As generally a helmet wearing lady, it offends me doubly when I get chastised by strangers when I happen to not be wearing one. Especially when the context for my riding is so benign that the likelihood I'll fall on my head is reduced to .000001%. This happened a little over a week ago on a bicycle tour of the East Bay with some nice city planners. I'd forgotten my helmet by accident! and caught some flack about it from a bossy rider, not on our tour as a matter of fact, old man commuter type. He looked me right in the eye as he said it, as though I were tossing back shots of tequila in my third trimester or something. It made me mad enough to mention the experience in my previous post, subtly. And apparently I still haven't gotten it out of my system.

So consider this an addendum to the last post, this time armed with a timely quote from a fellow blogger. He writes more eloquently than I:

Of course, I'm not surprised people were upset about the helmet...We live in a time when having a brake on your bike is seen as a matter of personal preference, but not wearing a helmet is considered suicidal and an affront to human decency. Which is not to say that you shouldn't wear a helmet. Obviously it's always better to wear one than not to wear one, and you really can't go wrong putting one on. But I will say that in some sense a helmet is kind of like a yarmulke (or, if you prefer, a kippah) in that it tells the world you are a member of the Congregation of Safety. And just because you don't wear one all the time doesn't mean you don't believe in safety and should be scorned. Some of us simply choose to worship in our own way when and where we choose, as godless and wrong as it may be.

Thanks to the elusive snob for his perfect words on this. I wish I'd had the snob in my pocket back there with that old man. Next time...


Nutter Butter

Dear Mayor Nutter,

You sure know how to butter us up over here at FH. More bike racks, you say? Not just like, 10 more, but 1,400 more bike racks? That's one for probably every person I've ever met in my life, times 2. Way to go.

Just so we're clear though, these bike racks aren't going to work like hush money. We're not going to stop bringing up all those other issues plaguing Philadelphia's cyclists. We're not going to apologize for taking up lanes of traffic. We're not going to just ride behind the SEPTA bus when it stops at every corner. And we're not going to obey every traffic law until off-duty Philadelphia cops do too.

Look Nutter, you're doing a pretty good job. It's mostly these other fiends I'm worried about. Drivers who pretend to be okay with bicycles. And even some cyclists who get power crazed, identify the good cyclists from the bad cyclists and make up rules about etiquette unfounded in reality as they go.

The beauty of urban bicycle use is its democracy. By democracy, I mean that this city's cycling citizens are free to interpret how to ride in Philadelphia based on their own experiences with the streets of our city and the people who fill them. Not based on some self-righteous middle aged lawyer-type's idea of orderly conduct. If such a guy wants people to keep a straight face at his reflective pant strap and helmet mirror, that means no lecturing folks without helmets, no condemning riders who run stop signs and no villainizing bike messengers.

As long as we share legitimate space with city buses, as long as pedestrians walk into bike traffic without regard for mutual safety, as long as people get away with bolt cutting bike locks for their creating "unsightly clutter" and as long as the bicycle as a means of transportation cuts down on pollution, obesity and our demand for petroleum, we have nothing to apologize for.

Thanks for the bike racks. We'll take it. But respectfully, we concede nothing. There's too much room for improvement between the atmosphere of now and the one where we have so much respect in the street that we can afford to cede any privileges.

Cruisin in Philadelphia


Fast Friday Out

Kyle Johnson's photographic essay Fast Friday is out now through Blurb. Fast Friday is a bound book documenting Johnson's experience attending and participating in the monthly Cadence fixed gear events that captivated even cruiser-usually-me back in April with their east coast debut. Congratulations to Kyle and all the kids out Seattle-side, you're officially down in history. Not a bad way to go down, really.

You can catch some peeks inside this beautiful book by going here.


Free Parking!

What to do when your city is lacking green space? When you've got all the spirit of an urban designer coursing through your veins and no clue how to satisfy her? While all the world is your stage? I think I may have the ticket.

