Friday, December 29, 2006

Family's Conversion to Biking Moving Along Slowly

Hey don't give up on me, folks. I'm not getting much writing done these days. Everything's all kooky because of the holidays. My priority is to spend as much time with my family as possible. An ample number of them are visiting those of us that live here in Portland. This doesn't happen that often. The dining room table is sticking out the ends of the dining room. I've been trying to convert them to bicycling, but so far they just think I'm out of my mind. Best I can probably hope for is that they've been drinking a new kind of wine called La Red Bicyclette. It may not sound like much, but I think it's progress.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Cats Leap From Blog to Print Media

If you recall, last August 18th, I blogged a post called Bike Ride Leads to Fascinating Story about Cats and Their People about an encounter with a woman feeding some feral cats on the Springwater Corridor. This led to a communication with the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon, which in turn led to such stimulating conversations with Executive Director Karen Kraus that I pitched a story about it to the Portland Tribune. It just came out in this week’s issue. The Tribune comes out Tuesdays and Fridays, so be sure to pick it up before Friday or it’ll be gone from the stands.

You can see it online here, but only in part. If you think the photo online is to die for, you’ll want to see the others, so pick up your own copy of the paper! Thank you and congratulations to Denise Farwell for the most excellent photos. Just notice how much you can see and participate in when you hover at the pedestrian level of experience. Like many people, I was misinformed about these animals, and I learned so much! I want everyone else to learn it too. You may be surprised.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Diehard Cyclists Visited by Christmas Elf

I don’t usually blog on weekends, but everything’s all screwy because of the holidays, and besides I just had to get this in before Christmas day. On a stop at the post office last Thursday, I locked my bike up outside instead of rolling it in with me as usual because I wasn’t just checking my PO box – I had to go all the way down to the stamp-selling end and wait in line to mail a package. When I came back out I found a candy cane hanging on my brake cables with a little note attached that said: Happy Holidays! Thanks for making bikes work in Portland!

Is that nice, or what? I can count on one earlobe the number of times anybody thanks us bicyclists for slogging through all weather conditions to keep Portland uncluttered and to save the planet. So a big fat Your Welcome to whoever that was.

Here’s a photo. You can see that the next bike over got one too.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Plan A: Airport Pickup by Bike

Here’s the plan I promised yesterday I’d spell out for you.
Before doing this, I’ll need to make a couple of major purchases, but they are things I needed anyway. One is a foldable bike I’ve been drooling over for years called a Brompton. My first Brompton sighting was when I saw one parked outside the Pearl Bakery and I loved it so much I had to go into the bakery and accost people till I found the owner so I could ask him all about it. At one point I located a dealer in Seattle which I can’t find right now. The model I want is expensive -- costs about a thousand dollars – but some day I hope to own one. I’ve seen another cute one around town called Bike Friday, which is more affordable but not nearly the masterpiece of beautiful lines of the Bromptom foldable. I can only talk about appearances as I haven’t tried either bike, but that Brompton looks like it would fold together with the mechanical beauty of a Swiss watch, and ride with the precision of a sewing machine. (Bromptom site shows video of it folding up.)

Second thing I’ll need is one of those pull-behind carts, maybe the Burley.

The plan is to put the foldable into the cart and pull it over to the nearest Max station. Throw in an extra helmet and some rain gear. Then I lock up bike & cart, and take the foldable with me on the train to the airport. I ride around the airport till I locate the visitor. Gently inform the visitor of the plan. (Or not…) We walk/ride back to the Max, possibly pulling visitor’s roll-along luggage behind the fold-up bike. We take the train back to the station where I’ve left the bike with the cart. We load the luggage into the waiting cart, I outfit the visitor with the extra helmet & rain gear and the foldable, and we ride to my house. Visitor gets a Total Portland Experience, right from the get-go. Visitor has a good story to tell, even in the unlikely event that the rest of the visit turns out to be dull or unpleasant.

