I’m not a misanthrope. Honest.
I don’t hate people. Not all of ’em, anyway. Heck, not even most. You? You’re golden.
OK, maybe I’m a bit antisocial.
Just the other day, my wife was with a work friend and said, “Andrew’s not much of a people person.” I know this because I was two feet away. At least I have enough people skills to know if you’re going to say something potentially unflattering, you wait until they’re beyond earshot before bagging on ’em.
I like to think I simply prefer to keep my own counsel.
I’ve taken more than enough personality tests to know that, A) I DO have one (a personality that is; take that!), and B) you probably don’t much care for it, and C) I don’t really care that you don’t care for it.
With that as background, perhaps it comes as no surprise that I do most of my bike riding solo.
Short work commutes, long recreational rides, trips to the store … normally it’s just me and one of my trusty steeds, and I’m more than OK with that. Some folks contend cycling is meant to be done in groups, or at least two- or threesomes, but I’ve always preferred to roll alone.
I have a regular riding buddy, and I’ve got to say just about every ride I’ve taken with my new bestie has far exceeded my misanthropic, er, antisocial expectations.
My son and I have ridden to school every good-weather day this semester.
Though he was somewhat reluctant to ride early in the year, lately he has become quite enthusiastic. Last week, we rode every day — a fact he pointed out to everyone within earshot (and a few just outside it).
The best part of it to me — aside from the company (surprise, surprise) — is that I’ve seen him develop into a real, responsible cyclist.
The first couple of rides together, I mother-henned him all the way: “Watch out for that car! Not so close to the curb! Where are you going?!? Signal!” Our route to school is a bit of a mixed bag, with quiet residential streets, a couple of higher-trafficked roads, a traffic circle and several uncontrolled intersections. It culminates in a mess of cars piloted by harried parents bottlenecking into tight spaces.
It’s tricky for some adult drivers to grasp right-of-way at a traffic circle, for instance. Imagine how hard it is for a 9-year-old cyclist.
Yet I’ve seen Brooks really get a feel for the road. He looks left-right-left at every intersection, yields when he’s supposed to yield, comes to a complete, foot-down stop at every stop sign and red light, motions for drivers to go ahead of him when it serves to aid traffic flow and signals just about every turn.
He has learned there are good drivers and bad, nice ones and mean ones (though there tend to be far more of the former when they encounter cute kids on bikes). He pays attention to headwinds and tailwinds, won’t pass cars on the right and would rather be safe than fast.
He has learned sometimes it doesn’t rain when it’s forecast to, and, a couple of weeks ago, he learned sometimes it does rain when it’s not forecast to. He also learned it doesn’t take that long to dry out.
And he has fun. He stands at the crest of every speed hump, as if he thinks one day he might take flight. He laughs and chats and smiles door-to-door.
Last week, we made a short detour to the store on our way home after school. We stuffed a few foodstuffs in his backpack, and as we reached the bike rack to start our ride home, Brooks turned to me and said, “I love riding bikes with you.”
Had he said it five minutes earlier in the candy aisle, I might have been a bit skeptical, but I fell for it at face value.
Why? I asked.
“I don’t know. It’s just … awesome.”
Yeah, can’t argue with that. It’s enough to make a people person out of me yet.
I encountered a bizarre scene the other morning, and I’m at a loss to understand it.
Hang with me, because I think the payoff’s worth it.
The other morning, right around 1:30, I was walking back from the presses, and, just before I headed back upstairs to conclude my worknight, I passed by the employee entrance and spied a bike outside.
It was a beaut, too: white, sparkly silver here and there, obviously well thought-out and maintained. A real head-turner. Not ruin-your-marriage nice (that’s foreshadowing, folks; stick with me and I just might break out all the literary devices at my disposal), but mighty nice. I ogled … and was surprised to see it didn’t appear to be locked to the parking meter against which it was leaning. Odd. I wouldn’t leave the cheapest big-box-store bike unlocked on New Hampshire at that hour of the day, let alone a looker like that one, but I figured either I simply couldn’t see the lock, or its owner was somewhere nearby, keeping an eye on his/her pride and joy.
