Thursday, January 26, 2006

At Last, a UFO Sighting of My Very Own

Like most spaceships, it was round and flat, it had landed in a seemingly random spot, and it was blinking. The size was what threw me off. Sure, I knew they could be small sometimes, but not this small. Good Night, not the size of a kiwi fruit!

I approached it cautiously on foot, crouching down gradually, trying to decipher in the dark through the glare of the blinking whether the hatch was open, its occupants spilling out onto the sidewalk. But no visible sign of organic life met my straining eyes. Should I call out? Make a friendly gesture? ( always risky, cross-culturally)

But wait! Could those be WORDS on its surface? Headlight beams from passing cars streamed by too quickly to help me see if the markings might be construed as some kind of alphabet. Not daring to take my eyes away from the diminutive craft lest it disappear and reduce me to a hallucinating lunatic, I leapt over to my bike abandoned hastily ten feet away where I’d screeched to halt, and in one deft motion slid my Planet Bike headlight out of its bracket.

But here, at the risk of wrecking the flow of the story, I must pause for attributions. Please, a round of applause for my trusty Planet Bike brand headlight, which when I got it a few months ago, carried me to a whole new level (a higher one) of the cycling experience. Especially the cycling-in-the-dark experience. Up till then I was using a generator light which, though it had the ingratiating feature of not consuming batteries, had also the annoying feature of extinguishing itself the minute my power-generating wheels stopped turning, with the perilous result that my entire person would vanish whenever I rolled to a stop. Besides, it didn’t light up my way very well. This new light could illuminate a street sign or stop sign from a full block away. No detail, far or near, ever escaped its merciless beam.

And so, when I stooped down and shone it directly onto the top of the space ship, I knew I could believe my eyes when I saw the words written there that shocked and thrilled and disappointed me. Disappointed me because clearly it was not a space ship after all; thrilled me because I now had in my possession a brand new rear bike light; and shocked me because of the two unlikely coinkidinks of the situation.

Number one: This, my friends, was the exact intersection, the very same, where I was crunched by an unruly driver just months before (see October 5th archive for: Rain Soup and Bike Sandwich), after which a passing street person approached me as I was picking myself up and handed me my still blinking helmet light!

And number two: The words written on the top of the spaceship were none other than: Planet Bike!

And to that I can only say: Woooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Biking While Podding

For a few minutes today I joined the nation of podpeople. You know who you are – can’t go anywhere or do anything without electronic devices feeding into your ears.

Someone gave Lindi an iPod as a gift. After loading some music onto it, she handed it to me this morning and said, “Here, try it out.” My eyes lit up and I said, “I’ll try it on my bike!” Her worried look answered, “Not.”

Compromise. Music on the side streets, turn it off when I get to Broadway. So I’m pedaling through the blocks with the mellifluous sound of Cesaria Evora in my ears and I’m dancing in a café in Brazil – although I realize Cesaria is not from Brazil, she’s from Portugal, but anyway – I’m dancing around in a club in Brazil. I’ve never actually been to Brazil, but I almost don’t want to go because I have these images of it in my mind that are probably not at all accurate and going there might ruin them. I don’t speak the language either, and though I love the sound of it more than any other language in the world, I don’t think I should learn it. It sounds like the people are all making the most sensuous comments, and if I learned the language I would then find out they’re saying things like, “Where’s my sweater?” or “Who left this moldy sandwich in the fridge?” and that would be disappointing.

I'm sure that’s not what Cesaria Evora's songs are about, though, and I’m dancing with Lindi in this club or out on some tropical patio surrounded by palm trees. And on a wall of the cafe, this soundless movie is playing, and I’m wondering why they’ve chosen to project film footage of denuded winter trees lining the cold shiny streets of a northwestern American city in this tropical haven where Cesaria evora in singing.

