Comrade Detective

I watched Comrade Detective, a six-episode Amazon miniseries, after a friend recommended it to me earlier this month. Chloe Schildhause at Vanity Fair answers the question “What the Hell is Comrade Detective?”:

After delving deep into the archives of Cold War propaganda, Gatewood and Tanaka took inspiration from hits like the Czechoslovakian classic Thirty Cases of Major Zeman. When creating their homage to shows created behind the Iron Curtain, Rhys explains, “We weren’t going in with the mindset that we were Westerners making fun of Communism. We always tried to make sure that, no, no, we’re the Communist filmmakers.”

As Gateway says, “We grew up in the ‘80s, watching Red Dawn and Rocky IV and all these films—not really knowing as kids that we were essentially watching propaganda.” Tatum recalls a youth where every movie “had a Russian bad guy.”Showing the reverse, though, is both “hilarious and really poignant right now.”

The series effectively satirizes both Communism and capitalism while maintaining expertly stylized cinematography, replicating a time when propaganda was overt and clear. Now, of course, such machinery has grown more sophisticated; the show’s creators note that propaganda has become more obscured, subliminal, and subtle. Gatewood hopes the show will help viewers “reflect more on the power of propaganda, and how it’s seamless in society today”—even as they enjoy a comedic cop thriller populated by characters who say Monopoly is dangerous, think baseball is boring, and have nightmares about young children chanting, “I want my MTV.”

Gordon-Levitt compares the series to ideas media theorist Neil Postman presented in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, which examines the negative effects of television on politics. “What [George] Orwell feared were those who would ban books,” Postman wrote. “What [Aldous] Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism . . . In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

At the end of the book, Gordon-Levitt explains, Postman “does say, look, the way to deal with this is to just get people to understand it. Television doesn’t have to be harmful if people [are] aware of the way it is manipulative, if they were aware that you literally can’t communicate well-reasoned arguments and ideas through television by virtue of the medium.”

Incredible humor in this, but depth, too.

Penn State News on ‘Student Broadcasting’ historical marker

I shared the news last week that Penn State had placed an historical marker on campus for “Student Broadcasting.” Penn State News has an official feature up on the marker’s placement, along with a short video overview of student broadcasting’s 1912-present history:

Historical Marker-Student Broadcasting_2

New historical marker celebrates ‘Student Broadcasting’
John Patishnock
August 14, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK — For more than a century, Penn State has pioneered broadcasting college radio, and now there’s a new historical marker to share that story with the many visitors, students, faculty and staff on the University Park campus.

Located outside of Sparks Building along Pattee Mall, the newly installed “Student Broadcasting” historical marker touts that “Penn State has been a leader in broadcasting college radio since the Class Gift of 1912 enabled early national experiments.”

Originally called WPSC, the University’s on-campus student radio station has changed names several times, with generations of students making an impact. Currently, The LION 90.7 FM (WKPS) is headquartered inside the HUB-Robeson Center and boasts new studio space that was part of the building’s expansion a few years ago.

The Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group — one of more than 300 Alumni Association affiliate groups — spearheaded having the marker installed and plans to follow up with a ceremony during Homecoming on Nov. 11.

“It’s an honor that fresh generations of Penn Staters will be able to encounter the spirit of past times through this historical marker,” said Tom Shakely, president of the Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group. “Penn Staters were broadcasting experimentally before the world wars that defined the 20th century, and they were covering Nittany Lion football games as early as the Hugo Bezdek years.

“Later, Penn Staters broadcast Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 speech in Rec Hall. On Sept. 11, 2001, Penn Staters broadcast live from Ground Zero. These are just a few vignettes from an incredible history. While it’s a fact that student broadcasting has always been made possible by technology, its true power has always been in empowering the human voice.”

