Standing in line at a shop, I wait behind an older woman who just realized the coupon she was trying to use has expired. The employee behind the register, an aging woman herself, assures the customer that an exception can be made and that she can still receive the discount. The customer asks for a bag for her goods as the items have been left strewn about the checking area, and soon after vanishes from the store.
As I approach the register, the cashier rings up my items and then goes for a bag.
I don't need a bag, but thank you, I say, as the cashier turns back toward me.
Oh? she responds. I wish more people would skip a bag. We're leaving our children with a world of waste to deal with and our planet would be so much better if more people would leave the plastic alone.
It is extremely rare that I request a bag anywhere I buy items because I have reusable bags at the ready and many times it's just easier to carry an item or two without a bag. When I'm on my bike, I don't always have a reusable bag with me, but I know it's generally easier to stash items in bike bags, baskets or panniers and not have to contend with a paper or plastic bag.
Well, I'm on my bicycle, so it's easier to carry things without the bag actually, I say. To which I receive a perplexed look.
You're riding a bicycle today? she questions. It's awfully cold out.
I wonder if she's been outside on this particular day because it's quite a bit warmer than it has been in some time and the sun is shining brightly.
It's not so bad, I respond, and it's always more enjoyable to ride than to be in my car.
Well, you be sure to be safe out there. You really should be driving on days like today.
And with that, I am off, wondering how I so often end up with a lecture when I mention that I'm on a bicycle.
This is not the first time I've had this sort of interaction with a cashier or employee of a store. The prior instances usually play out similarly with an overly-excited employee who is thrilled that a customer is rejecting a bag, but when I make a comment about riding a bicycle there is a perception that I don't have the money for motorized transportation or that I'm making a foolish choice to ride a bike in what is perceived as undesirable conditions.
Anymore, it seems I've lost the will to attempt to explain or try to convince anyone that my choice to ride is no more dangerous than any other mode of transportation. Still, I continue to be perplexed by the number of people who view a plastic bag as dangerous to our future, but cannot make the same correlation to constantly driving every place we go.
It's not that I think plastic bags are wonderful, nor that we shouldn't reduce our dependence on them, but couldn't the same comparisons be made to riding a bicycle instead of driving? There are alternatives to plastic, throw-away bags, just as there are choices in transportation.
I cannot help but believe that a piece of our inability to make the same associations with personal vehicles is partly due to the attention plastic bags have received over the last few decades. We have been told time and again through commercials and videos like the one above that we are ruining our world with our incessant use of plastic bags.
Today, nearly everyone I know has reusable bags that they bring to the grocery store with them, which was definitely not the case 1-2 decades ago. Even people who aren't necessarily highly environmentally aware are often bringing usable bags for shopping purposes. The message, I believe, has simply sunk into our subconscious to the point that many now feel guilty when we don't have a reusable bag to use - and I suppose that was really the point, right? To get the attention of the population, to get us to understand that we are doing something that can potentially destroy our home and our children's future.
But what if the same were done with bicycles? The commercial above is one that I vividly recall to this day, over 20 years after it originally aired. Partly because it was shown quite regularly, but also because the debate of plastic versus paper bags really did feel like an end-of-the-world type of decision, so many people easily identified and giggled along with this advertisement.
What if instead of an ad for Honda this was a commercial that ended with the customer riding off on a bicycle? What if we saw commercials with people riding bikes to get to and from work, to school, to baseball practice, or music lessons on a regular basis? What if riding a bicycle wasn't only viewed as a sport, but was instead shown to the masses as a way to save our environment or help endangered animals? What if there was suddenly a surcharge for driving a car instead of choosing to ride a bicycle; or if instead of car commercials or ads for Doritos during the Super Bowl we were shown images of how great it is to be outside, getting to destinations under our own power?
I suppose at this point, it's just a thought, a dream, really, but it does make me pause for a moment and ask some questions. What if riding a bicycle were viewed as a regular, every day means of transportation by more people? How would our world be different? If only the message could sink in to our collective subconscious the way the use of disposable bags have over the years, maybe we'd see more people on bikes and fewer in cars.
If you were in charge, what would you do to change the way the majority view people on bicycles? Would you use radio, television, or online advertising, or some other means to get your message out? Do you think if more people regularly saw people on bicycles in advertisements that it would change the collective viewpoint?