Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bike Light Parade Tonight

I post through squinty, strained eyes while I wait for a tiny, one-of-a-kind repair shop to fix my glasses. Not till tomorrow will I be able to resume my normal level of functionality in anything where print is involved. Meanwhile I will be limiting my activities to things involving large physical movements, such as preparing for yet another leaf day (tomorrow), and participating in the following bike event this afternoon.

Here is a message I received from City Commissioner Sam Adams, who is an ardent advocate of biking. I plan to attend. Hope to see some of you there at 5:00. Do say hello. (Look for someone in a yellow biking jacket covered with rain gear. Ha ha.) I’ll report back about it tomorrow in case you can’t make it.

See & Be Seen Bike Light Parade
Kick Off Portland Transportation's See and Be Seen Ad Campaign
Don't sit at home in the dark.
Light up your bike!& come on down to the
Community Cycling Center
NE 17th & Alberta
Last Thursday, Nov. 30th.
Join me and my bike at 5:00 p.m.
Be one of the Best and the Brightest - prizes awarded for:
Mr./ Ms. Safety
Best Artistic Expression in an Illuminative Context
Hey! Point that thing somewhere else, you're blinding me!

This is the kickoff event for See & Be Seen, Portland Transportation's new safety campaign to encourage drivers to see bikes and cyclists to get lit. We will unveil the new bus, bench and bus stop ads that begin in December sponsored by our partners at TriMet, Community Cycling Center, PGE and other supporters.
The press are invited so BE SEEN in your finest and shiniest. SEE you there!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Record-breaking cold snap: Oregon trees don fur coats as ready-made snowmen fall from sky

Yesterday, Tuesday morning, was the official start of winter here. Not according to the TV, radio, or any kind of almanac, but according to a certain hedgehog who shall remain nameless, and who, after first popping out of her hole, ran right back into it to regroup. (That other hedgehog story you hear, the one in February, is for the ending of winter. This one’s for the beginning.)

After collecting my nerve (and another layer of clothing) I did in fact depart from the burrow, and I did so on my bike. Just to give you an indication of how cold it was, here's a couple of pictures of the typical curbside view on my way across town. [ok, one picture -- will insert second one when Blogger deigns to accept it.]

OK, I know you Canadians are bursting at the seams right now with peals of ridicule. The reason I know that is (1) I can hear you, and (2) it so happens that I lived in Ottawa for three years as an innocent child who was kidnapped and taken there from nice warm Venezuela by my own parents. So I know how you guys are about the cold. I know that routine of yours, the way you act as if it weren’t even happening. And how you laugh mercilessly at anyone with the good fortune to live south of that latitude, where a few snowflakes will send whole civilizations into a flurry of school closures.

And I’m not counting Minnesota and those other States as being south of Canada. The borderline was mis-drawn. It should have been drawn below all the frozen states and everything above that categorized as Canada, which is the Latin word for refrigeration.

As a prelude to what was to come on Tuesday, Monday afternoon we were pelted from the heavens with large white globules. Here’s a picture of them. And just to give you a sense of scale, that green plant life you see sticking up between them? Those are trees.
And if you’re still not convinced of just how cold it is here, and of just how heroic I’m being to continue riding my bike in this weather, here’s a side view of some of our larger trees, who have been forced to grow furry coats to protect themselves from the frigid conditions.
So there.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Area cyclist undaunted by cold

The truth is, I’ve been driving my car for three days. Eeek. Ok well not for three days without stopping. Let me rephrase that: I have not wridden my bike (or ritten about it much) for three successive days. I have driven my car on two of those. For about 10 miles each. But before you jump on your hairy horse about it, just wait a cotton-pickin minute. Obviously, I have a good excuse – as you might presume if you are a regular reader.

I felt a cold coming on. This started Saturday morning when I woke up with a sore throat. So instead of biking, I drove to my hideout, which is across town from my house -- a gnarly nook in a basement in between a furnace room and a laundromat (if you must know). Anyway, it’s toasty there. No danger of a single cold air molecule approaching me, so why not go work on writing projects?

Sunday on the other hand I didn’t even budge that far. Cancelled everything, stayed home by the fire reading a book. That is the cure, in my experience: Don’t move, drink like crazy (yes, I’m afraid the choice of beverage does matter, don’t be ridiculous), read a good book, stay warm, eat good stuff. Feed a cold, starve a fever, the saying goes. So I did all those things, and the cold ran away.

Alternatively, I could’ve taken the tough guy route, which is to ignore the cold, pretend it’s not there until it clobbers you so hard you’re felled into the nearest bed, where you lie miserably for days without even the energy to read. Instead I had a fabulous excuse for three day of bliss without the suffering.

Today, after only three days of car-mindedness, switching back to biking was tough. Bundling into the nice warm little rolling cocoon seemed infinitely more appealing than climbing onto a few welded-together sticks and casting myself into the elements. I did it, though. But this is exactly why the biking thing only works if you make the full commitment. If you think you’re going to make this decision one day at a time, the decision is going to be NO except in the best of weather.

