Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Should I get a cart?

I saw this bike cart in front of the main post office and it looks like it might be a good one. You just stick a plastic bin in there. Wouldn't take up too much room in the garage. It would be perfect for groceries.

I haven't quite graduated to doing my grocery shopping by bike because one, the store is way uphill from where I live and two, I'm usually doing it after dark, and three, I don't have a cart. Those three things together seem like acceptable excuses to me.
I suppose I could give up my favorite grocery store and go to a lesser store, closer and flatter to where I live. But.......

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Effect of Housecats on the Environment

It took me a little over ONE HOUR on the MAX to get to Beaverton, not counting the walk to the train. The hardest part was remembering to get off at the station called Beaverton Central and not the one next in line called Beaverton Transit Center. No doubt dozens of people a day waste hours of human resource potential getting off at the wrong one. The smart person on the station-naming committee must have been in the bathroom when those names were put forward.

Though I had to concentrate on that error-waiting-to-happen for the duration of my trip, I did succeed in getting off at the right place. All anxiety about how to meet up with my target companions disappeared instantly when I stepped onto the platform to find my very own Human Mapquest and Geographic Positioning Unit standing right there in front of me. Lindi and a good friend of ours met me there so we could all go to the Jeanne Roy event together -- in the CAR.

Before you break into a fit of writhing, finger pointing apoplexy, consider that the one car was now transporting THREE people. The original plan was that half an hour after I boarded at Gresham, they would board the MAX as it rolled through our neighborhood, and then when we got off, the three of us would walk to our destination -- since we don't have a third bike for our friend visiting from out of town.

We opted for the car alternative when another errand in the area came to mind -- namely the procurement of cat litter at a discounted price from a nearby pet store. In my opinion, cat litter transport is one of those few things that justifies car usage. If you've ever tried to lift even a single box of cat litter, you'd know it's one of the heaviest substances known to mankind. We purchased the equivalent of a large corpse worth and drove it home, the back of our car sagging noticeably.

After attending Jeanne Roy's lecture on reducing garbage, we might have to rethink our total cat-litter energy output. I suppose we could invest in a bike cart and do it all by MAX (which would take a million hours, and anyway can you even take a bike with a cart onto the MAX?). Or maybe buy cat litter closer to our house? Maybe the higher price would be a wash once the cost of gas was subtracted.

And what about cat litter disposal, anyway? How much could we reduce our yearly garbage output if we just subtracted the cat litter? I didn't think of it till now, but cat litter was the ONE throw-away item not covered in the lecture. Maybe when I interview Jeanne for my article I'll ask her if she's ever calculated the environmental footprint of a house cat.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

From one burb to another, carless

Today I'll be travelling from one place I fear -- a suburb to the east of Portland that starts with a G, to another place I fear -- a suburb to the west of Portland that starts with a B. Suburbs, at least in this country, are places of sprawl with the unit of design being the automobile. On foot, one feels like an ant; on a bike, one feels like..... another ant.

It takes something REALLY IMPORTANT to get me near the sprawling car-burbs. Such an important thing is going on this very evening. I am going to see an environmental leader named Jeanne Roy, who is going to tell us how she has reduced her non recyclable garbage output to ONE CAN per year.

For that, I'll go a long way. And since it seems antithetical to use a car to arrive at something like that, I'll be going by train. My longest MAX trip ever. I'll report back.

In case you're interested, it's being held at the Unity Church, but I don't have that address in front of me right now and I'm in a hurry. Bye.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The right-turn-across-the-bike-lane thing just isn’t working.

I’ve sort of been trying to ignore the bad news that already yet another cyclist has died, in the same manner as the last one -- being cut off by a large work truck making a right turn. I was succeeding in not thinking about it for as long as the victim was still anonymous.

