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Sunday, 09 February 2014


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You mean, they were not nerds on fat bikes?

I'm sure this post has already launched an avalanche of comments on recent changes in government policy that have caused businesses to reduce hours and hire more part time workers so I'll just say I like being outside in cold weather. So does my dog.

In some ways I hope you're wrong...

Still, whoever it was that said `the measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members'... Thanks for drawing attention to it.

Unfortunately Mike, I get the uneasy feeling that we will see more of this kind of thing in the USA as time goes by.

I'm from Leipzig, a middle-size German city, Biking is quite popular here and not necessarily among the poor people. Many young or middle aged prefer bike to car or public transport mainly due to its flexibility and environmental awareness. Some of my "hard core biker" colleagues use bike even during the coldest winter period. (This year is rather warm but the last few winters were unusually cold). I switch to car or tram and when I look at those bikers from the warm inside of the car of tram I infer nothing about their wealth but I had a mixed feeling of respect and considering them crazy.
Some of these bicycles cost a lot, you could easily buy a used car from the price.

A couple thoughts...

1. There is a small chance these bicyclists were out for excercise. My older brother lives in Wisconsin Rapids and he takes his bike out in all manner of weather. It's more a matter of when he can get a break from watching the kids than weather conditions that dictates when he'll ride. When he does ride in winter he takes his oldest bike because he doesn't want to subject his new one to road salt. Also because the most comfortable way to dress for winter riding is wearing multiple layers, he often looks like a hobo during his winter rides, putting the oldest clothes on the outside to absorb the inevitable wipe outs. Back when I lived in North Dakota I'd ride my bike in temps as low as -10. It's like cross country skiing. Once the heart rate goes up it doesn't feel cold anymore. You just have to be careful of exposed skin.

2. Last night we returned to California after visiting family in small town Wisconsin. During the visit it was sad to see how the recession is lingering in rural areas and the distant suburbs. My hometown of Fond du Lac is looking more and more like a third world country (or the rural south to be more accurate) every time I visit. The few new jobs created in that town in factories that have moved to the area because of the conservative, anti-union sentiment. It's the same dynamic that I used to see in the anti-union south where a lot of manufacturing sprung up in the 90s. Yes new jobsare created, but they are all low paying and lacking benefits. The owners get rich while the workers struggle to pay their medical bills.

But it wasn't all gloom and doom in Wisconsin. I was happy to see that parts of Milwaukee ate still undergoing an urban renaissance. Riverwest, Bayview, Walkers Point, and Brewers Hill all have made great strides since I last saw them three years ago. Young families want to be in the cities these days. Why would anyone want to live in Waukesha when there are affordable, vibrant neighborhoods so close to downtown and the lake?

You want work? Move to Western North Dakota where more than 20,000 job openings are. Oil patch and support work available. McDonalds pays $15-18 an hour. Pizza delivery drivers are making $15 an hour. Oil and office workers are making a lot more. Jobs are there if you want to work. Average pay is over $110,000 per year now.
Yep, it is cold out but that is the nature of the State. So, if you want work - it is available.
Bring you camera as the area has its own beauty. No 'in your face' landscape or mountains but a subtle, quiet beauty that photographs well for those with some creativity.

A client of mine was recently sold. Actually, only the products and customer list were sold. Every employee (over 100 people) will lose their job. I will lose a long-term, valued client.

In delivering the news, the phrase “that’s just business” was used again and again. We’ve all heard about other companies and people meeting similar fates. Now it’s us. Everyone shrugged their shoulders and turned to face an uncertain future. Good jobs are hard to find.

Nothing illegal transpired here. That still doesn’t make it right. Profitability and humanity aren’t mutually exclusive. I don’t want to live in a world where real people are just pieces on a game board. What happened to “the greater good”?

Thanks for letting me know about Walgreen’s. They've lost me as a customer.

With considerable experience with both riding a bicycle in cold icy weather and walking in cold icy weather (even in deep snow along roads that have no sidewalk), I cannot agree with your inference that biking is preferable to walking in such circumstances.

On a bicycle, one's posture is necessarily expanded. Your legs are farther apart, there's a cold piece of plastic pressing up between them, your arms are extended before you, and your hands are out there all alone, gripping something cold. In bad conditions the pressure your feet must exert on the pedals tends to eliminate circulation to your toes. And greater forward speed brings a deeper chill to any exposed face area.

More likely, I suspect, is that these individuals were on bikes because it's faster than walking. Especially walking in snow. That can be a big deal, because something that's true about being poor in many cases (though the stereotype is the opposite) is that it can be very time-consuming.