More thoughts about weather tomorrow – and I know that’ll be majorly exciting to my Midwestern readers, for whom weather is THE never-ending topic.
Hint: We’ve had snow. And I have one those micro-lenses on my camera.
(Canadians, prepare to laugh.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Bicycling in the Post Office: Pros and Cons

Back to the post office story, as promised last Tuesday.

That particular post office, the downtown central one where I’ve kept a PO Box for at least a dozen years, is huge. The hallway in there must be a hundred feet long, with the stamp counters all down at one end. The rest of it consists of banks of PO boxes and the big roll-up window where box holders can go to pick up a package or pay their box bill.

If you enter from the end opposite the stamp counters, there are hardly any people to run over, so that’s not really a risk. And the hall is very wide, so if there are people, it’s easy to avoid them. It’s all wheelchair accessible with no steps, and the two sets of double doors at each of the entrances are automatic. If you time the speed of your approach just right, the doors will open and you can glide right in without having to either touch down with your feet or crash into the doors.

Even though there’s always plenty of room to ride on in, I actually only do this after stamp-selling hours because I don’t like to frighten the pedestrian crowd. Seeing a bike ride past them indoors seems to alarm people – or at least make them look alarmed, even though I come nowhere near colliding with them. I don’t like to scare people. It raises the collective stress level of humanity, and who needs that in this world? So usually I just walk my bike in, grab my mail, then walk it back out.

Despite the fact that the building is unattractive – a big nothing, built by someone with no aesthetic sense whatsoever – the thing I like about this post office is that it’s open 24-7. So that means that if you’re downtown in the middle of the night because you just went out somewhere, you can always stop by and check your box. Or at any other time outside business hours when there’s absolutely no traffic of any kind.

And it’s lit up like the Rapture (which I wish would hurry up and come so that certain really annoying people would leave the planet as promised) so you don’t have to worry about anyone lurking in the shadows. It’s even fully heated, and I’m not sure why it’s not a magnet for Portland’s throngs of homeless people during the bad weather – but the fact is that in all the years I’ve kept a box there, only once have I had to step over a reclining body.

Anyway, to get to the long awaited point of this story, once when I was walking my bike out of there, this Post Office worker approaches me and says, “You’re gonna have to pick that up and carry that, Ma’m.”
Carry what? I asked.
“The bike, Ma’m.”
Excuse me?
“You have to carry your bike in here.”
You are kidding, aren’t you? I thought the reason we invented the wheel was so that we wouldn’t have to carry our bicycles.
“Says right on the door, Ma’m. We make the skateboarders carry their skateboards and the rollerskaters carry their skates, so it’s only fair to make the bicyclists carry their bikes.”

Oh stop, I thought, as I went along my merry way.

And it didn’t either “say so on the door, Ma’m.” I looked.

The above took place a couple of years ago. After thinking it over, I began to doubt that the man was an actual Post Office employee at all, and elected to continue my same behavior. I never saw him again. But recently there was another man on a step ladder repairing the doors as I walked my bike in. He said I had to leave my bike outside. “Really?” I whined. “I’m only popping in for a second to check my box. And if I leave it out here, I’ll have take this off, and this off, and this off, and this off, and this off, and this off – and carry them all with me because if I don’t someone will steal them.”

He rolled his eyes heavenward and made a resigned “go ahead” motion with his arm.

Then, just the other day when I was in the act of checking my box, another rider came and checked her box, which was right near mine. We got to chatting about the convenience of riding in to check our boxes, and she said, “Once when I was in here some Post Office guy told me I had to carry my bike. So I started carrying my bike. But later another Post Office guy saw me and looked at me like I was nuts and said, “Good Grief, you don’t have to carry your bike!”

The main theme, boys and girls of the Post Office and Elsewhere, is this: If we of the ever-warming planet want bike riding to happen, we can’t be harassing bike riders with 101 petty, arbitrary and made-up rules that make it really inconvenient. Bike riding is already inconvenient in a ton of ways, and under the circumstances we should be grateful that anybody at all is doing it. Don’t make it harder. Make it easier.

Friday, November 24, 2006

A sad thing and a happy thing on the same ride

Today an irresistible call pulled me to ride from NE to SE Portland, a route I've only ridden once before. (I’m usually riding from NE to NW, crossing the river.) My mission, should I choose to accept it, was to (1) work off some of yesterday’s Thanksgiving dinner, and (2) get more of yesterday’s Thanksgiving dinner. It only took forty minutes to get to my parents’ house. Last year I foolishly waited till Saturday to go over, by which time the other locusts had already descended and made off with all the leftovers – which to me are almost better than the actual dinner.

On the way there I saw a sad thing, on the way back a happy thing.

First the sad thing: Another ghost bike – on 42nd on Belmont. It was right on the bike route that’s marked on the bike maps as having very little car traffic. I don’t know the story, but it‘s discouraging to see that even in an area that appears to be safe, this can happen. This was right on the bike route that is shown on bike maps to have very little car traffic. If anyone knows anything about the circumstances of this accident, please post in the comments section.

