House on Fire

Dear J-

The natural order of things apparently is to intimidate people off the bike car: sorry about that, lady with luggage and no bike. More room for bikes. I get to thinking about gatekeeping again and I realize I’m as guilty of that as anyone. Let me explain.

Gatekeeping, as I define it, is trying to keep someone else out of whatever group you have declared (whether demonstratively, silentlly, implicitly or explicitly) your membership. The bike car morning crew. Engineers. Not-good looking guys. You get the idea. Then when someone approaches it’s man the battle stations and repel all boarders; you scramble madly to use all the weapons at your disposal (poll tax, identification, language, intimidation, hostility, unfriendliness) to keep them away. Got it? We as a species have been doing this for millenia, probably ever since the first child asked permission from a potential in-law.

There’s at least three people I’ve seen come and go on the south bike car of train 102; they showed up quite regularly for weeks and then … boom. Nothing. When I’m in despair I like to torture myself by thinking I had something to do with it, maybe in the way I would give them the cold shoulder, standing there side by side and not saying a word as we waited with white breath for the train to arrive on crisp mornings. Or maybe it was the looks I gave to people without bikes; with seating as limited as it is here why do you need to take up some of my room? I mean, our room. OURS. We and they, the perpetual struggle of people inside versus people outside. You don’t realize how much more you’d learn the broader you cast your net, the more people you include.

I worry at times about the people I remember growing up on the fringes of the social order. I know I wasn’t at the social center of anything but I turned out mostly okay, I think (it’s hard to get over this mirror that keeps telling me I’m better than I am) and I hope that they did too. I wonder if society has gotten so much less civil now than then that would drive us to resort to not just violence but ultraviolence, if the ready availability of guns and angry gatekeeping rhetoric points us towards incredibly final solutions. I may be just reading too much into it, after all. Some of the words we bandy about today are akin to screaming fire in a theater, after all.

First admit we have a problem; then let’s work on it, together. Together.

Mike

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