‘History of Penn State’ course fills up

I wrote in May about Penn State’s “HIST 197- History of Penn State” course that debuts this fall semester. Penn State News featured the course’s creation at that time:

“The History of Penn State” grew out of discussions with several Penn State alumni who serve on the board of the Nittany Valley Society (NVS), which works to “cultivate appreciation for the history, customs, and spirit of the Nittany Valley.”  NVS Board member Steve Garguilo, 2009 alumnus in information sciences and technology, provided financial support for the course through the Stephen D. Garguilo Nittany Valley Society University History Endowment.

“This course has been a long time coming,” notes Michael Milligan, Penn State senior lecturer in history, who created and will be teaching the course. “Using Penn State as the backdrop, I want students to be able to analyze and interpret significant developments not only in American higher education, but in American history as well.”

Back in May, more than half of the course’s 49 seats were still open. Sometime in July, the course filled up. Now, there’s a wait list with 10 students on it. I expect that waitlist to grow. Here’s a screenshot from Penn State’s course catalogue:

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 2.56.23 PM

I’m not sure when, but I’m still planning to sit in on a class at some point in September. I hope the popularity of this first-time offering results not only in it becoming a permanent part of Penn State’s course catalogue, but that it means more sections will be offered in the future.

Free societies require pluralism

James Damore, a Google engineer, was fired after a ten page memo he wrote on corporate culture went viral within the company, and then in public. He reflects on his firing:

… I committed heresy against the Google creed by stating that not all disparities between men and women that we see in the world are the result of discriminatory treatment. When I first circulated the document about a month ago to our diversity groups and individuals at Google, there was no outcry or charge of misogyny. I engaged in reasoned discussion with some of my peers on these issues, but mostly I was ignored.

Everything changed when the document went viral within the company and wider tech world. Those most zealously committed to the diversity creed—that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same—could not let this public offense go unpunished. They sent angry emails to Google’s human-resources department and everyone up my management chain, demanding censorship, retaliation, and atonement.

Upper management tried to placate this surge of outrage by shaming me and misrepresenting my document, but they couldn’t really do otherwise: The mob would have set upon anyone who openly agreed with me or even tolerated my views. When the whole episode finally became a giant media controversy, thanks to external leaks, Google had to solve the problem caused by my supposedly sexist, anti-diversity manifesto, and the whole company came under heated and sometimes threatening scrutiny.

It saddens me to leave Google and to see the company silence open and honest discussion. If Google continues to ignore the very real issues raised by its diversity policies and corporate culture, it will be walking blind into the future—unable to meet the needs of its remarkable employees and sure to disappoint its billions of users.

What did Damore write? Read “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” to understand for yourself. Conor Friedersdorf’s “A Question for Google’s CEO” is worth reading. So is Erick Erickson’s perspective. Excerpting/re-ordering some of Damore’s TL/DR here:

At Google, we talk so much about unconscious bias as it applies to race and gender, but we rarely discuss our moral biases. … People generally have good intentions, but we all have biases which are invisible to us. Thankfully, open and honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots and help us grow, which is why I wrote this document. …

  • Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.
  • This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.
  • The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.
    • Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression
    • Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression
  • Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.
  • Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

… I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more.

I’m mentioning and excerpting all of this primarily in order to look back on it in the years to come as a way to understand whether what Damore believes will come to pass, and whether Google will achieve an equal gender balance in its workforce.

Damore suggests that advocates of diversity now define that as meaning that “all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same.” I haven’t heard it defined this way before. If it’s an accurate definition, it would explain why so many people naturally react against what “diversity” has come to mean in practice which isn’t the old “achieving a pluralistic society wherein many different peoples and ideologies coexist peacefully” but is something closer to a “diversity of universal sameness.”

I believe in tolerance and pluralism, and I’m basically egalitarian at heart. But I don’t believe that “all differences in outcome” are due to differential treatment. I believe that all people are created equal and possess inherent human dignity. But I don’t believe that “all people are inherently the same” in the sense that age, race, gender, sexuality, and religious conviction, et al are simply social/artificial/meaningless constructs.

Isn’t the reason that tolerance and pluralism and diversity are worth embracing in the first place because they recognize that people are inherently complex and characterized by fundamental difference? Despite our differences, we can still be “one people.” E pluribus unum.

