Normally, when you see that phrase you think of motorist harassing cyclists or maybe the police department's behavior during Critical Mass, but I'm referring to something much more mundane and insidious. Today, we had a visit from Art, a local long-distance commuter. He rides everywhere. He probably puts an average of 30-40 miles on his bike a day. He turns Walmart bikes into mere parts with wear. He's a nice guy with a small footprint and a past that he's trying to put behind him. Unfortunately, some of that trouble has been brought on by his devotion to cycling. He said that while living in a suburb of Phoenix, AZ about twenty years ago, he was stopped by the police for being in the "wrong" neighborhood; he lived there. They stopped him until they began to recognize him. He was recently stopped by police here for cutting across an abandoned lumber yard. A lot of places in North Georgia have been vandalized by people looking for metals in old buildings and catalytic converters from vehicles so I understand the police officer's vigilance, but he didn't have anything on him and he couldn't carry anything on his bike. The officer still arrested him--for burglary of all things. His public defender got the charge reduced to theft by taking, despite the fact that he didn't take anything. He had to stay in jail for three weeks. He said he's been arrested and harassed by the police in this town before.
I have a theory about all of this (and that's where the insidious part comes in). I think that the police, suburbanites, and a lot of other folks look down on cyclists. They place so much status in owning a car that if you don't own one you're a "have not". You're indigent or an immigrant or a ne'er-do-well if you're not a child or an enthusiast clad in gear that proclaims, "I'm a cycling enthusiast who has paid a lot of money for my bike and these funny clothes." They feel the same way about pedestrians and people who take public transit. I once had a guy tell me that I looked homeless because I had stopped into a Fellini's Pizza for a slice on my way home walking from the grocery store. I had two bags I think. That's it: I was walking with two grocery bags. I was totally looking cute that day so it wasn't a wardrobe issue; I don't have wardrobe issues of that variety.
The de facto "have not" status of those traveling by their own power or using public transit may be the greatest obstacle for mass adoption of these green methods of traveling. In fact, in North Georgia most news stories or public service announcements about going green relate to hybrid vehicles or carpooling. It seems that there's little hope of prying people's hands from the wheel if they're going to be doing something good for their bodies, good for the environment, and good for America's economy and national security if it means they must be discrete about their financial status. I hope, in the not-too-distant future, the conspicuously chic start riding bikes in Marc Jacobs and Louboutin's with Louis Vuitton panniers so the rest of the nation can feel comfortable on a bike.