Now the happy thing: another rickshaw. Only this one is so much more elegant than the one I wrote about last summer, which was fiberglass. This one was wood – no doubt much heavier, but immeasurably more beautiful. Most of the occupants of this amazing vehicle were scattered in the field in what looked like an extended-family soccer match.
Only this one kid that you see in the picture was there with it. She didn’t know the story behind it -- I think she said she and her family were visiting from out of town -- but obviously loved watching the game from this cozy nest.
I wish I could’ve talked to those people. Look at this thing! It looks like it even has wooden drawers that pull out of the back of it. I left them a note, and I’m hoping they’ll post a comment below with more information. And also, if they ever want to sell it, they should call me. I’m in the phone book. I would trade my car for this thing, right now.

PS: Any message posted to my blog gets emailed directly to me automatically.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Apparently the holiday has commenced...

I was going to tell you the rest of the post office story this morning, but I just checked my site meter and I’ve gotten exactly three hits today. Three. So I’m thinking, hmm, maybe I’ll wait till y’all come back, otherwise you might miss it.

I know where you all are and I know what you’re doing – because I was just at the grocery store myself at 8:00 AM and I saw you there. Every single one of you. At least the Portland ones. As for the rest of you, no doubt you’re doing the same thing in your town. Getting ready for Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday in the whole wide world.

I have a ton of readers. About a third of them are from here. I may not know who you are, but I know you’re in Oregon because my sitemeter tells me. Another third are from other states, and about a quarter are from other countries. Especially Holland, for some reason. And speaking of Holland? As you've already heard, they majorly know how to do the bike thing. And it turns out, so does Denmark, which I didn’t know. At least Copenhagen.

For a special holiday treat, you can watch this little video of biking in Holland and Denmark and a couple of other places. It’s about 14 minutes long. You’ll see that compared to them, Portland has a long way to go. Way long. Makes you realize we’re absolutely NUTS to try to combine biking with cars as much as we do.

Click here and then click on the video called Cycle Friendly.
Warning: you will want to move to Amsterdam.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving! Don't know if I'll pop in during the next four days or not. I'm leaving it open.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bicycling in the Post Office: The Whys and the Wherefores

The funnest way into the central post office downtown is to sail in on your bike, made possible by the fact that there are no steps into the building. I used to do this, but like many fun things in life, someone comes along and ruins it the minute they figure out you’re having more fun than they are.

I don’t have enough time today to explain all about the big party poop. And I’m fully aware that some of you might be secretly agreeing with him that bicycling in the post office does not sound like a good idea. But you might feel differently if you knew the complete circumstances. Tomorrow I’ll go into the Pros and Cons of the whole issue. Then you’ll be able to arrive at your own conclusions about who is right, me or them.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Area cyclist shuns all but the most selective car use

This morning I drove my car. I’m sorry. I simply could not think of a way to execute this particular errand without it. I needed to get my mechanic to figure out what was wrong with it, and despite my environmental protestations he insisted that I bring the car with me when I came in.

As you might guess, I’m already acutely aware of the main problem with my car, which is that it is a car. I needed my mechanic to take it to a deeper level and consider the fact that the car is prone to complete engine cessation in the middle of tooling down a street. I can’t have that. When you’re driving a car there are usually other cars behind you whose drivers build up huge expectations about how your car is going to behave. You do something the slightest bit different and they bend you all out of shape about it.

Unlike certain lower life forms whose businesses I won’t mention, my mechanic did not charge me to tell me he had no idea why my car does that. I can go in for further testing when I’m able to leave the car for longer -- for which he probably won’t charge me either, he’s such an incredibly good guy. But will I do that? I don’t know. I’m thinking it could be a problem of a more metaphysical nature: The car, sensing my displeasure about consuming our most rapidly disappearing resource and polluting the environment, may simply be reflecting my own convictions back at me. Reminds me of those whales who beach themselves en masse as a way of screaming at us to quit polluting our home -- after which teams of scientists begin wracking their brains trying to determine the motive.

(What’s the big mystery? Can we just roll with the obvious? But no, instead millions of dollars are spent on research to show what is already crystal clear. Makes you wonder who’s spending that money on something that the rest of us can figure out in two seconds. Are they hoping the scientists will come up with a different reason? such as Not To Worry: Whales Not Mad at Us; Mass suicides among sea life found to be caused by Jonestown mentality seeping into oceans. Fish & wildlife counselors to be lowered into the sea…..)

I drove the car back home, stopping by the carwash to throw away yet another five dollars to wash this three-ton leaf-magnet I keep parked in front of my house.

Friday, November 17, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth: the movie

Lindi and I just saw it last weekend. Of course I already knew that stuff, or thought I did – but I am newly, and permanently, horrified. And let me assure you that I am not one to be influenced by hyperbolic or sensationalist messages. The content is delivered with such elegant intelligence that you can’t doubt it. You witness the information and you draw your conclusions. No manipulative scare tactics were used to make this film – because none were needed. Just the facts, Ma’m.