Penn State Student Broadcasting campus historical marker

I’m thrilled to share that Penn State has placed a new campus historical marker, recognizing Student Broadcasting as a significant part of Penn State tradition:

Student Broadcasting

“Penn State has been a leader in broadcasting college radio since the class gift of 1912 enabled early national experiments. By 1923, WPSC students were among the first college broadcasters in the nation. Since then, students have learned the craft while fulfilling their public mission to the campus and listening community. While station names and technology change, campus radio continues to enrich student learning and campus life.”

This historical marker is a reality thanks to Paul Clifford of the Penn State Alumni Association, who advocated for it internally, as well as Jackie Esposito of the Penn State Libraries, and Laura Waldhier of the Office of Strategic Communications who oversees the Penn State Historical Markers program. If you’re not familiar with Penn State’s Historical Markers program, some context:

Colleges and universities are rarely aware of their own history until chronological landmarks approach. These landmarks—anniversaries of institutional events or facilities, for example—often trigger nostalgic reminiscences. At Penn State, the historical markers program has been one way of keeping history in the public forefront without depending on special occasions. By telling the story of the University’s rich tradition of achievement in such a public manner, the marker program helps to sustain Penn State’s reputation as one of the nation’s foremost public institutions of higher education. The blue-and-white historical markers dotting the campus landscape demonstrate that Penn State has a long and diverse intellectual heritage. These markers remind visitors to the campus, as well as students, faculty, and other members of the Penn State community, of major figures and accomplishments from the University’s past. The markers stand as tangible evidence that Penn State recognizes and appreciates its heritage. They are intended to be read by pedestrians and are situated accordingly.

When I proposed this historical marker years ago, I never really expected it to go anywhere. There are an incredible number of worthy Penn State achievements worth recognizing, and these historical markers are only placed for exceptional causes—at University Park there are fewer than 65 markers, and many Commonwealth campuses have none. For these reasons and more, I’m so grateful to see the spirit and grit of generations of Penn Staters commemorated in a tangible way through this historical marker.

It’s a small but powerful symbol, and seeing it on campus calls to the imagination each of the countless thousands over the past century who have shaped Penn State through the distinctive medium of public communications. In standing beneath this marker for the first time, I felt like I could practically speak with the earliest student-pioneers, and that they could whisper to me. I hope that a century from now, whatever student broadcasting looks like at that point, that someone else will be able to feel the same way. In the meantime, I hope that students from student broadcasting today in the form of The LION 90.7fm in the HUB-Robeson Center, CommRadio at Innovation Park, and other public communicators feel every bit as honored by this historical marker as the generations that have come and gone.

You can visit this historical marker for yourself the next time you’re in Happy Valley. It’s located on the Mall in front of Pattee/Paterno Libraries, specifically on the lawn of the Sparks Building. It makes for a good place to take a photo and share with friends and alumni, especially because Sparks was home to WDFM, the longest incarnation of Penn State student broadcasting to date.

And in the spirit of sharing the larger story, and the more complete inspiration for this historical marker, I’m including below two historical markers that the Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group placed in the facilities of The LION 90.7fm in the HUB-Robeson Center in 2015. The first is a small circular plaque that essentially was the “first draft” of what is now the official Penn State Historical Marker:

And the second covers in detail the remarkable story of Penn State student broadcasting:

The Penn State Student Broadcasting Story

Born out of a vision for enhancing campus life, student broadcasting promised a new and very real expansion upon the classical idea of the student body as the heart and soul of the living university. To accomplish this, the Senior Gift of the Class of 1912 equipped The Pennsylvania State College with one of America’s first student-operated radio stations.


Launched in 1912 on the eve of the First World War, 8XE was, according to The Daily Collegian, “one of the first experimental licenses … granted by the government,” as well as “the first licensed club in the nation” among collegiate peers. By 1921 experimental broadcasts were evolving, and newly-christened station WPSC was again among the first of its collegiate or national peers.

