Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Code Red

I watched "A Few Good Men" this past weekend.  It is a good movie, probably not quite as good, in my opinion, as its reputation would suggest, but there are a massive number of actors who are or later became very good and, of course, Jack Nicholson is great and well remembered for belting out, "You want the truth? . . . You can't handle the truth!"  (Side note, that isn't the actual quote from the movie, but hopefully George Lucas will remake with that line to satisfy movie audiences someday.)

Anyway, the underlying conflict in the movie regards a "Code Red," which is apparently Marine lingo for a punishment meted out within a unit that is outside of the normal protocol.  In other words, when a Marine steps out of line, his unit members may take it upon themselves to punish him (or presumably her, although not many "hers" in this movie).

The idea of a Code Red, as described in the movie, is not that unit members are hazed or mistreated for "fun" or as part of general bullying, but because it is up to the unit to together maintain standards - show up on time, clean your room, keep up during drills, etc.  Since they depend on each other, they have to know that everyone takes seriously the rules and responsibilities.  Now, in the movie, this particular Code Red enforcement has drastic consequences and if you haven't seen it, you should watch the flick, but what does that have to do with beer or bikes?

Beer, not much, although I like most references to Red, which tends to make me thirsty for a River City Red.  But bikes?  Now there we can have a Code Red situation, although enforcement tends to be pretty slack compared to the Marines, at least those at Gitmo.  If you are familiar with The Velominati, then you are familiar with "The Rules."  The Rules are a list of, well, rules, that traditionalists generally agree with and abide by.  These rules tend to appeal to the hard-core, usually euro-centric riders who know and admire Merckx, Kelly, most Belgians, and anyone else identified as a hard-man of the sport.  It includes gems like HTFU, Shorts should be black, Saddles bars and tires shall be carefully matched, Slam the stem, or Tires should be mounted with the label centered over the valve stem.  The rules also, importantly, start out with these: 1 - Obey the Rules; 2 - Lead by example; and 3 - Guide the uninitiated.  Which, to my way of thinking, outlines the ideas behind a Code Red - obey the rules, follow them yourself, and "guide" those who don't join you back to the rules. 

Enforcement in the movie was fairly direct and harsh.  Enforcement on the road is a trickier thing.  For one thing, most of us are riding for "fun," with a group that we can join or leave anytime, and we haven't signed up for abuse, coercion or even direction necessarily.  As a result, you may or may not have someone say something like, "hey, we don't do that."  You may, however, find yourself out front of a group ride with no one following, off the back of a group with no one particularly interested in where you are, or shunned in some other subtle or not-so-subtle way.  I can only think of one time I was interested in riding someone off the shoulder of the road and that wasn't so much for enforcement of cycling's rules, but more enforcement of the general "don't be an a-hole" rule.

In contrast with the subtle approach, I have been pretty straightforward with my 17-year old son who has recently taken cycling more seriously and come along for a couple of the group rides.  I have been directly saying to him, "this is what we do in this situation" or "if this happens, here is what we do."  The key concept in there is "what we do."  "We" referring to the group as a whole and under general or specific agreement by showing up to ride.  Any group, from Gitmo Marines, to the kids smoking after school, to a Dungeons and Dragons game, to a group of beer-swilling masters racers, have agreed-upon rules for inclusion.  We don't talk about Code Red as such, but it's fair to recognize that the underlying idea is similar, just a lot less life-and-death.

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