Before I knew who he was, in the back of my mind I was vaguely picturing some crazy drunken basket-case type of person riding like a loon, leading a disastrous and tortured life and wreaking pain and havoc all around him, and that this was just one more thing that went wrong and that now the world would be free of a burden and the burden would be free of the world. Not that such a person deserves to be smackered...

But then the identity of the victim came out, and of course he was the nicest imaginable guy, full of life and art and youth and energy, and not only that but a very experienced cyclist. And to make it even closer to home, he was a mechanic at the very shop where I have my bike work done, and I’m sure I’ve seen his bald head among the pool of bike repair workers when I’ve gone there.

I just can’t stand it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Endangered Trash Can Hoods

Vandalism has always fascinated me. Take this garbage can. At first, what intrigued me about this garbage can so much that I felt compelled to photograph it was that the lid had been cable-locked to the can (see the cable on the back of the inside?). That alone was interesting. I thought, "Surely public trash can lids are not in high demand among thieves. That must be cabled on to keep the lid from blowing off in the wind." But on closer inspection I noticed that the front panel of the lid, or the lid's hood, was ripped apart on one side.

Have you ever tried to rip fiber glass with your bare hands? Try it some time. It's not easy. Nor is it easy to rip it apart with any tool that I know of. Yet some desperate person wanted this trashcan lid so badly that he (or she? let's not be sexist -- girls can be strong too) ripped it apart while trying to remove it from its granite trashcan base. Even though I didn't myself witness this act, I've seen enough other weird behaviors at these transit stations to be able to actually picure some deranged lunatic hunched over this trash can, snarling and drooling while yanking away with all his might trying to remove its hood.

OK. That was Oct 5th. Seven days later, I see the same trash can, and now the lid has been comletely removed. Here it is on the evening of Oct 12th, the trash translucent in the glow of the sunset behind it. Apparently the garbage can lid thief, having failed in his mission the first time, returned to finish it off and collect the booty.

That means that besides having this idea in the first place, the person had to hold the idea in his head long enough to go somewhere else, procure the appropriate tool, return to the site, remember what he was doing, and complete the task. That's a skill set worthy of a resume. Too bad about the other stuff that goes with it.

I wonder if this is really what happened. Is there an underworld use for trash can hoods that I don't know about?

Stupidness just got stupider

I just want to point out – since we humans think we’re so smart – that every single time we invent something that’s going to supposedly make our lives better, it herds in a whole flock of new problems we didn’t have before it was invented. And usually no one wants to look at those because they’re too busy playing with the new toy, and if somebody starts pointing out the new problems that go with the toy, that person immediately get called a giant party poop.

In today’s Oregonian there’s an article called “Message not getting through on texting,” about the atrociously absurd activity of text messaging on a cell phone while driving. If we thought TALKING on a cell phone while driving was bad -- if we thought cars were death machines already – wait’ll you read this. The chances of getting slaughtered by a car just went up by the number of people out there doing this – which is astoundingly high.

As bicyclists, we’re the ones most vulnerable to this kind of stupid behavior. (Weirdly, I’ve seen people using their cell phones while cycling. You’d think the innate two-handedness of cycling would preclude anyone even thinking of that, but no.) I highlight this today because here’s a-whole-nother set of weirdoes we have to watch out for as cyclists. Our lives are in their hands, and I’m not liking it one bit. Makes me feel like curling up into a fetal position on a small residential street. If you see me, please pedal around, not over.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Busted for Lack of Ticket

I’ve long wondered what happens if they catch someone on board the trains without a ticket. For the first couple of months I rode the Max regularly I never saw this happen, nor did I have anyone ask me to show a ticket. Then one day as we rolled into a station, a girl looking out the window called out the word “inspectors” in a loud but casual voice when she saw two yellow coated men on the platform. At that moment, every one of the six or seven passengers in my section of the train stood up and headed toward the nearest doors. As the doors opened, they all peered attentively down the length of the train, and then at some unseen signal which apparently conveyed that the inspectors were not in fact boarding, they all changed their minds and returned to their seats. This, in addition to a few conversations I’ve heard on board and on the platforms, gave me the impression that a huge number of people ride ticketless.

