The pedal pub is a sign of a depressing, tacky cultural erosion in Madison.
I wrestled with how to put all this so I wouldn’t come off as a fun-hating stick in the mud, or worse, as pretentious. I think I finally nailed the angle in a way that will unite us so we can give voice to what I assume is a collective hatred of pedal pubs.
I hate pedal pubs. I literally cannot stand them. If I’m walking down State Street and I see one, my lizard brain fight-or-flight reflex kicks in and my fists ball up irrationally. Once that passes, though, I’m left asking myself “But... why?” I don’t like to hate anything. I’ve never had a pedal pub run over my foot, or had a pedal-pubber(?) catch me on the head with an empty can, so... what’s my deal? One thing to make crystal clear is that, like Abraham Lincoln dreaming of his assassination weeks before he arrived at the theater, I don’t think my impulse is wrong. Pedal Pubs are capital-B Bad and they are for capital-B Bad people.
Imagine this: You’re sitting at a bar with a friend, or maybe you’re alone. You’re in a good groove, maybe a couple of drinks in, chatting with the bartender. It’s easy to put yourself in this mental place and you know why? It’s because this is Wisconsin and we have what is called a “drinking culture” where people are generally expected to know how to behave in bars. You know what you want to drink when you are asked for your order, you know to get outta the way when they’re busy, and you know to pay in cash if you can and tip well if you want a certain quality of service for all future drinks. These are not rules that make the drinking experience more challenging, but instead streamline the process, ensuring a better time for everyone.
Now, imagine you’re in that same sitting-at-the-bar-situation (it’s easy to do, I know), and a pedal pub pulls up out front, dumping its dozen or so occupants through the door of the fine establishment that, up until then, was a pleasant place to be. That “Oh shit!” fight-or-flight sensation kicks in, as you realize that you will not be getting any new drinks anytime soon, because the bartender(s) will be overwhelmed with people who have apparently never been in a bar in their entire lives and have no conception of the guidelines suggested above.
Now, we’ve all been at crowded bars when, one-at-a-time, folks have made a mess of a drink order, wasting the time of the bartenders and the other people waiting for drinks, but there’s something about the spectacle of the pedal pub that attracts these sorts of people en masse. The lure of being gawked at and applauded by apparently stupefied yokels while you spin your collective legs on a quadracycle (real word, I swear) is apparently just too strong.
One of the sensations you get when a pedal pub unloads in front of the bar that you were only moments before enjoying, is that a bluster of unearned importance is careening your way in the form of a booze-bike flash-mob. “We are here now!” their very presence says, “The means of transportation we arrived here on means we deserve the full attention of your bar-staff!”
Believe it or not, there is a whole subset of internet memes devoted to how awful pedal pubs are, and the reason this one is so funny is because it’s also true:
Madison’s climate of acceptance and eccentricity is gradually falling prey to casual aging-baby-boomer conservatism, eroding a lot of the weirdness and leaving us with just a blind acceptance of things that are clearly uncool. Go ahead and ride that unicycle to work, but grab a helmet, and yes, that one with the neon pink fake mohawk glued to the top, looks absolutely wonderful. Shoes? Naaah, wander the city in those rubber things that wrap around your toes. “Keep Madison Weird,” you holler at the farmer’s market one block away from the aborted Snuggle House or at the Willy Street Fair after signing a petition to revoke Plan B’s hours of operation.
When it comes to having friends tell you that what you’re doing is uncool, Madison might be the least friendly city ever, and apparently no one’s telling anyone that riding a pedal pub around is about as cool as Go-Gurt. Sure, you could just eat your yogurt (or sit at a bar and drink your drinks), but let’s repackage the experience in the most grotesque and distractingly novel form possible.
Now, I absolutely understand that a) what’s cool is both relative and ultimately meaningless, down with the fashion police etc., and b) no one wants a city full of COOL people. That said, come on! Hopefully you have someone in your life to stop you from walking out of the house wearing a tie with a mustard stain on it. If you’re lucky, you have people who give you honest opinions about whether or not a haircut looks good. Even if you have a nurturing support system, you might not worry much about what’s cool, but maybe you’ve got just enough of a sense of it to not partake in stuff that actively pushes the culture towards a tacky and uninteresting place.
I doubt complaining about the pedal pub scourge will change anything, but maybe, just maybe, if anyone you love ever asks you to hop on a pedal pub with them, you’ll suggest that they simply gather up all those friends and convey themselves to the bar in a non-idiotic manner. And urge them to try not to be the kind of bar patrons who strike fear in the hearts of everyone else when they roll up in front of an otherwise respectable watering hole.