I'm in denial about the amount of schoolwork I have to do right now, so last night I went to a volunteer orientation for the Community Cycling Center. I did hit this part with a hammer, and it did come off, and it was good.
I've decided to do voluntary non-stressful shit with my spare time next quarter, instead of the voluntary stressful shit I have been doing this quarter by taking a class. Fuck my GPA enhancement project; it's not going to work anyway if I'm getting crappy grades because I'm too overwhelmed to do my classwork. So I'm going to pass up Gender In Crosscultural Perspective and Issues In Cultural Resource Management and instead I am going to volunteer at the CCC and maybe someplace else like the library or Humane Society. Bikes, books, fuzzy animals: all things that make me into a happier and less stressed human being. We like being a happier and less stressed human being.
*Interjection of sudden recollection: I have just remembered that I had a dream last night in which I got back a graded paper that I had turned in for some unspecified class. I was given a bad grade and scathing instructor comments for various crimes against grammar, including an absolutely unacceptable preponderance of run-on sentences and comma splices. When I looked back at what I had written, I found that I had indeed used an absolutely unacceptable preponderance of run-on sentences and comma splices. I was horrified. This shit has got to stop.*
So what is the Community Cycling Center and why does it need me to hit things with hammers anyway? I am so glad you asked.
The CCC is a Portland nonprofit. It's possibly the most Portland nonprofit in Portland, being entirely dedicated to helping people get bikes and ride them. They run a holiday bike drive in which they put together -- entirely from donations -- a fleet of 500 shiny, working, bitchin' kiddie bikes to be given away to bikeless kids in low-income families. They run bike safety workshops and maintenance workshops and urban riding classes. They give away helmets and lights and reflectors and other devices for not getting killed. They have a create-a-bike-commuter program for adults who don't have cars and can't afford them, and they deck out huge fleets of nice townie bikes with comfy seats and good street tires and fenders and lights and locks and cargo racks (and helmets), and from advertising through social service agencies they have a 3-month waiting list of folks who want to come have a half-day safety & maintenance workshop and get a bike for their trouble.
I know the first thing about fixing bikes, and at the moment that's about all. I cannot build complicated parts or replace broken whatevers or determine if this worn-out dealie is going to snap off and kill someone, and you might think this makes me fairly useless to the CCC. Not so! they say. Improbably enough they welcome volunteers of all skill levels, and they have a weekly drop-in volunteer night where you can help them take apart crappy donated bikes for parts and recycling and bit by bit learn things like this is how you take off a freewheel. And after you've done that a few times you start to know enough to learn things like this is how you take the rusty bits off a fixable bike without damaging it and then you're halfway to this is how you build a bike from scrap parts so the mechanics can tune it up and make it ridable. And it's a glorious combination of helpful for their projects, and useful for your own ability to figure out what the fuck has gone wrong with your ride now, and totally satisfying because at the end of the day what you are doing is taking big greasy things apart with tools.
Last night I greasily learned that there are occasions on which it is appropriate to hit a bike with a hammer, and they are not the occasions I have thought of on my own (namely, when you are frustrated by another goddamn flat tire). It turns out that the right time is actually when you are taking the fork off the frame. It's an amazing strategy; you carefully loosen this bolt and then you whack the fuck out of it until it lets go.
Here is how much that helped: through misfortunes of timing last night, I didn't get home or have dinner until 9:45 pm. I was surrounded by strangers and required to take in new information on an empty stomach... and all of this with looming school deadlines hanging around the back of my head?
Didn't really bother me. Turns out when the tool you've got is a hammer, anxiety and low blood sugar just look like ordinary nails.
If you can think of a thing that people could conceivably just up and start doing on a strictly voluntary basis, it is a good bet that someone in Portland is already doing it. For instance: Breakfast on the Bridges. On the last Friday of every month, some folks set up little tables on two of the bridges and serve donated coffee and pastries to people biking to work. I discovered this last month, when my erratic bike-commuting habits and their regular coffee-serving habits coincided for the first time. I was running so catastrophically late that morning that I figured I'd better not stop, but I did some Googling and discovered that they are in fact on my bridge every month. This is AWESOME, so of course I spent the month of November planning to attend the very next one rain or shine.