This evening some inspectors popped onto the front end of the train very suddenly and started asking to see tickets. A young girl in front of me said she didn’t have one. The inspector paused, then repeated her statement as if to make sure that was what she really said, paused again and then asked to see some ID. He sat down in a vacant seat in front of her and studied the ID for a long time. Then he asked the girl if she’d ever been warned before about riding without a ticket and she said no. Each question and answer exchange he dragged out for as long as possible, while eventually the other inspector, having made her rounds, came and sat down across from them to watch and listen while interacting with some kind of a bulky electronic clipboard. Among other things the man asked her if she thought that boarding without a ticket had been a bad choice for her today. I assume she said yes.

In the end he told her with a great sigh of annoyance that he could do one of three things: One, he could give her a warning; Two, he could give her a ticket for (I think) ninety dollars; Three, he could ban her from using the trains for ninety days. Which one of those did she think would be best? She must have chosen thing number one, because he proceeded to write her out a warning, a task which also seemed to take forever, during which he explained to her that if it turned out that this was not in fact her first warning, one of the other options would likely follow. Then he had her promise to get off at the next station and buy a ticket.

After he left, another young passenger asked her how old she was, to which she answered “Seventeen.” The other passenger then gave her some kind of a juvenile pass she had shown the inspector, saying she herself was getting off at the next stop anyway. Well, that was kind of her, since the girl may not have had any money on her. Bet she won’t be doing that again after that interminably humiliating experience.

So now you know what happens if you don’t pay – in case you were wondering. File this under "Dumb things to do when you're seventeen and no later."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Memorial for Tracey Sparling

I visited the ghost bike for Tracey Sparling today. Heaped with flowers – even more than the other night. You can hardly see the bike. It’s hard not to cry in front of it, even if you don’t know her. I wished I had vases of water for all the cut flowers to keep them alive. I wish that it could be continually replenished with dozens of fresh bouquets and more pictures of her --indefinitely into the future. Why not? It would be a way of remembering her, and also reminding people that this can happen.
She looks like the sweetest person in the world. I can think of at least ten people the planet could well do without. Why her? The hardest thing to understand in life is the death of the wrong person.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Money for Nothing and your bikes for free

The only thing wrong with my obtain-a-folding-bike campaign is that it entails acquiring yet another ITEM – which seriously conflicts with another campaign I’ve got going on, which is to vacate a certain storage unit.

Therefore, I’ve decided to purchase the bike completely with funds from the sale of items I already have, and in that way I’ll be working toward both goals at once and also feel like I’m not spending any money.

To start thing off, I recently sold a bike I’ve had since 1975. I took it over to Sellwood Bicycles and asked them to find it a good home for me and a few weeks later they sent me a check for 275 dollars.

In my twenties I always had a fleet of six or seven bikes on hand. You know how some people are chick-magnets? I was a bike magnet. They just came to me, like magic, no money exchanged, and I’d fix them up and make them into jewels.That was my last and best bike from that period. I am down to one bike now, the one I ride every day.

Next I’m selling a classical acoustic guitar. The sound quality is excellent and on top of that it’s gorgeous. I think I can fairly ask $300 for it, but I’ll find out for sure.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Two Changes Leading to the Implementation of Plan B

The thing that’s most different about me from the self of a few months ago is that I have in my possession a most marvelous thing, namely: a Tri-Met public transportation pass, good for the entire year on any busses and trams in the city. It has my picture on it (so that only I can use it) and lives in my wallet. Since I got it, I almost feel that I have been given wings. When I say “been given,” I’m afraid that’s a big part of the fabulous feeling. I was given it without cost. I feel like I can now get absolutely anywhere with the total freedom of not having to shlep a vehicle along with me.

