Monday, February 27, 2012

And the Oscar Goes to...


The Artist (2011)

 “We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!” says aging silent film star, Norma Desmond in the 1950 film, Sunset Blvd, as she simultaneously explains her fall from stardom and her disdain for the "talkies," movies with vocal soundtracks that became the norm during in the late 1920s. Some in the movie industry echoed Ms. Desmond’s sentiments, thinking that adding a soundtrack to a film was just a passing fad, a vulgar novelty. Little did they realize how sound would revolutionize the movie industry. Many fine actors and actresses, those with heavy accents, speech impediments, and poor grammar, were the first to go when silent pictures transitioned to sound. But something was loss during this evolution. Acting became all about the dialogue, all about the writing and actors began to rely less on physicality and using their whole face, especially their eyes, and not just their mouths to project their lines. It seems that something vital is missing from their performance by not utilizing their whole being to act, as if their talent for storytelling has weakened from the lack of such exercise.

The Artist, directed by Michael Hazanavicius, is a throwback to that bygone silent movie era. Beautifully shot in black and white, the movie relates the story of an actor struggling with the change from the silent to the talking film era. The film picks up in medias res as George Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin, who is considered to be the French equivalent of George Clooney, as he pantomimes being electrocuted, lighting bolts and all, in a scene that cleverly emulates the monster reanimation sequence in Frankenstein. “Speak! Speak!” cries George’s tormentor. It’s the world premiere of his latest film. The audience is dressed to the nines, while a full orchestra provides the music. Afterwards, to much adulation, George takes the stage, mugging for the audience, aided by his intrepid and scene stealing canine sidekick Uggy, while his neglected female costar in the film fumes just off stage.

George is at the pinnacle of his career, the biggest star at Kinograph Studios. While outside a movie theater showing off for the cameras, a young lady staggers into the frame, and consequently his life. Peppy Miller, played by the radiant Bérénice Benjo, is a struggling actress, who happens to be in the right place at the right time. Flashbulbs ignite when she drops her purse and literally stumbles into George. He gamely poses for a few photos with her, one landing on the front page of a newspaper with the caption, “Who’s That Girl?” Who is she indeed as Peppy hopes that this notice would be her stepping stone into the movie industry. The photograph, along with her dancing ability, lands her a small role in Kinograph’s next picture, a bit part that once again throws George and Peppy together as the share a dance, for take after take. Here we witness the budding of their relationship. Their intimacy deepens as Peppy sneaks into George’s dressing room. In my favorite part of the film, Peppy interacts with George’s tuxedo that’s hanging on a coat rack, slipping her arm through one of the sleeves as she fantasizes that its George’s arm caressing her. Predictably George enters the room and instead of being upset, he is oddly touched. He gives Peppy some advice; “If you want to be actress, you have to have what others don’t.” Apparently all that she was lacking was a beauty mark over her lip.

Fast forward two years as George Valentin’s career starts to fade. Kinograph Studios decides to stop all production on silent pictures and will only being making talkies for now on. This is devastating news for George. He is reluctant to transition into the talkies that he thinks are a joke. Because of this unwillingness, his popularity drops precipitously as Peppy Miller’s career soars. This change of circumstances for these two is exquisitely portrayed during a scene at Kinograph Studios’ offices. George, pretty much fired from the studio, descends the stairs as Peppy is running up them. They stop for a moment to talk, him standing a few steps below her, a simple but poignant representation of Peppy’s rise and George’s decline.