Today I practically leapt out of bed, waltzed into my clothes, ventured a quick breakfast but eschewed coffee, sauntered to the garage for my bike, found it in good working condition (unlike pretty much every other time I have mentioned my bike here), and left with ages to spare. Wheee!
But the Broadway Bridge, my regular commute bridge on which I saw the breakfast folks last month, was completely devoid of people and bikes and beverages. No cheery folks calling out to me to stop and be refreshed this time. Nobody else riding, either, which is deeply weird since Broadway is normally so crowded with bike commuters that they start acting almost as rude and annoyed as the car traffic next to them. So what gave?
I Googled when I got to work (early, of course, because I hadn't gotten to stop for coffee). Just now -- this month -- they have decided to permanently change their nothern location from the Broadway Bridge to the Steel Bridge. I went sulking through the "older versions of this page" archive on their website and discovered that they updated the location all of ten days ago. I, naturally, did not check within that time.
The thought did occur to me while I crossed the strangely empty bridge that perhaps the event had been moved. I tried to, without riding off the bridge, squint at the next bridges over and look for signs of companionable breakfasting. The next one to the north is a freeway bridge with no bike lanes, so that obviously wasn't it. To the south is, in fact, the Steel Bridge, but in my coffee-less slowness I was looking at the vehicular upper deck instead of the lower pedestrian deck. So I saw nobody, so I didn't turn around and head over and join the revelers even though I had plenty of time to do so. Of course they were on the lower deck.
Portland: people doing really awesome things which Dianna keeps fucking missing, damnit, through shit luck and relatively little fault of her own.
I was noticing this morning on my walk from train to work that some of the egregious construction-related congestion in downtown Portland is easing up. It's all to do with the new transit mall project; they've closed long segments of several major streets in order to put in light-rail tracks and bus shelters and stuff. It has, with delicious mid-project irony, made it impossible to navigate the city center by bus or bike or foot for the entire time I've been here. But they're starting to reopen streets as they finish laying the rails in, and today I noticed that 5th and 6th avenues are finally usable again.
If you're a car, that is. Or a pedestrian. Not if you're a bike.
There's a difference between a street that's simply not set up for effective bike use and a street that's Total Fucking Bicycle Suicide. Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley is not set up for effective bike use -- it carries heavy traffic and horrible traffic jams and has no bike lane. Market Street in San Francisco is Total Fucking Bicycle Suicide, because in addition to the above problems it has MUNI trains and MUNI lanes and people in cars going in the train lane and then getting the hell out of the train lane and getting in front of the train and generally acting like dorks. Also, train tracks are not my friend.
SW 5th and 6th in Portland are now Total Fucking Bicycle Suicide. I actually discovered this several weeks ago, while attempting to bike back to work from Veganopolis with a delicious bbq unchicken sandwich that I needed to be alive to enjoy. I rode on 5th just for the novelty of the thing, and I discovered that the 5th Avenue of the future is 1.5 lanes wide with no stripes(?!) and no bike lane, and it has MAX tracks that veer gently back and forth across the entire driving surface of the street.
Let's have a quick review of bike/train-track interactions.
The gently-veering tracks on 5th avenue require the non-deathwish-having bicyclist to continually swerve in and out of car traffic to get even close to a 30-degree angle crossing the damn things. But swerving in and out of car traffic every two blocks is almost as suicidal as riding over the tracks at acute angles, and will cause the drivers (who have no idea what's going on because their tires don't get stuck in the tracks) to shake their fists, honk at you, roll their eyes and bitch about how Portland bicyclists are reckless and unsafe and should be banned from the roads.
6th, I confirmed today by some eyeballing on my walk to work, is just as bad except that it is fully two lanes wide. So the odds of having the (crappy) right side of the street to yourself, without cars behind you while you veer and swear under your breath and try not to die, are more or less zero. This is what the downtown planning folks cheerfully call "improved bicycle access" on the Portland Mall project website. I do not accept it.