I came away from the film feeling equal parts doom and hope; equal parts fear and encouragement; equal parts overwhelmed and motivated. Those are good combinations.

Up to now, sure, I’ve been doing my bike thing. But I’ve been feeling like an ant in a world of anteaters. But now? After seeing that movie? Instead of feeling hopeless, or like Oh what’s the use? little old me insisting on riding my bike while oversized cars continue to be churned out of the factories and bought up by consumers, now I feel like every single time I ride my bike instead of firing up my car is really important.

Don’t relax about this issue. Don’t wait until you acquire the experience, education, and money to enter politics or write a book. Don’t think this is about “something bad will happen in fifty years if the Big People don’t do something.” We’re there now. It’s already an emergency. And the Big People is Us.

OK, quick status check: feel your muscles right now. Do they feel like Jell-O? Bad. If you are capable of feeling relaxed in the face of this topic, if you feel all mañana about it, you clearly haven’t seen this riveting documentary. That would be your first step toward crossing over from being an enemy of the planet to literally saving the world. You’ll never be the same.

And don’t worry, you don’t necessarily have to start riding a bike. Nor would it be enough if you did ride a bike. There are hundreds of choices you can make differently every day that matter. Not only does this matter, this is all that matters. I love this planet. Love. This is where we live, and I for one am not going to poop in my own living room, or allow others to poop in it.

Here’s the website, but if you want to hook up to a permanent IV-drip of motivational fuel, see the movie.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

This time Tri-met gets a big fat F

Last night I went out to the bus stop at 6:00 to catch the 6:06 number 77 bus. I stood in a punishing monsoon for a full half hour until finally one came at 6:30. I installed my bike on the front, and boarded. The driver radiated crabbiness – a don’t-even-ask-me sort of demeanor. But this is my great experiment and I needed to know. I groped for the most diplomatic question construction I could find, bypassing Where the heck have you been, I’m drenched to the bone! for the more polite inquiry, “Are the buses running late tonight?”

He grumbled something about one of the buses “done brook down.” I said I’d gotten out there at six, hoping to catch the 6:06. He answered again, a few degrees more irritated. “That was the one before me! That’s the one that done brook down!”

“Oh,” I answered, at a loss for what else to say. “Well…. that’s too bad…” (for me, that is).

Whatever. I don’t require that a bus driver act as if he’s my best friend. (In fact I find such a level of customer service kind of annoying.) If I had to drive a monster like that around, I’d be crabby in the best of weather. They can be as crabby as they want, long as I get what I need, which in this case was a bus to show up reasonably on schedule.

To sum up: Monday the 5:30 bus never appeared, and Wednesday the 6:06 bus never appeared. So far I’m not terribly impressed. (Tuesday was rainless, so I rode my bike. Plan B, if you remember, is to switch to the bus when it’s both dark and raining.)

After we crossed the Steel Bridge, as the bus was pulling away from a stop, a large man outside who’d apparently just barely missed it began beating on the windows to get the driver’s attention. The driver opted to ignore him, even when two passengers (one of them me) called out to him loud and clear that someone was trying to get on. The bus had just barely gotten rolling, but do you think the driver could be bothered to stop for the guy? No way. Off he went. As if to say, Too bad for you, Mr. Shmuckface, you missed the bus! So what if it’s raining so hard out there you could drown standing up?

Inexcusable. Now we’ve gone way past crabby into the Totally Rude zone. This is where I would begin to seriously question whether that guy’s in the right job. Someone who loathes people that much would do better in a job that removes them from interactions with other human beings.

Waiting time? 30 minutes. Bus ride time? 45 minutes. Bike ride time? 10 minutes. Total commute time? One hour and 25 minutes. That’s exactly three times longer than it would have taken me to just ride my bike the whole way. This is not acceptable.

Besides the fact that I arrived absolutely pooped without having done a damn thing, my plan to go to the gym when I got home went right down the storm drain. I’m simply not willing to spend longer than 15 minutes commuting unless I’m also getting my exercise out of the way.

I’m considering a Plan C: Set out at six or seven in the morning, and schedule everything in my day to occur before 3:30 in the afternoon; ride home when it’s still light out.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Tri-met gets an A for Friday, a D for Monday

Last Friday I took the 5:30 bus home, according to Plan B, which is to switch from biking to public transportation in case of the deadly combination of Dark plus Deluge.

It was so easy I felt like I’d been lifted from my hideout and magically transported across town by some kind of giant crane from the Jetsons, and lowered into my warm and cozy home. Fatigue factor? Zero. Weatherbeaten factor? One per cent.

The bus stop is directly across the street from my hideout, and the bus arrived right on time. I stuck my bike onto the bike rack in front. When the bus landed at my home stop -- also on time -- I took down my bike, hopped on it, and rode the last ten blocks or so to my house. Total commute time? 40 minutes.