When there's little food in the cupboard, concocting a meal can be quite a process (what to make with tomato sauce, string beans, flour and bananas?), but if you don't eat enough you get cold, lack energy, and lose time to brain fog. You may or may not have caffeine in the cupboard, but you probably need it anyways as if you are juggling jobs you probably don't get enough sleep, and if you do it's probably less restful thanks to the stress that financial insecurity inevitably creates. And of course if you're seeking to better yourself by pursuing online education or starting a craft business on the side or something this will tend to eat into your sleeping schedule and add stress.

This unpredictability also tends to build up strings of misfortune that waste an incredible amount of time in a world built for people who have all the typical conveniences. For example, perhaps you've been regularly going to McDonald's to connect your weathered laptop to their wifi in order to line up the sale of a lens you held onto in order to afford your automatic insurance payment, but then find that paypal won't release the funds until you've shipped the package, which requires you to print a shipping label at the library, so you rush there before work only to find that it doesn't open until noon, which is when the local post office closes, and have no time to track down a friend with a printer (if there are any) before work, assuming you have sufficient minutes on your tracfone, so you're resigned to shipping it the next day, which puts you into a danger zone wherein "between 3 to 5 days to process your transaction" means that the whims of your bank's computers will decide the difference between your insurance being paid (3 days) or lapsing (5 days). More lost sleep. This kind of mindless runaround becomes routine.

The grocery store a mile and a half away has to be walked to, adding an hour round-trip, and since you can only buy as much as you can carry in a backpack (if you can afford to fill the backpack) you have to go at least twice as often. At least that way you'll be sure to see the next time they put out their "now hiring" sign. And of course there's likely no public transportation, or if there is its schedule is likely useless.

When you do have some empty time, of course, you're exhausted. There's a difference between the psychological impacts of being busy in a secure, well-put-together life and being busy in a life that provides many more figurative cold headwinds than the literal one on your bike ride to work. The secure get to enjoy their downtime and feel like they deserve it. When you're poor it tends to mean extra time to think about impending needs and worry that there's something you ought to be doing, and if you do try to do something fun it feels like you're stealing. Never mind that you work just as hard.

So if anything, I would imagine the folks you see are biking primarily because they don't have time to walk. Modern schedules are built on the presumptions of the wheeled. I know I've been there. Physical mobility can be a challenge when financial mobility at the bottom of the ladder is so much more restricted than most would suspect, which inevitably reinforces that fact.

[Sometimes, on TOP, the comments are better than the posts. Thanks Erik. --Mike]

"The entire world seems crusted in snow."

A city in Florida is conducting a very clever guerrilla tourism promo campaign here in Chicago. As spotted last Friday in the snow at Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion:

Not sure Mike that I'd equate bikes so directly to poverty, some quite ordinary bicyclist just like the challenge (and fresh air). Just as some others apparently like getting in their car in the garage and driving it to another garage, wearing just a t-shirt whatever the weather. However, I couldn't agree more with your observations on the current employment situation.

I don't associated riding a bicycle with poverty. I ride a bike through choice. In all weathers. Many other people do too. And that goes for walking as well.

Your point about the poor getting poorer I agree with however.

Over here in the UK we have something even worse called zero hours contracts. You have a "job" but no guarantee of any work.

The system is broke. Capitalism isn't working because it has lost transparency. Seems these days everything is manipulated to the advantage of a minority. These two videos sum up where we are quite nicely:



It's a toxic mix: the rich doing better than ever, pensions destroyed, youth unemployed. Even if you deny climate change and peak oil it's not looking good.

You knew this was coming, yes?

The constantly-changing work schedules shows the utter disdain of management for their workers. If I learn that a place does this, I will let management know that it is not right and that I am going to stop shopping at their store. And I *will* follow through on not shopping at the store, no matter how difficult. As long as buyers are willing to give money to companies who treat their workers like kleenexes, the companies have no reason to change.

It's base hypocrisy to decry a practice while benefitting from it.

Recently I was listening to a comentator on the radio who was talking about the push for higher wages at Walmart, specifically the $15 an hour mark. His comment was that such a wage would slash Walmarts profits %80 precent and "investors" wouldn't put up with that.

Now I'm pretty sure that the "investers" in this case are those few who hold millions of shares, not some Joe Adverage with a tiny precentage in a mutual fund.

So, in my simple mind, it seems to me that most of their 1.4 million workers in the US must struggle to provide the basics, food shelter and covering, so that a few can benefit from their efforts.