Bonus! Here are descriptions of the best routes I have currently found for biking southbound into downtown and northbound out of it. They're really fucking stupid.
My profane bicycle PSA suffered a severe setback this morning when I realized that people are fucking taking down my stickers. I had thought I might get city cleanup crews scraping off the stickers all over Broadway, or maybe overzealous campus maintenance taking off the ones around PSU. I figured that Banana Republic probably sent out employees with dental picks to remove any unauthorized flair from the bike racks outside its downtown store, so I didn't bother putting any there. I did put them outside the courthouse, the Oregonian's downtown news office, and (accidentally) an office of the Portland Police Bureau, and although I made my peace with the idea that someone might take those down they actually appear to have stayed.
But outside Columbia Sportswear and the Bike Gallery, both places where people should be bang alongside the idea of protective sporting gear, stickers went up and stickers were removed. Hey! Damn you! Be on my side! I noticed the lack at Columbia Sportswear first, and made a point this morning to walk by and slap another one over the spot where someone's vigorous scraping had taken off not only the first sticker but most of the bike rack's paint. It was so unseemly of them that I felt I ought to cover up their faux pas with another sticker. Obnoxious, but thoroughly delightful.
The missing stickers outside the Bike Gallery, though, just made me depressed. I'd spent a long time debating with myself whether to put them there, because I didn't want the bike folks to think I was being bitchy about the whole Brett Jarolimek thing. Finally I decided that a) they are probably as in favor of helmets as anybody, b) downtown is so covered with these stickers at this point that I'm clearly not singling anybody out, and c) they are a bike shop damnit and they may have a sense of humor. So I put up two stickers, one on 10th and one around the corner on Salmon. And the fuckers took them both down. One was contact paper and could have been stolen to stick elsewhere, but the other was grippy mylar and after removal would have been fit only for the trash.
I'm feeling somewhat deflated. I know I've been saying that the whole point of my PSA is that I am one grumpy mutinous person supported by no respectable authority, but being actually opposed by the locally respectable authority of a bike shop with a fund for grassroots safety projects is kind of demotivating. I wasn't expecting them to write ballads in my honor or give me their safety project money to buy sticky mylar, but, well, damn.
I stuck a couple more stickers further down 10th on my way to work, but my heart wasn't totally in it. Maybe I need to switch to another project for a while.
On Wednesday morning, once again with the blinding fog, I rode to work past the increasingly weird intersection of Interstate and Greeley avenues. This time, having camera in hand, I stopped to take pictures.
Here is the intersection as it presently looks. It's a nasty piece of work as intersections go, thus the accident last week and thus the enormous heap of flowers. But that's been discussed ad nauseum in every blog and newspaper in this city, and I would rather talk right now about the stuff that people have been leaving there. Flowers, yes. But this is Portland.
Junk sculptures! I am deeply impressed by this. The little man riding the bike is made entirely out of rusty chain, and I haven't got the faintest fucking idea how someone got it to stand up like that.
And let's look at the flowers again, anyway. Under the heap is a ghost bike, which presumably has the typical black-and-white "A Cyclist Was Killed Here" sign on it somewhere, but bike and sign are both obscured by the rest of the heap at this point. Other things tucked away in the pile include: biking medals, a paintbrush, fingerless gloves, a small gear mounted on a board, a bandana, a water bottle, a spare chain, what appears to be a shoelace, and a couple of rubber bands. (Edit: and my cycle computer, which is stuck reading 8.9 mph at all times. I saw it this morning and decided to helpfully illustrate the moderate speed of the locked, stationary, nonfunctioning ghost bike.) I can't figure out whether it's more like leaving things that the dead might want to have in the next life (dude you do not want to be without your water bottle), or just people leaving whatever they happen to have on them when they pass by. Nor can I really figure out which idea I enjoy more; they both tend to make me go "awww".
It didn't help this time, but damnit, it never hurts.