Monday? Different story – the kind to make you never want to take the bus again in your life. I go out to the bus stop at least four minutes early, maybe more. The bus doesn’t come. I wait twenty five freakin minutes in the pouring rain, and even though I have my rain gear on, I’m miserable – unlike when I’m riding my bike, in which case I’m not miserable because I’m warm from moving, I have something to do, and I’m getting somewhere. And of course you can never relax while waiting for a bus because you’re constantly on the lookout for the bus.

Another would-be passenger waiting there said he had phoned the special number that lets you know exactly where any bus is at any given time (cool – will have to get that number – another reason to have a cellphone). He said that the bus we were waiting for appeared to have been “skipped.” Skipped? What does that mean? Did our bus get lost? Did the driver decide to take the passengers on a spontaneous night field trip to Sauvie's Island? I don’t know. He didn't either.

However, the next one came, at 5:50, and I got on that. For some reason, lifting my bike onto the bike rack that time just about murdered my back. It didn’t seem that bad last Friday. I think I need to work on this at the gym some more. My bike is a tank. When I had difficulty lifting my bike onto the hook on the Max train to Gresham, some really nice person wrote in with exact instructions on the whole trick of it. Maybe that person has a trick for this too, and can post the detailed instructions again.

The bus then proceeded to crawl across town at the pace of a paraplegic snail. Crawl... crawl.... crawl. It was all I could do to keep from leaping off of it, grabbing my bike back, and plunging into the downpour outside. The bus driver blamed the one-lane closing of the Steel Bridge for the traffic back-up throughout downtown. He also said that 5:30 was the worst time – which doesn’t explain why it was so quick on Friday. Anyway, I finally got home. My total commute time, from shop to my garage, including putting on and taking off rain gear? One hour and thirty minutes!

Once home, I plopped down on the couch, exhausted. Was it the wait in the rain? the tiring anticipation? the irritation factor? The inch-along, stop-n-go type traffic, as if I’d driven the bus myself? The combination of all of those?

Groan! I just don’t know if this is going to work for me.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Here’s how the streets looked after the leaf collectors came. They don’t look like that now. Everything’s a mess already, thanks to the storm the other night. In one night we passed from one of the most colorful fall seasons I’ve ever seen in Oregon, to dreary winter. All the colored leaves got blown away and only super-dead brown ones are left.

And here's a storm drain, colored by just a few leaves, a sight we won't see again till spring.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Citizen Intervention Saves City from Inundation

Well, the roof did not blow off last night, nor did anyone else's in the area. On my ride across Portland this morning I saw not one roof off of its house. Nor did I see any felled trees, though the newspaper showed one downtown. We had a rain-free weekend but now we're back to the same rate of deluge as last week.

Friday on my way to my hideout I noticed this woman poking around in a lake with a long stick -- a woman noticeably not dressed as a sewer worker. She was trying to free a storm drain of leaves. As I coasted closer to the intersection she glanced up at me and I recognized her as a good friend -- a friend I think of every day as I ride by her office building in this mostly industrial part of northwest Portland. She did not recognize me back until I spoke. “Whatcha doin, Miss?”

She kept poking and stirring, the lake diminishing around her until suddenly the last of the water disappeared through the grating with a giant slurp. Then she kept on with the stick, removing the leaves from each section of the grate and flicking them away.
Four other non-sewer dressed women walking by watched with amusement, pausing before crossing the street. Thank you for doing that, said one. Yeah, said another. When all the leaves were away from all the holes, my friend ran down the block to stick the stick back in the ground at a small construction area.

We decided to go to lunch right then – instead of playing phone tag for a month and then finally scheduling it and then postponing it three times until finally making it happen. So we did. Yet another example of normal human connections that are allowed to occur if you don’t close yourself off from the world in that little metal cocoon known as the automobile.

While we walked to a nearby lunch spot, she begged me not to post her picture on my blog. Begged. So here she is, as an inspiration to all out there who might prevent the flooding of surrounding buildings just by picking up a stick and poking around for a few minutes. The city work crews can’t be everywhere at once.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Howling Winds

A big storm was predicted to arrive at ten o'clock tonight, and it did, right on the nose. It's now almost eleven and I've just come down from where Lindi and I sleep in the attic because the wind is so howling, I figure it must be ripping up the whole town out there. So I've darted down to the basement to post this brief explanatory note in case we don't have power tomorrow. They predicted that too, and since they got the storm starting-time right, I'm inclined to believe them about the predicted power outages. I hope we do have power though, because I already have a lot to report, and this week hasn't even started yet.

The wind is so loud it's scaring me. It sounds like the roof will blow right off from over us. I'm just glad I have company, that's all I can say.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Thousands of Leaves Leave the Area

The streets were naked. So even though the break in the rain didn’t last ten minutes, the ride was good yesterday. The leaf trucks had come early in the morning, followed by the street sweepers, creating a new shiny jet black slate for the brightly colored leaves to land on.

That’s why I was raking leaves the day before – to beat the leaf trucks. You’re supposed to rake the leaves from your parking strip out into the street so the city can come pick them up. They do it two or three times during the fall and winter to help prevent the drain clogging that happens, which then causes flooding.

I’m not sure if you’re supposed to rake your whole lawn, or just the strip. But since everyone else rakes their whole lawn, I did too. It beats stuffing all your leaves into a dozen leaf bags for the yard debris people to come get later at a dollar a bag. Who has time for all that? It’s good that the city does this – in the long run it saves them money, because when those drains clog up, things get out of control fast. Cars get stalled and basements flood.

The thing I wanted to tell you about raking was that this year I felt like a person twice the size of the me that was raking last year. It felt much easier, and I got it done much faster. I attribute that to the increase in my strength, and I attribute that, as you might guess, to my biking life, to which I can also attribute my motivation for weight lifting at the gym. The two together, of course, are what made me into this superhuman leaf raker I am today.

At around five yesterday, when I got ready to leave the downtown area, it was pitch dark, but the ground was dry as a chip. A damp chip perhaps, but dry nonetheless. Tonight it might be a different story, or should I say the same story as last week at this time: Add heavy rain to pitch darkness and stir in zillions of blinking lights and reflective surfaces. Not good recipe. I may stick my bike on the front of the bus and take the slow way home.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

OK, I'm back......

I still haven’t been out on my bike. All yesterday it stayed dark and rained down in sheets. Am I over-using the “sheets” analogy? I’m sorry. It’s one of the hazards of living in Oregon. Writers love it here, but it’s always a challenge to come up with new ways to describe rain.

Yesterday I cancelled everything – including blogging, you might have noticed -- and stayed home with Lindi (who has a cold) and debriefed the elections all day. Time to get out the Mexican hot chocolate pot and sit in front of the fireplace with the radio, the laptop and the voting materials and see what went our way.

It felt like the whole world was holed up doing the same. I bet nobody who went to work yesterday got a darn thing done. People need to do this, whether the news is good or bad. For us it was a day of cheering and mirth, almost exclusively. Two years ago this day was a wake – a day of grieving, shock, and disbelief. Why it took two additional years for enough people to become convinced of the urgency of the situation, I have no idea. But they get it now, so let’s move forward.

The only thing from yesterday that I can justify putting into this blog is the following: raking leaves. You’re wondering how I can even remotely construe that to be bike-related. Watch me.

At the moment, though, I see a break in the rain. I’m going to take advantage of it to RIDE MY BIKE over to my secret hideout. Not that I mind rain in the light of day, but we haven't had a dry ten minutes in a row for at least a week, so I'm going out to experience it. I’ll finish this up later in the day while I’m there.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Portland: City of 10,000 Lakes

Thurday was the night of my close call with death. Friday I didn’t ride. Saturday I rode during the daylight, but I haven’t ridden since then. The rain keeps getting heavier, coming down in sheets. Now it’s gotten past the ridiculous point, so that even daylight doesn't help.

“NO” votes from friends and loved ones are flying in at a phenomenal rate, even from those who don’t know about Thursday night. “I hope you’re not out riding in this, Kate,” says my mother, who doesn’t read my blog. My mother-in-law, who apparently does read my blog, sent an email from Minnesota containing the word ‘suicide,’ and her recommendation that we
keep both cars.

“I don't want to sound like someone's mother, which I am,” emails a friend, “but trekking around on your bike in this %$#!@##$%^ weather seems incredibly unsafe.”

Besides the rain and low-light conditions impairing visibility, huge lakes have formed at many intersections. And small lakes are everywhere, and even a small lake is big to a bicycle. As happens every year, the rate of falling leaves beats the rate at which the city can get around and unclog the drains. Last night when I drove to my parents’ house there was one lake that I swear was waist deep, over by Westmoreland Golf course. Cars were making u-turns and heading back the other way. When I got there, I saw a VW bug coming on through it. I didn’t stick around for the ending, but last I looked it was up to its door handles and still coming.
Lotsa luck, little buggie, I’m outa here!

I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid. And a lot of drivers are – as are a lot of bicyclists and people in general -- though you don’t have to be a bad driver to make a bubu in this weather. Anyone can do it. My own mother could run over me in this and not even notice.

Consequently I’m turning this into a public transportation blog until the weather behaves.

OK, Trimet, this is a TEST to see if you’ve improved since I last tried this.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Losing Items, 24-7

My irksomely police-looking rain gear didn’t help me out on Saturday, with a cop who did not for one minute mistake me for another cop. Late morning, I rode my bike through the still pouring rain to the central library downtown. When I emerged at around 2, it was still raining, so I sat down on a bench in the foyer to put all my rain clothes back on. Out the door and down the steps I went to my bike parked in front. I settled my bag into the basket, strapped it in with bungie cords, unlocked the bike, put the lock in its place, put on my helmet, set all my lights blinking, and off I go.

Wait. No gloves. Where are my gloves? Darnit, I must’ve left them on that bench. Now I’ll have to UNDO everything I just did just so I can go look for them.

Obviously you can’t leave your bike unlocked for a millisecond, nor can you leave anything on your bike. So even though it would literally take two seconds to dart in and grab the gloves off the bench, I don’t dare. I’m going to have to lock everything back up and unstrap my cargo and my easy-steal headlight and take it all with me as I dart.