Park(ing) Day, a one-day global event through which activists, artists, treehuggers--in a word, people--takeover metered parking spots and temporarily transform them into urban greenspace. They use bicycles usually, to haul plants and parkbenches and rolls of verdant sod through city streets where they literally park, for two hour chunks at a time, or as long as someone feeds the meter, and declare public space. The project takes place in TONS of cities all over the United States and internationally, with local variations depending on its ambassador and by the looks of things in 2007, warrants our undying praise and affection.

The project was founded by the San Francisco based art and activism collaborative REBAR and coordinated through the Trust for Public Land, an national nonprofit working to conserve public greenspace. The latter's website offers a list of participating cities, sometimes with corresponding maps denoting where the proposed park is to appear on Friday. They also provided instructions for obtaining permission and getting started with your own Park(ing) Day Park. I'd suggest visiting both websites for the full gamut of information surrounding what to do if you'd like to park come Friday. They've even made a How-To Manual. How can you say no? The whole effort is volunteer, which is pretty remarkable considering the scope and ambition of the concept. And in case you're having trouble picturing the thing, here is a visual:

and another:

Get out there! If Kenosha, WI can manage to be a part of this, I think you probably can too.


Bikable Bits

I meant to write you all about this a while ago, but it slipped my mind until today. I attended a wedding in Madison and at this wedding, I saw a really cool gift set. It happened to be the groom's gift to the groomsmen, and in case you were wondering, it went over pretty well. See, the groomsmen were all avid cyclists...kind of like you. Can you guess? Give up? Okay, okay, here it is:

That's right, it is the Park Tool Grill Set. Seems like something as frivolous as this other thing, but for the bicycle enthusiast in your life, it would technically be a pretty amazing present. One of those things that is highly non essential, but a nice party trick. What, are you going to say "No thanks, I already got this perfectly good OXO brand spatula?" Get real. See the stainless steel pedal wrench and cone wrench utensils in action:

And in other news, literally, I heard this story on npr yesterday morning and wanted to make sure everyone else alive heard it too:
Here's one more reason to wear your bike helmet: You might need protection from a bear. Montana schoolteacher Jim Litz was riding his bike to school when a black bear appeared in his path. He was going too fast to stop, and he and the bear went tumbling down the road. The bear rolled over Litz's head but then ran away. The only damage was a scratch on Litz's back and a crack in the bike helmet.
I'm sorry, THE BEAR ROLLED OVER HIS HEAD. HIS HEAD?!?!! And he lived to tell us about it? If ever there was a tale to encourage helmet wearing, this might be it. I also enjoy picturing this amicable tousle on some mountain road in Montana, the bear and the man hugging and rolling around in the dirt just like old pals. "Boy, oh boy! That was a close one!" they'd say. Sigh.


The Architecture of the Quilt

It's not every day that you get to advertise an event at the PMA that happens to be about textiles, modern art, southern women and local economies. But today marks the opening of the exhibit of quilts by those famed ladies of Gee's Bend, Alabama who with hardly a thimble to spare have managed to contribute more to 20th century American Art than you or I could dare to dream.

Rachel Carey George, born 1908. "Housetop"--sixteen-block "Half-Logcabin" variation sashed with feed sacks. ca. 1935, cotton sacking material and dress fabric, 86 x 86 inches. The Collection of the Tinwood Alliance via Treehugger.com

Don't even get me started! Literally. I wrote my thesis on the quilters from Gee's Bend, a microscopic community on the Alabama River that was until recently separated from major roads and larger towns by an hour's drive on unpaved back roads. As it is, you'd only find the several dozen houses if you were looking for it with both hands a flashlight, as I did one day back in January 2006. While I wrote mostly on the quality of the women's labor & the character of their craft, their story shines a bold example to fly in the face of large scale production, globalization, and other such western evils, including the notion that only wealthy white women produced art. I find their experience to be one containing many truths about how the rest of us live all bound up inside it.

