Archive for June, 2011

Beirut by Bike

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

By Rami Rajeh

The first time I was pulled over by the poe-lice, who will hereon be referred to as the “pigs,” was when I was still in high school. There were four of us guys in a “suspicious” looking car and it was a Saturday night. The pig at the checkpoint looked at our just-prickly faces and signaled to pull over. Another pig walked up, cock-legged, and told us to get out of the car. Now, depending on which movies we had seen, we all interpreted the command differently. One friend dropped flat on the ground and put his hands over the back of his head. Another friend lifted his arms up like he was under arrest. I leant on the car like I was stretching my calves. Our reactions were unexpected and as with most pigs in this country, when faced with something out of the ordinary, tempers flared.

The pig spat:

You guys think you’re in Amreeka?!

Turned out he had been watching the same movies and shows too.

The last time I got pulled over was on the corniche. But this time it was different. I was not in a “suspicious” car full of young men. It was not a Saturday night. I wasn’t 17, but almost double that.  I was on my bike, (and wearing a helmet), cycling amongst the varied corniche crowd. It was a warm Friday, just before sunset. My mind was drifting over and beyond the breeze until this pig pops out of nowhere and sticks his palm out at me. I stopped. He “pulled me over.” I was told to hand over my identity card. It took me a few minutes to come to grips with this situation.

Was I being punked? I glanced left and right for cameras anywhere in hiding.

Instead, I found myself surrounded by a hodgepodge of other detainees. Most were around the age of my first “pull over”. There were around 20 cyclists, men and women. And none of us had any sort of identification on us. One girl immediately got on the phone to complain to someone (I presume her father). Another guy got on the phone and called up the bike rental company “Beirut by Bike.” Another two were discussing ways to flee and become fugitives at large. What movies had they been watching?

This pig was on a high. It was obvious he had never rounded so many criminals with such efficiency. He was making phone call after phone call, squealing and discussing his promotion, his new flat screen TV, his new car, his new responsibilities in his new post. It was unheard of, one pig with his sidekick single-handedly rounding up scores of criminals and offenders in a matter of minutes. Gone were the days of patrolling the streets. He could finally get that promotion and spend more time with his family. And his snickering, his snorting and his pacing about were witnessed by just about all the passers-by. Not so much because we were a sight, but because our illustrious law-enforcer had double-parked and bottle-necked traffic all the way to the McDonald’s at the other end of the corniche.

We were sorry. We were unidentified because our ID cards were left with the bike rental shop. We ignored the “’No Cycling’ signs” along the corniche as we merrily rode along. We chose to cycle on the crowded corniche where children, dogs, and men and women batted to and fro because we scorned upon the new cycling lanes set up by Beirut’s Municipality in its bid to decrease traffic and pollution and turn Beirut into an environmental haven. We turned deaf ears to the explicit warning to avoid the corniche by the “Beirut by Bike” dude, who operates just on the corniche. We were caught red-handed. We were guilty and waiting to hear our fate drop down from the pigs’ chain of command.

And there was no way out: It is pointless to bargain with the law when you have nothing to offer in cash.

Fifteen minutes later, it all made sense. We were guilty. Guilty of tarnishing the corniche’s, not to mention, Beirut’s image. How could we overlook the link between cycling and corruption? Cycling and the conditions of prisons? Cycling and the unfair labor laws? Cycling and the illegal “settlements” that were popping in and around the city’s airport? Cycling and theft? Cycling and Lebanon’s soaring public debt? Cycling and the monopolies, the duopolies, and the oligopolies? Cycling and the numerous armed militias and mercenaries? Cycling and the corrupt judiciary? Cycling and the lack of accountability? Cycling and deforestation? Cycling and power rationing? Cycling and a shrinking economy? Cycling and inflation? Cycling and everything?

The pig succeeded at rounding up the driving force behind Lebanon’s stagnation. They had caught us. Just like they had with “the terrorists,” Osama Bin Laden and Ratko Mladic, the authorities had now managed to find and detain “the cyclists.” This evil unsettling force that had previously roamed about freely, carbon-emission free, and quietly transcended all forms of traffic. They got us.

Lebanon can now breathe. Its revolution can now reap the fruits. It all converged to this: a round up of self-absorbed cyclists on the corniche in broad daylight who were only set free because the pig had ignored the law and decided to have a field day based on his “intuition,” which could find no resounding calls on the other end of his phone. It didn’t matter that a motorcyclist on the corniche crashed straight into the pig while we were being held up. He was preoccupied with the gold glinting off the spokes and reflectors of these filthy cyclists’ bikes, right there in front of his eyes. That motorcyclist hit and bounced off of him just like a ladybug.

It was the “Beirut by Bike” dude himself that showed up in person and calmly explained the laws of the corniche to the pigs on patrol: Motorcyclists were forbidden and cyclists were permitted. We were set loose knowing that the pigs in the upper crust of command did not see that it was worth it to send a vehicle to round us up, especially with no liras in our sweaty pockets. I left feeling that if you’ve done something as grave as cycle on the corniche, you’re bound to get caught because the law enforcers are alert and ready to pounce on you – when you least expect it. Just ask the ghosts of Bin Laden and Mladic.

This Sunday, June 5, Critical Mass Beirut and Green Line (Beirut), Eco Bike and Tour Sour (South), and Mina by Bike (Tripoli) will come together in honor of “World Environment Day” to ride from southern to northern Lebanon on bike. All are welcome. For more details, see their facebook page.