Ghost Bikes and the Value of Human Life

One year ago today I attended the dedication of a ghost bike honoring Alex Cordero, a seventeen-year-old who was killed when his bicycle was struck by a tow truck. I had seen ghost bikes before, and even helped maintain a couple by clearing weeds and touching up the paint, but this was the first time I’d attended a dedication. Alex was the sixteenth cyclist killed in New York City last year; ultimately there would be twenty-nine deaths. [Note that the link indicates 28. Even transportation-safety minded journalists had a difficult time keeping up. There’s a note at the end of the article that it was updated to show twenty-nine deaths.]

2019-09-05 Ghost Bike Dedication - Alex Cordero SAM_2980
I didn’t realize it when we assembled for the dedication but I was standing near Alex’s aunt (the woman in the grey t-shirt holding a bouquet). Photo © 2019 Karen E. Lund

I was drifting off to sleep the night before, thinking of the day’s news and of my plans for the dedication of the ghost bike to honor Alex. Half asleep, my mind attempted to find a connection between the previous weekend’s gun violence (nine people had been killed in Dayton and twenty-three in El Paso) and Alex’s death while riding his bicycle.

Eventually it fitted together. Not with an answer, but with a question: When did we decide to give more rights to steel than to human flesh? Was it a conscious decision? (Probably not.) Who decided? Continue reading

On the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day

My Girl Scout troop did a beach clean-up on Earth Day.

“What year?” some of you will ask. But that’s my point: it was the first year and we didn’t really think about whether there would be another.

With the 50th anniversary approaching, I decided that I would mark the day, in part, by taking a walk to that same beach. As it turned out, COVID-19 means New York City is “hibernating” (as I’ve chosen to call it) and there aren’t any other events happening today, except virtually. That’s just one of the things that’s changed since 1970. There was no virtual or online back then.

The biggest thing that’s changed is that the neighborhood that used to be there is gone. It was washed away by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and all but about a dozen homeowners took a buy-out and left. Someday it will be a New York City park (incorporated into Great Kills Park), with flood mitigation (PDF) infrastructure, but for now it’s just open space returning to the wild and a great place for a socially-distanced walk.

Paved driveway in foreground. Behind, Canada Geese on grass, trees, telephone wires. A house barely visible in the distance.
A few driveways remain, but nature is reclaiming the Oakwood Beach neighborhood. Canada Geese are making themselves at home.

To some this return to nature is beautiful, and in time I’ll agree, but for now my feelings are mixed. Hurricane Sandy made landfall in October 2012, but it wasn’t until June of last year that I worked up the courage to see it for myself. Aside from that first Earth Day clean-up project, a friend in Girl Scouts had cousins who lived in Oakwood Beach. We used to visit occasionally on our bicycles and we had pretty much cornered the market on Girl Scout cookie sales.

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The Last Beach Boys Cover Band, circa A.D. 2030

Recently I’ve been bitching about the hot weather, which admittedly is selfish, as New York City hasn’t had anything close to what the western and central United States have been experiencing. But I’ve always preferred cool to hot, so even our recent heat wave has left me feeling like wilted lettuce.

By the way, there is no official definition for a “heat wave” among meteorologists, but in the northeastern U.S. it is generally agreed that three consecutive days with high temperature of 90°F or above is a heat wave. In Phoenix they call that “May.”

Anyway, I was in the grocery store a few weeks ago when I noticed that the background music was a song by the Beach Boys, one of their classic odes to young love and Summer days at the beach. As I browsed the shelves my thoughts turned to some of the dire predictions I’ve read about global warming: increasing temperatures making Summer heat deadly and rising sea levels causing coastal flooding. The future doesn’t look good for beaches. It doesn’t look good for Summer, either. Meanwhile, California burns.

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Crafting a Positive Protest

Since the Inauguration there has been protest in the air: in the streets, on social media, on the news. You can hardly avoid it, and for some of us it’s difficult not to feel angry or frustrated.

As a college friend used to say, I’d like to be an optimist but I doubt it would work out.

And then an acquaintance e-mailed me about a genius idea: let’s send Valentine’s Day cards to some of our elected officials, telling them how we feel, but in a positive and friendly way. It wasn’t her idea; she heard about it from someone else. That’s how these things grow.

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Getting crafty: a table cluttered with art supplies.

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