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The Baseball Gods are with the Giants!

What an amazing run! The San Francisco Giants have won the World Series for the second time in three years, and this time, against all odds! I just got home from walking up Mission Street from 16th Street to 24th Street, enjoying the thousands of people in the street, bonfires, music, cars honking, everyone high-fiving each other, a huge party…

A spontaneous brass band got a dance beat on near 24th and Mission after the Giants victory.

Bonfires were set up and down Mission while the honking and cheering still hasn't stopped at midnight...

The game ended in 10 innings tonight, with a perfect poetic called strike three fastball down the pipe to triple-crown winner Miguel Cabrera. Sergio Romo worked his magic again and the Giants won a convincing four-game sweep, after winning an improbable six elimination games to overcome 0-2 deficit to the Cincinnati Reds and a 1-3 deficit to the St. Louis Cardinals to get to the World Series.

I decided my costume at Critical Mass on Friday night this year was to be “The Temporary Representative on Earth of the Baseball Gods” and this is what I wrote to explain it:

September: The hated Los Angeles Dodgers trade for star pitchers and hitters, and yet the Baseball Gods allow them to falter and fade, while the Giants surge ahead and win the division with ten days to spare.

The Division Series: After losing the first two games to the Cincinnati Reds at home, the Giants are held to one hit through nine innings in game 3 in Cincinnati, and yet, miraculously, they are tied 1-1 going into extra innings. In the 10th inning, the Giants manage to get runners on base and when Cincinnati third-baseman Scott Rolen bobbles a grounder with two outs (thank you Baseball Gods!), the Giants score, and win the game 2-1. The next two games are a complete turnaround for the Giants and they win 8-3 and 6-4, featuring a Buster Posey Grand Slam in game 5, as the Giants become the first team in National League history to recover from an 0-2 deficit and win three in a row in their opponents’ ballpark, and go on to the National League Championship Series.

The Championship Series: The Giants are outplayed by the St. Louis Cardinals through the first four games and find themselves in another impossible hole, down 3 games to 1, with Game 5 still to be played in St. Louis. Barry Zito is the starting pitcher for the Giants, one of the most famous busts in history with his $127-million 6-year contract having gotten the Giants four bad seasons of very subpar performances. This year, though, Zito righted his ship and the Giants were on a long winning streak when he pitched. He pitched his best game ever and the Giants won 5-0, with a key turning point coming when the Baseball Gods saw fit to have the opposing pitcher catch an easy comebacker and throw it directly into the second base bag, bouncing into center field, allowing the Giants to score their first runs of the game. The series turned on that play and from then on the Giants were on a roll, dominating St. Louis and outscoring them 20-1 for the remaining games, winning the series 4 games to 3.

The World Series: Facing the powerful Detroit Tigers and their ace Justin Verlander in Game 1, the Giants are surprised when the Panda belts a home run in the first inning. In the third inning, now leading 2-0 (again behind the surprising pitching of Barry Zito) the key moment in the game comes when with two outs Angel Pagan (could there be a more perfect name for a San Francisco ballplayer?) hits a squibber down the third base line in what should be an easy out. Instead, the Baseball Gods see to it that it hits the side of the third base bag and caroms into left field, allowing Pagan to get to 2nd base. The inspiring Marco Scutaro follows with a run-scoring single, which leads to the bizarre scene of the Detroit pitching coach walking to the mound to talk to his ace in the third inning (Verlander is considered “above” such consultations!). Verlander is not impressed, and after sharing some smirks and noting that the pitching coach’s visit has fired up the San Francisco crowd, he finally makes the next pitch to Pablo Sandoval, who promptly blasts it into the left field seats for his 2nd consecutive home run. Sandoval would hit his 3rd home run two innings later off another pitcher, giving the game the glow of something blessed and unnatural!

In Game 2, a scoreless pitching duel between Madison Bumgarner (MadBum) and Doug Fister, in the Giants 6th inning Hunter Pence leads off with a single, followed by a walk to Brandon Belt. Two on, none out, Gregor Blanco coming to bat, a known good bunter. He takes a few pitches and with a 2-1 count, gets a beautiful bunt down the third base line. The Tigers decide to let it roll foul, but it doesn’t! The Baseball Gods stop the ball perfectly in fair territory, and now the bases are loaded. The next batter, Brandon Crawford, grounds into a double play, but Pence scores the first run of the game, made possible by the eerily perfect bunt! Giants win 2-0! More »

An Anniversary to Remember

Critical Mass San Francisco, September 28, 2012, Market Street east from Buchanan.

