When people ask if it's weird to be back at the same place I went to college, I usually answer that what's weird about it is how not weird it feels. My old coffeehouse is now a bar, but same owners, and I order the same things I used to make when I cooked there; nearly all of my mentors and professors are still here, now my colleagues; my fellow alums are everywhere, teaching and administrating and running restaurants and just living. Not much changes in a town of 8,000 people. From the day I arrived, I felt at home, and if Guided by Voices comes up in the shuffle I sometimes have to remind myself what decade it is.
Today, though, I felt the schism between my two lives here. What happened was that some students here revived an O.C. tradition that originally ended in 1993, the Bike Derby, but has been picked up off and on again over the last couple of years. The Bike Derby was an annual demolition derby on bikes, with costumes, in front of Harkness Co-op, but that doesn't begin to describe the gleefully destructive punk mayhem that it was. You can get a pretty good sense of it from this two-part video of the 1992 Derby:
The enterprising students involved in today's Derby apparently sought to recreate the whole thing from YouTube, down to every live-music and throwing-buckets-of-compost detail. But it's like when you try to clone a pet. It just isn't the same animal. Or maybe it's just that I am not the same animal.
Originally I posted a longer detailed report/critique, a viscercal reaction written in the heat of the post-Derby moment. A day later my feelings have cooled off, and I've got more information from people involved directly and indirectly, and accordingly I've come around on several of the things that bothered me as an observer. [See REDUX, above.]
Don't get me wrong, the costumes and the spirit of the thing were great.
The part where they torch the bikes still bothers me and is the part I believe is worth rethinking.
It was particularly ironic to see a pile of newly-destroyed bicycles set aflame, black smoke billowing from the burning tires, before the backdrop of the state-of-the-art new environmental studies building. In that moment, I couldn't help thinking the whole stunt could just as well have been a demonstration by Republican wingnuts.
Amazingly enough, the whole thing was apparently cleaned up within the hour. So props for that. Over and out.