6-11-2006 Bikeabout or: How I cheated death once again

Every year, right around the time when we’re all praying to Al Gore to unleash spring, I change the battery in my bike’s odometer and reset the thing to zero miles. With each new battery I then picture myself setting a new personal record for miles pedaled in a given year, or at least coming very close.

Sorry to say, but the exact record escapes me now, but I know it was damn close to 4,000 miles. I eclipse 3,000 each and every year with the only exception being 2004 when that young girl decided she’d prefer to run a red light and crush me rather than be late for her appointment at the McDonald’s drive-thru. What a needless encounter that was. Never should have happened, but, unfortunately, needless encounters such as those happen every day. Speed demons all.

The bicycle odometer currently reads…hold on, lemme look…1,199 miles. Not exactly a record pace, but I do ride a heckuva lot more miles during the warmer months. In fact, wifey and I did 9 miles from one end of Wilkes-Barre to the other just yesterday. Nice ride, but a tad chilly. And too windy.

My point is, the bicycle does not rack up those miles during the middle of the night when none of the humans are looking. Someone has to climb on to the darn thing and make it’s wheels turn. That’s where I come in. While I do make occasional forays into some of our neighboring communities, the great majority of the miles I pedal are done so right here in Wilkes-Barre. Think about what that means. If you ride these streets to the tune of 3,000 miles each and every year, you get to know every pothole, every pavement cut, every curb cut, every street, every alley and damn near every neighborhood. You can predict the good, the bad and the ugly stuff long before you make the next right-hand turn. Needless to say, I know this city like I know the back of my hand.

Back in January when the druggies were making like Dodge City, a caller to Sue Henry’s show claimed she heard gunfire in her section of the Heights (North Sherman Street) day-in and day-out. A gross exaggeration? Or complete bullspit? Trust me, we’d be wise to lean toward the complete bullspit side of the ledger. Nothing gets the police scanner vibrating it’s way across the coffee table faster than a mere mention of gunfire. If you want to find yourself completely awash in adrenaline-drenched cops, call 911 and say 10-80. Try it. See what happens.

The thing is, an incident does not constitute a trend. Yes, we’ve got some problems with drug dealers and their peripheral nonsense, as do most communities our size. But let’s not freak out every time a car backfires, or every time a car gets vandalized, or when a purse gets snatched. The days when we went to bed with the doors unlocked are long, long gone. Societal decay seems to be here to stay, rather than some sort of statistical anomaly. Poor parenting is definitely fueling that disturbing trend. So just start dealing with reality, or run away to the suburbs and play soccer mom with the rest of your frightened white kinfolk. Plainly stated, wherever you have hordes of diverse peoples warehoused in close proximity to each other, you’re going to have some crimes committed. It’s been that way since the days when Jesus was burning innocent bushes.

One of the more asinine misperceptions going is that you can’t enter our downtown area without having to fend off violent attacks and whatnot. Tell me, when did you last read of people being robbed, beaten and sodomized on Public Square? Truth be told, with very rare exceptions to the misperceived rule, it just doesn’t happen. The days of having three patrol cars patrolling the entire city on any given shift are two-plus years behind us. We are taking back our streets, but it does take time.

Anywho, it always amazes me to hear or read about how utterly dangerous the square is supposed to be after I just got back from hanging out there with my grandrodents (kids) in tow. Say what you will about this city’s changing demographics and whatnot, but we certainly aren’t wanting for scared white folks. Sez me.

As I said, wifey and I rode 9 miles throughout the city yesterday. And when I returned home and powered up this overpriced electronic gizmo of mine, I was immediately confronted by those asinine misperceptions all over again.

No sooner had Gort, a local blogger, dared to point out that some good things are finally happening in Wilkes-Barre, one of his readers responded with the following comments:

Things are looking up? Try taking a walk across public square after sunset. I have nothing against a movie theater, but would it be too much to ask Mr. Mayor, if you could possibly put a few cops on the square? After all, who wants to risk a mugging to see a silly Tom Cruise or Jennifer ANiston film??