I went upstairs to my desk and finished up, occasionally glancing out the window to see if the bike was still there. I thought maybe it had been stolen and ditched. Or I was sure it was about to be stolen, and I wanted to keep an eye on it if its owner wasn’t.
Eventually, I grabbed my own bike and headed for the exit for my ride home.
As I approached the exit’s breezeway, I saw the bike was still there, still with no one in sight. The closer I got, the more the details emerged. It was a fixed-gear, or at least a single-speed … I’m guessing steel-framed, retro-looking … white handlebar tape (lovely, but difficult to keep clean) … silver toe clips. The closer I drew, the better it looked, though it appeared to be a bit on the small side for me.
Awful thoughts entered my head, but I’d never steal another person’s ride, even one as nice as that. I’d look, but not touch.
I was mere feet away when I noticed a car parked on the street just behind the bike. I had seen it before, but I had assumed it to belong to a co-worker. Since I had seen her leave a few minutes earlier, I realized it must belong to someone else.
I was maybe 10 feet away, and the thoughts were pingponging in my empty head like Jiffypop: Who would leave a bike all alone like that? Is it my size? Wow, look at the sparkly spokes. Is that movement in the back seat of the car? What brand is on the top tube? Yes, definitely movement. Somebody taking a nap? Definitely no lock. More movement now; not asleep. Ooh, sparkly.
I was close enough I could touch it when it finally hit me (and I’m sure you more astute readers figured it out long ago). I closed in on the bike to try to read its brand name, when I figured out what I saw in the back seat was … feet in the air. Bare feet in the air. In the back seat of the car.
I had walked into a very public bike booty call.
So I casually saddled up, discreetly waited until I was headed away before turning on my headlight and pedaled away.
All the way home, I pondered the scene, turning over the possibilities in my mind. I quickly discounted several more outlandish scenarios — a lady (or gentleman) of the evening making the rounds on the roll? A driver so consumed by bike passion he/she “rewards” cyclist with roadside quickie? A bike (or cyclist) so fine the feet just fly in the air? No, no, no.
By the time I got home, the best I could come up with was this: Boy meets girl at bar. Romance ensues. One of the new lovers drove to the pub, the other rode the bike. Alcohol flows, and the romance blossoms. Overcome by passion, and unable to find a more appropriate location to consummate their new friendship-with-benefits (the Eldridge was full, or roommates were home), the two parked their rides and horizontal-mambo’d in the back seat of a car parked on the very public — and quite well lit — location just north of Seventh and New Hampshire.
Whatever the explanation, I couldn’t get the image out of my head. Of the bike, that is, not the feet. As far as I could tell — easy, perv; I didn’t peep — they were quite ordinary feet.
(If anybody has a more plausible — or even more entertaining — explanation, I’d love to hear it, but, please, remember this isn’t Penthouse letters.)
I read with interest the other day the story that Lawrence’s Bicycle Advisory Committee had discussed an old law that makes it illegal to ride a bike on some sidewalks.
The ordinance, on the books since the 1970s, states, “It shall be unlawful for any person to ride a bicycle upon any sidewalk within any business district within the city or upon any sidewalk within a distance of 100 feet from any store or business place or place of assembly or where specifically prohibited by posted sign.”
While the group still champions a bike-on-sidewalk ban downtown, there’s some sentiment that bikes should be permitted in other parts of the city.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit here I generally don’t like riding on sidewalks with or without pedestrians, and I don’t like walking on sidewalks with folks on bikes.
Whenever the Hartsock clan goes for rides, all of us use the lightly trafficked residential streets, but we still insist the kids ride on the sidewalk on the busier thoroughfares, even if mom and dad keep to the streets.
That said, there are two little stretches of sidewalk — downtown even! Gasp! — I ride nearly every day. One is to avoid Sixth Street car traffic — in the interest of self-preservation, as well as to avoid hindering said traffic — and the other the fraction-of-a-block stretch just north of Seventh on New Hampshire. That’s the ministrip of sidewalk that leads to the employee entrance where I work. Legally, I should turn north on New Hampshire, force my way into the turn lane (which usually is filled with traffic headed south) and turn into the loading-dock entrance, but that’s loads more dangerous and potentially disrupting to car traffic.
