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Movies, Traffic, And Riding Your Bike

Written by Boston Biker on Aug 27

You will have to indulge me here, as this is only tenuously related to riding a bike in Boston but stick with me. I will often have little light bulb moments. Often these little revelations are things that other people have already figured out a long time ago, but I take a certain amount of happiness in being able to come up with them on my own…even if I am years (even sometimes decades) behind much smarter people. So while I don’t think this is an original idea, I came up with it all on my own, so there!

I am a huge movie fan, I like all sorts of movies bad ones good ones, and besides riding my bike and making stuff it is one of the few things I do on a regular basis that makes me really happy. Tonight I got a bit of a hankerin’ to watch Deep Impact. You might remember this movie as “that comet movie, the one without Bruce Willis.” Perversely I LOVE this movie, for reasons that would take a whole other post to explain so I will skip why, just accept that I do.

While watching the movies climactic final scene where the first of the two comets is about to smash into the earth, that light over my head popped on.

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There are thousands of people stuck in traffic, traffic of biblical proportions, while behind them the harbinger of doom (a giant comet) is about to kill them all. If only they could move faster, they would escape this horrible fate. One could make some sort of comparison to death and the daily grind, but I will leave that to someone smarter than I. The scene does a superb job of depicting hopelessness, helplessness, and despair all through the visual metaphor of a traffic jam. I started to think, what other movies have used traffic, and traffic jams, and how have they used them.

The first movie to use this metaphor that came to mind was Office Space.

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The opening sequence shows the ‘hero’ stuck in traffic, moving from one lane to another in a pointless search for “just a little more speed” only to be thwarted by what seems like an endless stream of cars that only move when he is not in that lane. Out the window an elderly person in a walker slowly moves faster than the traffic. The despair is both real and comic at the same time.

The next movie I could think of was Matrix 2, where they do some kind of car chase on that ominous highway.

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Falling Down also came to mind, the movie where Michale Douglas goes crazy after having a very bad day (being stuck in traffic played a huge part of this)

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Movies use visual short cuts to tug emotions out of you. It struck me as interesting that over and over again they used traffic jams to showcase, negative emotions, rage, helplessness, hopelessness, fear, despair, loneliness (ironic considering how close you are to so many others), and danger. As I thought about each movie, and how the traffic jam is used in it I started to feel really bad for people who drive. I mean, even if they only experience a small amount of the negative emotions that the people in the movies experience, they would have to do so every day year in and year out…no wonder those horns get honked so much.

I then started to think “well how is riding a bicycle portrayed in movies?” I instantly thought of E.T.

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Then I thought of Breaking Away (if you have never watched this movie stop reading this and go rent it now) where the main character races a semi truck.

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Then Quicksilver (another great).

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In each of these movies the bicycle is used as a metaphor for good emotions. Freedom, speed, health, escape, love, happiness, hard work, accomplishment.

I know movies are not real, and I know they don’t always reflect reality. But I found it striking that in almost any movie I could think of the bicycle represented good emotions, and the traffic jam bad ones.

In no movie that I could think of was a traffic jam a good thing. This might seem obvious, but the second light bulb that went off in my head was that in almost every single car commercial I have ever watched, the car being sold is portrayed on an empty highway free to go as fast and as far as it wants, with no one else there to slow them down or get in their way.

Turn the sound off on these two and imagine someone telling you about the smooth lines and styling and how awesome you will feel while driving them…

When as we all know the reality of car ownership is much more often slow plodding progress through traffic jammed streets.

I would argue that movies about traffic show a much more realistic view of reality than car commercials do (I have more thoughts on this I think I will save for a future post). The point of this unscientific rambling dissertation? If you want to feel free, if you want to escape, if you want to travel the open roads with speed and efficiency, don’t listen to car commercials. They are selling a lie, instead go get on your bike and go for a ride.

When I ride my bike I feel amazing. The wind on my face, the freedom of moving as fast as my legs will make me go, the amazing simplicity of it all just makes me so happy. I feel great when I am done with my ride, healthy, strong, alive. I never think about traffic. I know how long it is going to take me to get from point a to point b, and it is almost always the exact same time regardless of what time a day it is. I never worry about parking. I don’t plan my day around rush hours. I simply don’t think about that sort of thing, ever.

If you drive a car, if you drive one every day, examine how much of your time is spent thinking about things like gas, parking, traffic, etc. Is moving about the city a stressful activity for you? Have you ever decided not to go some place because of traffic? Do you schedule your day around traffic? Are you a slave to traffic? Is traffic reducing the quality of your life?

Do you own a bicycle?


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