Silly, silly Gort. What were you thinking? Have you been to the beer distributor again? Don’t you know you are not allowed to think positive thoughts in this area, let alone convey them to others. Stick with the script, man. Nothing will work. Nothing will help. Nothing will change. And Steve Barrouk wants us to work for peanuts.

First off, I pedaled through the downtown on Friday night and I encountered three beat cops making their rounds on foot. Not zero. Not one. Try three. So, to suggest that there are no cops on duty in the downtown smacks of complaining about a problem that doesn’t even exist. It also suggests that those doing the complaining know not of which they are complaining about. Try taking a walk across public square after sunset??? Fact is, I did. And there were more cops than street urchins.

While wifey and I were pedaling about yesterday, I asked her if she wanted to take a cracker break on the square. She did. That’s what the grandkids look forward too when we get to bicycling all over the place. We hit one of the newsstands, grab some Sunkist sodas (don’t tell their mom), some substandard cheese crackers and then hang out in the middle of the square with what the scared white folks would call undesirables.

On this particular day, wifey and I headed into Frank’s Newsstand, got us some diet sodas and I snagged some of those Little Debbie cheese crackers. Basically, they suck beyond all belief, but they’re really, really cheap. Here comes the violence and suchlike.

I was handing the guy behind the counter a greenback only to hear both of our bikes crash down upon the red paver bricks. Both of our gazes quickly turned towards the window and I let out with “What the fu>k?” and made for the front door real quick like. I had one hand on the door handle and one hand on a baton when wifey appraised me of the latest goings-on: A blind woman had wandered into the bikes and toppled them over. And being a former Boy Scout, I decided against beating a blind woman further senseless on Public Square. See, I’m a swell guy on occasion. Once in a while.

Anyway, you do need to be aware of your surroundings while out and about in downtown Wilkes-Barre. If you’re not careful, the blind lady might get you. Or, she might scratch your expensive new bicycle. (Fu>k!!!)

Next we sauntered over to the square proper and claimed our newly refurbished bench. There were many others like it, but the one looking north directly up Main Street would be ours on this cloudy day. Seated opposite us were some Hitler youth types. Or anarchist youth. I don’t know what kind of image they were trying to convey, but let’s just say they’d do nicely in a circus freak show tent. The three guys smoked cigarettes while chitchatting, and the two girls swapped spit. You know the-times-they-are-a-changin’ when in lieu of feeding the pigeons we feed the need for some lesbian erotica right on Public Square. Thank goodness Gage wasn’t with me with all of his inquisitive tendencies.

Hi. What’s your name? Why are you licking her?

To our left were two guys yakking it up. Behind them were a couple of guys sitting at the concrete table and bumming cigarettes from everyone within earshot. And to our immediate right was a guy I used to work with many moons ago. He was busy with his cell phone. There was a kid riding roller blades to and fro. Passersby aplenty. Oh, and the pigeons. I got to thinking that if I threw them a few cracker crumbs and got them all chomping at the bit so to speak, I could then toss them a lit cigarette and watch to see which one would end up swallowing the lit end. Sick bastard, ain’t I? I imagine a lit cigarette would be pretty hard to digest. Whatever. I knew wifey would have none of that adolescent tomfoolery, so I ingested the Newport without any help from the unsuspecting pigeons. They got lucky on this day.

As for our safety, it was never really in doubt. We sat there for approximately 45 minutes and during that time four police cars made the trip around the square. One made a stop in front of the Rite Aid, so that police officer was either responding to a call, or looking for some really cheap pipe cleaners. I missed the scanner call because I had my bike-mounted FM radio blaring some Guns & Roses. I figure maybe the blind lady wasn’t really blind after all and stuffed, like, 20 or so bottles of pain relievers into her already bulging purse. Maybe the cop just went in to grab a diet Snapple. Who knows. The point being, there was a police presence on the square practically the entire time we rested there.

At the risk of starting another dust-up on the internet, it might behoove some folks to know what they are yammering on and on about before they get to misspeaking. I know the square. And I spent quite a bit of time on the square. And quite frankly, I get the definite impression that those whining the most about how inherently dangerous it is spend little or no time there.