Of course many old established retailers are not profitable, showing losses in the last 3 out of 4 years, and they also have 95% of their employees at part time a minimum wage and no benefits. All the same, their officers are all well taken care of, even if their decisions result in ruin for the other workers in the company.

I'm fairly sure that this kind of talk is anathema to some the wealthy elite in this nation. I think perhaps not only power corrupts but also money.

While I do concur with your comments 100 percent, the mental picture you described in the second paragraph brought to mind Calvin's dad (from Calvin and Hobbes) riding his bicycle during a winter storm:



Propagandists on the political right keep talking about `class warfare' as if it were the exclusive domain of the left (and therefore bad).

Class warfare is a fact of the political world in which we live, and the only bad thing about it is that for the past 20+ years the right has been winning.

The 22 hours a week randomly scheduled and thus inhibiting a second job is awful.

The cycling in the snow, well, that's more complicated. Were the people you saw dressed for the task? Riding bikes that seemed prepared for it? Some of us have and use such things. But if the person is wearing blue-jeans and cowboy boots and the bike is on summer tires - well, that's probably a pretty make shift thing. I hope they had lights and helmets.

One strong measure of poverty versus "wealth" is the set of choices you have. When you have *no choice* but to ride a bike on summer tires wearing ordinary work clothes through the snow to get to your only part time job, that is a kind of real poverty. Not the worst kind (see sub-saharan Africa) but still a bad kind.

The first 22 years of my life, when walking and bicycling were my only transportation options, I generally chose to walk on the kind of days you described; I found it far less unpleasant than bicycling at very low temperatures, especially with wind.

When I lived in Chicago I made a point of biking through the winter to stay in shape. The coldest I ever managed was weather like what you're currently experiencing. You have to bundle up and cover any exposed skin. It gets old quickly. The people you are seeing are either die-hard enthusiasts or, more likely, people with DWIs, recent immigrants who can't afford cars, or illegals or others who want to stay off the grid. Maybe some of them are just completely down on their luck. Also, for short trips a bicycle costs nothing to operate and peddling in the cold might be preferable to waiting for a bus in the cold. It would be interesting to know who these winter bikers really are.

Fat bikes. It's the new winter thing.

Here's a pic I got a couple of weeks ago of two bikers riding fat bikes on Lake Superior. It was single digits and 15 mph winds.


40% Of US Workers Now Earn Less Than 1968 Minimum Wage:



A friend who was laid off from the IT industry a decade ago used to work part-time at a large hardware store chain. He said they were very careful not to assign him too many hours in any one calendar period. Once you log above a certain minimum number of hours, standing labour legislation deems you no longer to be part-time, and that carries certain obligations on the part of the employer. At the same time, management insisted that staff act as sales enablers for certain products (let's push xyz item today) at embarrassing pre-shift pep-rally type meetings. Why would anyone enthusiastically push product with customers when you're not on commission and can't get enough shift hours to pay rent?

We already have unpaid interns. Soon, we may have to pay your employer to get any work. Maybe it's already happening, I wonder how many first-line managers demand a kick-back from underlings to be assigned shifts. As soon as I heard about the existence of for-profit private prisons, the very first thing that occurred to me was the opportunities for kickbacks to judges, cops, etc. And it happened.

Am I too cynical? Because you know, I'd prefer not to be.

It's *slightly* possible that you're over-interpreting the situation. Are there buses?

In any case, the situation of retail employees and fast-food employees in this country is disgraceful. I think we need an immediate $15 per hour minimum wage, going to $20 in the next few years. Prices would then rise, but it would be like a relatively small tax on customers that instead of passing through the government (which always takes a cut) would go directly to the workers.

Commuting to work on a bike might be a sign of indigence. But at least here in Chicago where its become more common due to creation of bike lanes on some streets it's more emblematic of (a) personal fitness maintenance and/or (b) a statement of environmental awareness. I know a fellow who was very proud of bicycling to work every day for many, many years. Rain, snow, cold...didn't matter.

Not directly related, I'll never forget the first time I saw people skating to work in Ottawa. Very feel-goody and a solid tourist sight! I wish we could get the Chicago River to freeze well enough to allow skating. It would be perfect for commuting downtown from both sides of the city.

One of my happiest bicycle rides ever was on Christmas Day many years ago. I wanted (badly) and received (happily) an "English Racer" bicycle on Christmas Eve -- we followed the Swedish tradition of gifting on the Eve rather than the Day. Early Christmas morning I took my new bike out onto the street and immediately slipped and fell on the ice. Embarrassed and happy. Gloriously happy.