Some demon possessed me this morning in freezing cold and blinding fog to skip the train and ride my bike to work. I woke up shivering with my windows dripping mist, ran around the house going "brr brr brr" while drinking my tea and making my lunch, and somehow conceived the notion that I'd be warmer and more awake if I were pedaling.
I can say with authority that I am awake -- after four miles of nervously checking my blinkers and brakes and watching every car on the road for signs of trying to right-hook me -- but the simple fact is that moving rapidly through 37-degree air is not an activity to make one warm. I spent my red lights reflecting on this while trying to reverse the numbing effects of frosty brake levers on ungloved hands. It turns out that bare metal in near-freezing air with lots of wind and condensation is actually kind of cold.
But I will let you in on the secret, that I was sorry to get to work and see the fog lifting and the world becoming normal again. There was something lovely about putting on my five layers of sweaters and coats and scarves (and if only there had been gloves) and riding through the silent alienating whiteness with my bike headlight casting a weird wobbling lighthouse glow on the streets and cars and mist. I rode past the spot on Interstate Avenue where a biker got killed on Monday, not so much because I wanted to ride there but because it happened right on my normal route to work. There's a ghost bike chained on the corner and surrounded by pictures and flowers and little red bike blinkers, and that is possibly the only context in human existence in which a flashing LED is a tasteful addition to a memorial site.
Here is your macabre Scattergory for this gloomy morning: exceptional circumstances in which tacky things become posthumously tasteful. I am starting the timer now and you have all day. Go!
Today I wrote in my diary, for the first time in over a month, and I wrote three pages of teary melodrama about my insecurities and unfulfilled wishes. At the end of it I admonished myself in a new color, "Reach out a little bit when you don't want anything back. It might help you." I took my own advice and went and baked cookies for the nice bike shop dudes who have once again fixed my tires for free, and I hopped on my bike during a break in the rain to bring them to the shop.
I wasn't sure what to expect. I brought gratitude cookies to Gottsi once and got a strange, awkward reception that stuck in my memory today and almost convinced me not to bother again. But the nice bike dudes were surprised and happy, and they dug in and promised to save some for the guys who weren't working today, and they invited me to hang out for a while and have a beer. So I stayed for a half hour and talked about music and bikes and other places to live, which may be the standard stereotypical overused Portland conversation but is still okay in my book.
When I left, it was just starting to sprinkle again and I was slightly unsteady from my deliciously random beer. I pedaled slowly, out of my way and off the main streets, enjoying the rain on my face and my relief that my rather anxious gesture of goodwill had gone well. The rain turned into a downpour, the unsteadiness persisted, and by the time I got home I was a Portland cliche of drunken bicycling in the rain. I walked in the front door and was greeted by my renting roommate's lady friend, who thanked me cutely for covering her bike seat against the rain and offered me a piece of her pizza.
At the end of the day, or at least the 7:07 of the day, I am alone in the house after everyone has left without me, and I have been this a lot lately. But today I made a gesture of connecting with someone, and it wasn't rejected the way I'm always convinced it will be. It's a good step and I'm going to go savor it for a while... either in an extremely hot shower or under the pile of blankets I bought today. That is some fucking cold rain out there.
I should rename the category that contains my bicycle posts "if only you could push the pedals and go forward but alas you cannot". Right now exactly half of them are about bike accidents, malfunctions, and other failures to just get on the damn thing and ride places, and I'm about to make it slightly more than half.
This morning I decided, encouraged by an apparent drying trend in the weather, to bike to work. One of the many nice things about this plan is that it lets me leave the house about 20 minutes later than I'd need to if I were taking the train, so I lingered over breakfast, washed my dishes nicely (see, I should have a gold star), spent some time looking for my favorite sweater, and finally went down to the garage to get my bike. I hadn't checked in on it since Wednesday night, but on Wednesday night it had been in gorgeous shape. I'd even pumped up the tires for a smooth and pleasant riding experience.
You see where this is going, even if I never saw it coming. I got down to the garage and found my rear tire, this time, rim-on-the-ground flat. And me about to be 30 minutes late to work through no fault of my own -- with a tire that went dead flat in under a day and a half, I couldn't pump it up to get to work and expect it to even still roll by quitting time.