So I selectively choose to disregard the ordinance — I’m pretty sure the former instance is far enough from any business district not to be part of the ordinance, but the latter is pure scofflaw city — in the interest of my health and the convenience of others. But I do yield to pedestrians and will walk of the path is too crowded.
But I can’t help but think the law is a little silly elsewhere.
Two personal cases in point:
When my son and I ride to school (his, not mine), he’s on the sidewalk about half the time. Though he has become quite a responsible cyclist, I don’t feel great with him on some of the bigger streets. I don’t think he belongs on, say, Folks Road when students are streaming by to get to school at Free State. Yet, I can’t think of a path from our house to his school that doesn’t involve a bit of sidewalk within 100 yards of a store. Technically, he’s breaking the law by riding to school. Throw away the key.
Another example: My son participates in his school’s track club. For safety’s sake, there are parents at various spots on the course, a “caboose” adult bringing up the rear and an adult — me! — on a bike out front. Most of the time is spent on sidewalks and a paved nature trail away from business, but the long course would put us within a dozen feet of several business. There would be no way to lead the pack on a bike from across the street — in this across four lanes of busy Wakarusa. So, again, I’ll thumb my nose at The Man and hope I’m not hauled off to the hoosegow.
Of course, any law is only as good as its enforcement, and I’ve never heard of anyone running afoul of this particular ordinance. I reckon it’s a lot like the drug tax stamp: break the big law, and the little law adds to your woe. In the case of the bike-on-the-sidewalk law, I imagine it only would come into play if I were to, say, plow into the mayor at Ninth and Mass.
Then, I imagine, I’d have the book thrown at me. And, truth to tell, I’d deserve it.
I have a hole in my backside.
Lest you think I'm trying to get all juvenile (as if) in pursuit of virtual eyeballs or even invoking a euphemism to get away with putting something dirty on the Interwebs (a first, I'm sure), rest assured my words are meant at face value.
I honestly, truly have a hole in my backside. The other day, I slipped out of my beloved khaki shorts — one of a few beloved, broken-in-just-right pair I own — at bedtime and noticed the seat had crossed over from merely translucent to wholly hole-y.
It's not too bad — yet. It's not indecent or obscene. No, you can't see London or France or my Superman Underoos. In fact, someone would have to go out of his/her way and get really close to my backside to spy the hole, and not only would I not encourage such behavior, I'd actively discourage it.
But the hole is there, trust me, and I'm not too happy about it.
Worn-out drawers are part of the whole bike scene.
I've never heard of anybody wearing out his britches from driving, even behind the wheel of a seat-of-the-pants sports car, but all that saddle time has done a number on more than one pair of my below-the-belts.
All my favorite jeans are worn at the seat. I don't get holes in the knees or pockets, but I'm retiring them all the time for backside voids.
My wife, bless her heart, has been known to patch my pants to prolong their lifespan, though I think the gesture is more about her than me. I don't think she wants me to have decent dungarees so much as she doesn't want to be married to the guy with his, er, behind hanging out.
She usually puts up with my holiness for a week or so, then my trousers go "missing," to be replaced by a new pair that has to be broken in.
Man, I hate new pants.
Back to the shorts: It's not so much the pinhole that worries me. It's what it might turn into.
I fear someday I'll be spinning down Sixth Street, I'll rise out of the saddle, crank out a few turns, then settle back — only to snag the hole on the nose of my saddle.
Next thing you know, I'm doing a full frontal — or, in this case the full posterior — for all of the rush-hour traffic to see.
So I guess until this pair of shortpants mysteriously vanishes, I'd better make sure my undies are clean and befitting a pasty middle-aged guy. I'll have to save the Underoos for special occasions.
Not so long ago, I blogged about how dorky it is to wear a helmet when riding a bike.
