The streets were dirty and filled with misery; some faces hollow, some with pain, others with the sorrow of what their life had become. As my friend and I waited for our wraps from one of the local street vendors a young woman, half naked was walking down the road, screeching, visibly tormented. Being entirely ignored, our vendor told us ‘she’s not even the worse’. It was around 10am on Wednesday morning and already on every street corner there were beggars asking for money: draped in colourless, inadequately fitting clothes. All this juxtaposed with Rolex watch shops, fancy new cars and tall, shiny office blocks. This was no third world country though, this was Portland, Oregon, USA, the land of the free.
What had this country come to I thought to myself, or was it always like this? Why didn’t anyone care about these people who they see and walk past everyday. Having grown up in a modest, socialist family I am a staunch supporter of egalitarianism and this was certainly no just way for people to live.
What has all this got to do with biking you may ask? Well, shortly after my encounter with the poor of Portland my friend and I went biking in Bend, Oregon. Within an hour of arriving, getting our passes and riding a couple of tracks I had a major dirt nap. I hit my face hard on the Mt Bachelor igneous rock: jagged, hard and unforgiving. My ear was torn to shreds, lacerated and by all accounts flapping around like a flag in the wind.
My friend insisted that I go to the hospital; my insurance would cover everything – as everyone knows America is not somewhere that you want to be paying for medical treatment. I was stunned when I phoned my insurance company, and they said that they would not pay and I would have to shell out for my consultation which would cost me at least $800, if not more.
Being a pragmatic person I decided that I’d sleep on it – literally. So we hit a local beer festival boasting 200 different ales and about 30 or 40 tastings later I felt brilliant.
The moral of the story though is that in truth I was alarmed at how easily it would be to lose everything in the USA. If I really needed medical treatment and couldn’t pay they’d charge me heavily, if you lose your job or find yourself in times of trouble there’s no safety net: it’s a worrying dilemma.
We bikers in NZ take it for granted that if we have an accident an ambulance/helicopter will pick us up or we’ll be able to recover at home and be funded through ACC – lets be thankful of that.