A few minutes later I was at the Max station, sulkily waiting for what turned out to be the same train my owning roommate takes. I told him what had happened, and he nodded sagely. "It's those road bike tires," he said, with all the sympathy of the habitual mountain-bike rider, "and their high pressure..."
I may at this point have done a creditable impression of my own tire, consisting of first inflating and then exploding. "No!" I explained totally reasonably at high volume. "I've had this bike for twelve years and I've never had a totally flat tire until this month! It is not a road bike thing! It is a the guys at the bike shop talked me into getting new nice expensive tires and there's something fucking wrong with them thing!"
I dearly love my neighborhood bike shop and the nice bike dudes contained therein. They consistently give me friendly, reasonably priced service and good advice. But right now I could just about go and kick every one of them in the balls for getting me to give up my old, cracking, tread-deficient tires. Those tires never did me wrong; these have an agenda to keep me off the street with their flats and their affinity for train tracks. If the shop will take them back I'm going to trade for a pair that's not possessed.
Portland is crisscrossed with the paraphernalia of public transit. It's impossible to walk around downtown if you're more than fifteen feet tall without running into the overhead lines that power the Max trains. In the outlying areas the tracks for the trains and streetcars get their own, BART-like, barricaded trackways, but in the city center they run down the middle of major streets just as bold as you please. Thoughtful city planners placed the tracks in the middle of the vehicle lanes, flush with the street with only narrow grooves in them so that people can drive over them without trouble. Thoughtful city planners failed to reckon with road bikers.
Last night I was riding to the Tea Zone, the strange little Pearl District teashop and lounge where my roommate plays about every two weeks. It's not an easy place to find; it's tucked away in the middle of its block, in a vortex of one-way streets. My usual method of finding it is to ride in a kind of interrupted circle in the general five-block radius of where I vaguely recall it to be located. On this particular occasion it took me nearly as long to find it from two blocks away as it did to get to the Pearl from my house. When I finally spotted it, then, I was not about to wait for another circle and more wrong-way streets to help me lose it again. I was on the right one-way street, going the right way, but on the wrong side to pull over and park. So I swerved neatly across to the left lane and prepared to stop.
This is where I rode over the streetcar tracks at an unwisely oblique angle, the skinny front tire of my bike slipped down into the track, I tried and failed to steer back out of it, and the whole bike went crashing to the ground completely out of my control. I couldn't get to my feet while it was falling over, and wound up down on one hand and knee in the middle of the lane watching the lights of a car coming up behind me.
Obviously, if I am blogging about this, I am still alive. Actually, I was fine -- the car stopped and the driver asked if I was okay, which, judging by the fact that I was able to scramble back to my feet and pick up my bike, I was. He drove on, I picked up the little tinkling piece of metal that I'd seen bouncing away and which turned out to be just the endcap of one of my handlebars, and I limped over to the sidewalk to inspect the situation. I scraped a tiny bit of skin off of one of my knuckles, so lightly there wasn't even a token speck of blood. I bruised my right knee through my pants. My bike saddle, one of those awful and indestructible old-school hardened leather jobs, now has a single scrape on one side. That's it.
I'm honestly kind of disappointed. I wiped out spectacularly in the middle of traffic and I don't have anything to show for it. After I locked up my bike and made my shaky way into the Tea Zone, I explained the situation to one of my roommate's friends. She was appropriately sympathetic, but the fact was that she had more to show for breaking her toenail in dance class than I did for crashing to the ground around an out-of-control bike. Over the course of the evening I made a few efforts to conspicuously inspect the tiny bruise forming on my aching knee, but its faint purply tinge totally failed to cause my companions to gasp and fuss over me and demand to hear the whole story. I had absolutely no opportunities to be dashing and cavalier and insist that it was nothing, because, in fact, it was nothing.
What was not nothing was B.O.O.B.S. 2007. When Portland puts on a burlesque show, it puts on a fucking burlesque show. There were pasties. There was glitter. There were tassels and feather boas. There was a devastatingly sexy lady Prince impersonator. There was fire. (For my reader who performs fire-spinning tricks: yes, but have you done it with your nipples?) There was, at one point, the lounge version of "Baby Got Back" and spinning ass tassels. Spinning ass tassels.
So there's that to be said for the evening.
Last night I set out to make up for the night before. I write to you now from the comfy chair on my front porch, where I am staying until I recover somewhat from my own success.
My boss very awesomely gave me yesterday afternoon off, so I grabbed my sad front wheel and trotted over to the bike shop. The nice bike dude immediately replaced my flat tube while comparing Thursday night concert notes with me (he, too, had tried with infinite optimism and no success to see Spoon), and handed it back all inflated and nice. I made bread. I made hummus. I sat down very seriously with the MusicFest website and made a list of the bands I wanted to see, with times and venue names and addresses, and then I totally ignored it.
I hopped on my bike after dinner and rode a ridiculous seven miles out to the Hawthorne Theatre to see a crappy pop-punk band from Rainier. When I say that they were a crappy pop-punk band, I do not mean that I went expecting something different and was disappointed. I mean that I listened to the sample songs on their MySpace page and said to myself, "Oh my god! Crappy pop-punk, this is awesome! It's like Midtown is channeling the Ataris! I'm there!" I think there was a year or two where I spent every other weekend at Slim's or the Bottom of the Hill or the Great American Music Hall, and there was a lot of crappy pop-punk involved. Nostalgia demanded my attendance last night, and I was not sorry to have obeyed.
Katie: I did not stay to see Lifetime, who were playing later in the evening at that same location. You may commence being disappointed in me now, and also employ any lame puns about once-in-a-Lifetime chances that you feel are needed.
When a second band came on and turned out to actually take itself seriously, I left and headed downtown to try another show. Bands I'd heard were playing at Berbati's and Slabtown, so I employed my best logic and went instead to the Fez to see someone I'd barely even heard of. It turned out to be the best call of the night. The opening band was good (when is an opening band ever good?). The headliner was great. In between was The Upsidedown, the only band of the night that I feel compelled to actually praise by name. They are phenomenal. They have a girl whose job is to rock a rack of synthesizers with one hand and a tambourine with the other while looking like a fashion plate from 1967. At one point they had a dude playing a miniature toy accordion into a microphone. They are swirly whirly and wreeoooowwww and deenerneener and other interesting noises. They are a bit like what would happen if Spiritualized switched to uppers instead of downers. I pouted when they stopped playing and went and bought a CD, to which I am presently listening.
In any event, what with the swirly whirly and the wreeooowww and the riding to Hawthorne and back I was dead on my feet by a quarter to twelve. I had to scrap my plan to see one more show and just come home instead, which in my rock-and-roll haze seemed best to do by bike alone instead of taking the train like a weenie. It's not that people don't ride up the hill on Interstate Avenue all the time, it's just that many of them don't start it when their eyes are already trying to close without permission. I'm not entirely sure how it worked; some alternate-universe Dianna probably fell asleep halfway up and fell off her bike and rolled into the Willamette, but the fact that I woke up aching unfathomably in my own bed suggests that I did somehow make it home.
Tonight there are more shows, the first of which is my roommate in a competitive open-mic that clearly requires moral support. Back I go to Southeast, back I come to downtown, back I come up the hill because Okkervil River is playing long past the point of no trains. They didn't put the MF in MFNW for no reason, I see.
My week so far has read like the answer to the question: what is the exact opposite, in subjective experience, of a satisfying three-day weekend?
Three days of Fiasco Week.
Tuesday was merely the warm-up. Work stressed me out and I got hit by a massive wave of homesickness, but that does not a fiasco make. I even managed to get my bike dropped off for repairs, which pleased me to no end. Cue the trumpets and curtain; the theater of the absurd begins on Wednesday.
