Sunday, April 21, 2013

Big Finish

What a gratifying close to Budapest's nine-year run of Critical Mass rides! Saturday's was announced as the last Critical Mass, and everyone was urged to come out and give it a grand finale. The goal was to make it the biggest one ever. I have to admit I was skeptical, knowing that participation had dropped off by half since the record setting ride of 2008. I was proven wrong. The sea of people at the closing bike lift behind Petöfi Csarnok was bigger than any I'd ever seen it. Cyclists took up the entire meadow behind the csarnok, and the spillover on the other side of  Zichy Milhály út may have been as big as the crowd in the meadow.

As always, it's impossible to get a convincing head count. But organiser Gábor Kürti told the kerékagy blog that if the spring 2008 record had been 80,000, the turnout Saturday was surely 100,000. He confessed, though, that he didn't witness the closing bike lifts because he'd broken down in tears. Reading that Kuku cried made me cry. What a great story!

My own ride got started about half an hour behind schedule, because our girl, Sequoia decided to go down for her afternoon nap right before the scheduled start at 3:55 p.m. I put on her shoes as she laid there snoozing, and she was still half dozing as I carried her down to my bike in the courtyard.
Start of Critical Mass, Kristin, me and Sequoia and Gabor's daughter Anna in background with head framed by bike sign.
Luckily, the starting point was just right across Margit híd from us, so when we arrived on the Pest side at half past 4, the procession was still just starting. I met up with Critical Mass activist Gábor Bihari and his daughter Anna just south of the bridge on the bike path. We sat there chatting for another half hour as the very long queue of cyclists on the quay crawled down toward Parliament and then just got stuck for awhile due to some downstream obstruction.

We were still sitting there when my wife, Kristin, joined us after dropping our boy off at a friend's. We couldn't even get down to the quay from the bike path because escorts blocked our way. If they'd let people cut in, the procession would never have moved. I guess it was past 5 when the whole procession had advanced far enough, and we were able to join it on the tail end. We hooked up with friend Steve Graning and his two girls, Sara and Melina (the latter on a scooter cause her bike had been polished up for resale).

We were at the very end of a kilometres-long line and being shepherded by green-shirted escorts on bikes, an ambulance (sweeping up the hundreds of dead and injured --  just kidding!!) and some crabby cops in a squad car. The cops yelled at us to move it along, apparently anxious to reopen the roads to motor traffic as quickly as possible.

We ran into a friend Péter Dalos, who was on a two-wheeled cargo bike with two children, a huge bag full of laundry, and the kids' two little bikes. I'd seen him with the same enormous load just three days earlier and I was too embarrassed to ask him if he'd been evicted from his home. I'm sure there's another explanation -- the whole family seemed very enthused and were wearing clean clothes.

Sequoia needed a pancake break on the final stretch down Andrássy út.
Of course, every bar that we passed had a crowd of cyclists loitering outside with tins of beer in their hands. Cycling while intoxicated is illegal, but this rule is openly flouted by thousands of participants at Critical Mass. I guess the idea is, if enough people drink, it's just impossible to enforce. A prime example of civil disobedience as a force for good! I kept asking Kristin if we could stop and join the fun and she kept on resisting, saying I shouldn't drink and ride with our daughter on board (she had me in a corner there). Then we passed by a wine bar (the Bor Tarsaság near the Buda side of the Chain Bridge) and then the shoe was on the other foot!

By the time we got across the Chain Bridge, the weather was turning and it looked like the predicted rains would soak us afterall. But the blackening skies and gusts of wind were all bark and no bite. I felt a couple drops of rain, or imagined I did, but it turned out to be one of those classic Earth Day Critical Masses whose huge turnouts had the blessing of Mother Nature.

It was pretty loud at the closing bike lift.
Sequoia was a real trooper, too. Didn't pout once and was generally amused by the whole thing. At the end, a nice young man who'd picked up a blue Cyclists Club balloon gave it to Sequoia, and that kept her happy all the way home.
These guys used a bus stop as a band shell and gave us a serenade as we were leaving City Park following the bike lift.

After the event, scrambling for the exits.

No comments: