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Posts tagged with Bicycle Commuting

Somebody needs a bath

I was riding home from racquetball the other day, and slid out going around a corner in a huge drift of sand.

I dodged an usually large amount of car debris — chunks of body molding, shards of red tail-light plastic, head-light glass — and spied several dead birds.

I pulled into my driveway and looked around at a barren apocalyptic landscape, as if all the life — and color — had been sucked out of this world. All the trees looked sickly and my lawn looked like it didn’t need to be watered so much as washed.

Lord, this town needs a bath.

I know how this works. Fall kills, then winter rolls in, and things really take a turn for the drab.

It just seems things are especially filthy this year — my yard, my bikes, trees, the air. I was riding to work by the hospital the other day and noticed the street was stained, like a ring around the bathtub.

I’ve seen street sweepers out and about and think they do an admirable job.

In fact, I’d love to be a street sweeper in my next life. Where else can you drive as fast as possible and as slow as you want — at the same time? In what other job can you go home and say you made the world a better (-looking) place — every single day?

And I don’t imagine street sweepers take their jobs home with them. I figure they don’t wake up in a cold sweat, worried they didn’t do a good enough job at that intersection of Ninth and Mass, for instance.

But with all apologies to the city’s street sweepers, what this filmy town really needs is a good old thunderstorm or two, a biblical gullywasher to polish the streets and scrub the foliage and launder the ecru pallor from our fair city.

After all, it really does clean up pretty nicely.

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Turning the other cheek

I was sitting in church the other day when I had an epiphany, which is a far better place to have an epiphany than, say, a synagogue or mosque or temple.

My mind wandered a bit — don’t fret for my soul; it wasn’t during one of those all-important everlasting-life parts of the service, but during something more mundane, like the offering — and I realized that for all the hundreds of times we’d attended that church, we’d sat more or less in the same spot.

We perch along the right side, about a third of the way from the front.

Sometimes we have to move up or back a row or two, but we’re always drawn to the same few pews, and judging from the regulars in our corner of pewdom, we’re not the only ones. I tried to project myself sitting with the freaks on the far left, or the folks unable to pick a side who stick to the center, but it just seemed … wrong.

I reckon handedness doesn’t have anything to do with it: My wife’s a freak of nature, er, I mean, a lefty; I’m a righty, yet we both seem comfortable on the right side (though we are careful how we sit at restaurants, lest we bump elbows).

My churchly observation coincided nicely with a similar experiment in sidedness.

Awhile back, the keycard that grants me entry to my workplace broke off my neck lanyard, where it has resided for years. A few times, I rode with the card and my ID badge around my neck, but riding bent over my handlebars sometimes caused my badges to dig into my sunken chest.

So, whenever I rode, I instead slipped the badges in a front pants pocket. That worked out OK, but occasionally I’d be pedaling along, the badges would ride up a bit, and a sharp corner would dig into one of my doughy thighs. I’d sit up, pedaling furiously, and try to fish the shards out of my flesh.

When the keycard broke, however, I decided to put it in my wallet, and it was nothing short of a — pardon the religious term again — revelation. No longer did I need to remember the triumvirate of wallet-keycard-cell phone. More than once I remembered two of the three, but found myself lingering outside or pestering the folks inside over the intercom to grant me admittance.

I felt free. Unencumbered, even.

But there was a problem.

As soon as I got to work, I rolled in the front door as I usually do, bike in my right hand, opening the door with the left. We (my bike and me) wedged ourselves in the vestibule … and I found myself all mixed up.

Still bundled up in coat, hat, helmet and gloves, I tried criss-cross-applesaucing myself, holding the bike with my left hand as I tried to fish my wallet out of my back-right pocket with my right hand, but that didn’t work. I tried hooking the wallet out with my left hand behind the back, but no go.

Though a bit of gymnastics I managed to retrieve the wallet, swipe it across the entry pad, pivot, swivel and roll myself in the building.

Between that ride to work and the next, I spent an unusually (for me) large amount of time checking out boy booty to see where other fellas lugged their wallets. Unscientifically, I found most men preferred the right-rear pocket, like me. I saw a few lefties, too. Don’t know about all the guys in their skinny jeans; maybe they just slip their hipster wallets in their hipster man purses.

No biggie, right?

I decided to forego the contortions and carry my wallet in the left-rear during the next ride, thereby ensuring a breeze through the breezeway.

Trouble is, that simple switch threw my poor little pea brain into apoplexy. Granted, my wallet’s manly — big, thick, full of … uh, stuff — and sure to wreak all sort of havoc on my spine down the road, but who knew turning the other cheek would cause such a mindmelt?

I found myself catching my booty on the saddle every time I stood to pedal. The bifold felt like a stone every time I sat. I squirmed. I fidgeted. Good lord, what an awful ride.

Of course, at any of the many intersections at which I stopped, I could have reverted to my right-cheek form, but I didn’t want to concede defeat and tried to let mind triumph over caboose.

Didn’t happen.

I switched pockets and vowed never to try that exercise in cycling masochism again.

I have, however, found myself looking longingly at the pews on the left side.

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Eek! A flasher!

I’ve discovered the joy of flashing.

No, not in the mardi gras sense, and not like that creepy, rotund, pasty old guy down the street who insists on mowing every time shirtless and wearing those too-short shorts.