The 20th anniversary of Critical Mass in San Francisco was a huge success. A rather small “welcome committee” started thinking and talking about it almost a year ago, and somehow, it all came together beautifully. We published three gorgeous posters and thousands of handbills, stickers, xerocratic schedules and appeals, and most prominently, a new book of essays from all over the world, Shift Happens! Critical Mass at 20.

International friends helped out enormously at the Welcome Center during the week.

In addition to all that publishing work, we also coordinated a week of festivities to surround the big “Interstellar Critical Mass” as we dubbed it. Different people organized daily rides around the region and in the city including the Art/Freak Bike Ride on Sunday, the San Mateo ride on Monday, Transit History ride on Tuesday, Eastshore ride to Rose the Riveter monument as well as the NOIZ ride on Wednesday, the Mosquito Abatement Crew ride on Thursday. Each evening something different was happening, starting with Monday’s Artshow opening at the Welcome Center at 518 Valencia (which was open every afternoon from 1-5 pm all week), a Critical Mass video night at ATA, our book release party at the Main Library, two concerts including our big birthday bash at Cell on Thursday, a modest International Symposium on Critical Mass on Saturday, and for the grand finale, real summer weather on Sunday and dozens of us riding to the beach for a long warm afternoon.

And in the midst of all that, the amazing 10,000-strong Critical Mass Birthday ride on Friday September 28, one of the best rides we ever had here, proving that even after 20 years we can still pull it off! Swirling around all these activities and publications we enjoyed the company of several dozen international Critical Mass riders who came in on tallbikes, some riding all the way from Mexico City, others riding across the US, but all getting here in time to enjoy the wild week. The presence of smart, skilled, politicized cyclists from Italy, France, Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Japan, Costa Rica, Canada, the UK, and across the US, added a whole different dimension to the experience. In fact, locals are so busy with their everyday lives that there wasn’t a huge attendance to most of our events from people who live here. It’s not even clear that San Franciscans are that interested anymore in the culture surrounding Critical Mass and radical bicycling. But situated in an international milieu as we were during these days, we could feel the vibrancy and ongoing excitement that Critical Mass still generates even after two decades.

A couple of our Tallbiking friends, Gustavo from Peru and Leonardo from Italy, riding on Haight Street in our Grande Finale ride to the beach on Sept. 30.

We were bombarded with requests for media interviews and decided on this anniversary to accommodate as many as we could. An hour-long appearance on KQED Forum on Monday anchored the week, as did a series of interviews with Ben Trefny on KALW. The corporate media stampeded towards us on Thursday and Friday, clamoring for interviews and prognostications of how big the ride would be on Friday night, a question that could not be answered until the actual ride started to roll. Carolyn Tyler of KGO Channel 7 gets special negative mention for having interviewed several of us on Thursday and then going back to her studio to produce yet another rehash of the lies of 1997, repeating again the false claim that 250 people were arrested (it was 112, none were ever charged with any crimes, most of them rounded up in an illegal mass arrest that San Francisco later had to pay damages for), and featuring then-Mayor Willie Brown casually advocating that a bunch of cyclists should spend time in jail (for which crimes exactly Mr. Brown?). Ms. Tyler seems incapable of doing the basic research that one would hope any responsible journalist would do, and instead did exactly what I told her she and her cohort had done repeatedly over the years: fanned the flames of minor incidents to try to produce “hot” conflict for their news cameras. More »

The Switch is On! 20th Anniversary Celebration Has Begun…

San Francisco and the Bay Bridge from Clipper Cove park on Yerba Buena Island. Photo: Adriana Camarena

International Car-Free Day, September 22, is a day that in the Bay Area we don’t normally pay much attention to. But given that the week-long festival celebrating Critical Mass was just beginning, this year we had to do something special. So we went to the middle of the San Francisco bay to have a Car-Free Day Picnic! Yes, it took three van-loads to get us all there with our bicycles, but after a somewhat contradictory and ironic interlude of driving back and forth, the picnic was underway under sunny skies, sheltered from the mounting wind and fog rolling in through the Golden Gate as the afternoon started to wane.