If some scruffy-looking guy asks you for a cigarette, that does not qualify as a near-death experience. Worse case scenario, if some scruffy-looking black guy does much the same thing, that should not result in your having to stockpile some mace, or running away to the deepest, most remote part of Kunkle. The lesbians won’t bite, unless, of course, you invite them to. The anarchist youth misspending their days won’t rape you in the middle of the fountain. Despite the current train of thought, the slacker kids on the roller blades will not separate your fragile clavicle from the rest of you. The bicyclists will not flatten every senior citizen within targeting range. And while you’re feeling so neutered, so frightened, so vulnerable, so white; the cops won’t be very far away anyway. Did it ever occur to any of those who feel so completely menaced at every turn that police headquarters is but yards away from the center of the square? If your worst drum-beaten fears were actually realized (whatever they are), a cop could literally sprint to the scene in but seconds.

As far as I’m concerned, with the change in administrations, the undeniable commitment to bolstering the ranks of our police department, the emergence of the Diamond City Partnership, and all of the volunteer improvements that have gone on during the past couple of years, the square has become very user-friendly. It’s gotten a helluva lot better down there, and continues to do so. And with that said, with the theater and the new retail concerns about ready to spring forth, the resulting foot traffic can open heighten public safety while we wander aimlessly or otherwise through the downtown.

There’s really no need for the continued hysterics and no need to keep repeating the same asinine misperceptions from a position of ignorance. I do not comment on the safety level of downtown Scranton because I do not go there. Unfortunately, I suspect that the folks constantly decrying their perceived lack of personal safety in downtown Wilkes-Barre rarely, if ever visit downtown Wilkes-Barre.

Y’all do what you feel compelled to do. Shop in Wilkes-Barre Sprawlship if you must. Sprawl-Mart was robbed recently. Oh, and an elderly woman died after having her purse snatched quite violently at Wegman’s. The Price Chopper in Edwardsville was robbed at gunpoint. A burglary in East End turned into a high speed car chase. In a yet unsolved case, an elderly man was killed in his own garage in Edwardsville. Hugo opened a cemetery in the Back Mountain without the necessary permits and zoning. People get shot to death in Hazleton. A west side cop allegedly shot his philandering wife to death. High school teachers are getting their students naked and spread-eagled at an alarming rate. Andy Mehalshick of WBRE fame has taken to arresting internet pedophiles. The Kingston narcotics officers are becoming household names because of their ultra successful drug interdiction exploits. Crime abounds practically everywhere you happen to look, but downtown Wilkes-Barre is a lawless, dangerous place???

Really? Name for me the last time a high-profile crime occurred in the eight-block area we call downtown Wilkes-Barre. What was it? A shoplifting? A ransacked automobile? An enraged hooker stiffed by a thoroughly satisfied customer? Some street urchin caught urinating in an alley? A reckless bicycle rider plowing through the people patiently waiting for their busses? What is it that makes people cling to their misplaced, mostly uninformed fears about downtown Wilkes-Barre, while some of us so completely enjoy being right in the middle of it on a regular basis?

Like I said, do what you gotta do. As for myself, wifey wants to top the 9 miles she pedaled yesterday, so I figure I’ll be doing some more Little Debbie cheese crackers on Public Square sometime later today. Am I being completely irrational by not spotting those lurking dangers under every bench and every paver brick? Or, are others being completely irrational by spotting those lurking dangers that, for the most part, don’t exist at all?

The way I see it, you can get yourself mugged, punched around, or sodomized no matter where the heck you may happen to go. And statistically speaking, the numbers just don’t support the threadbare tale some folks are telling about downtown Wilkes-Barre.

No biggie. Hide in your hidey hole. It don’t much matter to me. I’ll be down on the square munching on my horribly generic cheese crackers and protecting my Newports from the endless parade of moochers. But if that blind lady dumps my bike all over again, all bets are off.

Why would you set about to travel the entire length of the Susquehanna river, but purposely skip the entire Wyoming Valley?


“Expedition Susquehanna” bypasses Wyoming Valley

For those of you that enjoy the ultimate blood sport that is politics, you might want to visit this Web site that I happened upon quite accidentally.