Should the visitor hate the whole experience and/or hate me as a result of the experience, well, they clearly don't belong in Portland and they won't come back, so yay, who needs houseguests anyway.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Scrooge Family Converges on Portland

My family has this great Christmas tradition – we don’t give gifts. Along comes the first week of December and somebody says, “Hey, why don’t we skip the presents this year,” as if it were the first time we’d thought of it. Then someone else says: “Yay. Good idea.”

Of course we always gave presents to the children – who can resist that? -- but no presents among adults. The other rule was that if any kid wanted to give a present, it had to be handmade by them – a tradition which produced a collection of child art none of us can let go of.

We all love the release from pressure and obligation – it’s the greatest gift in the world. While the entire population of Portland (the country) is out there spending more money than they have on items people neither need nor want, we The Scrooge Family are skipping the whole chaotic scene. It makes me love them more.

Instead, vast numbers of now adult children and grandchildren converge and loiter in my mother’s kitchen, picking at the food, getting in the way, and trying to look like we’re helping while she continues to throw together meals that make even the best restaurants a sorry alternative.

Yesterday I went to pick up one of my sisters from the airport. I hate it that I drove my car. (She didn’t hate it.) But while I was hating it, I thought through the perfect way to pick someone up from the airport completely by bike. It may sound crazy, but it’s not stupid. Nor is it difficult! I’ve got it all worked out, and you’ll love it so much you’ll want to do it too! I will describe it in detail in my next posting.

Monday, December 18, 2006

NW Portland without cars

Here are the promised other pictures I took during the 3 car-less hours in northwest Portland last week. Hold this vision in your mind and think of the possibilities if all the people who possibly could would switch to bicycling as a mode of transportation, or walk more, or find some way to not drive as much. I know not all of the people can do it all of the time, but almost all the people could do it some of the time, and most of the people could do it most of the time. Please decide what category you’re in, and act accordingly. Each individual time a car engine is not fired up really counts. You get points for helping not warm up the planet even if you skip driving one time.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Cyclist Photographer Plods Onward Under Heavy Hail

The storm picked up again during the night – I woke up several times and heard it drumming on the roof over our bed and howling through town like a witch with broom rage. Looks like Portland lost a few trees, though I don’t know how many. Here are two I ran across while riding today. The first one was a big branch that came down at about NE 24th and Stanton.

The second, a whole entire tree, happened in Couch Park, that beautiful park across the street from that yellow apartment building I used to live in. These two came out kind of blurry, sorry.

By the way, Blogger never did let me add that missing photo to last Wednesday’s post, so I’ll just stick it here. The name of the building was The Biltmore.

While I was living there, our last record-breaking windstorm brought down another thick old tree, roots and all, leaving a giant crater in the lawn along the Glisan edge of the park while the length of the felled tree spanned diagonally the sidewalk and intersection where you can see that white truck coming out. A couple of days later I was walking past that crater, the lower part of the now sawed-up tree still extending from it, and saw that someone had placed a funeral wreath in it. What a statement. I always remember that gesture when I see trees killed by storms.

This afternoon, just as I was photographing the tree in Couch Park, a vicious hailstorm started. I always wondered what it would feel like to ride in one. The answer is: Ow!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Storm Thwarts Blogging Attempt

I couldn’t post the promised pictures today because when I was about to do this, I lost internet connection at my hideout. Big storm’s been building up all afternoon. The weather reports said it was supposed to be the biggest storm “ever.” Whatever that means. I rode my bike anyway, though, because it was warm out and it feels exciting to be out in a big storm as long as you’re not miserably cold. For a minute I thought “a tree could fall on me” but then I realized that could just as likely happen in a car, and judging from the flatness of certain cars I’ve seen squished by trees, the car doesn't offer much protection.

An hour ago at my parents’ house it sounded like the wind was going to bust right into the dining room. But by the time we left it was a big nothing, though the streets were strewn with big pieces of fir trees. No we did not ride our bikes. I have my limits, and one of them would be not delivering 150 pounds of cat litter to my parents by bike late at night in the pitch dark in a typhoon rain. Hello?

Sometimes you really do “just need a car.” If everybody would just use a bike whenever humanly possible, then the environment could afford a few car trips when absolutely necessary. Hey I can’t do this all by myself. I can’t make up for all the car trips in the world, I’m just barely making up for the ones I have to take. How about some help out there?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Car-less Portland: what would it look like?

