of Long Beach, I met another cyclist who was carrying the full touring gear. He showed me a beach path through Sunset Beach and Huntington Beach that avoided all of the cars. It was nice and we got to chat for quite some time. In Newport Beach, I met up with my mom for a late lunch. She insisted that I get in the car with her (mothers will do that), but the only problem was that my bike would not fit in the car as is along with 4 passengers. So, I dismantled my bike as quickly as I could (including the handlebars), and we drove the last 12 miles to the house in Laguna Beach. By the time we got to dinner, I ate like I truly earned it. Total mileage (including commute): 65.

Casualties: I realized 10 miles in that I had completely neglected to bring some bike water bottles with me (doh!), so I had to stop at a cycling shop to grab some more. Good bye $8...


Day 6: Yesterday's riding mostly consisted of getting to Occidental College and then getting home. I took the Amtrak from Orange County to Union Station, LA and hopped on the Gold-Line to South Pasadena. I then biked the 4 miles from the light-rail to Occidental College for some canvassing with Vote for Equality. After the canvass (around 3:30PM), I attempted to get myself home to Santa Monica. Unfortunately, I got a little lost once I hit the LA river. Who knew Los Angeles was so complicated?! I eventually found my way to Broadway, which got me to Olympic (my bicycle corridor of choice). The stretch from Chinatown to Downtown LA is simply amazing. I've been to both neighborhoods many times, but I normally don't get to look around at the scene on Broadway. I felt like I was in a real city for about 20 blocks. Unbelievable! And I was the only cyclist on that street!
Olympic was a good ride as is usual –- cracked gravel, rolling hills, and not very much traffic. I played a little tag with a Metro bus. The driver laughed each time I passed him in Koreatown. Somewhere near Highland, another cyclist (who enjoyed running stop lights) and I began to chat. Those two things made an otherwise unpleasant route bearable. You see, normally I ride my bike to get places or to get away. Doing a training ride along a commuting route was just... not fun. I will file this information away for future reference. Total mileage: 30 on the nose!!

Casualties of the day: a somewhat wasted training day (is my resentment too much?) and a lost set of panniers containing clothes on the Amtrak.


Day 7: Rolling spin to Trancas Canyon and back with Shifting Gears. At the meet-up I ran into an old training buddy from last year's AIDS/LifeCycle. Although the official ride consisted of 3 options (cross-creek, Latigo, and Trancas), I opted for Trancas when said cycling buddy said that he wasn't interested in the 10-mile climb. Sometimes company means more than mileage... We averaged 17 miles per hour (a relatively quick pace) and beat most of the nasty traffic. What a fun Easter ride! Total miles: 50.

In other news, I decided that I will indeed be riding in the Shifting Gears Double Century on April 25-26. What's another 200 miles?!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Day 1 and Day 2

Day 1, 6 April 2009
Yesterday was my third day in a row of riding at least 50 miles. This isn't the healthiest way to train, but there they were – three glorious days of sun. Can you blame me? I don't have anywhere to be on Mondays, so Chad called me up to see if I would be interested in riding out to Zuma beach and back (40+ mile round trip). I went, but within the first 5 miles I got a flat tire. (That's my second day in a row!) Not fun! Flat tires are especially bad news on PCH where there is no safe place to pull over and remedy the situation. Chad let me use his CO2 cartridge (which saved us about 10 minutes), but he also made the entire ride possible. When we noticed that in addition to my rear tire being on its way out, my rim tape was folded (bad, bad, bad), he told me about the dollar bill trick. You place a folded up dollar bill in the offending area of the tire or wheel which theoretically should allow you to ride without consequence. And it worked! We rode all the way out to Point Dune and back without another problem. I would say that our only big mistake was not stopping to get more water. I'm still not used to it being spring... Add in my 10.5 mile commute my total miles for the day were just over 50. Along the way I bought some new armadillo tires and carried Tuesday's wardrobe to my locker at the campus gym.
This was a great way to start off my crazy fundraising/training plan.

