Commuting in Mankato: An Origin Story


Earlier this year (late April, to be inexact), I decided to park my car. For the entire summer.

I pulled about 400 bucks out of my savings account and bought an entry-level hybrid commuter, my first bicycle in nearly fifteen years. My last ride was a 20-inch Dyno freestyle BMX, ’cause that was the cool thing for a shwag-smoking, JNCO-wearing, Soulfly-bumping scrub to have. But shortly after my sixteenth birthday, I bought a two-wheel drive, four-cylinder Ford Ranger from my boss for fifty bucks. Nevermind that it was a worthless four-color deathtrap; I had FREEDOM. Or something.

Yet the itch to ride came back a couple of years ago. I always liked the idea of cycling as a main method of transportation, but the practice was intimidating for a number of reasons…not the least of which being the inevitable road rust. But the benefits were clear: It’s great exercise (like squats), it’s hellaciously fun (not like squats), and it looks pretty cool (also not like squats). Plus, rednecks hate it.

All valid reasons to do something. But the main reason why I made the switch is a pretty simple one, and something that people really don’t step back and consider:

Driving fucking sucks.

Yes, it’s a necessary thing in Minnesota’s harshest moments–rest assured that my now-stationary Subaru’s all-wheel badassery will be crushing snowstorms come January. But the actual act of driving is joyless, entitlement-inducing, costly, and wasteful.

Don’t worry: I’ll skip the “oil is bad” blowboxing for those more passionate about it. While I try to be an environmentally-conscious human, a student of the Don’t Be A Dick School of Consumerism (“you really don’t need plastic grocery bags,” “incandescent light bulbs are dumb,” etc.), I’m not riding a bike as a way to “save the planet.” Is it a tiny punch in the Exploitative Corporate Predators’ collective ballsack? Well, I’d like to think so, but it’s not even that. It’s more an act of avoidance than actual activism.

Fossil fuels aside, driving a car is insanely expensive, and the people that reap the benefits of vehicle usage are the capitalist forces that enable it, not the consumer themselves. Think about it: Most cars on the road are relatively late-model, gently-used vehicles. Some people drive new cars (assholes), others driver clunkers (non-assholes). But the vast majority of motorists fall somewhere in the middle.

How did they get there? Well, they likely went to a car dealership, where a boring white guy that probably wears golf shirts to restaurants likely swindled some commission. But he’s the low man. Up the chain, bankers and insurance agents push paper in their non-job cubicles, enabling Car Buyer to purchase something they can’t reasonably afford. Interest is shaved and premiums paid, and Car Buyer’s money has now been dumped into no less than three institutions that have atrocious track records in both customer relations and actual services rendered. (Good luck fishing for a decent insurance rate in the wake of decades of collusion with auto body specialists, America.)

Kurt Russell is awesome. This movie wasn't.

Kurt Russell is awesome. This movie wasn’t.

All this to purchase an unwieldy machine that will drastically depreciate almost instantly and is GUARANTEED TO FAIL.

So that sucks. But the worst thing? The worst thing about driving is that it makes you hate people. People that you don’t even know. People that you can’t even see. People that raised your ire because they committed an on-road transgression that cost you twelve seconds of travel time, or forced you to tap your brake pedal for a moment, or required you to move your steering wheel four inches to the left. These people ARE THE WORST, and you are THE BEST. Because road rage, no matter how minor, is bizarrely intoxicating. And it’s one of the dumbest things in American culture.

(My ex-wife had borderline-comical road rage. She also hated Nick Cave, watched reality television, and owned a North Face jacket. Don’t be that person.)

Look, there are a lot of reasons for converting to two wheels; they might be rooted in personal health, personal finance, or environmental activism. I’m just trying to say that something as simple as being annoyed by the status quo is reason enough. Find your zen, humans.

In the future, we’ll talk more about what makes bike commuting cool, and a lot less about what makes driving terrible.

Get Red With…

Two Wolves – “Presented With a Proposition”

It’s strange that punk/metal bands shy away from slide guitar and harmonicas. I mean, ZZ Top rules, right? Y’all have been blasting “The Wizard” for damn near 40 years now, correct? Get with the program. Quit tussling with tropes and have some fun.

New Zealand’s Two Wolves, like most cool people, enjoy fun. And slide guitar. And harmonicas. Their 2013 record, The Roar and Peal of Distant Thunder, flew under the radar of most, only brought to light by my former colleague (and NZ native) Craig Hayes in this scene overview from last year. But with the popularity of stoner rock bouncers like Red Fang and the band’s ragged, crusty angle on driving beardo riffage, the band should find a wider audience if they get their shit together and crank out more jams.

However, if there’s anything I learned from years in the “music journalism” trenches, it’s that prognostication is a loser’s game, so enjoy the record for what it is: A nasty little gem from the South Pacific, a rough-n’-tumble blend of freewheeling rock-n’-roll and goodhearted nihilism. Turn it up.