OK, here’s the surprise I promised yesterday: scenes of a Portland without cars. I had the luck to ride through northwest Portland last Friday morning on LEAF DAY! I couldn’t believe my good fortune to see this rare sight! Especially since their leaf “day” is only a three hour block of time, as opposed to a whole morning or most of a day, like in our neighborhood.

Northwest Portland is the most parked-up neighborhood in Portland. It was bad in the late 80s, when I lived there in this cool yellow apartment building [darn it, I'll have to add it tomorrow, Blogger won't let me post this one], but now it’s truly ridiculous. You go there in a car, you’ll spend twenty minutes (and who knows how much gas) circling to find a spot. On leaf day there were signs up everywhere saying Don’t park here between 7 and 10 AM. Somehow ALL THOSE PEOPLE managed to not bring their cars to this area for that whole block of time.

These pictures are not possible except on the two leaf-days a year. At no other time can you get full elevation photos of these buildings, many of which are gorgeous. Not only that, the feel of space and unclutteredness was absolutely liberating. This is what it would look like if we could only get rid of most of the cars. If they can make this happen for three hours, why not longer?
I felt so free and relaxed riding around and walking around taking pictures that it made me realize how stressful it feels the rest of the time to simply walk or ride down a street. We’re constantly half expecting to get wapped with an opening car door or run into by one of those moving metal deathtraps. And we’re all used to it, we think it’s normal. This is a crazy way to live. We are darting around like scared mice and we don't even know it. Cars rule all.
I have more and even better great photos of car-less-ness that I'll post tomorrow. Last chance to see certain beautiful Portland buildings in their unobstructed entirety.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The truth about lost keys

In case you were wondering, No, the lost keys haven’t come back to me. I checked at the post office this afternoon, where I last had them. No luck at the PO Box end of the building -- the guys there suggested I look again at the Consumer Affairs office at the other end because if they were turned in down there, no one at this end would ever know. I had imagined that at a place like the city’s main post office there would be some kind of central lost and found, but no, there are several, and they don’t talk to each other. They don’t have full staff meetings in which someone holds up each item and asks “Does anyone know who might have lost these?” I’m thinking like a person living in a town of population 825, the like of which I’ve never even been in, so I don’t know where that idea comes from.

At the consumer affairs office a man brings me a small basket of keys, none of which are mine. I notice that every clump of keys in there has at least one ID item included on the key chain, and I point this out to the man. “You know, if someone called this number here, or here, or here, the owners could probably be traced pretty quickly.” He picks up some of the clumps and looks at them curiously. “Hm. You’re probably right,” he says. “No one has time, I guess. It’s up to the person to come check with us.”

I guess that would work, if the person knew precisely where they’d lost their keys, in which case they wouldn’t be lost, now would they? Then the man picks up several others, musing, “Some of these are post office box keys.” So I tell him that the guys at the other end had just told me that they could look up the serial numbers of any PO Box key and trace the box user. “Really?” he asks. Really. They just told me that.

Good grief, it would take exactly two minutes to execute the simple customer service act of making a phone call or looking up the key number. They could do one a day. Who wouldn’t WANT to do this? I can think of worse chores than calling somebody up to tell them their keys had been found. Guaranteed to make someone’s day. And wouldn’t the whole postal system gain a new fan club for every person who got their keys back? If something’s that easy, why not do it?

I guess if I don’t have my keys back by now it means they’re languishing in some similar place where some bonehead has thrown them into a plastic tray thinking I’m going to magically appear and ask if they’re there. Helloo? Not unless you call one of those numbers you see there on those little tags on the keychain. So I’m waiting for some unknown person to suddenly develop some brain cells.

Meanwhile, I know it's been a while since I brought you any visuals, and I know you love that. Last Friday I happened to be in the right place in the right time slot and I captured a rarely spotted Portland scene -- something that only happens about twice a year and only lasts for about three hours. Tomorrow I'll post several photos for your consumption. (Hint: it's a cyclist's DREAM come true.)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Why wait? You could be a bird in this lifetime

This morning as I reached the Broadway Bridge I pulled up behind no less than eight cyclists stacked up in the bike lane waiting for the light to change. The light turned green just then, and I watched them all take off in front of me, like tropical birds, each wearing a different colored rain parka. Then it was my turn to be a bird, in my bright yellow, and a couple more swooped up behind me.