It's difficult for me to explain to you all the reasons you should see this exhibit without getting all emotional about it. It kills me, KILLS me that it opens tonight at the Philadelphia Museum of Art a mere 30 days after I moved to the opposite shore. If you have any shred of decency, please go see it and tell me what it's like! Truly. If you live within 3 hours drive I'd say you have no excuse and even you people within 5 hours drive ought to make the trip.

Anthropologie made some Gee's Bend-esque home quilts a while back, as did Target and Lord only knows half a dozen other places who know anything about anything. You may also recognize some of the motifs from the special edition stamps put out by usps a year ago. Aside from how catchy those quilts are in the design world, the quilts evoke a serious emotional attachment in all who've seen them. And they are fucking gorgeous. Gorgeous, like made out of beat-to-hell work pants and old laundry sacks and still brilliant blue. Gorgeous like pieced together so the faded knee spots articulate a wholey original pattern when its stitched together. Gorgeous like no two stitches precisely the same. And their style of quilting, distinguished from European quilting for its improvisational style, results in much more variation in quilts even when arranged in a traditional pattern. This unique degree of authorship separates the women from much of western women's art, usually decorative and when textile based, measured by one's adherence to a pattern or norm. The Gee's Bend quilts stand out precisely for their divergence from these norms.

The women, most of whom worked as domestic workers or farm laborers for most of their lives and descended from slaves, worked too as artists though it took some time for even the women themselves to call it that because these quilts hung on the walls only to insulate them from the drafts of Alabama winter nights. Mostly the finished quilts were used every day to keep their families warm.

Photo by Arthur Rothstein for the Farm Security Administration 1939.
Jenny Pettway & unknown with Jorena Pettway, Gee's Bend, Alabama.
Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

This exhibit, which has traveled the country over the past two years is one of several compiled by a group of quilt historians, is titled The Architecture of the Quilt--so named for the quilt patterns. The exhibit sounds unique from earlier exhibitions of the artists' work because it includes newer pieces by the younger generation of quilters and never before showcased works from 1930-1980.

Even if you can't really get into quilts usually, I'd still urge you to go see how something so distinctly contemporary and original (even in its repetition, yes) has emerged from a community with absolutely no tools to achieve what the rest of the world calls progress.

At the time of my visit two years ago, the sole resource for new store bought fabric was a small, poorly stocked, in-the-process-of-closing Walmart; A Super Walmart was set to open an hour away. Everything down to the batting, which was either raw cotton from the fields they worked or old clothes or old quilts repurposed as stuff, was reused. These women are the original recyclers, the original innovators. Without a doubt, I credit them with igniting the spark that encouraged the rest of us to think more closely about what we do with our trash. I'd love to see these women, along with a slew of other so-called outsider artists, usually in fact from very deep within our culture, walk the aisles of our new age craft fairs and handmade boutiques and hear what they had to say about what's happening in American craft right now. Because recycled art isn't new or original but rather classic, traditional, even historic.

Exhibition Catalogue

The exhibit runs through December 14 and this is the last stop on the tour. If you can't make it to those ivory steps on the parkway, a decent amount of information and imagery of the womens' quilts can be found on the internet. Either way, their story is one of those things that will make you a better person for knowing it. For one, you'll realize quilts are much more than antiques. And for another, it will fuel your fire.



One more thing you should be sure to catch this Friday is the opening of the Megawords storefront, located right down 11th street from the FH studio. I mean, we'll be practically neighbors! In case you're so unfortunate as to have never heard, Megawords is a slick d.i.y. publication out of Philadelphia, openly curated, that includes the words and photos of many different kinds of people. Despite its creators being less than formally trained journalists, the substance of its pages are frequently on par with the most widely recognized examples of solid reporting I've seen. The photos are equally, if not more captivating, so that taken together, the bound volume presents a fine example of indie publishing. It is therefore not surprising that the journal comes out of the famed collective powerhouse at1026 Arch St.

