One of the pleasures of cycling is the middle finger it raises to the petite bourgeoisie. It is precisely because I am the embodiment, already, of the Radio National listener’s whole list of things to aspire to that I must eat McDonalds, do manual labour, count my prize money after a bike race and so on and so forth. Snob-proofing your life is important.
Another way to do that is to join in with the nightlife on a Saturday evening. There was a time when it was frightening. But the baby boomers are dead now, so things are much better.
I’ve been a nightclub performer, rickshaw rider, breakdancing busker, guitar playing busker, and just another dude in the kebab shop at 2 in the morning. A perk of being paid to travel to many different places for work is I have been able to taste the night life of dozens upon dozens of cities.
In America I’ve seen nightclubs with gun checks as you enter the door. In Scandinavia they dance in circles and snog strangers at the end of the night—you would think they were all still in high school. There’s a place in the South of France I could tell you about where dudes take their women in dog collars with leads wearing G-strings and no tops. In Asia they let anyone with a Ferrari park the darned thing right at the door. Craziest of all, I suppose, was the all-you-can-drink disco I went to in Bradford in 2002.
Clearly, nightclubbing varies from culture to culture. You know the biggest difference of all though? It’s how people get home.
When I lived in New York in 2006 almost everybody made their way back to the cheap streets by train—I doubt Bloomberg’s bike lanes in the posh parts of town have done much to change that in recent years. Do you have any idea what the lights on those trains do to drunk peoples complexions? I mean, how many prior arrangements for sex must have fallen through in that light!
As bad as the C Train undoubtedly is, it can’t match the horror of a taxi queue in a city that is sprawling and reliant on cars. My favourite way of training for bike races is to pedal bike rickshaws on a Saturday evening. As a bonus I get a front row seat on the chaos surrounding peoples trips home.
The city is happy until 1 in the morning, and then it all starts. Soon young people can be seen huddled under awnings and on gutters, like refugees, unable to find a way home to the suburbs. They might have spent whatever they were meant to be saving for a taxi on something impulsive, like entry to a club, or a kebab. They might have developed hypothermia in the 1hr+ line for a taxi so resorted to walking to try to get warm. Or maybe their designated driver has mistakenly gone home without them. Call it a first world dilemma and hardly as bad as what’s facing the Syrians, but I call it a failure of planning and one that is leaving young people exposed to the preying hyenas who come out after midnight as well.
The young people we need to protect aren’t the ferals that news crews film attacking police. They’re likeable kids. Here are some of the people who were transported this week by bicycle rickshaw:
I like riding rickshaws for the chance it gives me to proselytise to the young. I tell the girls in high heels about Mikael’s cyclechic site. I tell the young guys that when they grow up they will all need a Raleigh like their grandfather owned: for going to work and the pub.
I delight in showing them that pedal power has speed yet can get you right to the door. I also show them shortcuts through the city that they would not know as drivers, and would not have taken the time to discover by the slow mode of walking.
Then last weekend I saw this:
It’s a group of young people riding home from the clubs at one in the morning. They’re on the footpath with no lights and no helmets. They remind me of the Situationists in Paris, erasing the capitalist order with a performative rite. To my eye, they’re a futurist cult. Evidence of their clandestine activities is also to be seen around popular night spots:
I remember a night with Henry Cutler and a few other friends in Amsterdam, maybe two years ago, and listening to Henry say cities are shaking down around bicycle transport. I thought of the way salt settles to the bottom of a packet of chips. Subsidising driving with wars over oil, or providing more buses and trains, is like turning the chip packet upside down for a second. The flavour is only going to go back to the bottom.
Bicycle transport is the natural way to use a flat city, especially one like Newcastle Australia where most of the streets were surveyed well before the advent of cars. The generation who built this city had bikes but no helmets and were safe enough riding home from the pubs. Anyone who has travelled to Europe, especially Holland, Germany, Denmark or Sweden, or cities elsewhere like Barcelona or cities in Northern Italy, will know cycling is the natural way to go clubbing. Based on what I’ve seen in those countries, it is my view that anyone who is sober enough to get into a club, is sober enough to ride home on the footpath or the backstreets of an Australian city (though I would suggest everyone own a front and rear light).
p.s.: avoiding trouble may not be the #1 priority of the clubbers themselves.