I wouldn’t be caught dead without one, mind you. I sorta like keeping what little I have inside my head, inside my head.
But wearing a helmet just screams “DUFUS.” Or maybe it’s “DOOFUS.”
Actually wearing the helmet, however, is only half the battle.
The other challenge with bike lids comes once you take it off.
First of all, there’s the inevitable helmet hair.
On some folks, it manifests itself as a sweaty, matted mess.
Not me. Frequently I shower just before heading off to work, and since I haven’t actually dried my hair since my junior-high mullet days, my hair tends to be a little damp when I leave the house. Bike helmets are vented to keep your noggin coolish, and my hair gets pulled into the vents. The whooshing breeze quickly dries the hair into an awesome, unmistakable wave ’do that looks not altogether unlike Aquaman’s worst perm ever.
My kids never tire of making fun of my organic mohawk, but most of my co-workers have the decency not to mention it.
One, however, buttonholed me the other day to talk about something important, and I couldn’t help but notice his eyes kept wandering up. He couldn’t contain it, eventually pointing and blurting, “Your hair looks funny.”
I thought about taking the matter to HR, but I don’t think “bad hair day” is a protected class, so I dropped it.
The other problem with lids is lugging them around.
When I’m on the roll, even a simpleton like me could figure out the brain bucket and bike are intertwined, but something about seeing an adult male walking about without the bike as backdrop tends to confuse some people.
Normally I’ll lock the lid up with my bike, but I’ll haul it around with me if there’s a chance for rain or I’m afraid it’ll get swiped. I’ll get strange looks, and frequently somebody’ll ask, “So, what’s with the helmet?”
Usually, I’ll fess up, but sometimes I’ll clown with the questioner.
Among my favorite responses:
“Shh! I’m a base-jumper, and once the guards are looking away, I’m going off the roof!” (This one’s especially effective in one-story buildings).
“Mother said I’m a danger to my head.”
“I’m just naturally klutzy.”
“Mongo like football.”
“I’m going spelunking later. Care to come along?”
If they persist, I’ll give ’em a conspiratorial wink, tap my head and point to the sky, explain it’s no ordinary helmet and is designed to keep “them” from reading my mind.
Apparently the only thing more disconcerting than a grown male cyclist is a raging paranoid.
I don’t remember starting to eat solid foods or walking for the first time.
The whole potty-training thing is similarly fuzzy, too, though I imagine it was pretty traumatic; to this day my parents refuse to speak of it.
But when it comes to childhood milestones and rites of passage and phases, I believe I was pretty average.
However, I know my whole afraid-of-the-dark stage lasted longer than it does for most folks. For years I huddled under the covers in my own house, wary of all manner of things that go bump in the night.
But eventually, with enough consolation and the unwavering support of my wife and kids, I can comfortably say I’m no more afraid of the dark than any other emotionally stunted middle-aged fraidy-cat.
So it was with more than a little trepidation that I began riding my bike home from work in the middle of the night. It’s one thing to ride in the light of day, but another in the early-morning hours that happen to just about coincide with bar closing time.
No matter how bright my headlight, I was awfully jumpy my first few night rides a couple of years ago. Every shadow held some danger, every sound some threat.
Now, however, I’ve ferreted out every bogeyman hiding spot, and the familiarity that comes with covering the same few paths a few hundred times makes it easier to keep from jumping out of my own skin.
That said, it’s still awfully easy for the combination of reduced vision, heightened other senses and a wandering, imaginative mind to produce some moments of unease.
Road debris is mistaken for snakes.
Raccoons can be seen as cats (note to self: raccoons waddle; cats do not).
The other night, I was spinning along on a windy night when I saw something brown headed straight for me. My mind became convinced I was under attack by a massive marmot. (A marmot? Really?) It was merely an empty plastic bag, caught by the breeze.
Once I happened upon a couple in a darkened alley, and she appeared to be in some distress. The male half was performing the Heimlich Maneuver. Fearing she was choking and in need of aid, I veered their way to offer assistance, or at least call the authorities, when I quickly figured she wasn’t choking, and that wasn’t the Heimlich he was performing. I rode on.