And even though I’m immersed in the ambience of the music, I’m also feeling strangely deaf – because I can’t hear any of the right sounds that should go with the scene, like birds, far off traffic, breezes, and the occasional clicks and grinds of my bike that needs a tune-up. Besides deafness, I can’t focus on my tactile sensations either because the nature of the music has nothing to do with mist or fog, or cold air, or wet bark smells. So in the end I feel mostly deprived, because besides coming back to the reality of not actually being in Brazil, I realize I haven’t been here either.

At Broadway I pull the little phono-corks out of my ears and drink in the sounds of cars and the sounds are so right. An enormous truck trundles by, way too close to the white line of the bike lane, and just when I think the danger is over, fools me by dragging behind it a silent trailer of equal size dangling on the end of a twenty-foot pole. Two fire trucks scream past. Sun breaks through the mist for its first visit in thirty days, and the cool wind drenches me in the organic smell of hops from the breweries across the river.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

In the Pitch of Deluge

About halfway across the Broadway Bridge tonight on my way home under sheets of rain, a tall helmet-less woman rode up along side me. “Isn’t it just the night for riding?” she asked, smiling widely.
“Yes,” I said. “Those people in cars think they are the happy ones.”
She rode beside me for the duration of the bridge, but veered off on another subject. “I feel like I should warn people if I’m going to pass them,” she mused aloud.
“Me too,” I answered heartily, as she had tapped into the vein of one of my favorite gripes. “I think people should ding a little bell as they pass, so that you don’t swerve to the left at the wrong moment.”
“That’s a good idea,” she agreed. "I should get a little bell.”
“I was going to get one,” I told her, “but then I realized I never pass anybody. I need to get everyone else a little bell.”
She threw back her head and laughed like a whinnying horse and rode off ahead of me into the raging sea.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Turning Point

I am no longer the whining, sniveling, personification of dampness I once was --- that I have been since I began this biking project. Last Saturday, after countless months of misery, I bought rain gear.

For my helmet: a rain dome -- a sort of rubberized cover made for specifically for this helmet, that snaps on snugly, leaving room for the rear light bracket so blinkie can keep doing its job. What ecstacy! I had no idea how gravely I was being affected by the continual invasion of cold, oversized rain globules bulleting into the air holes above my head. And the cover breathes! so that am spared the serious overheating problem caused by any hat I’ve ever tried to wear under my helmet.

Also for my helmet: Ear covers. Sound like the fashion faux-pax of the century? Not to worry. You won’t even know they’re there, the way they’re fitted right in between the helmet straps. Expensive little numbers, but worth it. Finally an alternative to cramming a fleece headband under my helmet, which, even without covering the top of my head, was too darn hot! Ear protection is essential, since even the most temperate of breezes whizzing past my head is enough to bring back the dreaded ear-aches of my youth.

For my hands: Gloves at last! Away with my clumsy and unwarm sale-table gardening gloves! These gloves are made for biking -- biking in winter, which means that they have full fingers. Though they are not super-warm for the first few blocks, the good news is that they don’t get too hot, forcing me to pull them off suddenly in a feverish panic in the middle of traffic nad throw them at oncoming cars. Not only that, the material on the palms has such good traction that that I can relax my usual white-knuckle grip on the handlebar shifters.

For my legs: The rain pants I’ve had for several months and they are the reason I’ve made it this far into the winter, as compared to my November quitting time of last year. They are completely breathable (do not inhale in their vicinity!) and at the same time completely waterproof. Neither the moisture from the sky nor the rain from my own body can stop me now. Incredible, and indispensable. Brand: REI. Cost: about $70.

The net result of all this protection is that I now feel ensconced inside an impenetrable cocoon as I flail through the tidal-wave combination of water and traffic --except for my feet. I still haven’t solved the shoe problem. Will post on that later, as I explore solutions.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Rackless Endangerment

I’m back in Portland, and no, there is no glimmering new bike rack installed outside my hideout, waiting to hold and protect my bicycle. (see "Municipal Intervention" below.)

Everything is exactly the same as when I left. I knew that was too easy.