Wednesday was information I couldn't get, things I needed to help with and didn't know how, and the absence from work of everyone I could have asked about anything. Phone calls, interruptions, panic, frustration. When my co-worker asked me if I'd had enough of the day, I said, oh yes, but I'd be fine as long as I could get my bike from the shop and go out for a nice ride to unwind. I'm convinced that my saying so is the reason that, on Wednesday afternoon, a Max train hit a semi truck in Chinatown and all trains running across the river to points including North Portland were stopped. I walked in circles looking for buses and bridges and finally walked across the river to catch a train far too late for the bike shop. Cut to the interpersonal weirdness alluded to in my last post, and thence to Thursday.
Thursday at work was fine! Compared to Wednesday, anyway. Nothing I couldn't handle. The bike shop said my bike was ready! A fun band was playing in the park blocks at lunch! The internet told me Spoon! was playing! at the Crystal Ballroom! Thursday night! OMG Spoon! It was all going to be a close thing with picking up my bike and getting tickets, but it was all going to work. I dashed from work, sprung for a $40 wristband to get into the whole weekend's worth of Music Fest NW shows, chased a Max train two stops and caught it, ran through traffic in pursuit of a bus and didn't die, and made it to the bike shop to pick up my ride. It was beautifully fixed and shiny and nice; I left it in the garage and went to eat dinner, then came back for it when it was time to leave for Spoon.
It's important to mention at this point that the things I just paid a lot of money for centered in large part around my front wheel. The bike shop dudes trued the wheel to within an inch of its life, installed a nice new sturdy puncture-resistant tire, did a tapey thing with the spoke ends so they wouldn't stab my inner tube, and, you know. Wheel stuff. That's why I was so astounded to find, two hours after my triumphant return from the shop, my front tire dead, rim-on-the-ground flat.
No time to worry about that! Spoon! playing! soon! I borrowed my roommate's mountain bike, which was comically small for me and made me feel like a little kid with my handlebars way up in the air. I zoomed over the bridge, rode in circles around the bewildering one-way downtown streets, locked up the bike in a not-too-awful place, and hustled toward the venue to discover... I had failed to reckon with concert time. Spoon playing at 11 means that the girl who runs around freaking out about her transportation and finally shows up like a jackass at 10:30 will wait, wristband or no, in a line around three sides of the block that moves one person in for every one who leaves. Which, with Spoon playing, is no one.
I have a theory now. I came up with it while glumly, Spoonlessly riding my painfully-ill-fitting borrowed bike back over the Broadway Bridge the uphill way, and thinking sadly of my sleek and properly-sized ride sitting at home with its pancake-flat tire. The universe is not against me; at this point it is simply following a policy of harm reduction. A pleasant evening, a chance to get my rock and roll on, a nice ride on my newly-repaired bike: these things could be a shock to my system this far into Fiasco Week. One does not simply yank the morphine drip from a patient who's gotten accustomed to it; presumably if one were administering a medically necessary regimen of Indian burns or scathing insults, mercy and human decency would require that it too be tapered off slowly. Hence, Fiasco Week. Clearly the only way out is through.
Yesterday I had a brilliant idea: take my bike to do my grocery shopping. I needed kind of a lot of things, but I had bungee cords and a milkcrate and damn if I wasn't going to make the most of them. Every time I debated picking up another large, heavy item, the milkcrate got a little bigger in my mind and I tossed the questionable item in my basket and walked off with a spring in my step to the next aisle.
This is how I came to be standing outside the store with an enormous armload of bags that weighed probably 50 pounds total. Some clever bungeeing got it all strapped into the milkcrate and lashed onto my bike rack, at which point I tilted the bike to mount it and watched the whole elastic assemblage go boing, over the side of the rack, swaying somewhere in the neighborhood of my rear derailleur and pulling the whole bike crashing to the ground.
No worries. My clever bungeeing kept it all neatly packed in the milkcrate, so I righted the bike, pulled the crate back into its proper location, and rebungeed until it seemed to sit a little more firmly. I swung my leg over the frame, settled myself into the seat, and turned to head out of the parking lot and ride home.