Just last week, I was riding home and was surprised to see a man walking his dog while wearing a white “Tron” outfit (the man, not the dog). For those without my middle-aged geek pedigree, the actors in the original “Tron” movie wore skin-tight body suits that appeared to be etched with electronic circuitry. Turns out the guy was simply — but equally creepily — wearing a skin-tight, white track suit.
But by far the spookiest sight came a few years ago, when I rounded a corner across from an elementary school later than usual — I seem to recall it was in the dead quiet of 3 or so in the morning, after an unusually late night at work.
I noticed something in the yard of a house to my left and turned to look. To my surprise, I saw a person standing at the curb, looking right at me. I peered and was even more unnerved to see it was a young girl, dressed all in white, with a white sun hat and basket of flowers. In the middle of winter.
Naturally, in the dozen or so seconds it took my pea brain to decipher the scene, I concluded no parent would let such a young, inappropriately dressed girl pick flowers in the middle of a winter’s night all alone. Remembering my proximity to the school, my overworked brain concluded I must have been looking at the ghost of a girl run over and killed at that very spot.
I’m not a big supernatural guy, but in the dead of night, it’s surprising what thoughts take hold. I beat a hasty retreat.
The next day, I returned to the scene and was surprised to see the ghostly apparition was gone, replaced by a simple white, rock signpost.
I laughed as I rode away and gave thanks that though my childhood fear of the dark still might linger, at least the potty training seems to have a solid foundation.
Spend enough time entrusting your life to a couple of thin strips of rubber and latex, and you’re bound to keep your eyes peeled for pricks.
Normally, the greatest threat to my bike tires is glass, and in certain parts of the city on certain days, there’s plenty to dodge, hop and, occasionally, roll through with fingers crossed. It doesn’t take long to learn what kinds of glass pose the biggest threats.
Potholes can eat tires, too, and occasionally a thorn or stick can cause a dreaded puncture.
But lately — and, again, I’m at kind of a loss to explain it — I’ve noticed our fair city streets are positively strewn with … fasteners. Our roads are screwy with screws, assailed by nails.
Maybe it’s building season.
Just the other day, during routine rides to school with my son and, later, to work and back, I counted a dozen rubber-threatening fasteners directly in my path: a bunch of ordinary nails, a couple of galvanized roofing nails, a massive lag bolt and a wicked-looking three-inch wood screw.
Awhile back, I even noticed a run of nail-gun ammo. I’m sure they fell out of the back of a pickup or bounced out of a trailer, but I found it odd to happen upon clips of nail-gun nails in distinctly different parts of the city about the same time: Old West Lawrence, the west side, downtown and by the hospital.
Must have been the work of a serial nailer.
While there are many threats to rubber’s integrity — I once rolled, unscathed, through a scattered box of razor blades — I consider fasteners the most dangerous. Many tend to blend into the road, and they lie in wait.
Rolling over one tends to make it stand at attention, and — pffffffftttttt, hisssssssss — it’s time to repair a tube.
I stop when I can to clear the road, but it’s sometimes not practical.
So I roll on, ever vigilant, always on the lookout for my next screw.
“I saw you ride up on your bike.”
It wasn’t so much the words uttered by the receptionist at the endodentist as the tone that rubbed me the wrong way.
There was a sneer to my ear. It sounded a bit like that cute-but-bratty girl I sat next to in ninth-grade science, accusing me of sneaking a peak at her exam. (I swear, I didn’t look; if I were going to cheat, it would have been off the egghead on my other side. Generally, it’s better to cheat off the dude with the pocket protector.)
Anyway, there was something about the receptionist’s tone that grated.
I’ll admit I wasn’t in the best frame of mind.
At the ripe young age of (hrumph, mumble, mumble), I was slated for my first — and, hopefully, last — root canal therapy, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. In the overall scheme of surgeries and procedures, a root canal is nothing, but it still loomed as the most invasive procedure yet on my relatively (knock on wood) undefiled person.