Car-Free Day Picnic in Clipper Cove, Yerba Buena Island, Sept. 22, 2012. Photo: Adriana Camarena

Car-Free Day Picnic in Clipper Cove, Yerba Buena Island, Sept. 22, 2012. Photo: Adriana Camarena

Car-Free Day Picnic in Clipper Cove, Yerba Buena Island, Sept. 22, 2012. Photo: Adriana Camarena

Just the day before, Friday September 21, was International Park(ing) Day, when people take over parking places and turn them into parks for the day. It was well represented along Valencia Street, where a half dozen permanent parklets have replaced parking places during the past couple of years. Park(ing) Day started in San Francisco about six or seven years ago, instigated by the folks at Rebar, and it, like Critical Mass, has spread around the world.

Look what people do with parking spaces when Park(ing) Day rolls around!

The Valencia Pop-Up Habitat was one of the coolest of the day's reclaimed spaces.

Park(ing) Day didn't have quite the participation as in recent years, perhaps because so many delighteful parklets have been established permanently... This one in front of Four Barrel Coffee is one of the best.

But back to our Car-Free Day Picnic. Our choice of location wasn’t accidental. Recently California’s Transportation bureaucracy (Caltrans) affirmed that they are studying a long-term plan to make bicycle and pedestrian crossing possible, in light of the fact that next year the new east span will open with its separate bike-and-pedestrian lane alongside, allowing people to leave the East Bay and make it as far as the middle of the Bay. From there, to make it all the way across the Bay to San Francisco, you’re basically stuck waiting for a bus that runs every 20 minutes and will only accommodate 2 bicycles per journey. In other words, the Caltrans plan to accommodate bike and pedestrian bridge traffic is a farce! (A fuller argument about Bay Bridge access is appended at the end of this account below.)

We wanted to bicycle back to San Francisco as an act of civil disobedience, not to get arrested, but to physically demonstrate the necessity of access to the Bay Bridge, and to underscore our simple and cheap solution. Go back to the 6-lane configuration that existed from the 1937 bridge opening to 1962, and give the sixth lane to bicycles and pedestrians—all this for a few thousand dollars and a day or two of work, compared to the 10 years and $1 billion estimated by Caltrans for their hair-brained scheme. We came very close to riding the bridge, but due to an unpredictable sequence of events, our plans were thwarted.

We waited for the right moment to head up to the Bridge.

As we finished our convivial picnic and mustered our determination to cross the bridge, the word arrived that the California Highway Patrol (CHP) had pulled a car off the bridge and the officer was ticketing them just below our starting point. OK, we would wait. Then it turned out that the motorist was being put in handcuffs, arrested, his passengers evicted from the automobile, and the car was being impounded. More CHP, and a further wait for a tow truck. Finally after 45 minutes it was over and the CHP drove away (or so we thought). Our plan to enter the fast-moving traffic at the Yerba Buena Island entrance was to use a vehicle to block for us, rolling into the right lane with flashers on in a way that we could maneuver ourselves in front of it. Then they would stay behind us as a protective barrier as we would be riding at 10-15 mph while the cars were whizzing by at 45-50 mph.

Riding up to the onramp to the Bridge.

There were high winds by the time we started our approach to the bridge but our adrenaline was flowing and all 17 of us were ready to make the ride. We rode up the long incline to the ramp that curves down to the beginning of the Bay Bridge’s west span. As we reached the entry point we divided ourselves along right and left and let cars pass us, expecting our support vehicle to appear in seconds.

Rolling to Bridge entry. Photo: Paul, Bike Cavalry

Waiting for the help... Photo: Paul, Bike Cavalry

All lined up, only the Bridge ahead! Photo: Paul, Bike Cavalry

Two or three long minutes went by without seeing him, and then suddenly there was a CHP vehicle (later we learned it was the same officer that had the arrested driver in the back of his car—why had he returned to the island? A mystery) who upon seeing us boomed out from his PA system: “All you bicyclists MUST NOT ENTER THE BRIDGE! Turn around now!” We felt caught, so we started to circle back to demonstrate compliance. Still our support vehicle had not appeared, but just as we were riding up the ramp, there he was. Now what? Some people wanted to turn around and go for it. Many others had lost their will. More »

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