I know at this point I should be desensitized to the mainstream media's obsession with spoiled young white women, but Parisgate is just too much. Not being able to escape the onslaught of updates concerning her legal troubles reflects so poorly on the majority of what American citizens consider newsworthy. Reputable news sources would not constantly report Paris Hilton's status (is she in jail? out of jail?) minute by minute if there weren't considerable interest from their target audience.
So, one recent Sunday, I had a pretty bleak opinion about what Americans consider important. Feeling slightly disgruntled, I rode my bicycle over to 1304 Bikes on Chamberlain Street in Raleigh, where some friends volunteer. It's a nonprofit collective, and on Sunday afternoons, volunteers repair and rebuild donated bikes.
The set-up goes like this: Something is wrong with your bike, you bring it down to 1304 Bikes on a Sunday, and a knowledgeable volunteer works with you to fix it. The beauty of the whole interaction is that you ride away with a repaired bike and newly acquired skills. They operate under the "teach a man to fish" mantra. Along with educating individuals, the volunteers at 1304 Bikes rebuild or fix donated bikes in order to provide bicycles for organizations such as the Big Brother program in Raleigh.
Passing some friends on the way there, I rode around the back of the Action for Community in Raleigh (ACRe) house to the basement of the building, where Raleigh's Food Not Bombs chapter and a community center also are based. The Food Not Bombs volunteers were getting ready for their weekly distribution of a free meal to homeless people in Moore Square. The smell of cooking food wafted over the backyard while bike volunteers helped a stream of walk-ins.
I chatted with some of the directors and volunteers of the collective. Yes, Paris did come up once between one Food Not Bombs volunteer who was spreading mayonnaise over tomatoes and a 1304 Bikes helper who was crafting tire hooks for the collective's storage unit. Though, in this environment, Paris' plight seemed to be more of a source of half-befuddled amusement than of serious newsworthiness. After Kelly Beck, the self-described "PR organizer and babysitter" of 1304 Bikes, taught me how to lower my handle bars and change my bicycle seat, I headed home, but with a different attitude.
Sure, I can't do anything right now about the nation being obsessed with the pressing issues of a spoiled celebutante's driving dramas, but that doesn't mean that everyone has lost their mind. People in our community are volunteering their time, energy and aptitude to build a better neighborhood. If you feel disheartened about our society, look around your community. While I was learning basic bike repair, I committed to returning the next Sunday to volunteer.