So maybe I was a little out of sorts, and we already had gotten off on the wrong foot when she explained the office’s prepay policy during my previous visit. After the bike comment, she went on to ask me not only to pay for my procedure before the bill even was submitted to insurance, but, what the heck, why not go ahead and pay now before even putting behind to chair?
In my mind, that is kind of like paying for a meal before even ordering, but whatevs.
Anyway, at first I thought she just didn’t care much for cyclists.
But then I started to wonder if maybe I was about to be put through the wringer and would emerge in such abject agony there would be no way I possibly could keep myself upright on a bike.
I thought back to last time there was any work of consequence in my piehole. As a teen, I had to have four teeth removed to accommodate orthodontia.
Back then, I was treated to nitrous oxide — laughing gas — and it was a hoot. After the procedure, I was told I should head to a room across the hall to let the gas pass. As I was being led away, I assured my escort I was fine and didn’t need any help, thankyouverymuch … and promptly walked nose-first into the wall. Ouch.
I didn’t expect any gas this time, but I was afraid I’d be so delirious with pain — the whole deal was preceded by a toothache that drove me out of my mind, and that was before it was exacerbated by a bout of the stomach flu that made me absolutely miserable — I started to second-guess my decision to ride there.
As it turned out, the root canal was cake, and I rode home without so much as a wobble.
The last time I tried to combine dental work with a ride, I had a routine filling and, since the day was young and the weather beautiful, I decided to go for a nice, long ride in the country.
With my chops still numb, I pedaled out in the country. I made it to Baldwin and stopped for a snack and drink, looked down and was surprised to see my jersey was soaked. Same for my neck and chin. Unbeknownst to me, I had been drooling for miles.
I learned my lesson.
So after my root canal, instead of going for a long ride, I decided to take a nap instead.
I like spiders. I really do.
I marvel at their webs, refuse to free squirming food from their sticky homes and scoop ’em up and deposit ’em outside rather than splattering them with a shoe when they creep out family members by creeping across the floor or wall or ceiling in our home.
If a hairy, fist-sized beastie crawled out of the bananas on my kitchen counter, I might not be so understanding, but, yeah, I can live with spiders.
But I can’t help but wonder just why, lately, I seem to be besieged by them — or at least their webs — on my after-dark bike rides to and from work. I’ve been webbed on the bike before.
The first one down a mountain-bike trail in the morning is bound to be mummified, and I recall relatively early-morning rides along the Clinton and Perry Lake dams where I’ve reached the end of the dam road on my road bike and found the handlebars covered with sticky strands.
But I’m mystified by the recent spate of webs I’ve run into, literally, lately on my evening rides on city streets.
Just about every day over the past two weeks, I’ve felt the familiar tickle at some point of a web on my face or arm or, in one memorable instance, in my mouth. Yum.
As my wife likes to say when, during an early-morning walk or run through the neighborhood, we encounter a web left over from the night before, the problem isn’t the web itself, but the fear that “somebody might be home” in that web that’s plastering your nose flat and crinkling across your ears.
It’s a rather disconcerting feeling to be riding along with a couple of cars to your left and a curb to the right and then feel the unmistakable sensation of first a web stuck to your face, followed by a tickling along, say, your neck. It doesn’t take much to picture an arachnid leisurely eight-legged-strolling along your vulnerable carotid artery, sizing you up with its creepy, multi-faceted eyes as it selects the perfect place to sink its poison-dripping fangs.
Of course, most often nobody is home, thank goodness, but just the other night I rode through a web about a mile from work. I brushed it off as best I could as I rolled along and didn’t think much about it until I arrived in the office.
Riding up the elevator, I bent over to look at something on my bike and felt a tickle on my forehead. I swiped at the sensation and was surprised to find a hitchhiker — a small spider, about the size of the end of my pinkie.
There’s no telling, of course, if it’s the one that constructed the web through which I rode, but I’m betting it is.
I watched it crawl around on my hand a bit before I rode back downstairs and let it go outside.
Maybe he’ll go tell all his bigger friends not to bite the nice guy on the bike.
As a middle-aged, middle-class, white male of average height and weight, I’m fortunate to be among the least discriminated-against people in the history of, well, people.