This time I narrowly escaped being pinned under my crate of veggies and cat litter, which would be an embarrassing way to be injured and helpless. I managed to stagger free of the bike as it fell over and evade the pendulous mass of groceries which was determined to explore the full tensility of my bungee cords. At this point I figured I was stuck ignominiously walking my bike home, so I just shoved the crate back on, tightened up the now-hated bungees, and turned to push my ridiculous ride out of the parking lot.
I suspect that by now you can guess precisely what happened. Suffice it to say that thirty seconds later I was sitting on the ground frustrated and increasingly worried, staring at the bike, crate, rack, and bungee cords and trying to come up with a single solution that didn't involve walking my bike home with one hand while carrying my 50-pound crate with the other.
It was at this point that Portland kicked in, in the form of a youngish dude with a wicked set of mutton chops who walked up and asked if I could use a hand. I explained that even my best bungeeing couldn't compensate for the fact that I was balancing a wide and heavy load on a narrow rack on an almost weightless bike, and that I was starting to be kind of screwed. He looked thoughtful, and said that he could maybe carry my stuff on his motorcycle? He didn't have his saddlebags at the moment but, and here I interjected hopefully, maybe my stupid bungees could work?
So in summary, I put my groceries on the back of a stranger's motorcycle, told him where to find my house, and hopped on my bike to follow him home. It's terrifically sketchy in the abstract, but he turned out to be a friendly and above-board dude who delivered my veggies safely home and hung around outside talking to me for a while. We talked California, North Portland, being new to town and getting invited out to drink all the fucking time, and how weirdly paranoid Portland people are about the parts of town that we respectively live in. We failed to really exchange any information that would lead to meeting again, but I figure this small city can only contain a limited number of sideburns like that. I'll keep an eye out.
Then my renting roommate and I went out to a club and wound up tired and annoyed and too drunk to drive home. My attempt to set her up with my co-worker's adorable friend failed miserably, and we had an outstanding pity party in the car listening to Tegan and Sara and waiting for the drinks to wear off. I think I should stick to the grocery store for my social encounters from now on.
I am in Portland, and it is raining. Tra-la.
My budding bike-geekery continues apace. Yesterday I bought a rear rack and strapped a milk crate onto it so that I could stop doing my grocery shopping via the bus. I had to have the nice bike dudes at one of the local bike shops install the rack for me because my ride is so slick that it doesn't have room to spare for convenient attachment hardware, and when I dropped it off one of the nice bike dudes gave it the up-and-down eyeball and told me I had a pretty sweet frame. I knew this already, and the bike's not bad either.
When I finished my shopping later and stuck my groceries in my brand-new cargo space, I had an epiphany: my bike is awesome. I wasn't really aware of this before. It weighs nothing. It goes fast. It's been unused and unmaintained for most of the last ten years and it's still effortlessly rideable. Even in high gear there's almost no resistance on the pedals. Even with a milk crate of groceries rattling around on the back it's like riding a bee-colored breeze. I'd been sort of assuming that all bicycles fit this profile, which is not entirely true.
Four wheels bad! Two wheels good! I think I'm going to start riding to work.
I've now ridden my bike as much in Portland today as I did in Berkeley in the last 9 or 10 months. It's sad how little that's saying -- I rode to a (very exciting, actually) consignment store 2 miles from my house, bought some five-dollar curtains, and rode back. Granted, I got lost on the way and took an exciting detour through the most sharply uphill portion of Portland I've yet found, but it was less than five miles round trip.
Still, I may never stand or walk again. I should have stopped at the hospital that I passed on my detour and asked them to send me home in a wheelchair. I could have sat gloomily by the picture windows of my living room, huddled in my chair with my new curtains draped like a blanket over my aching legs. Why, I would ask myself, why was I not content to walk? Why did I crave speed and convenience and panache? Why was I determined to join the legions of high-velocity hipsters zooming down the streets with the clicking of gears and the flashing of calves? (Hussies.) Did they learn nothing from the lesson of Icarus? Did I learn nothing from the lesson of Icarus?
Just because I'm 26, I see no reason I can't also be 87 and curmudgeonly. Hrmph.