The creators, Anthony Smyrski and Dan Murphy, bring Megawords to their audience at a bargain: that is, free. The project is deliberately non-commercial and thus, you will find no advertisements hogging valuable centerfold real estate. Every last pixel is substance. They aim to achieve in doing this, "the exploration of the modern urban environment and the establishment of an open and active dialogue between the magazine and the community at large." As a result, however, the magazine only comes out twice a year--no small feat--though not as often as I would be happy to read it. To satisfy hungrier devotees, the creators also broadcast a radio show every Sunday night through their website.

Bringing it back to tonight, the storefront at 1125 N. Cherry St. is about bringing all this information and energy into a tangible space. With a rotating cast of famous and not so famous artists, the magazine hopes to ground its work in a single address for thirty days of installations, speakers, performances, music, workshops and film screenings. The point of the experiment as it was conceived is to document the learning process and the creative process among interesting, driven, artful people. And it is totally free, so everyone's invited. That's it, and then it'll be gone. For the thirty days the project exists, you can expect to find a veritable onslaught of things eminating from the space and the creators hope, a slurry of things inside it as well.


Carrie's Latest & Greatest

Somehow, amidst everything else happening at FH this summer, Carrie Collins has managed to put together a show. In collaboration with local lady Beth Brandon and curated by Annette Monnier, the event entitled "10% Tiger Fire" opens tomorrow, Friday evening at Copy Gallery 7-11 pm. Annette has provided lovely and insightful interviews with both artists on her lovely and insightful blog. See August 17, 2008 and August 23, 2008 for Beth and Carrie, respectively.

While I cannot very well give hints as to the offerings of this opening--sadly,I am as spacially removed as you are these days from the inner workings of Carrie's brain--I can provide you with the artists' statement. And trust me, it will whet your palate. They write:

10% Tiger Fire is the work of two artists; Beth Brandon and Carrie Collins.

Beth Brandon is an accomplished young artist who is or has been involved with several local artist spaces (Space 1026, Padlock, The Fabric Workshop and Museum) , and exhibits regularly in Philadelphia and beyond. Carrie Collins is an accomplished industrial designer (with her own company, Fabric Horse) who also creates what we can call 'fine art" (she was a founding member of Black Floor Gallery). The exhibition's curator, Annette Monnier, has brought them together because she believes the work of each artist will compliment the other's, allowing the viewer to pick up nuances in the artists' oeuvres that might otherwise be missed.

The remaining 90% of the exhibition is as follows: 40% function as it applies to "non-functional" objects, 10% home-coming party, 20% interior decor, 10% fantasy, 10% whiskey. For a more detailed description we (Annette, Beth and Carrie in alphabetical order) invite you to see everything for yourself at Copy Gallery. The opening of the exhibition will be held on Friday, September 5th from roughly 7-11. Refreshments will be an integral part of the celebration, please join us.

Bring your friends.
Copy Gallery, 319A N. 11th St., 3rd Floor


New BCGP Website!

Looks pretty sweet guys! As I've said so many times before, the bicycle coalition in Philadelphia is forever on top of all issues surrounding cyclists in the metro region. Front and center on the new home page is a photo of a critical mass ride down the parkway to city hall, surely one of the most romantic and proud vantagepoints, saddle-wise. Side bar content includes bicycle related civic action, local news and regional events. Added to this, a full menu of buttons to help the average cyclist find maps, report a dangerous road condition or incident, find a nearby shop or volunteer with the coalition itself.

Like many of the more successful bicycle coalitions in the United States, this new website makes helpful tools accessible for all types of cyclists, whether they be commuters, messengers or recreationalists. Most importantly, an effective website provides the basis for a flourishing cycling community to follow. Philly IS an awesome bike city. But sometimes it's hard for newcomers or new riders to see it that way because of the pervasive and aggressive driving culture there. By centralizing relevant information into one website about how to get used to riding in a city, specifically Philadelphia, the coalition has made great progress toward increasing the number of bicycles on the road. I don't know if you noticed, but this summer saw a marked increase in the number of pedals spinning in Philadelphia. I know my favorite bike shop couldn't keep steeds in stock.