After the book signing, I went over to Chinita’s to eat. I had my accordion with me, and Steve and Ted were playing there, and at 9:00 when their gig was ending, there were about 4 or 5 people in the place, and Ted asked me if I wanted to sit in for a couple of tunes.  So Ted kindly chose tunes that suited me.  We played “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B,” “Ain’t She Sweet,” and “5 Foot 2, Eyes of Blue,” and this woman asked, “Can you play something from this century?”

On the phone, Juliet asked me if this town is bike friendly.  I said yes, but not in the way you’re thinking of.  There are almost no private cars.  The streets are congested with motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians, the 3-wheeled motorcycle taxis that they call tuk-tuks, trucks, buses, and tourist shuttle vans. Sometimes you see a family of 4 on a motorcycle, the baby sandwiched between the parents and the bigger kid in front of the dad who is driving.  No one can go fast because the traffic is heavy and chaotic, and also because the streets are in bad shape, very rough.  On the other hand, everyone goes as fast as they can, so it can be dicey at times.  I’m comfortable on a bike.  There is no such thing as bicycle helmets or bicycle lights.

Which brings me, now that I’ve talked about wood stoves, to another controversial topic, bicycle helmets.  For urban transportation, I’m questioning whether bicycle helmets are necessary, or even counter-productive.  The bicycle should be a ubiquitous form of transportation in the city for people of all ages, not something for young daredevils dashing around in protective clothing.  I’m sure there exist examples of bicycle accidents in which a helmet prevented a head injury, or could have if the rider had been wearing a helmet, but I question whether it statistically justifies everyone wearing helmets all the time.  I mean, we have 32,000 traffic deaths per year in the U. S., and over 2 million injuries, and no one says we should stop driving cars.  We just take it for granted that the sacrifice of 32,000 people per year is a reasonable price to pay for the convenience of driving cars.  So I’m questioning whether the long odds of having a head injury justifies me wearing a helmet every time I ride.  Yes it’s a risk, but there are lots of risks in life.  How much of a risk is it really?

How many people don’t ride a bike around town because they think it is dangerous?  I know people who say that.  So they pass up something that is pleasurable, and healthy, and conserves resources, and convenient, and would help reduce traffic congestion, because of the perception that it is dangerous, partly because everyone is wearing protective gear.

When I was 10 years old, I rode 2 miles to fifth grade on my bike, including stretches on busy boulevards with fast-moving cars.  I preferred my one-speed bike to the school bus because it was faster and more fun.  We had never heard of bicycle helmets.  Today no middle class suburban American parent would allow their 10-year-old to ride without a helmet, and probably would not allow them to ride on those busy streets.  Are the kids now better off than I was?

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