WPSC harnessed both AM and shortwave frequencies to reach a local and international audience. Listeners as distant as England, Egypt, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand could hear programming featuring the first student play-by-play coverage of Penn State football, as well as basketball, wrestling, and boxing. The station also aired weekly chapel services, Glee Club and fraternity orchestra performances, music from the singers and composers of the time, lectures by professors and visitors, and distance learning instruction. It also served as occasional relay carrier for KDKA, the world’s first commercially licensed radio station.

As early as 1920, Penn State employed an undergraduate student general manager in charge of the station’s operations and in 1927 equipped the station with a $2,000 annual budget. But by 1932, wracked by the Great Depression and the prospect of costly new federal broadcast regulations, WPSC ceased operations. However, students kept alive the spirit of WPSC through less-regulated shortwave broadcasts over the course of the next generation.


By the late 1940s, fresh from American victory in World War II and in a booming economy, Penn State was ready for a new chapter. The Senior Gift of the Class of 1951 returned student radio to the airwaves as WDFM in 1953, perpetuating the spirit of pioneering student broadcasters. Located in 304 Sparks, WDFM was one of the area’s first FM stations.

In its earliest days, WDFM aired classical music, lectures, Greek and Shakespearean plays, and radio dramas like The Adventures of Ludlow and Myrtle. Like WPSC, WDFM welcomed students of any academic major, as well as alumni and townspeople. Featuring programming from “Bach to rock,” WDFM was also said to stand for “We Dig Fine Music.”

Sandy Greenspun Thomas, a board operator in the 1950s, later reflected in The Penn Stater: “The fact that I was allowed to broadcast on the air was unusual. In those days, you wouldn’t hear women on commercial stations or national stations. … I loved it. It was the most rewarding, energizing, confidence-building experience.”

Robert K. Zimmerman, another alumnus from the early era, recalled: “I did a request show, which turned into a rock ‘n’ roll show, because in 1958, what did everyone want to hear? I was the first at the station to play rock ‘n’ roll. Dr. Nelson [our advisor] called me and gave me hell for playing “Hound Dog.” I said, “Well, someone requested it.” Of course, I’d stacked the requests, had my friends call in.”

As a campus and community voice for Penn State throughout the Cold War, WDFM and its student broadcasters frequently found themselves at the center of historic events, narrating along with their professional counterparts the stories of the American century. “I was standing in the studio,” recalled Dick Harris, “the afternoon that the news of the assassination of President Kennedy came across the teletype machine.” When Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Penn State in January 1965, WDFM broadcast his speech for those not able to join the more than 8,000 who had packed Rec Hall. MLK spoke of his “faith in America,” the Greek concepts of love in eros, phileo, and agape, his struggle for voting rights in Selma, and the necessity of the “struggle to secure moral ends through moral means.”

WDFM evolved in the 1960s and ‘70s, reflecting the evolution of American culture. Student broadcasters diversified their programming, including weekly USG press conferences, more than 50 weekly five-minute newscasts, dramatic literary readings, and live broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera from Lincoln Center in Manhattan alongside “middle of the road music” like jazz and folk. University Chapel services continued to be broadcast each Sunday into the 1970s to an edgier student body.

“We were very into playing ‘deep cuts’ on an album,” one student of the time reflected, “not the popular songs.” WDFM  programs like “Highlight” fostered public opinion conversation, while students pushed the boundaries of their listenership with antics like the “first male stripease on radio.” At other times, student broadcasters embraced the 24/7 demands of their medium. One student recalled of his show and timeslot: “One of the themes of the show was ‘It’s Saturday night. If you’re listening, you’re a loser.’”

By the late 1970s, WDFM celebrated more than 25 years and a litany of successful graduates who were shaping the explosion of American popular media over the airwaves, behind the scenes, and in the boardroom; leaders in fields like journalism, broadcasting, and advertising, their professional fortunes rising with the rising influence of radio and television at places as varied as NBC, Westinghouse, HBO, Showtime, and NASA.