Your fellow at the Walgreen's is going against the headwind indeed. What choices does he have? I don't suppose there are better paid jobs out there.

I used to work part time and cycled to work. I found it warmer and dryer than walking. I just ignored the permanent steering wobble and the way the back wheel skidded about.

It was nice in the better weather, and had its moments. Coming back up the hill to home one spring day the carrier bag of vegetables on the handlebars got its corner caught in the wheel. I stopped and looked round. There was a trail of sliced cucumber behind me. : ]

I live in Chicago where it's not quite as cold as Waukesha, and where I have plenty of choices as to how I get to work through the winter vortex. (No car, happily.) I still choose to ride my bike every day. 7 miles, each way, without fail. And I see a few hardy souls out doing the same thing.

I kind of feel bad for my friends who work delivery. In Chicago, a lot of food delivery happens by bicycle. It's faster and saner in almost all conditions. These conditions? More demand than usual, and it's not like bike messengers suddenly have car because it's gotten much, much colder.

But I sympathize. The sad thing is, your young friend at Walgreens might have to dump car ownership to make it on those 22 hours a week. It could be worse, yes, but it probably already is worse.

There are always underlying truths in the photographs that stir something inside of us. And it doesn't necessarily have to be explicitly related to the person or situation in the picture. That is one of the wonderful things about photography. With the picture of one person you can tell the story of a whole nation.


Some of us do it by choice. I live in Toronto and I could drive or take public transit, but I choose to ride my bike to work everyday, including winter days. The last few weeks has been tough, sometimes with temperatures around -20c, plus wind chill that could go down to -30c or colder. It's not as bad as people think, and low temperatures are not an issue at all, but dangerous icy road is. I have my share of falls from my bikes, especially this winter but it's worth it. I bike because it's faster than driving (it's only around 6 km for me one way, distance wise) and it gives me the exercise I would not have otherwise. Plus, I could hop off the bike at any time to take a picture if it strikes my fancy!

Dear John R.,

It's entirely possible that radio commentator was correct. The majority of Walmart shares are held by the Walton family. Quite possibly they would not put up with an 80% reduction in their profits. I wouldn't know. No doubt they talk to God, but they do not talk to me.

But putting the matter into a certain perspective, even assuming the Waltons did absolutely nothing to restore their profit margin (like, oh say, a 4% increase in the cost of items sold, which would hardly destroy people's incentive to shop there), they would still see a pretax profit of $2.5 billion. Outrageous, I know; NOBODY could live on such a paltry sum.

Bringing up a broader perspective, the approximate cost, VERY roughly, of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would be $70 billion a year. Last year the top 1% earned in excess of $2 trillion, 30 times as much. The top 0.1% earned at least four times as much.

It is difficult to imagine that guaranteeing a decent minimum wage would be an unbearable burden. If this truly is class warfare, I would only wish that all warfare were so benign. Tom Perkins notwithstanding. (We may have to invent a whole new class of Godwin's Law just to accommodate him.)

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Workers at WalMart and most big box and fast food places qualify for thousands of dollars of feferal assistance, meaning that American taxpayers are subsidizing these companies' profits. I heard the number was over $7billion for fast food workers and $2000 per WalMart employee. WalMart even provides guidance for their employees on how to apply for benefits!
"Reverse Robin Hood" is the name of the game.

Bike in my case is not for economy.

Before I retired I cycled to work when the work location was not too far/too much traffic. For the last 2 1/2 years my work location meant I could cycle and in that period only thrice did I use my car; twice when the amount of gear needed would not fit on the bike and one very icy day.

Since retirement I use my bike all the time; yesterday against very strong winds. My two cars spend much time on my driveway. If the UK had the kind of weather that Scandinavia does I would get spiked tyres and still continue in icy weather; I do go for long stiff walks when icy.

I am typing whilst finishing breakfast before a short cycle ride, hopefully not too wet, before today's activities, which are all home based.

I just cant get my head around the irregular 22 part time hours per week. What possible reason could management have/give for such a policy. It sounds so much like sheer bloody mindedness or petty exercise of power

Paul Mc Cann

It is called "the disposable employee model"


In 2011 it was reported that the Walton family owned slightly more than 50% of WalMart. Most of the balance is owned by mutual funds that are largely owned by individuals and retirement funds. Any reduction in WalMart profits would hurt the 99%.

