To that end, I decided to seek out and experience “bike culture” last night at an event called “Bike Shorts.” Bike Shorts is a regular event where people screen bike-related short films, so I figured if I were to find “bike culture” anywhere I’d find it there. It takes place at the Galapagos Art Space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. If you’re wondering what an “Art Space” is, it’s a bar. Galapagos is famous for its fetid, stagnant reflecting pool, which takes up like 25% of its useable square footage. Galapagos used to also host a lot of McSweeney’s-related events, and there are those that say that Dave Eggers’s unctuous smarm is one of the many fluids of which the reflecting pool is comprised.
I arrived by stretch SUV with a small entourage and found a sizeable contingent of the bike culture already waiting outside for the doors to open, their bicycles clinging to every street sign in the area like mussels to pier pillars. The variety of bikes was stunning. There were fixed-gears with colored rims that matched, and fixed-gears with colored rims that didn’t match. Some of the fixed-gears had narrow bars, and some of them had really narrow bars. Some had stickers on them, and others had a lot of stickers on them. I might even have seen someone coasting, though that might simply have been a trick of the light. Clearly, though, a wide cross-section of the “bike culture” was in attendance.
The first thing I noticed about the “bike culture” itself was that it smokes cigarettes just as much as the rest of the culture. In fact, I’m surprised the tobacco companies haven’t noticed this, since I think they’ve got a lot to gain from targeting their advertising towards this demographic. The second thing I noticed was that members of the “bike culture” walk around with their polo mallets the same way that people in Park Slope walk around with their yoga mats, proving that indeed bike polo is the new Wiffle Ball. I was clearly in the presence of some serious cyclists. I’m not lying when I say I was a bit intimidated.
Soon the doors opened, though the process of ID-checking and money-taking was a slow one. It was almost exactly like boarding a flight, except there were a lot more messenger bags, I didn’t have to take my shoes off, and nobody was pulling elderly Jewish women out of the line to check them for explosives. Another lesson: “bike culture” involves a surprising amount of red tape. Finally, we made it in. By now I knew the night was not going to be an easy one, so I placed a multi-tiered drink order and set to anesthetizing myself.
Eventually my entourage and I made our way into the screening room, which was already teeming with bike culture, and secured ourselves some wall space. We waited quite some time for the films to begin, but there appeared to be some kind of delay. Eventually my anesthesia began to wear off, so my handler and I set out for the bar, tripping over bike polo mallets and getting our feet caught in messenger bag shoulder straps with every step. Upon arriving at the bar the flustered bartender informed us that he’d have to go change the kegs since all the taps were emitting was a shampooey foam. As we waited, the films finally began, so I returned to the theater as my handler graciously attended the beers.
I walked in and found a little place to stand behind a guy with a hairstyle he stole from that guy from The Prodigy. I then turned to the screen and found that the very same guy was being featured in the film. He was standing in that playground where they play bike polo and cursing and ranting and making bike polo-related inside jokes. The hairstyle guy must have been an important person in bike culture because the audience seemed quite taken with him. He also seemed quite taken with himself, and I could tell from his expression that he was quite pleased about how his hairstyle looked on film.
The film ended, my handler arrived with the rest of the beers, and we ran the mallet-and-bag gauntlet back to the rest of my entourage as I did my best not to spill anything on my tuxedo. (The flustered bartender apparently announced to my handler his intention to tender his resignation to the management that very night, and to emphasize this he gave the beers to my handler gratis. This was to be the highpoint of the evening.) Next was a film I can’t remember. Then there was some vintage Charles Kurault CBS piece from the 80s or something about a bike messenger, and then a clip of the same messenger being interviewed by David Letterman. Then there was a weird and awful Maya Deren-esque film that drove the audience to heckling, which was followed by a sort of cute stop-motion film in which a cog, a bit of chain, a chain tool, and a Surly Jethro Tool have a race. Then there was an unfunny narrative film that was like “Jackass” without the stunts or jokes. Then there may or may not have been something else, and then there was a movie about this guy Niki who went for the Hour Record at Kissena Velodrome, which I happened to already know the background on, but which you’d never know from watching the film because the filmmaker couldn’t be bothered to establish where this was taking place, who the various people in the film were, what the actual hour record is, who Niki is, or even what his last name is. Then I announced to our entourage that we were leaving, and we ran the mallet-and-bag gauntlet again. But someone convinced us we should stay, and I felt like I should give him the benefit of the doubt since I want to be part of “bike culture” so badly, so we watched the end of that Conan O’Brien thing where he works as a bike messenger, and then that bike moving video came on. That cracked my resolve, so I once again announced we were leaving, which we did, this time successfully.
In conclusion, I learned that I’d rather watch bad videos on YouTube, since instead of making difficult trips to a poorly-organized bar I can keep the bottle right next to me. Also, I can do it in my underpants. I also learned that when you make bike-related short films you don’t have to make them entertaining or provide any background information since you’ll only be showing them to your friends who will be so excited to see themselves on camera they won’t really care about what they’re watching. And if someone’s not your friend or not in on the joke you shouldn’t care about them or bother trying to engage them, because who cares, right? Penultimately, I learned that David Letterman and Conan O’Brien are both really funny despite a connection to “bike culture” that is tenuous at best. Lastly, I learned that simply having and riding a bike does not necessarily make you a part of “bike culture.”