Peppy Miller soon becomes the biggest star at Kinograph Studio. George, in a last ditch effort to save his career, finances his own silent movie, sparing no expense, emptying his savings as the picture runs over cost due to his obsession with detail and his desperate need for the film to succeed. Unfortunately, the day his picture is set to debut is on the same day Peppy’s new movie opens. Coincidentally, both films premiere the day after the stock market crashes, wiping out George’s fortune entirely. George’s wife Doris, played by an unrecognizable Penelope Ann Miller, leaves him. He is forced to fire his loyal manservant/driver Clifton (a wonderful James Cromwell) and has to auction off all of his possessions. In a fit of despair while watching one of his old silent movies, he sets afire the highly flammable film negatives in his apartment and is trapped by the flames. Uggy to the rescue as he runs off and charmingly convinces a policeman to follow him back to the apartment building. George is saved, suffering from smoke inhalation and burns on his hands from clutching the one thing he was able to save, the reel containing the daily rushes of the film where he was dancing with Peppy.

George comes to in Peppy’s mansion, where he was taken to recover from his wounds. While there, he and Peppy become better acquainted. She fights with Kinograph Studios’ boss, played by the always excellent John Goodman, to green light a picture staring her and George. The movie mogul balks at her suggestion; “George is a silent movie actor. He’s a nobody now.” Peppy vows to quit her current picture if he doesn’t give in to her demands; “Hey, I’m blackmailing you. Get it?” George dismisses Peppy’s efforts on his behalf, once again declining to star in a talking picture. While Peppy is at the studio, George wanders around her house, coming into a room that contains all of his auctioned possessions that Peppy bought, using her butler to make the bids. George, his pride wounded, goes back to his burnt out apartment. He has a gun hidden there and he’s ready to pull the trigger just as Peppy, a very bad driver, crashes her car into a tree right outside the apartment, distracting George enough to abort his suicide attempt. The film ends with them filming an elaborate dance scene for their new picture.

Even though The Artist is technically a silent movie, sound is still prevalent throughout the film, so much so that one forgets the picture is for the most part silent. It is obvious that the film actually had a working script with dialogue the cast used while filming. We see them moving their lips though we cannot hear their lines. Pertinent pieces of dialogue are shone as subtitles, just like in the old silent films of yore. Ludovic Bource’s score, at times whimsical and dramatic depending on the action of the film, keeps the movie from seeming too quiet. There is one song with lyrics; “Pennies from Heaven,” plays in the background as Peppy’s rise to fame is documented during an onscreen montage. There are other instances of sounds. During a nightmare George has, everything around him including the sound of a chair being pushed back, a ringing telephone, a glass being put on a table, extras giggling as they walk by George on a deserted movie back lot, a feather landing on the pavement in front of him with a thundering boom, make a sound with the exception of him. This scene highlights George’s dilemma. He yearns to be onscreen again, he wants to be in the talkies desperately but is afraid the audience will judge him too harshly when they hear him talk. “No one wants to see me speak,” George laments. There is dialogue at the very end of the film; “Cut!” “Beautiful!” “Can you give me just one more?” Eleven words in total, two uttered by George which seem to explain why he was so reluctant to be in the talkies in the first place. And what these two words are, I shall never tell.

Paper Cuts



Nobody can deny that the cost of college is rising briskly and UMass Boston is actively doing its part to save money to prevent the need to further increase fees for students. One of the ways the administration is trying to cut back on spending is by encouraging the faculty to cut down on the amount of paper and computer ink they use to print out class materials. While we students applaud the administration’s efforts to make the campus sustainable, the opportunity cost of said efforts is being felt by the students in the place it hurts the most, their own pocket.

In order to cut down on paper consumption, instructors have passed the burden along to their students, mandating that they print out class materials themselves, via Portable Document Files (PDF), a popular layout because it allows a document to be managed and printed from any computer using any word-processing program. The sheer size of these PDFs can be staggering, ranging from a page to as much as fifty plus pages. ” I've had to print out nine different pieces for one class, within three sessions,” says Sylvia Peters, a senior and an English major. “At least one I did not do in its entirety because there was no way I was printing out forty plus pages of an item that was 75% ‘suggested’ reading.”