Instead, the idea strikes me to simply roll my bike up the wheelchair access ramp, leave it unlocked on the landing at the top of the stairs, and dart in from there. In order to steal my bike, a thief would now have to pick the whole thing up, cargo and all, and carry it down the stairs. This plan would allow me time to get back out of the library with said gloves, as well as provide me an excellent launching pad from which to pounce upon the villain stealing said bike. (And I knew they wouldn’t try the wheel chair access ramp because it’s too zig-zaggy for a quick exit.)

So I get to the middle of the ramp and I pause to squeeze over to the railing and let someone by, and big Officer Clompy-Boots strides toward me on the sidewalk below, bellowing: “Ma’m! You can’t park there Ma’m! That’s the wheelchair access!”

Duh. Number one, I’m not parking, I’m waiting for this person to go by. Number 2, I know it’s the wheelchair access. Do I look like I bought my brain at Wal-Mart, yesterday? But when I begin to explain my plan, he interrupts me. “Nope! You can’t you can’t park there, Ma’m!”

I wasn’t going to park here, you schmoe! I’m trying to get my bike over there so I can run in for two seconds and get my gloves! But do you think I could I get one word in? More bellowing. “Ma’m! You need to get the bike down from there!”

It was like he went to dog training school.
Page 12, paragraph 3: Give the commands using a firm, authoritarian voice.

Clearly there was no reasoning with this man. So I said, “Ok, well then can you watch my bike for a sec so I can run in and grab my gloves?”

“Sure!” he agrees obligingly. Alright! Now I’m speaking his language -- give him something to guard. “I’ll watch it as long as I’m out here finishing this,” he says, raising a cigarette, his fingers in joint-holding position.

Probably made his day. At least for a few minutes he got to do something besides escort old homeless men out of the library for smelling like pee.

So anyway I dash up the stairs to the landing, where lots of people are going in and out of the row of double doors. I dart in to find two men occupying the bench I’d been using. My eyes rake the bench and the area around it. The two men think I’m nuts, of which there are many in the area. I address them in a rather urgent tone. “Have you seen a pair of bike gloves?” which translated meant, “Are you sitting on my gloves?” They simply say no, without getting up and checking under their ample behinds, either of which could easily conceal a pair of bike gloves. I can’t think of a graceful way to ask them to get up and check, so I give up and head back out of the building.

Now I’m going to have to lock everything back up, unpack my load, and carry it around the library as I traipse around retracing my steps through the periodicals section, in and out or the bathroom, up and down both sides of the grand staircase -- which I always use instead of the elevator even though it’s a ton of stairs because it’s so beautiful -- and all around the arts and letters section on the third floor. Resigned to this complicated fate, I return to my bike.

“Hey!” shouts the guard. “Get away from that bike!” Ha ha. I thank him for his astute attention. I proceed through all the tedious steps described, then head back up the stairs, Once inside again, as I’m walking across the expansive entrance area, I take off my helmet. There lie the gloves, squished up into the top of it.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Splattered Again

Did I not tell you that yesterday was the soupiest weather on record? I left the downtown area at around 5 – peak traffic hour, to be avoided from now on. It was raining so hard that anyone not encased in a plastic bag was wetter than a muskrat in two seconds.

I’m wearing my new caution-yellow jacket with the reflective accents, I’ve got four lights on my bike, and I think I’m Miss Safety of the Universe. I’m stopped on Tillamook waiting to cross Vancouver Avenue, a one-way artery going to my right. I notice that the car facing me has its left turn signal on, so I’m thinking I have the right of way. I start to cross, I get to the middle, and the car darts out and turns left. I’m directly in its path. Directly. I’m there, in full headlights, four feet away. Thinking this may be my last moment on the planet, I simultaneously try to speed up and veer right. The driver manages to widen his turn and miss me. Thrown off balance somehow, I land in the gutter at the corner across the street. The driver revs the engine and speeds off.

I collect my bruised bones up out of the leaves and water and walk my bike onto the sidewalk and just stand there in a stupor. A woman from across the street comes over to see if I'm ok. “Did you see that?” I ask her. “No, I just saw you over here picking up your bike,” she answers. I describe the incident to her and she asks if I'm sure I'm ok. I say “Well I think my body’s ok, except that it’s kind of shaking right now, and I don’t know yet how my bike is.” She points to some ground floor lit up windows across the street. “See that office over there? If you need any help or need to fix anything, just go over there. There’s people there who will help you. They have first aid kits and tools. Tell them Allie sent you.” I thank her and she continues on her way.

It sort of renews my faith in humanity when someone stops to check when they see you’ve tumbled. I’ve seen with my own eyes in certain cities where people just keep going no matter what violent or dangerous thing may have happened. I hope Portland doesn’t get all hard like that.

I found that my bike still worked except that the front brake cable had snapped. I rode the rest of the way very slowly so as not to need full braking power. I haven’t looked at my bike in the daylight yet. When I woke up my body told me which parts of it had hit the pavement. I had felt my helmet touch down too, but not very hard. Having slippery clothes on really helps in a fall.