Day 2, 7 April 2009
I woke up at 5:30 AM to have enough time to get dressed in my cycling kit, eat breakfast, check my tire-pressure and meet Chad for a quick recovery spin. We went up to San Vicente and 26th and then turned downhill to Ocean Ave. straight through to the Marina and back. We saw a bunch of other cycling teams and clubs along the way (included among them, Shifting Gears and La Grange).
About 10 miles in I noticed two things about my progress: I was really tired and really thirsty. I went through an entire bottle of water in just over an hour. Then, horror of horrors, my left achilles tendon started to "bother me." I think if I were to push my milage to 200 miles in 4 days I would seriously injure myself. I've met my daily minimum with a low intensity ride. Let's hope the issue takes care of itself with some well-deserved rest.

Funds Earned Report
Ever since I announced that I'm doing the 30-30, six people have donated $270 bringing me to the brink of the 25% mark. For the record, that's just in a 24-hour period! You guys are great!

Monday, April 6, 2009

30 in 30 AIDS/LifeCycle Extravaganza

As many of you are aware, I am raising money for AIDS services in Southern California as part of the California AIDS/LifeCycle, a 7-day, 545 mile event beginning on May 31. I am putting my body through this once again because it is a great cause. All funds raised go directly to the LA Gay & Lesbian Center's HIV and AIDS services. The LifeCycle is more needed than ever before because of funding cuts from the state and federal government. In addition, as many people are hurting financially, the services are in much higher demand. The center doesn't want to have to turn anyone away. And to make matters more pressing: if I don't raise enough funds, I will not be able to ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It is an amazing event: over 2000 cyclists and 500 support staff moving through California over a week to increase visibility for HIV/AIDS. There is nothing else like it and I don't want to miss it.

I recently decided that I need to do more than train and ask for money. Instead, I've decided to do something that illustrates the AIDS/LifeCycle on a smaller, more personal level. Starting today, I will ride my bike a minimum of 30 miles a day for 30 days in a row regardless of weather. Often, that number will be higher (today it is 50 miles), but there will be no days off. I do this for the people I have known and lost. It is a small gesture, but I think it is meaningful.

I am asking you to sponsor me for the next 30 days. Would you be willing to give me an amount per day on my bicycle? I will post updates on facebook/twitter and this blog. The AIDS/LifeCycle will allow you to make your donation in installments (as many people have already done). Here is my own personal fundraising page.

Thank you for your support and please spread the word!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Earbuds, Listening, and Riding

Just to be clear: I have yet to defend the dissertation. I have, however, written all of my chapters. (Thank you, my dear readers, for your patience through that weird sprint to the finish.) The crazy and intense period of writing is, for all intents and purposes, over and has been for a few weeks now. My diss advisor tells me to let the document sit and work on other things. I consider my forays into sound studies and urban policy issues to be a PERFECT opportunity. So yes, I am back.


Today was the first official meeting of the Sound Studies Special Interest Group for the Society of Ethnomusicology. My participation in that meeting (via Skype) prompted me to think about one of the most prevalent activities I witness from my bicycle saddle as I ride around town. Earbuds. Many people drive with earbuds. An even higher percentage of bicycle riders train or commute with their headphones on. In case you didn't know, this activity is completely illegal. According to the California Vehicle Code, you can't operate a vehicle with anything in your ears unless it is for hearing protection (say, if you are operating a very noisy vehicle at a construction site). Many motorcyclists, for example, ride with ear plugs because they are literally damaging their ears when they travel at high speeds. I think the point of the prohibition is a safety concern. Can you hear a car overtaking you from behind as you ride along to your favorite tunes? Can you respond to an emergency if you can't hear it?

I have a problem with the way this law is set out. I personally never ride while wearing earbuds because I would never feel safe. After years of loud rehearsals and long club nights, my hearing isn't as good as it used to be. But I am sure that some people can properly distinguish mediated sound from the sounds of their environment and do it with panache. Many pedestrians walk in unsafe areas while wearing headphones, and earbuds are extremely common in public transit. (And many dangerous things happen to pedestrians and passengers on buses, subways, and trains.) Why the prohibition on riding or driving? What's more: many people who are hard of hearing operate vehicles and there is no prohibition against them. So why such an arbitrary prohibition?