With several instructors assigning multiple PDFs to print out on a weekly basis, the cost of the materials needed to print out these documents add up quickly. For example, suppose a student has to print out sixty pages of PDFs per week. There are sixteen weeks in a semester and around eight semesters required to attain a Bachelor’s degree. One ream of paper is 500 pages, the average cost being $10 a ream. Sixty pages multiplied by sixteen weeks equals 960 pages per semester, roughly two reams of paper. Multiplied by eight semesters, it totals $160. That may not seem like a lot of money but a student will have gone through sixteen reams a paper, equaling 8000 pages in four years.

The price of ink is considerably higher, figured roughly about one black ink cartridge per ream of paper. A Canon 210 cartridge (what I use) averages around $16. Two cartridges per semester equals $32, sixteen cartridges in four years is $256. “I know I, for one, am not printing out any more superfluous documents unless they are from a website rather than a file, and even then, they need to be no more than ten pages. If the school thinks paper (and ink) is expensive for them, they have no idea the retail cost to students who don't have the luxury of corporate, state, federal, or bulk discounts.”

Together, the faculty and students should explore new ways to share information without increasing the financial burden of the student or the school. One way for a student to save paper is by printing on both sides of the paper or by recycling old papers by printing on the blank side; just be sure to cross out what is on the other side of the paper to avoid confusion. A good tactic for the administration and faculty to save paper is by actively promoting the use of electronic media for perusing documents. “Instructors need to learn how to effectively use campus equipment. Said documents can be projected onto the white screens from the professor's computer. If you're not that savvy, there are still good old fashioned overhead projectors floating around the college.” Unfortunately some instructors frown upon computers in class, preferring to assign hardcopy assignments in order to make sure students are giving their attention to the material being presented rather than surfing the net during lectures. However, students who use their laptops in class for note taking and viewing documents often outnumber those who are slacking off.  Ms. Peters agrees: “I think teachers who expect students to use PDFs and online text should then not ban computers and e-readers in class. If students want to goof off, they don't need technology to do it.”

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Parish Café II - A Place to Be

by Shannon O'Neill

Parish Café II, located at 463 Mass. Ave. (the corner of Mass. Ave. and Tremont St.) has become a staple in the South End. Its claim to fame is its artfully crafted sandwiches designed by local chefs. Creator Gordon Wilcox reached out to chefs in the Boston area to have them create a sandwich for the Parish menu, and each sandwich is not put on the menu until the chef who came up with it deems it perfect. The standards at Parish Café are high, something that any guest will notice right away.

My boyfriend had a gift certificate to Parish that his mother gave him for Christmas (she bought it one day after he brought her there for lunch). I’ve visited before and have really enjoyed each of my experiences, but the fact that it is next door to my apartment adds to its appeal. We were seated quite quickly and we even had a choice of where we wanted to sit. It was busy for a Tuesday night, but not overcrowded or uncomfortably cramped. While I can’t say we learned our server’s name, he was attentive without being overwhelming and he had impeccable timing.

The interior of the restaurant was recently renovated. Most noticeable was the fresh paint on the walls, the new floors, new tables, and some cool mood lighting added throughout the space. The renovations, however, didn’t take away from its original charm. The bar remains the same – cozy as ever with what seems like an endless amount of beer mugs hanging overhead. The window seats were also left untouched. While Parish lacks outdoor seating, it boasts huge windows that open to the street in the warmer months. Even when the windows are closed, they create an openness that makes the space feel larger than it is.

The atmosphere at Parish could best be described as casually cool, but not pretentious. In other words, you won’t feel out of place if you’re not hipster, but it’s a place that can be enjoyed by hipsters, Baby-Boomers, and everyone in between. The soundtrack in the background fit the atmosphere well, including songs by Miike Snow, MGMT, and Modest Mouse. The playlist was great but it wasn’t played too loudly and didn’t take away from the conversations of guests. Parish is a place to socialize, and while the music adds to the atmosphere, you won’t have to shout to have your voice be heard over the sound system.