The flashing I’m talking about here involves the light on my bicycle handlebars. See, most bike lights have steady and flash settings, and for the bulk of my bike-commuting life, I’ve been a slow and steady kinda guy, both in terms of my pedaling prowess and my lights.

Maybe it’s a reflection on my personality. I’m not flashy and prefer not to call too much attention to myself. I’m steady and kinda dim, and my bike lights reflect that. The steady part, at least.

Once a couple of years ago, I was racing a thunderstorm home and, about two miles from home, the wind picked up, and the temperature dropped, and just as I was steeling myself for what I was sure to be a wet rest of the ride home, my light strobed — the signal it was about to run out of juice. To conserve power, I switched it over to flash mode and rode the rest of the way blinkin’.

And I didn’t feel too good.

Something about the flash pattern seemed to upset my stomach, and I rode somewhat queasily home. I beat the storm by seconds; once I switched off the blinky light, my tummy stopped turning, and all was good.

So I pretty much vowed not to ride with my light on the flashing setting again.

That changed a couple of weeks ago when, riding my backup ride with the less-powerful backup light, I had a series of close calls with cars. The drivers of said cars seemed not to see me — not like they don’t see me during the daylight, but like they REALLY don’t see me — and I blamed my weak beams.

I switched over to flash and — what do you know? — no near misses. It’s anecdotal, sure, but just watching the swiveling heads of drivers and pedestrians alike has convinced me there’s something to this blinky-light thing.

I spared no expense in buying either of my bike lights, and they’re both big and bad, but there’s something about the flicker that just seems brighter. I know the eye is drawn to movement and all, but I’m tickled to see highly reflective signs blocks away light up when hit by my candlepower.

And that’s the thing: My lights on steady-high attract attention in my direction; my lights on blink seem to get attention first away from me, as folks see signs down the street lighting up, then back to me as they try to figure out just where from where that flash is coming.

So blink it is. I reckon I’d rather be the guy with a turning tummy than the guy with a grille embedded in his femur.

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No glove, no love

At some point last winter, I explained to my kids why I was especially fond of a specific pair of gloves.

Now, before anybody looks up the number for SRS, rest assured I normally don’t subject them to such cruel and unusual punishment. The details have faded a bit, but I’m sure it was a direct response to one of them — most likely the younger, my son — inflicting some harm on my gloves, say, trying to shred them to make bedding for his hermit crabs or concocting a science experiment to determine whether cold-weather gear might burst into flame if it spends enough time in the microwave.

Regardless of the impetus, at some point during one of my most insipid daddy diatribes, I brought down the house when I explained the terry-cloth covering on the thumb serves as a nose wipe. Nothing says top-shelf, highbrow humor to the pre-junior high set quite like snot tales. (Unless, of course, it’s what comes out the other end, which would explain why the other night my little angels entertained themselves for hours by calling each other “Poofus,” which, as far as I can tell, is the unholy hybrid of “Poop” and “Dufus.” Good stuff.)

Anyway, as soon as I explained the function of the snot-wiper, the kids disintegrated into quivering, snickering wrecks.

I let ’em get their giggle on.

After they had regained their composure, they turned skeptical.

“No, really, dad, what’s it for?” asked my daughter.

I assured her the terry was, in fact, a snot wiper.

I explained I once heard a salesman explain it as an eyeglass wipe. He said typical, wicking bike gear is hard on delicate lenses; the soft terry, he said, was to help keep glasses free of debris.

I explained he was full of snot. More laughs.

Continuing my vapid story, I told the kids I considered gloves to be among the most important part of a four-season commuter’s garb, hence my collection of bike-specific mitts: a pair for cool weather to just above freezing; my favorites, appropriate from the 40s to the teens; my really-stinking-cold-weather gloves; liner gloves; etc.

Losing my audience, I quickly went back to the snot.

Noses run in cold weather, I said, and it’s not especially convenient to stop and dig out a tissue every couple of blocks. Hence, the snot wiper. Pedal. Sniffle. Wipe. Repeat.

Predictably, my son said, “Coooool!” just as his sister wrinkled her nose and said, “Ewww!”

I explained how the poor digits, hanging off the front of the bike and, thus, dangling in the wind chill, bear the brunt of cold rides. I told how the body, in extreme cold, diverts blood to the essential organs, thus leaving the dangly bits more susceptible to the elements.

For soccer players, say, or perhaps brain surgeons, numb appendages might not be a big deal, but in my line of work, they’re trouble. It’s good to keep feeling in them, lest the next day’s sports section come out with headlines that read “Glks; asf;dljdfo eiofds;zcxv .c.,fsm.”

Having not heard a bodily fluid (besides blood) mentioned for several seconds, my kids’ eyes started to glaze.

I grabbed my extreme-cold gloves and pointed out they lacked a nose wipe. I asked my kids if they knew why.

They admitted they had no clue.

I explained they were only for the coldest conditions, when noses still run, but the air is so cold, snot freezes on the tip of the nose.

And do you know what that’s called?

“No, daddy. What?”

Snotcicles!

Again, more laughs.

My astute daughter thought a minute, then asked what I did when I reached my destination, went inside with said snotcicles dangling from my schnoz, and they started to melt.

Thanks for the straight line.

“I grab a tissue, of course. What do you think I am? A disgusting slob?”

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