Let me push a little bit more. Many policy makers do not pay attention to other factors that may inhibit hearing, such as construction and landscaping machines. Imagine trying to safely pass a bicycle when you can't even hear yourself saying "on your left." Earbuds don't help that situation, but they are far from the villain. There are so many acoustic factors that make certain traffic situations completely unsafe; yet, they rarely catch the sustained attention of policy makers (in the los angeles area at least).

My (completely unfounded) suspicion is that the prohibition is not against loud noises, but rather that sounds in earbuds are distracting. I could provide an extensive bibliography of theorists who lament the rise in distracted listening practice as a fundamental negative component of late modernity. But many drivers and cyclists long to be distracted. If they pay too much attention to the road or vehicle in front of them, they run the risk of being jittery and overreacting. One's awareness of moving so quickly can quickly heighten reflexes along with anxieties. It can also have the opposite effect: the constant rhythm of lights and lane dividers on the road (or the spandex of the cyclist in front of you) can be mesmerizing and make someone zone out, thereby decreasing reflexes. And in heavy traffic situations, being all-too-aware that you aren't moving can actually heighten road-rage. In these cases, distraction is an important part of process of moderating rather extreme reactions to the commuting experience. It is the most popular coping mechanism for stress and fatigue.

Maybe policy makers need to think of better ways to try to make the commuting experience better instead of encroaching on possible individual solutions to the problem. Maybe?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Stepping Away

Cross-posted on Musicology/Matters

There is a ton to blog about. I'm completely serious, and I have a lot to say. But there's also this nagging thing called my dissertation that has to get done very soon. And while I have been almost done for quite some time, I'd like to finally be done done. So forgive my absence in the blogosphere, but I have to step away for awhile. I'll return once I have a Ph.D next to my name, I promise.

In the meantime, rest assured that I will still ride my bike, think critically about sound in urban space, and contemplate the larger meaning of musicology (my chosen profession) and the new administration. I just won't be writing about it.

'Till then.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

On Yielding

Sometime over the summer, I was riding back to Santa Monica from Palos Verdes via the South Bay Bike Path when I nearly collided with some pedestrians near the Marina. Yes, I was riding as safely as I thought necessary on a path with heavy traffic from bicycles, pedestrians (including runners, kit-flyers, surfers), and roller-bladers when I scared everyone by not waiting for the path to be completely clear during my pass. No accidents or collisions occurred, but I was a little miffed. What were all of these non-cyclists doing on a bike path? And why should I yield to them?!

After much thought (and prodding from my partner), I realized that we cyclists can be just as bad as cars in our impatience on the road. Even though many of the group rides take the time to warn us to be safe and courteous during our group rides, they often neglect to discuss pedestrians; the main focus of these safety speeches is other cyclists and cars. But what about pedestrians? Or, to extend the point a little, young children on bicycles out with their parents? Ever since that day, I've tried to be more careful on my rides and practice "yielding" to the less mobile in the same way that I'd hope cars would treat me. I'm vulnerable on a bicycle, but I'm not nearly as vulnerable as a pedestrian is.

Today one of my fellow cyclists near got into a fist-fight when he almost crashed trying to pass a parent who was taking up 2/3s of the bike path to help his son as he learned to ride. I understand both sides of the story, and clearly the parent and cyclist were equally at fault in the near collision. If this moment were unique, I wouldn't have anything to say (or blog), but on many other moments during my short training ride I witnessed other acts of impatient cyclists not yielding to our vulnerable colleagues on the road. It concerns me. And I wonder why cyclists of all people feel entitled to ignore that particular rule. I obviously get upset when I see other cyclists break the law and put me at danger. Is it a lack of awareness? Why doesn't anyone else talk about it in the LA cycling community?