(Meanwhile WDFM inspired others. In 1963, West Halls Radio emerged as WHR, and by 1972 was joined by WEHR in East Halls, and WSHR in South Halls. These sister stations harnessed a unique “carrier current” approach to broadcasting in their respective residence halls, using power lines to transmit broadcasts directly to the dormitories. These stations functioned independently, with their own staffs and broadcast schedules. WHR and WSHR faded in relevance over time and were largely defunct by the late 1980s. WEHR continued to operate until the mid-2000s.)

A changing media landscape came to impact student life in the 1980s. One student captured the growing tension in an April 1980 Daily Collegian article, explaining that some professors and administrators believed student broadcasting belonged “in the hands of professionals” rather than with young people. An October 1981 editorial cites Senior Vice President for Administration Richard E. Grubb’s promise that administrative goals for professional broadcasting would be “carefully designed to have no effect on WDFM. WDFM has a rich history, a long tradition and a strong loyalty which should not be disturbed…” Lisa Posvar Rossi, WDFM’s 1981-82 general manager, later reflected: “We felt threatened … I remember setting up meetings at which we said we wanted to maintain independence. We did end up stalling the conversion to a public radio station, for a little while at least.” Yet by 1985, WDFM’s call letters were changed to WPSU and with this change came greater faculty influence, the loss of student general manager authority, and a shift in mission away from original content produced by students and toward NPR syndication.

By the late 1980s, WPSU had been absorbed by Penn State Public Broadcasting, leading Penn State Trustee Ben Novak to lament: “No doubt WPSU will be better and more professional according to some abstract national standard. But it will no longer be the voice of Penn State students.”


Determined to restore that voice and resurrect a unique and powerful Penn State tradition, students in the early 1990s once again championed the cause of student broadcasting. The Board of Trustees petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for a new license, to be operated independently by and for the students, and on October 31, 1995 the airwaves welcomed WKPS and the rebirth of student radio.

Located in Downtown State College, this third generation station experienced its share of growing pains, learning to excel not through an academic department or college, but for the first time as an independent student organization. Eventually WKPS found an identity in “The LION” and, in 2003, a home in the HUB-Robeson Center. Creating a station both innovative and well-programmed, students restored many of their earliest traditions, including Nittany Lion athletics broadcasts, coverage and fundraising for the IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, and service as a platform and voice for a growing student body. Diverse programs such as the Jazz Spectrum,  Jam 91, State Your Face, Latin Mix, and Radio Free Penn State echoed earlier incarnations from the WDFM era.

Students continued to narrate the stories of their time, notably during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, during which Mike Walsh covered the attacks through John Raynar, who was working one block from the World Trade Center. “We were the only media outlet in State College who had someone on the scene that day,” recalled Walsh. “That was the high point of our professionalism.”

While breaking new technical ground, student broadcasters also learned to redefine their value in light of a more connected culture, pioneering internet streaming ahead of peer stations, establishing an automated broadcast schedule, partnering with Movin’ On and The State Theatre to welcome acts large and small, and connecting major industry labels to independent and avant garde artists. In a tangible way, student broadcasters created a home for peers, professors, townspeople, and friends to put into practice the ideal of “a liberal and practical education,” embodying the principles of a free society through concern for speech in all its forms, as well as artistic and musical expression, and a cross-generational experience of a community in time which valued sense of place.

Forging their own identity in the context of the larger history of student broadcasting, students fused an often fierce commitment to principle with an evergreen mission of enhancing university and community life.


The historic and challenging lessons of time shaped the cultural and institutional character of Penn State student broadcasting, which has been defined since The LION’s founding by three bedrock principles. First, to be independently programmed and operated, led by an elected student president and general manager. Second, to honor a mission of public service to the Penn State and Central Pennsylvania communities, realized through open membership to students of any academic major as well as community members. Third, to pursue institutional support through technical, professional, financial, and legal assistance that respect freedom of thought and expression as imperatives for authentic public service.