Wafting off from the bar is the faint scent of beer. Generally, the smell of beer coming from a bar is bad thing – from years of spills that had never been cleaned up – but that is not the case at Parish. The aroma is fresh and makes you crave one of the many beers that the bar menu offers…and they do have MANY. The beer menu is impressive – a few pages long, in fact. That being said, it is well-organized and easy to navigate. Beer-lovers will rejoice, but for others, Parish has a full bar that offers many wines, sangria by the glass or pitcher, and specialty cocktails.

The beer list itself will make you want to try everything that is offered, and Parish’s “Mug Club” is an incentive to do just that. The Mug Club works kind of like a loyalty card – you get a card, and if you try all of the 100 beers that are offered within six months, you become an official member. The greatest perk of being a Mug Club member? A 25oz. beer mug of your very own that you can drink from whenever you visit (and you can even have it personalized).

Parish offers more sandwiches on its menu than many restaurants offer in appetizers, entrees, and deserts combined. Sandwiches are its specialty…but these aren’t your typical deli sandwiches or lunchtime snacks. These sandwiches are complete meals and as, if not more, delectable than any entrée at other casual-dining restaurants. Sandwiches range from traditional (like “The Zuni” that consists of sliced turkey and a cranberry-chipotle sauce) to gourmet (like “The Campbell” which includes a soy and ginger roasted veal flank). The spectrum of sandwiches is wide, but there is something for everyone.

I ordered “The Bond Herb Roasted Chicken Salad,” a dish created by the Executive Chef of the Langham Hotel Boston, Mike Sapienza. Chicken salad is often thought of as simple and classic, but this dish was anything but average. To begin with, there were whole chunks of breast meat – not an unidentifiable slew of shredded, meat-like substance. The chicken was not mixed in just a mayonnaise, but in garlic aioli, roasted onions, scallions, thyme, and tarragon. I am not a huge fan of tarragon, but in this salad it worked perfectly; I could taste it, but it was not too strong. Also on my sandwich was Romaine lettuce, tomato slices (some of the juiciest tomatoes I’ve had in a long time), and shoestring fried onions. When reading the description of this item, I must have missed “fried onions” but they were a nice addition that went surprisingly well with chicken salad.

I cannot say enough good things about my sandwich, but I found that the potato salad was a bit disappointing. The menu proudly claims that homemade potato salad is served as a side, but it tastes more like potato salad that you would buy by the pint at the grocery store deli than something you would expect to go with sandwiches of Parish’s caliber. At times, I thought (and my boyfriend agreed) that the potato salad had no taste to it at all, while other bites had a weird tanginess that just didn’t work. Parish puts an extreme amount of care into crafting their sandwiches, but the care that is put into the potato salad seems to have fallen by the wayside.

The prices at Parish are more than reasonable, especially for the quality of the food, service, and atmosphere. No sandwich or entrée is more than $20, and most stay within the $10-$15 range. Also, while many of the beers are from microbreweries and are hard to come by, they are not overpriced to make them seem more exclusive. Altogether, my boyfriend and I ordered one beer, one iced tea, and two sandwiches, and our bill came to a total of $35. Parish is proof that a couple can get a great meal for under $50.

Parish Café II is a place that I will return to again and again, but also one that I would encourage others to visit. Whether you are looking for lunch, dinner, or just drinks with friends – Parish offers it all. Parish offers great food at great prices and is something that every Bostonian should experience.

Post Secret Live

by Hannah Risser-Sperry

Post Secret is a blog (www.postsecret.com) created by Frank Warren of Germantown, Maryland in 2004. People mail in postcards with a secret written on them, and every Sunday Frank shares a small number of them with the Internet and all its users. The popularity of the site has grown so much that now Frank goes on speaking tours, often with engagements at universities, and on February 23rd he visited UMass Boston.

Post Secret is a highly emotionally charged project. Or maybe it’s a movement. I’m still not sure. Either way, the Post Secret thing is constantly bordering on too much, and I mean that as the highest possible compliment.

