Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Death and Consumerism on the Columbia
Monday evening found me steering my bike northward from close-in North to even-further out there North. I was heading to Jantzen Beach. I rambled my way through the gridded streets until I hit the Denver Ave viaduct across the Columbia Slough, and then cut through Delta Park along bicycle paths until I reached my destination.
I don't really ever go to Jantzen Beach. It represents to me what I think is wrong with the modern world: ridiculously large shopping centers with big box stores surrounded by acres of paved-over earth known as "parking lots", probably the largest waste of space known in human history. The shops found in Jantzen Beach are the generic types of places that are found everywhere in this country, and if I couldn't see things like Mount Hood and St Helens in the distance I might have thought I was in Ohio.
And the worst part is that the "new" Jantzen Beach is a pathetic successor to what it was. The old JB was an amusement park and public beach that opened in 1928, where families from all over came to enjoy weekends in the summer. Amusement parks fell from favor in American society following World War II, and the park was closed in 1970. It was quickly paved over and filled with shopping boxes like we have today. They saved the Carousel, though. They always seem to save the Carousel (like they did at the Danbury Fair Mall, a former fairgrounds turned into the largest shopping center in New England (for a time)), maybe to remind us of "our history". And the biggest amusement in American society now is shopping itself.
But you've heard it all before, I'm sure. And if I hate places like this so much, you may ask, then why am I going here? Well, it's because at places like Jantzen Beach you can sometimes find consumer goods cheaper than you can find in the inner city. And I'm pretty poor right now. So a few times a year I'll find myself making a trip to these Temples of Consumerism and swallow my pride.
This particular mission to the JB was to obtain new footwear. Sure I could find shoes elsewhere, but not as cheap as I could get here. And new shoes can be an evil thing. It's a safe bet that most shoes you find in stores are made in sweatshops--(usually) overseas factories pack to the brim with overworked workers in unsafe conditions who toil for too many hours making too little money. Nowadays the only way you can make sure that you are getting shoes made outside of a sweatshop is if (a) the shoe company says so (and backs it up somehow) or (b) if the shoe is made in the US (though there are sweatshops in the US). Both of these options are not easy ones to pursue.
As for option A, I purchased a pair of non-sweatshop made Chuck Taylor (the classic tennis shoe made by Converse) knockoffs in January. The original Chucks were made in the US, so you were sure to get a quality shoe made by people getting a living wage. Now Converse is owned by Nike, a company well known for using sweatshop labor and for making the cheapest possible shoe (translating in paying the shoemakers as little as possible) and charging the most for it. (One of the first things Nike did with Chuck Taylors is raise the price) Anyways, I bought the non-sweatshop Chucks in January and they were already falling apart by May. Now Chucks are not supposed to have a long life, but four months was a bit much.
And option B? There aren't many shoes made in the US anymore, especially not sneakers. New Balance makes some of their sneakers in the US, but not all. The ones that are made here aren't cheap because you are paying for an American living wage.
Between buying another pair of non-sweatshop Chucks that would fall apart in 4 months or spending upwards of $100 on American made shoes, I chose to bite my tongue and get some cheap shoes that I know aren't ethically made. What else was I supposed to do? My shoes had holes in the soles, and there is no way I could afford New Balance right now. Granted, I could find a pair of used sneakers and assuage some of my guilt, but I never have good luck finding a used pair I like. Plus my feet are different sizes and I worry that if I get someone else's worn-out shoes I'll be doing my feet more harm than good.
I walked out of the store clutching my bag like someone leaving an adult store with porno tapes. Hopefully no one will see me. No sooner than I walk out I am indeed spotted by someone I know. So much for my plan of sneaking in and out of Jantzen.
Needing to clear the consumerism out of my blood, I rode over to the now abandoned hotel across the street. The backside opens to the Columbia River, and after negotiating around the barricades (which was ridiculously easy) I hung out by the river for a bit, watching barges push grain down the Columbia. After that I rode over to one of the most secret parks in Portland, Lotus Isle Park, to eat dinner. Lotus Isle is named after yet another amusement park found on Hayden Island, this one only lasted a few years in the 20's. Two amusement parks next to each other, in Portland? It's true! The park provided a nice view of the overpriced boats in the marina on the Oregon Slough, and I ate my dinner as the sun set.
I rode back through Delta Park, heading southward. As I passed by the numerous ball fields in the park, I saw cop car lights in the distance. Getting closer, I could tell that it was several cop cars. And also TV news trucks. And police tape. It looked like some sort of accident. I turned onto Whitaker and stopped on the other side of the I-5 onramp, which was cordoned off. Oh...god.
In the middle of the ramp was a bicycle splayed on the ground. The front wheel was totally detached from the frame, a good 10 feet behind it, wheel totally tacoed. (If you don't know what that means, think of it this way. A bike wheel in its normal state would be quesadillaed.) Junk was strewn all over the place. A bicycle hit by a car, for sure. And in the middle of it all was a white tarp covering something. I hoped it wasn't covering what I thought it was, but everything there felt bad, like whoever was riding the bike was surely dead.
The next day I found the news report, and unfortunately the bicyclist was indeed dead. It was a hit and run. The most chilling account comes from the Oregonian: "Witnesses told police the speeding vehicle hit the bicyclist as if it were plowing into a garbage can and kept going, entering northbound I-5 without stopping." As of Tuesday evening, police found the hit-and-run driver in Longview, Wash. and took him into custody, booking him with one count of second-degree manslaughter and one count of felony hit-and-run.
This comes as yet another death in the epidemic of bicycle and pedestrian fatalities plaguing the city this summer. It's gotten so bad that the newspapers are running stories with headlines such as "Are Our Streets Safe?"
The news has indicated that the man riding the bike was a transient. It didn't come as a surprise to me. The mountain bike frame and stubby tires seemed to say this was a person who rode a bicycle because it was his only option for mobility, and didn't have the ability to make it more comfortable for street riding. There are a number of homeless folk in the area, probably because it's far enough from downtown to not get harassed constantly by the police, and the numerous overpasses provide good shelter from the weather. Is this the reason why the driver didn't stop? He saw the bicyclist laden with all of his worldly possessions on his back and on the bicycle, and figured no one would care that another bum is dead?
I don't know what else to say right now. I could correlate the actions of the hit-and-run driver here to the one SUV driver who nearly sideswiped me in the Pearl two weeks ago, but I'm not going to turn this into a lesson in morality. (um, too late Shawn, you already did!) I'm sorry that I posted yet another bummer entry, like the one about Sauvie Island. Hopefully the next time I write extensively on this blog, it will be about something more positive.