What an exciting sight! Beautiful, human-powered machines, soundless, smokeless, and fast. I feel so sorry for those people trapped in their big bulbous cars, belching away, separated from the outside air. If they only knew how invigorating this is, how much fun it is to be out on a bike, most of them would do it. More than fifty percent would, I’m sure. There’s just no way they’d pick that icky life over this if they could just know.

They’d have to work through the initial inertia. Get a bike, for starters. Then maybe they’d find that they hated riding -- but if they’re a little bit persistent, and a little bit lucky, maybe they could go further and discover that they actually don’t hate riding, that what they hate is – for example -- riding without fenders. The basics are simple but so important to having a good experience -- like your tires have to be full, your chain has to be oiled. And of course your body has to get used to the physical output.

But once you get over the hump, there’s just no other way. Distances shrink. Later, you look back at your former self and you think, “Wow, I thought that was a long way?” (And your legs – you’re going to love your legs.) The idea of taking your car begins to sound like a big hassle once you’ve experienced the freedom from finding and paying for a parking place, the freedom from having to buy gas. I could go on and on….. ( hence, my blog).

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The karmic importance of returning lost items

I’m so mad. I’m mad as heck! I lost my keys this morning. Some time after using them to check my PO box, they disappeared. I went back to there to ask around, which wasn’t easy because down at the stamp-vending end of the post office hall it was hard to get people to stop hollering at me to get my bike out of there long enough to explain that I couldn’t leave my bike anywhere because I’d lost my keys and was trying to see if they’d been turned in. Sheesh. Would you guys calm down a sec and let me get two words out? Finally I got two nice ones to listen and they went in the back to take a look. No luck.

Then I went back down to the PO box end, where they’re usually cool with the bike inside (thanks to my training), but no, they didn’t have them down there either.

OK, I’m broadcasting this message out into the atmosphere -- and I mean that in the literal blogosphere sense, but also in the metaphysical sense: If you found my keys, could you please use one of the identifying member-tags found on the keychain to turn them in at one of three possible locations? Or simply drop them into a mailbox? Please? Because I always turn your stuff in when I find it, if there’s any possible way to do it. So to pay me back, could you please get them back to me, and as promptly as possible? This would eliminate the huge expenditure of energy that will be required if I have to replace each of those keys one by one. And yes, of course I have extras of some of them, but I’d still have to make extra extras. Not to mention the money it will cost for duplicates and replacement fines. It’s a giant pain, an expense, a time usurper -- a waste on all fronts.

And if by chance you have tossed them into the bottom of your briefcase or shopping cart because you were in a huge hurry at the moment you found them, please remember them later today instead of running across them three weeks from now and wondering where they came from.

If you return them, I’m not promising to become a nun as I might have a few decades ago; but you will have greatly restored a large amount of a faith in humanity that I’d really enjoy having. Thank you in advance for your kindness and consideration.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Bike Light Parade last Thursday

Well, I went to the parade. It was more like a community meeting to draw attention to the importance of lighting up one’s bike in the dark. Of course, most of the people who showed up were the ones that already knew that. I don’t know how many people were there – maybe 100 or so, all with very lit up bikes, some of them lit in ways so creative that they’d not only be seen by cars but would stop traffic altogether just by looking like a space ship.

Which is what we probably looked like to the unsuspecting public when we all set out on the parade together – a rolling mass of blinking, shining, flickering, pulsating radiance snaking through the neighborhood surrounding the Community Cycling Center outside of which the meeting was held.That’s a shop different from all others in that they not only promote the bicycle transportation alternative but make it possible for people to break into it with little or no income.

So we were seen and noticed, and some members of the public floated in to see what all the fuss was about, and if they floated in on a bike without a light they were sent right on over the “Get Lit” booth, representing a project to equip lights to lightless riders who’ve been procrastinating in the task of illuminating themselves due to lack of spare cash.