The event was held in the Campus Center Ballroom, and was absolutely full of people. There were two large screens set up, a small stage, and a table selling the Post Secret books for a record low $5 a pop. The show began with a video by the god awful band The All-American Rejects; Frank explained later in his talk that the band had wanted to use “post secrets” in their video, but he denied their request despite the large amount of money their people put up. He went back to them later, however, and asked that they double their offer and donate it to a suicide prevention hotline in return for access to the secrets. The video is actually quite moving, despite the terrible soundtrack.

But this is not a review of The All-American Rejects and their complete lack of musical talent. It is a review at the Post Secret event, and also a look at Post Secret itself; what it does, who it affects, and what it means. When Frank came out on stage, he said a simple “Hi my name is Frank, and I collect secrets.” This was met with thunderous applause and whoops, and I got the feeling this was not the first time he’d used the phrase nor was it some people’s first Post Secret event.

Frank showed us some secrets that couldn’t make it into the books, due to copyright issues or the images being deemed inappropriate by someone on high in publishing. He talked with us about his own history, his own secrets, and how he had started the project by handing out his address to strangers in Washington DC, encouraging them to mail him their secrets. It was very sweet and deeply personal. His talk undulated between absolute hilarity and stunning emotional depths. Following his words, attendees were encouraged to share our own.

When people began speaking, I felt myself become very uncomfortable. The secrets they shared will remain secrets to everyone who wasn’t in that room, but some were startling and even a bit scary. When one girl finished sharing her secret, she was met with a group hug from those in line behind her. One secret uplifted you, and the next made you feel hollow. In other words, it was much like any Sunday morning browse of the blog.

That is what I ultimately took away from the Post Secret Live experience. While Frank can turn into a bit of a motivational speaker onstage, I’ve never seen someone so earnest. He started this tiny art project out of his house, and now he has the most heavily trafficked blog in the world. He genuinely cares about the causes Post Secret supports and the people who come out to the events. Each person who shared a secret got kind words from him. He wants you to feel as connected to others’ secrets as you do on Sunday mornings. I certainly can’t see anything wrong with that.

Friday, February 24, 2012

UMass Boston Welcomes SIFE

by Shannon O'Neill

An attractive aspect of UMass Boston is that it encourages the success of its many clubs and organizations and eagerly welcomes new ones. SIFE, short for Students In Free Enterprise, is one of the university’s newest organizations – in fact, it just became officially recognized on February 2nd. I spoke with Jared Ward, founder of the UMass Boston chapter, to learn more about SIFE, how it made its way onto campus, and what the organization has planned for the future.

SIFE is an international organization that strives to empower communities on a local, national, and global scale. Jared elaborated on this, informing me that “the types of empowering community service can be anything from beach cleanups to going into a small business and working with the owners to create and implement new, improved business plans that will contribute to their economic growth and success.” For SIFE, temporary results are not good enough. Instead, the organization focuses its efforts on projects that will have lasting impacts on communities. “For instance,” Jared explained, “if we were to do a beach cleanup, we’d clean the beach but we would also establish some sort of trash maintenance plan where a company would come and empty the trash each week. We want to empower communities, not just find the problem and implement a short-term ‘fix.’ The emphasis is on sustainability.”

Jared heard about SIFE from a friend who attends Stonehill College in Easton, MA. He had no idea what the acronym meant, so he Googled it (“when in doubt Google it out,” in his words) and was instantly enthralled by what the organization offered. While Jared was initially disappointed that UMB did not have a chapter of the organization, he quickly decided that he wanted to be the one to introduce it to the school. “I don’t really know why UMB didn’t have a chapter already,” he said, “but in a way I am glad that I was able to start SIFE at UMB. It has given me the chance to become more involved on campus and further appreciate my school.”