The Lu Lac Political Letter

From the e-mail inbox While I agree completely with your assessment of this Al-Zarqawi character, I think we are making a grave mistake by celebrating his departure. He deserved to die a miserable death in the desert as another unknown terrorist. By proclaiming his importance we risk turning him into a hero for every nut case in the world. We would have been far better off had we not invaded Iraq, but, had quietly exterminated his kind one by one.

Thanks for giving me a forum for my opinion. I enjoy your site.

While I can fully appreciate your position on all of this, I can only imagine how the folks who call themselves Democrats would have a collective stroke if Bush sent black opts death squads roaming every far-flung corner of the planet in search of the terrorists. Lemme guess. They’d add that to their exhaustive, ever expanding and oft-laughable list of impeachable offenses committed by those evil Republicans.

You invade them…and that’s impeachable. You detain them…and that’s impeachable. You interrogate them…and that’s impeachable. You monitor their incoming calls…and that’s impeachable. You force ten of them to wear panties on their heads…and that’s impeachable. You target them with 500-pound bombs…just wait and see!…and that’s impeachable. At this point, if Bush sighs quite noticeably…that’s impeachable. If the Democrats hated the terrorists near as much as they hated Bush, the War on Terror would have lasted about as long as Janet Jackson’s peep show.

How about this one? The Democrats and their loose coalition of devotees constantly deride Bush for his view of the current conflict as being one between the forces of good and evil. No, the world is not so easily painted as being black and white. There are varying shades of gray that need to be considered. That’s what they’re telling me every freaking chance they get.

However, if their worldview is so completely interspersed with varying shades of gray, then why is it that they spend so much of their time telling me that the battle between Democrats and Republicans is simply a battle between the forces of good and evil? When the subject becomes American politics, varying shades of gray never seem to enter into any of it. Republicans are all evil incarnates and that’s that. Correct?

It’s like this. No matter what Bush does, the other side is going to go off half-cocked. If he personally cures cancer all by his lonesome, the ultimately destructive MoveOn.org mindset of the increasingly apoplectic left is going to result in numerous conspiracy theories about how he personally ordered the 9/11 attacks to benefit the legal drug manufacturers that donated to his campaign, or some such totally deranged and completely misguided idiocy. If he exhales without written permission from Nancy Pelosi, that’s a crime against humanity in the easily-led minds of the unstable opponents of his.

As far as invading Iraq is concerned, Bush’s biggest detractors, well after the fact, have picked and chosen what they will accept to believe as far as the true nature of the threat was concerned. Despite the treasure trove of eye-opening intel we can access even on the internet, the “Bush lied” gibberish is what they steadfastly adhere to. If caches of WMDs were unearthed in Iraq tonight (a distinct possibility), the over-energized lunatic fringe known as the leftists would accuse him of planting them there. At this point, if he says tomato, they’ll say impeachment.

While I thoroughly enjoy partaking of the incessant ranting from the unhinged left, it’s really quite sad to watch.

They tell me we should have stuck to Afghanistan and hunted Osama down. As evidenced by their predictable reaction to al-Zamurderer’s death, they would have stated that the death of Osama meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. They tell me we shouldn’t have gone into Iraq. But, that was after they recalibrated their increasingly selective, totally partisan memories on the fly.

As far as celebrating the recent killing of a terrorist icon is concerned, religious zealots will twist whatever happens to make it fit in very nicely with their ancient book of fiction. If we kill them, they are martyrs. If we appease them, we are paper tigers worthy of only death at their hands. No matter what we do or don‘t do, they will still demand that the infidels be killed in some grotesque manner.

In all honesty, a part of me hopes that our next president is a Democrat. And while the world is plunged even further into death, destruction and economic chaos at the hands of the terrorists in all of their zealotry, what would a Democrat do in response? Take bold and decisive steps to counteract those growing international threats?

Or blame Bush?

I think we already know what the response would be.

Sez me.

I’m about to set off on yet another invigorating bike about. Gee, I hope I don’t get mugged.