I first met Joe my senior year of high school, when Joe was making road trips down to Columbus from Cleveland for a summer of amazing punk rock like I never experienced before. The scene in Columbus was great then, and I am not sure I went a week without going to at least 3-4 shows and at least one music festival a month. During this time Joe had started his small publishing company which has now grown into Microcosm Publishing. He was political aware, sweet, calm and hilarious and still is and yet sadly we hadn’t seen each other in more than a decade. I was so happy that I could host Joe and his friends as they made their Great Midwest & Northeast tour.
Their tour, Dinner and Bikes, came through Columbus, Ohio and I got to spend two days being a terrible host to four amazing people who had more influence on me than they probably realized. The four activists were on tour and crashed at my place, they were author and documentarian Joe Biel. Elly Blue author, and research activists on cycling. Joshua Ploeg author and vegan chef . Chicagoan Aaron Cynic a journalist with chicagoist and Diatribe Media .
The gang arrived at my home after I’d finished an unexpected 12 hour work shift, and had another the following day. I was burnt out, not just from those two days but with the punk scene and the world as a whole. I’d thought grown-ups had their shit together, that rational intelligent people were in charge of making decisions deciding everything from war to public transportation to urban planning. I was frustrated with the idea that maybe it wasn’t possible for punks to have an influence they way I’d imagined when I was younger. Where were the people who understood the realities of the political system and could still be idealists? With this mentality and after the second long day of work, I headed to Dinner and Bikes.
Per my usual, I arrived late and loudly, I made my way past Aaron at the door to the first open seat which happened to be next to my buddy Bob. Elly was coming to a close on her presentation regarding the Economics of Bikes or as she calls it Bikenomics. I am embarrassed to say I’d had low expectations for Elly’s presentation expecting that it would be mostly “cars are bad, and use oil, and oil is bad, so bikes are economically better”. Not that it means a lot but have a degree in economics and have some knowledge of economics–this is to say I wanted substance. But it wasn’t a dumbing-down or lacking substance, here was Elly using economic terminology and speaking to her audience the same way one of my professors would have in an economics 200 level course—that is to say giving a quick reminder of what a term meant, and then presenting a wide range and source of studies on each point she brought up. For example to quote from her book (which is written very much like she speaks) Bikenomics: How Bicycling Will Save The Economy (if we let it):
The greatest part of the disparity in cost between bicycling and driving is in the externalities. An externality is, in economics-speak, a cost or benefit that isn’t reflected in something’s price…Why are these external costs worth so much scrutiny? Because the result of them being externalized is that the price of roads, gas, and parking become artificially cheap when we pay for them directly–so cheap that we have become reliant on them. If all these costs were internalized, driving would suddenly become something only the wealthy could afford. In truth, we already pay quite a bit more for these things than we realize, but indirectly through taxes, retail prices, health care costs, lost wages and more.
I looked around the room, the audience seemed engaged and understanding, and I also realized I knew a lot of these faces. I was still one of the younger people in the room, and yet still very much a grown-up, but those around me had even more years/experience as a grown-up then I had, and here they were listening to some punx teach them about the economic cost benefits of bikes versus cars on an intellectual level. I sat up straight and thought about how I couldn’t wait to purchase Elly’s book.
Then Joe started his documentary film on Critical Mass and at the same time I got up and served myself to an awesome vegan buffet made by Joshua (who by the way has the best cookbook title ever So Raw It’s Downright Filthy). The documentary was really well made. Joe had interviewed police officers, detectives, police chief, mayors, city council members, congressional representatives not just the punx, he let all sides be represented so that the truth could come out that many individuals in an organic grassroots culture shift had helped bring together a community and that even if the “grown-ups” in charge didn’t like it, change
was is possible.
I felt re-inspired but I didn’t know that this feeling was only going to increase. I made my way to their merchandise stand to hopefully purchase the documentary I had just seen. I ended up not buying it—by completely getting side tracked when I picked up If It Ain’t Cheap, It Ain’t Punk: D. un I. t Y. and reading the backside. The bands listed were This Bike is a Pipe Bomb, Defiance Ohio, Ghost Mice, One Reason, Operation Chief Clavin, and Sophie Nun Squad. I’d seen all of these bands and most of them with Joe! I remembered how alive I felt at those shows, how much I love dancing and moshing to punk music and the fact that it has probably been at least three years since I got down at a show.
I ended up purchasing the documentaries Cycling Shorts: Short Documentaries About Bicycles, If It Ain’t Cheap, It Ain’t Punk: D. un I. t Y., and Elly’s book Bikenomics. I left exhausted from work but re-energized that change was possible. That night back at home I tried to explain how I was feeling to Aaron but not sure I did a good job. I also didn’t know that I was about to be even more impressed by Joshua.
The next morning at breakfast, I think I made some comment to Elly about a dish not being vegan or something like that, so that I didn’t think Joshua would be able to eat it. I had made an assumption and you know what happens when I do that. I made an assumption that because Joshua was a vegan chef he was vegan. Elly calmly explained “Joshua isn’t a vegan but he does believe vegan cuisine should be available for all people”. I’m not sure how to articulate how great that statement was. It was non-judgmental and not just accepting but an embracing of others. I now tried to explain to Joe as they piled into their car how I was feeling about their visit, and again I thought I’d failed at sufficiently expressing myself. I gave them hugs, wished them luck on the rest of their tour and they were off and I was alone.
I cleaned up the dining room and then headed to my bedroom and next to my bike (Yes, I keep Keni Styles in my bedroom) I found the following book BEYOND the MUSIC: How Punks are Saving the World with DIY Ethics, Skills, & Values by Joe Biel. I can’t explain to you how big a grinned and the absurdity of my high pitched squeal. I immediately texted Joe and asked him if he had put that book in my room? Had he meant to do it? To which he responded “Haha! Sounded like you needed it.” He was right I did. To you my non-touring friends, I ask you to go see their show which ends June 4th in Chicago at Heritage Bikes.