The most upsetting thing was that I thought this driver had been actually trying to kill me in some kind of sick sporting mentality. But this morning while re-enacting the scene with Lindi, we concluded that the driver had been making that classic mistake – look to the right while turning to the left. Then when he saw me, he freaked. Fear turned into rage, and he floored the accelerator.

I don’t excuse the person. Rule: No vehicle should move in any direction in which the eyes of its operator are not pointed. However, it helps a little to know that he was stupid rather than criminally psychotic -- because no amount of safety equipment can protect against that.

On a summer day, I probably would’ve been able to see that he wasn’t even looking in my direction. Lindi and I are in the process of discussing the impossibility of making eye contact with drivers through car windows in the dark and in the rain. Is safety even possible in these conditions? Conclusions to come.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The biking jacket to beat all

In the nick of time, I purchased the perfect rain jacket. One of those yellow & black Burleys. Ninety something dollars. I decided against the $200 jacket I mentioned the other day, and I made the right choice, because this morning I rode through a deluge that would float an ark, and here I sit in my secret hideout, unafflicted with inner perspiratory dampness, and warm as if I'd just popped out of the dryer. The jacket's 100% nylon, but so cleverly designed and vented that you don’t get hot. At least I don’t – though a salesperson at one of the bike shops told me the Burley ran hotter than any other choice. I went against her advice because (1) I don’t sweat that much, compared to other people, and (2) I liked the caution yellow color, but (3), the most important thing, and what really sold me, was the fact that it has two big pockets in the front. No other bike jacket on the market has this.

Every other jacket I’ve seen, if it has pockets in front at all, it’ll be one, or at most two, teeny tiny pockets that you can fit about one key into. And the slit is always going the wrong way, so that you have to reach across yourself with your left hand for the pocket on your right side, and vice versa. Then they’ll have this huge kangaroo pouch all across the back, the most awkward place to reach with either hand. It makes no sense to me.

And now you’re probably wondering why I wanted a bike jacket at all, that I’d be happier with a mountain jacket or something. The answer is, No, there are other features of a bike jacket which I want. For instance you need it to be longer in the back to keep your End dry, and it has to kind of cup around you in back so the wind won’t blow the fabric up in the air as you ride. Also, the sleeves have to be long enough so that as you reach your handlebars they don’t inch their way up your arms exposing you to the elements.

This morning my new jacket passed the ultimate water test, and Tuesday it passed the wind and cold test. It was gelid, with a wind that was trying to prove something. The second you stepped out of the sunshine, you froze – that kind of a day. As I rode in my new Burley to the gym and back, the shady streets felt much different from the sunny streets. But a few adjustments of the long zippered armpit vents brought my body temperature up or down as effectively as a knob on a heater.

When I got to the gym, however, I was horrified as I passed a mirror and almost mistook my own self for a cop. UG! Remember I was worried about the earflaps making me look like a cop? Well if this doesn’t complete the look! It’s exactly the black and yellow color pattern that the Portland bike police wear. I decided right then I would take it back to the store. But by the time I got home again, the warmth of it, the fabulous venting system, and the POCKETS had won me over. I hereby accept myself as looking like the police. Maybe it’ll keep the real police from bugging me if I should commit a "cycling error." Maybe it’ll even make the screaming, lunatic, hair-on-fire kind of cyclists behave better in my presence. This could actually work out nicely.

Next: how I saved the other parts of my body from utter soppingness in this morning's deluge. And possibly, photos of mentioned merchandise .

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

And she loses yet another thing

I can't stand it. Is there some kind of bike riders lost & found in this town? On my way across town this morning I dropped my lunch bag. Total loss: one green (w other colors) padded lunch bag; one tub of hot oatmeal with currants and toasted sunflower seeds; one gray angora neck scarf which was wrapped around the tub of oatmeal. I was so looking forward to eating that, I can't tell you. Imagine my primal scream when I arrived all the way across town starving for breakfast and it wasn't there. There must be a solution to lost items of cyclists. Any suggestions?

Bike Apparel Industry Spawns Personal Germ Farms

I have not been able to obtain the photos of the gloves yet so I will just explain it. As I was looking for a good pair of full-fingered riding gloves, I noticed that instead of the backs being made entirely of some kind of rain resistant or at least wind resistant fabric, most of them had this soft cushy fabric that covered the top of the thumb and the whole web area between the thumb and index finger. Then I noticed that many of the little brag lines on the labels included claims like “extra absorbent.” And of course I thought, Who needs ‘extra absorbent’ anything in Oregon? That’s the last thing you’d want, right? So I’m pointing this out to the sales guy and he says, with a twinge of apology, “It’s for wiping your nose.”


Now maybe I’m unusual, but I’ll go through an entire dinner napkin on a thirty minute commute. Assuming I'd be able to get past the idea of depositing that much body mucous on my hand, I’d be having to wash those gloves at least twice a day. How many people are going to get around to washing out their bike gloves even once a week?