Television is a lot like society. It’s a vast mass of offerings that ranges from pleasant but harmless to fundamentally useless and offensive to inspired and insightful. It’s in this latter category that the AMC drama “Mad Men” resides. I’ve been fascinated by the window it provides into how business was done when I was still pooping in diapers.
Tom Smuts is the writer behind the show. I’ve had two theories about how he works. One was based on the possibility that he had access to a time machine. The other seemed both more and less plausible. It was based on the idea that he had the wit of Oscar Wilde and the intensity of Don Draper—in short, more talent than the LA Kings.
Not only is that true, he’s charming and—even better—he rides bikes.
That I even met him is one of the odder twists of what has been a significantly surreal year for me. Let’s be clear: I’m not cool. I was never one of the cool kids. I was not invited to the parties. Mostly, I’m still not. Which is just fine. But I received an email telling me that someone nominated for an Emmy was going to ride from Santa Monica to the awards ceremony … downtown. Did I want to join?
Oh hell yes.
Los Angeles is the place that bicycle advocacy went to die. Los Angeles is the place everyone said no one will ride a bicycle—unless they are clumped by the dozen, clad in Spandex and running red lights with suicidal aplomb. (Not that I ever did that.)
Los Angeles is a place so vast that public transportation will never adequately cover the whole of the county, so if you want to get around without the aid of a car, you’re going to need a bike. But it’s the work of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition that has helped to mobilize the area’s thousands of cyclists and lobby the government to improve cycling infrastructure.
What Smuts wanted was simple enough. Round up some people and ride from his home in Santa Monica to the red carpet at the Emmys. If that sounds like a publicity stunt, that’s fair enough. In attendance for the ride were a number of the LACBC staff, a camera crew led by Smuts’ brother, and a few assorted media types. The issue before us is that even as infrastructure for cycling has improved and the number of riders on the road has increased, we need even more riders out there. In riding to the Emmys, Smuts did a few things. First, he showed the masses that he could get there, full stop. Second, he rode in a tux, because one does not show up to the Emmys in jeans, even jeans by Rapha. That was convincing proof that you can ride in real clothes and not appear like you’ve been volunteering for the fair’s dunk tank. Third, there’s the simple fact that with the Emmys, you have to be there on time. And fourth, you must ride with the conviction that you’re not destined to be run over; that’s not a given for everyone, especially where rush-hour traffic is concerned.
How Rapha came to be involved, I’m still not clear. Doesn’t matter. They outfitted many of the riders with pieces from their casual line. Based on the comments I was hearing, most of these folks hadn’t worn Rapha’s casual apparel, but they were uniformly impressed. I heard praise for how breathable the pieces were, how helpful a bit of stretch is, and how good the fit was. Stylish, too. There was no discussion of the retail pricing.
I do think that making the effort to make sure the group looked less like a band of hipsters and more like a rolling dinner party was helpful, especially as this little shindig was the most documented ride I’ve ever been on. Trust me on this.
So while Smuts may not be a household name (yet), because “Mad Men” is so admired, his profile is high enough to show that people of means, people who have a choice about their transportation, can and will choose to ride a bicycle to more than their kid’s little league game. The possibilities for the bike open up once you don’t have to dismiss any function where punctuality and appearance matter.