These principles have defined student broadcasting since WPSC’s earliest days and continue to enable students to be adaptive, innovative, and confident in their mission. A tradition for more than a century, student broadcasting continues to contribute to the culture of Penn State and the wider listening community while providing students with a relevant media voice and an outlet to pursue excellence.

Human dignity’s roots

Josh Herring writes that the notion of human dignity is a uniquely defining characteristic of Western culture:

I teach in a secular classical school, where we uphold transcendence and human dignity as educational principles, but without the doctrinal apparatus of theology to support our claims. Instead of the direct claims of theology, we follow the winding paths of wisdom derived from the humanities. Grounded in the Western tradition, we study literature, history, and philosophy, with an eye towards building a sound anthropology. By the time they leave Thales Academy, students should hold firm convictions about the value of the human person and live in light of those convictions. The study of history is complex, allowing students to see the different ways humans have lived, believed, and thought, and weigh which patterns lead to flourishing. …

Later studies in Greek thought reveal another vital dialectic that contributed to human freedom. Hesiod’s poetry shows humanity as puny creatures in the Greek cosmos, echoing Homer’s portrayal of the Trojan War as a game for the entertainment of bored gods and goddesses. With the flowering of Greek philosophy in classical Athens came the teaching of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle (alongside their contemporaries), who asserted that man, the “rational animal,” is capable of comprehending the world around him. This rational impulse allowed true sciences to develop through the centuries (although it gave rise to theories like Thales of Miletus’ conviction that all things are composed of water).

Having moved through historical, literary, and philosophical studies in antiquity and the classical era, students recognize the value Christianity bestows on the human person. Within the context of a Roman pursuit of universal justice and law, they study the birth of Christianity. Suddenly, the pieces fit together: this image-bearing yet fallen creature capable of rational thought contains such worth in the eyes his Creator that Christ came to redeem mankind from the rule of sin and death. This perspective makes sense of C.S. Lewis’ claim in The Weight of Glory when he writes:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are in some degree helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”…

The West has long celebrated freedom, but that freedom did not develop in a vacuum. The ability of human beings from around the world to act freely in economic, religious, social, and political spheres grows out of key convictions that contribute to the rich tapestry of the Western tradition. It is not enough to celebrate freedoms without understanding how they developed. If we cut off the roots that nourish our concept of freedom, the tree of liberty will collapse under the rot of licentiousness. Cultivating an historical consciousness and a sense of gratitude to those men and women of the past reminds us that we are the heirs of many blessings. It is our responsibility to know our inheritance, act as good stewards of it, and pass it on to the next generation.

Desolate Big Sur

Earlier this year, in advance of traveling to California, I had planned to drive a bit of the Pacific Coast Highway again like I did last year. But this spring a mudslide took out significant portions of the scenic roadway near Big Sur, south of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge. Not clear when it will be reopened, but the tenuous nature of the roadway underscores that it might not last forever, let alone my lifetime. When it reopens, I hope to drive that stretch at least one more time. Big Sur in particular is a remarkable place, akin somewhat to Glacier National Park that I trained through six years ago:

By now, Big Sur’s severing from the outside world has unnerved even locals who are used to recurring plunges into isolation.

“It’s not a unique situation for us to be shut off,” said Kirk Gafill, the owner of Nepenthe, a cliffside restaurant that’s operated in Big Sur for nearly 70 years.

He recalled past mudslides on Highway 1 that had closed the Central Coast hideaway between Carmel and San Simeon for 10 weeks.

“But this one is so different because now we’re in week 20,” he said late last week. “The timeline is just epic.” …

In the meantime, with summer upon us, the few visitors have been seeing a rare crowd-free version of Big Sur.

Anthony Albert, from Oakland, lugged his bike along a half-mile hiking trail that circumvents the downed Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge and cycled all the way to Paul’s Slide and back.

In roughly eight hours of riding, he said, he encountered maybe 10 people.

“It was surreal,” said Mr. Albert, 27. “It felt like I was in the afterlife, like reliving a past experience with nobody around.”