Jared got SIFE up and running in what seems like record time. In less than a month, he heard about the organization for the first time, collected enough signatures to create an on-campus group, composed a “very long, very detailed constitution,” then submitted everything and waited for the university’s approval. By February 2nd, SIFE became a legitimate, recognized organization on the UMB campus eager to begin service projects.

Despite the organization still being in its infancy, it already has some big plans. On February 29th SIFE will be hosting a discussion lead by Professor Lageson of the Criminal Justice department on the topic of Restorative Justice, why it is important, and the positive impact it has on both criminals and victims. The discussion will be open to all and will be held in a Question & Answer format.

While the dates have yet to be determined, SIFE is planning a number of fundraising events. To name a few, there will be a “Mr. and Ms. UMass Boston” contest, a scavenger hunt along the Harborwalk, and a volleyball tournament.

In addition to the open discussion and fundraising efforts, SIFE is developing three empowering project initiatives all centered on youths. While the details of these projects are not completely worked out, Jared shared that “on a local level, we [SIFE] will be working with juvenile offenders and restorative justice. For a national project, we will be mentoring high school students who are at risk for juvenile delinquency and/or dropping out and we will encourage them to get involved in their communities. As far as a global project goes, we will work with the Invisible Children to spread awareness about child soldiers in Uganda.”

UMass Boston’s chapter of SIFE is taking on quite a bit in a short amount of time. “Some people have expressed doubt in the amount that we will actually accomplish this semester” admitted Jared. “I don’t blame them for doubting us because we are taking on quite a lot.” There is much work to be done but Jared has confidence in his Executive Board, Extended Officers, and general members. Also, he feels that keeping the purpose of SIFE in mind will motivate the group to accomplish the goals that they have set for this semester. “We are not doing this for ourselves. We are not asking how SIFE can better our résumés for our future careers. We are, however, asking what we can accomplish by using SIFE as an outlet to empower others. I hope that will, in turn, also empower the UMass Boston SIFE members.”

Jared would like to stress that “anyone and everyone can get involved in SIFE in one way, shape, or form.” To find out more and to get involved, “Like” UMass Boston SIFE’s page on Facebook, visit www.sife.org, or contact Jared at Jared.Ward001@umb.edu.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Breaking Free From the Diet/Binge Cycle

There are many words one could use to describe me.

I’m a mother, a student, a homemaker, a vegan.

I’m African-American, short, funny, and smart.

But the word I’ve let define me for the past 20 years is this one:

Fat.

My name is Khadija Brewington, I’m 37 years old, and until very recently I’d been on one diet or another since the age of 13.

My dieting began with puberty.

Along with breasts and hips, I began to develop a sense of self-consciousness, born from the public scrutiny and criticism I was now subjected to from family and friends.

Suddenly my body was no longer my own.

Well-intentioned aunts commented on all of the men I’d be able to attract now that I was filling out.

Less developed friends lamented their lack of figures in comparison to my own, and boys I’d known since childhood began to look at me in new ways that made me feel uncomfortable. Ill-equipped to handle this attention the only thing I wanted was to disappear.

Dieting seemed the best way to do just that.

But as most of us know by now the flip side of any diet is overeating. By the time I got to college I’d begun a cycle of dieting and binging that didn’t stop until I realized that I had “dieted” my way up to almost 200 pounds.

Although I eventually lost the weight by learning about nutrition and exercise I still maintained a fairly stringent diet.

I counted calories or carbs or points depending on which “lifestyle program” I was following at the moment.

I worked out five times a week without fail and kept track of every bite I put into my mouth.

I didn’t think there was anything wrong with my behavior because, after all, I was just being careful, making sure I never gained the weight back. Because contrary to what my 13 year old self had once believed, there are worse things in life than being stared at admiringly.

There are the jeers and stares of disgust that are leveled at the fat woman.

My goal was to never be that fat woman again and I was doing just fine until….

I got pregnant.

Suddenly, I had to gain weight.