In fact, as a member of a group that’s far more likely to discriminate overtly than be overtly discriminated against, I don’t even like to use the D-word.
So I hesitate even to bring it up when I say I felt a little discriminated against the other day — because of my preferred mode of transportation.
Yep, I was the object (you’ll notice I didn’t say victim) of bike discrimination. In truth, I’m discriminated against on my bike regularly. Every time somebody goes out of turn at a four-way stop sign just because I’m on a bike or tries to put me into a curb or takes one look at my perpetual helmet hair and goofy bike-inspired get-ups and assumes that because I’m a grown adult on a bike, I must have done something wrong to get my drivers license revoked, they’re passing judgment on me based on my preference for two-wheeled transport over four.
Whoop-de-doo. Judge away.
Last week, however, I was told I couldn’t do something I wanted the way I wanted simply because I prefer pedaling over driving.
Here’s the story:
Awhile back, I saw a notice that Meals on Wheels was looking for volunteers to deliver meals to needy seniors. Had it specifically mentioned “drivers,” I might not have considered it.
But I read “volunteers,” and immediately the puny, runt-of-the-litter hamsters in my little noggin dutifully mounted up the creaky, rusty wheel in my head and barely made enough revolutions to squeak out a thought.
Maybe, I hamster-wheel-thought, I could do a route on my bike.
I googled “Meals on Wheels by bike” and was encouraged to see two bike-friendly communities — Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore. — had Meals on Two Wheels programs, whereby volunteers did, in fact, deliver meals by bike. I picked up a couple of tips and figured I’d find a trailer capable of hauling a couple of coolers and be good to go.
I called the local group, explained I wanted to volunteer and requested a route that would make it easier by bike. I was told no problem.
But a couple of days later, I received a message stating I’d be welcome as a volunteer, but that I’d have to cover my route by car.
Honestly, I didn’t see it coming.
I figured if they were so in need of volunteers, they’d be glad to have me and never once thought my bike preference would be a factor.
After a few days, I called back to learn why and was told there were “many reasons” I couldn’t deliver by bike. It would take too long, I was told, and there was no way I could manage a route of a minimum of five stops with two trays of food at each stop.
“That would be 10 trays,” I was told. “You couldn’t put 10 trays in your bike.”
I wanted to explain with the proper route, I could make the rounds almost as fast on a bike as a car and that I’m sure I could find a trailer big enough to carry the coolers big enough to contain the trays and that at least two cities already had Meals on Two Wheels programs established.
But I didn’t.
I said I’d think about it and let her know in a few days.
The only other time in my life I recall being so blatantly denied because of my transportation came when I was young.
I must have been in late elementary school, after I was given a bit of free rein but before I and my peers decided cycling wasn’t cool. (In retrospect, if I had kept cycling into my junior high years, I likely wouldn’t have become so fat and could have covered a lot more ground with much less embarrassment than came from relying on rides in the family sedan, but peer pressure’s something else, man).
Anyway, I rode my bike to my parents’ bank, proudly pedaled up to the drive-up window, deposited several coin rolls in the carrier and waited to be rewarded with crisp bills. Fully expecting the bank to balk, I was ready to declare that, yes, I did, in fact, have an account there.
But the tinny voice that came over the loudspeaker didn’t question my membership. Instead, after the coins thudded to a halt in the chute, the voice informed me I’d have to come inside to the lobby.
Bikes aren’t permitted in the drive-up. Insurance reasons.
Again, I didn’t see it coming.
A couple of decades have passed, and I’m not sure the bank’s insurance cared about bikes in the drive-through. Had I been an adult, I probably wouldn’t have been turned away.
I suppose I could have complained or pressed the issue, but I didn’t. Instead, I parked my bike in the bushes and went inside, where a friendly teller gladly exchanged my coins for bills.
Same deal with Meals on Wheels, I guess. I have to decide if I’m willing to compromise my transportation preference to do something I know will benefit others, or if I’ll look to find some other way to volunteer that won’t force me behind the wheel.