Monday, September 17, 2012

Critical Mass Miami

The intersection of many of my favorite things occurs during the last Friday of the month’s Critical Mass. There may be no raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but there are a few thousand people, a couple of hours of exercise, fleeting neighborhood visitations, and a number of baddass bikes to accompany the newly restored clunker some may have taken to Andres at the Miami Recycle Bicycle Shop or the good folks at the Magic City Bicycle Collective. 

photo from Jordan Melnick/

Every month. the word filters out to more folks looking to get in touch with their inner -- I don’t know -- hipster? The assembly begins shortly after 6:30 at the Metrorail’s Government Center. By the time the ride begins at 7:15, the entire block is festively thronged by colorful participants -- as Q-Tip might say, a vivrant thing. 

To channel another musical theme, in Miami, the Creator has a master plan and it includes bikes. While Miami isn’t Amsterdam, it’s safe to say that there are a fair number of aspiring originators, devisers, inventors, and masterminds adorning wheels with aplomb. Some of these skills extend to rolling sound systems; lots of people like to ride near one of the folks blasting reggae. Another rocks the 80’s. There is a Chinese Jamaican guy with his toddler on the bike seat pumping out straight, parental sticker hip-hop. As I said, it’s a colorful crowd.

The routes change monthly, but there are recurring motifs. From Government Center, everyone goes west, under 95, then over the Miami River. For those of you who like amusement parks and NASCAR crashes, this is the most thrilling part of the route. If you survive this, chances are, the only impending worry newcomers may have is some diaper rash. 

Then, one just pedals through the neighborhoods most have only encountered on the exploitative local newscasts at 11 -- East Little Havana, Overtown, Allapattah, Model City, Little Haiti, and Beverly Terrace. There, the masses outside the public housing, hair salons and fritangas come out to greet you. “Welcome to the hood,” one grandmother shouted last month. Of course, Calle Ocho, Miracle Mile, Brickell, and Biscayne also appear. Here, everyone in high heels seems to be using the iphone to record a video. Corkers politely block the intersections and make apologetic conversation. They are firm and respectful. Occasionally, a driver gets bold -- for a loud, angry moment at least. After a swarm of outraged bicyclists surround him, there is usually peace in numbers. 

From beginning to end, month after month, what one experiences on the ride is the art of the street. Critical Mass gauges the pulse of a city through a mass determined to enjoy the street, to share the street, to breathe the street, and to feel the neighborhoods that explain the streets. For thousands of people who dream of an urban-connected Miami, this is their favorite two hours of the month.