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By Patrick O’Grady
Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-allfor f—offs and misfits — a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy,piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but justdeep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate likea chimp in a zoo-cage.
— Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
It must be a dull Tour. Otherwise I wouldn’t be getting a dozen e-mailsa day about the latest outrage perpetrated upon the cycling public by themainstream media, which as usual are either completely indifferent or activelyhostile to us.
First came word of a column by Dimitri Vassilaros, in a Pittsburgh-areacage liner called the Tribune-Review, that trotted out the requisitehoary complaints — O, woe the poor, beleaguered motorist, who occasionallymust set down his cell phone and coffee cup to steer a safe course arounda bicyclist who shouldn’t be on the roads at all because motorists payall the costs of their upkeep, woe, woe. This geek clearly has spent toomuch time ensnarled in metro traffic, mesmerized by Clear Channel radioand chasing hydrocarbons with an occasional nip from the hip flask, toscribble an original thought.
Then there was a silly-ass screed by Ron Borges on the MSNBC Web sitewhich postulated that not only is Lance Armstrong not the world’s bestathlete, he may not be an athlete at all. Borges, a sports reporter forThe Boston Globe, is an authority in such matters, becausehe covers boxing, an activity in which two representatives of rival minoritygroups batter each other for the amusement of white folks until Don Kingor Tony Soprano tells one of them to lay down, and pro football, a ritualizedform of mock combat intended to satiate the nation’s bloodlust betweenwars.
Subsequently, howls of disbelief and cries for vengeance have ricochetedaround the Internet like stray rounds in the West Bank. And if you areamong those wounded, you can certainly dash off a critical letter to Vassilaros’and Borges’ editors, if indeed they have editors, and they are sober, andcan read, all of which seems highly unlikely given the quality of theiremployees’ published work.
But if you follow that impulse, why, then, the terrorists win.
See, this is what columnists are. Terrorists. On the outside, we arelargely indistinguishable from our fellow citizens, but inside each ofus dwells a wild-haired, unshaven, bomb-throwing anarchist awaiting thechance to disrupt society for our own nefarious purposes, which generallyinvolve generating letters to the editor.
For a columnist, letters to the editor are the equivalent of lettersof recommendation. “He must be good,” muses the editor as he tosses offa sixth martini at lunch. “Just look at all the mail we get. I can’t readthe sonofabitch myself, but I guess there’s no accounting for taste. Speakingof taste, double up on that, would you, barkeep?”
So toward that end, knowing that cyclists have thinner skins than aballpark frank, professional spectators like Borges underhand us a slowpitch like, “For my money, being the greatest athlete in the world involvesstrength, speed, agility, hand-eye coordination, mental toughness and theability to make your body do things that defy description. Chief amongthem is not pumping your legs up and down while your feet are strappedto bicycle pedals.”
You could tell Borges, “Hey, you couch-bound jock-sniffer, it takesstrength to ride a 52km time trial, speed to drop Joseba Beloki on MontVentoux, agility to navigate a corkscrew alpine descent at 60 mph, hand-eyecoordination to snag the musette you’ll need to survive six hours in thesaddle in 90-degree heat, mental toughness to even finish a grand tour,and the ability to make your body do things that defy description to winone.”
But then he’s got his letter, and job security.
Meanwhile, Vassilaros, facing another deadline with a head full of notmuch, taps out a lame-o like, “I don’t want to share the road with a bicycle.However, you and I must because if we did not, it could lead to tragedy.Drivers have to follow the law, but that does not mean we have to likeit.”
You could tell Vassilaros, “Spaseba, tovarisch, but we don’texactly relish sharing the road with you, either. And as regards the equitabledivision of expense, you’ll be getting your payback down the road, whenwe fit, healthy cyclists are picking up the tab for your Medicare-fundednursing-home bed.”
But then he’s got his letter, and maybe an extra couple of bucks inthe old pay envelope.
Hell, I could write a nasty column calling Borges and Vassilaros ignorant,sloppy hacks, talentless space-fillers with smaller audiences than RosieO’Donnell stripping to “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida” at a roadside rest area.
But I’d probably just be trying to score myself a few letters to theeditor. I’m thinking about buying a new bike, and frankly I could use araise.
And you can feed Mr. O’Grady’s ego and boost his meager earnings bysending us a letter to the editor.