Jul 24 2012
And you thought it was “In God We Trust,” didn’t you? Well, you were wrong. If what I see around me is any indication, most Americans have a decided aversion to sweat. Purposeful sweat, that is. The sweat that comes from doing physical work.
Some sweat is OK. Few who can afford the monthly dues will think twice about driving an hour to a fitness center and then riding a stationary bike for 30 minutes. That sweat is Good Sweat. But the sweat that accompanies hard work is a definite no-no. Want an example? Fair enough. When was the last time you saw someone pushing—pushing—a non-motorized lawn mower? Or using a weed-whip? (If you’ve never seen one of these, they look a lot like a golf club, but with a serrated blade where the golf club’s metal head would be.) Nowadays even quarter-acre lots get the mini-tractor treatment, and gasoline-powered string trimmers perfume the suburban summer air from dawn to dusk on weekends.
Funnily enough, physical work used to be celebrated. We were once justifiably proud of our broad shoulders and muscled arms. (Remember Rosie the Riveter?) But that was back when we made money making things. Things like steel ingots. Now the fortunate few grow their fortunes by moving bits and bytes around in the Never-Never Land of the digital plutocrasphere. We’ve outsourced most of those old “thingy” jobs, anyway, and in the process it seems we’ve lost our stomach for sweat.
This affects some cyclists, too. It’s perfectly normal to drive 100 miles to a trail network with two bikes strapped to the back your SUV, obviously. That’s Good Sweat. You’re not really going anywhere, or doing anything. But if you pedal from your front door to the HyperMart 10 miles down the road in order to do your weekly shopping, you’ve cycled outside the pale. Motorists can crowd you off the road with impunity. And they will. (They have a license to kill, after all. They just have to utter the magic words: “I didn’t see her, officer,” and all is forgiven.) Then, when you get to the HyperMart you’ll find your ordeal has just begun. You’ll spend many minutes searching for the nonexistant—or wholly inadequate—bike rack, and in the end, you’ll probably lock up to a light post in the middle of the asphalt wasteland, leaving your bike at the mercy of any motorist who forgot his glasses.
Now the second act of your little drama begins. Your efforts to remove all the portable (and therefore stealable) accessories from your bike will attract the attention of a few curious souls, who’ll shuffle out of their cars to watch you struggle. Some Watchers will be content to stand silently, but others will offer a cursory pleasantry (a favorite in June is “Nice day for a bike ride,” though I don’t often hear it in January) before shaking their heads in ill-concealed puzzlement—or open contempt—and scuttling off to the climate-conditioned comfort of the HyperMart. Later, they’ll tell their friends about the crazy lady they met who runs her errands on a bicycle, and wonder aloud what it was that drove her to such a desperate expedient. Is she an illegal alien? A drunk who’s lost her license? Or is she just too poor to buy a car? The real answer—that she enjoys getting around under her own power to do the everyday business of life—simply never enters their minds.
And what, exactly, has the cyclist done to place herself so far outside the norms of American society? That’s easy. She’s engaged in purposeful physical activity. She uses a bicycle to Do Things and Go Places, and her clothing bears the unmistakable stain of Bad Sweat. As perversions go, this really doesn’t rank very high, but for many of her fellow Americans it’s enough to mark her out as an unperson, someone unworthy of respect. Unworthy, in fact, of life itself. Fair game for any murderous fool behind the wheel of car.
It’s a warning well worth heeding, I think. So let’s lift a glass to the New American Motto: “Don’t Sweat It.” And then we can all tuck into our hot dogs and chips, washed down with a couple of six-packs of near beer. Life is good!
Anyone know what’s on television tonight?
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