Sam Adams addressed the group and bestowed some accolades such as the Miss Safety Award and other titles indicative of glowing brilliance. Later as he was milling around I asked him the following question I’d been wondering about: if biking was officially a part of his job as city commissioner or was he bringing his own personal interest to it. He replied the latter, that as the City Commissioner-in-Charge-of-Transportation, he includes biking because as a bicyclist himself he recognizes bicycling as a form of transportation. So yay, I definitely voted for the right person.

Oh. Whoops. I almost forgot. In case you're wondering where the pictures are? My camera batteries ran out on me, and the extra camera batteries I always carry with me also proved to be poopie. I guess rechargeables don't last forever. So no pictures, but I don't know if I could've caught the effect of all those lights blinking away in the dark anyway. Use this as an opportunity to reach way back into your memory to the days when there wasn't a digital camera snapping away in the hands of every other fool on the street. Remember that thing we have called an imagination. Add that to the fact that we can read, and we're good to go. A thousand words is worth a picture.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Errands far and wide force rampant car use

No, ostensibly there was no reason not to ride my bike way the hell out to the glasses repair shop. My legs were working, as was my bike, and it wasn’t even raining. The question boils down to "How many hours do I have in a day to devote to transportation?"

If you need to go to more than one place in a day and these places are spread out all over, then to get to each one of them by bike would take three or four hours. Who has that kind of extra time?

OK, so I took my glasses there in my car, and the next day I picked them up in my car. Not till I got back and tried to use them did I discover there was glue or something all over one of the lenses, right in front of where my eyeball goes. I called the guy up, and though I was livid, I managed to convey my problem to him in a civilized tone.

His answer?
“Glue on the lens? Wow. I don’t see how that could have happened,” a reply which is not listed in the big book of fabulous customer service answers.

I declined the opportunity to respond “Duh! MIGHT it have occurred while you were using GLUE to GLUE the glasses TOGETHER?” and instead told him that I would bring the glasses back out to him so that he could fix the problem. I added that I was NOT HAPPY about having to come way the hell out there AGAIN, due to the inconvenient location of his shop. To which he mumbled some unintelligible pouty-sounding utterance.

The appropriate customer service answer would have been: “I am so sorry. I don’t know how I could have missed that, but I will send a bicycle courier to your location within minutes to pick them up, and if you can possibly endure being without your glasses for another couple of hours, I will take care of the problem immediately and have them delivered right back to you. No charge, of course. I apologize again for the trouble this has caused you.”

But that’s not the answer I got. I had to endure the whole weekend with this annoying visual impediment, and then had to take a large chunk out of my Monday to make another trip out there. Given the lameness of his first customer service stab at the situation, I was expecting trouble, and was preparing answers to possible defenses he might resort to like “They must have been like that already,” or “We’re not responsible for damage that might be incurred while repairing your glasses.”

When I handed him the glasses on Monday, he again expressed profound puzzlement and disappeared with them into the back somewhere, where he remained, soundless, for a very long time. After fifteen minutes without a peep, I was starting to wonder if he’d thrown up his hands and skipped out the back door for a drink somewhere; but not to worry, when another customer showed up he reappeared, spent ten minutes with her and then faded into the background yet again. I was feeling more agitated by the minute and tried to find solace in the fact that I wasn’t hearing any sinister sounds of grinding machinery or a hissing blowtorch.

Finally he came out with the lens completely cleared of obstruction, so now I don’t feel like I can justify exposing him all over blogland as completely inept. However, I do hold him completely responsible for the increment of globe warming incurred by my extra trip out there. So there.

I'll report on the bike parade tomorrow, now that I can finally see letters.

Monday, December 04, 2006

I haven't forgotten you

Yes, I went to the bike light parade last Thursday night and I want to tell you all about it. But the glasses saga isn’t over yet. I’m about to embark on what I hope will be the last episode, and it may involve murder by strangulation. I’ll have to get back to you on this later today. Hint: the villain is causing me to have to drive my car, and that’s not the way to get on my good side.