But for the first time since puberty I wasn’t afraid of being fat. My job was to grow a baby. A healthy, happy baby and I couldn’t do that if I were restricting my food intake.

During my pregnancy I was careful to eat healthy foods and to exercise as much as my body allowed, but my goal was no longer to see a specific number on the scale.

For the first time in my life I just wanted to be healthy.

In one of my favorite books, Life Inside the “Thin” Cage, author Constance Rhodes discusses the body image issues American women face at different stages in our lives. “For many women, pregnancy is the first time weight becomes an issue. Even those who have never been concerned about how they look can’t help but get a little nervous as the numbers on the scale continue to climb with each passing month.”

I am grateful that this wasn’t the case for me. And upon talking about this issue with a couple of my girlfriends, I am happy to say that they also found pregnancy to be a catalyst for freedom from the confines of restrictive eating.

According to my friend Ruenan de Guzman: “It’s not like this in my country. In the Philippines we damn sure don’t starve ourselves like they do here. Once I had Lauren I was glad to be able to start jogging again but that’s about it. I don’t have to be thin, not for my husband, or anyone else in my family.”

And Megan Murphy, another mother in my daughter’s playgroup, echoed Ruenan’s sentiments: “I was 120 pounds all throughout college and I maintained my weight on a steady diet of Diet Coke and cigarettes. Now that I have Joey I’ve gained 40 pounds but I’m so much healthier. I stopped smoking and I actually EAT real food. This body was able to maintain a healthy pregnancy and nurse my daughter for over 2 years. I don’t need to be skinny anymore; there’s so much more to my life now than just being able to say I can wear a size 2.”


Today, I’m in a much better place than I was at 13 or even 30. At 37 years old, I’m well on my way to making peace with the reflection that I see in the mirror each day. I no longer use the scale as a measure of how successful I am in life. I no longer count calories or track my meals. And while I have finally reached a healthy weight for my height and gender, this is no longer my proudest accomplishment.

I am still a mother, a student, a homemaker, a vegan.

I’ll always be African-American, short, funny, and smart.

But I am no longer fat and even more importantly, I am no longer a dieter.

And that’s what I’m most proud of right now.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Can't We All Just Get Along?: the Bicycle and Vehicle Edition

by Hannah Risser-Sperry

I have had doors thrown open into my bicycle, been hit by a cab who kept on driving, and been called every offensive name in the book. I’m not alone in these experiences, as any city cyclist would likely attest. Whether you are a downtown courier or a middle-aged commuter, these experiences are commonplace and unlikely to disappear anytime soon. The simple fact is that cars and bikes are not thrilled to be coexisting.

Nor should they be, necessarily. While bikes on city streets are in no way new, the past few years have brought increased ridership; the number of Boston cyclists has more than doubled since 2007, according to the Mayor’s Office. More wheels on the road, however, bring more hazards.

Obviously, a major issue is the simple sharing of the streets. Cyclists are allowed to occupy a full lane of traffic, much to the annoyance of their four wheeled friends. Cars frequently double park in bike lanes, forcing cyclists from their one designated safe space back into traffic. Oftentimes drivers will honk, which does little but scare a rider half to death. Beyond simply sharing the road, there is the constant threat of being doored.

"Dooring" refers to a parked car’s door being opened into a cyclist’s path, often leading to serious injuries for the rider as well as damage to both the bicycle and vehicle. Last year, a friend was doored while traveling safely in a bike lane when she was doored; she blacked out and awoke to the driver saying “you’ll be okay” over and over again. She was not okay; she required multiple cat scans and a brief hospital stay.

One cyclist I spoke with at length for this story (we’ll call him Benjamin) has been riding in Boston and Cambridge for five years. His very first day after buying a bike, he was doored on Boylston St. in the Fenway. While no significant damage was done, he still feels pain in his shoulder from time to time. Beyond dooring, Benjamin says he has bad interactions almost daily. Taxi cabs are a big issue: this fall, Benjamin was doored by a cab’s passenger exiting the car. The cab had stopped in the lane with no blinker to let Ben know what it was doing, so he pulled around it on the right, only to have the door thrown open just as he passed it.