Some have suggested that a "small" increase in WalMart's prices is a reasonable price to pay for a higher minimum wage. That price will be paid by the price conscious shoppers who shop at WalMart and can afford it least.

Increasing the cost of something decreases the demand for it. Raising the minimum wage will make it more cost effective for employers to substitute capital for unskilled/low skilled labor. A local hospital now uses robots (unmanned battery powered vehicles) to deliver supplies throughout the institution -- a job once performed by real people. Stores now have self-service checkouts. Aisle displays are no longer set up and filled by people but are shipped on pallets, full of merchandise that require only moving into place using a battery powered truck. The man-hours needed to collect shopping carts from parking lots have been cut by battery powered tugs that allow one person to move large numbers of carts at one time. It goes on and on.

I find the featured comment by Mark very interesting. What each person sees in the photograph is so heavily influenced by one's world view and perspective. I would venture to guess that Mike and Mark have very different world views, very different politics??

Another interesting thought is that I can see many photographers making this photo to visually express their views on some economic unfairness. But I can't imagine a photographer doing a story on those convicted of a DWI having to brave the elements? Would anyone be interested?


Paul Mc Cann, variable 22 hour schedules are new to the retail industry but factory workers, especially in those that staff through temp agencies, have been doing this kind of thing for a long time. I left the one I worked for when I was cut to a single scheduled shift a week, but found that I couldn't plan anything for unscheduled days because if they called you in (which they would on any unanticipated two or three days out of the week, usually just several hours before) and you weren't available, you were penalized; they gave your scheduled hours that week to someone else. I'm lucky that I'm young, able-bodied, and have connections that give me alternatives, so I could afford to quit. Many aren't so free. It can be very dehumanizing, and cover a surprising portion of the population in semirural areas with downtrodden economies.

Ah, brings back memories of one particular bike ride home, at about 5am after a long shift. It was December, but not too bitingly cold. The particular thing was the wind. And I mean WIND. I felt like an invisible hand was tossing me around as I barely kept upright on my thin road tires, the traffic-lights swinging to horizontal. This may seem apt as some dark metaphor but the truth is that it was a somewhat ecstatic experience. The swirling air, the euphoria of that step past fatigue, and the vivid colors of lights and pre-dawn sky reflecting brightly from the slick road... something to it felt intensely elemental, for that 20 minutes of pedaling. There's joy in the little things, no matter what.

Any society is a complex entity. Ours is no exception. There are a few things though that always seem to happen. Create a strong and all powerful central government, empower them to enforce what's "fair" such as a living minimum wage or to be outraged that some people make a whole lot more than others and guess what? Jobs disappear, people do with less and become even less self reliant, the middle class is bled dry and withers. Yes, people should have the opportunity to create a good life, to have a meaningful job at a good rate of pay. The key here is to create the opportunity. To believe that the government can mandate these goals and cause them to happen may be a liberal expression of faith, but is about as possible as ensuring that all children will be above average. It just doesn't happen. We instead lose our society and lose our individual rights. What on earth do you think has happened over the last 6 years?

One way around all this too many hours per week and we have to pay benefits nonsense is instead to institute a flat rate payroll tax.
Every dollar that gets paid to employees is taxed and those funds go to pay for benefits such as health insurance.
Two benefits, no excuses to not have full time employees because there would be no downsides, financially to having them.
Second, even Mr Big Shot manager/ owner gets to pay and gets to pay according to earnings, fat pay check means paying in more to pay for the benefits of the lower paid workers.
The laws would have to be written in a way that special employees also pay. That would include contractors, commission only, short term hires, casual labour, cash only, etc.

Here in Portland Oregon we bike in any weather. It makes you feel good - both physically and emotionally. I pity the poor folks who cage themselves in their "cars". Life for them is a chore, not a joy.

+1 on riding the bike during the winter. As others noted, this winter in Europe is unusually warm, but last year it lasted until April. There is only a couple of issues you need to take care of:

1) Have adequate outfit - gloves, balaclava, etc. - if you do, it never feels cold (actually, it's easy to overdo and it might get bit too hot, even if there's -20 C outside). Whatever works for skiing should work for bike too.

2) Drive carefully - bike lanes in Cracow are rarely plowed, so most winter cyclists prefer using regular roads - they are usually well salted, thus they give good grip with occasional patches of snow on the less used streets.

3) Because of the salt, have a secondary, well used bike that won't mind building additional rust due to the salt everywhere.

Bicycle is so perfect for commuting that it just doesn't make sense to skip it during the harsher weather. It's also faster (what traffic jams?), healthy and fun!

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