Benjamin flew over the handlebars and his front wheel was totalled, so when the cab driver offered him $10 for his $200 rim, he called a police officer to the scene. To his credit, the officer was kind, polite, and understanding. However, he found Ben at fault because “he didn’t understand that cyclists have different rights than vehicles and pedestrians. Most of them are the same, but there a few different ones. One, cyclists are allowed to pass on the right of slowed or stopped vehicle traffic, just as they’re allowed to pass us on the left. The other thing is dooring is illegal, you cannot open a door into the lane of traffic of vehicles, pedestrians, or cyclists... So, this officer was ill-informed or just ignorant. He said there was nothing I could do because I had passed on the right; because of that, I was in the wrong. I printed off the law, just from the Internet, and brought it to the police station and dropped it off. I found this out; you’re supposed to be enforcing these rules and protecting people.” Benjamin was right; there is a long section on cyclists’ rights (available at mass.gov) that some officers seem not to know. It’s difficult to be the person harmed in an accident and then be blamed for it, all because there hasn’t been enough education for the men and women tasked with protection.

Following innumerable negative interactions with the police officers in Somerville, Cambridge, Boston, and Brookline, last year I had a very nice one. While riding to work, a police car cut me off and forced me into oncoming traffic. I was ultimately fine, but took note of the license plate and called Boston Police headquarters as soon as I arrived at work. After being passed around to a few different unpleasant men who seemed to scoff at my assertion that I’d been endangered by an officer, I was assured that the officer in question would be talked to. The following morning, my roommate knocked on my door to let me know a police officer was at the door to speak with me. After calming my roommate down (maybe he thought my illustrious criminal past had finally caught up with me), I answered the door and chatted with one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. He apologized profusely, explaining that he had been on the scene of multiple bike accidents and couldn’t live with himself if he caused one. He said he thought I was very brave to ride in the city, didn’t know how anyone could with the way Boston drivers behave toward those who do. He held my gaze and treated me like a human being. It’s a bit depressing how surprising that was.

The point is not that police officers are bad, or the largest threat to cyclists, or do not care about cyclists. It’s simply that many of them are ill-informed and at the end of the day, they’re human. Humans do not always remember to check their blind spot, after all. Police officers often get the wrath of cyclists simply because of all the cars on the road, we expect them to be the ones looking out for us and knowledgeable as to how to protect us.

Benjamin knows that his fellow riders can also tarnish the image of cyclists in general. He sees cyclists “blast through” red lights and knows this looks bad for all of us. He claims to “treat stop lights as stop signs,” meaning he will stop, look both ways, and continue on if it is safe to do so. He will also progress if there is a pedestrian crossing sign, though he points out he will, “of course,” grant pedestrians the right of way. These are pretty common actions, but they infuriate drivers. I can’t say that I blame them, as they are, most definitely, illegal. The issue is that bicycles should obey red lights, just as police officers should know the laws they are meant to enforce. However, Ben also says he is happy to pay any fines a police officer will give him. He knows it’s illegal, but feels his actions keep him safe: “I feel a lot safer going through a red light like that then I do starting at a green light with all the other traffic behind me; the impatient drivers trying to like, really quickly get by.”

Benjamin’s suggestions for better cooperation? For cyclists, he suggests “following the rules a little better, they need to stay in their lanes, they need to signal when possible...” Cars need to “signal; it’s illegal not to! Leaving a little bit of space on the right side in case a cyclist is there, always checking the mirror and over the right shoulder when making a right hand turn...” He even has an idea for a driving test: “You have to bike in the city for a week.” I don’t see that happening anytime soon, but empathy from drivers as well as cyclists being more obedient certainly couldn’t hurt.