I realize that most people experience such a sense of freedom for exactly the opposite reason – that they have obtained their own independent vehicle. But those people are delusional. One’s own vehicle may have signified freedom at one time in history, but today the reality is that such a vehicle comes with many more headaches than it taketh away. You have maintenance hassles, maintenance costs, parking searches and parking costs, fuel expenses, and the stress of bumper to bumper traffic, not to mention the health hazard of inhaling all those fumes, not to mention creating all those fumes in the first place and thereby ruining the planet for us all. (Need I go on?)

I have no idea how much such a pass would cost were one to purchase it, or if you can even buy one for a whole year or if they’re only available the way I got it. A few years ago I looked into buying a monthly pass, though, and what I found out was that in order for it to be a good deal, you’d have to use it at LEAST twice a day five days a week. That was the bare minimum. If you used it one time less than that, you were better off buying the ticket packets. The only way you’d come out ahead buying the pass was if you used it more than ten times a week.

When I said above that “I almost feel that I have been given wings,” the key word was “almost.” The other change that is going to bring me to the equivalent of owning my own magic carpet hasn’t happened yet. That is that I’m going to purchase one of those foldable bicycles that collapse down into a little carry-on unit. With that as my companion, I’ll be able to make up for all the places in which Tri-Met isn’t quite there yet. I’ll be able to ride part of the way to anywhere so that instead of waiting for two buses or trains, I can do one leg by Tri-Met and the other by bike. If there are already too many bikes on the bus or train, it won’t matter because mine will be so portable.

Tomorrow I’ll reveal my plan for obtaining the bike, which costs an arm and a leg, a couple of earlobes, an eyeball, a kidney, and other assorted vitals.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Regarding Plan B

I'm thinking that when it's too dark, or too rainy, or when the distance is a little farther than I have the time or energy for, I'll start adding the public transportation to my commuting strategy. Three things have been discouraging me from using this option so far.

1. It bugs me to shell out a dollar seventy for a ticket, both because that's what the same trip would cost me if I drove my car, and because I always have to think ahead and make sure I have that cash. Or that I have some pre-bought tickets on hand.

2. Often the bus or train ride takes just as long as a bike trip would, only without the exercise.

3. There's always the danger that the bus will already have two bikes on its rack, in which case one is supposed to wait for the next bus, which is simply unacceptable to me. Or that the train will be too crowded to roll a bike onto it, and I'll have to wait for the next train.

Two big changes are coming into my life which will address most of these issues. Details tomorrow.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Another Bicyclist Killed

I’m probably the only one in Portland who didn’t know about last night’s bike fatality till I got home tonight at around 8:30. It so sickened me to hear it. I’m very familiar with the exact spot where it happened, I was just there the other day. I ride by there all the time.

Bikeportland has the most extensive coverage of it and links to other coverage.

I’m feeling pretty discouraged about biking at the moment. This isn’t Holland, people. The idea of combining bikes with cars on streets that busy seems less and less of a good idea to me.

I especially don’t think I’m going to be riding in the dark + rain this year – though I think yesterday’s incident happened in the daylight in dry weather. I’ve had two accidents in which I could easily have been killed, and they both happened in pouring rain, one of them when it was dark as well. I feel like I need to do something majorly different to improve my chances of survival.

Stay tuned for Alternative Transportation Plan B.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Photo of Vandalized Bike at Hollywood Transit Center

Here’s the promised photo. The owner of this bike must’ve been mad as a hornet. Are you listening, Tri-met? We need safe places for our bikes if this public transportation thing is going to work. Safe, and dry, please.

Here’s another suggestion for Tri-Met. How about more than 2 benches at any one station? And could you please locate them out of the rain? How about: under the shelter? Good grief, of what use is a wet bench? Who is going to sit on that?

And two benches is never enough. At most two people can sit on any one bench. Very few people of sound mind are willing to wedge in cheek-to-cheek with a complete stranger. And in the case of a really weird complete stranger (not a scarce breed), one is consigned to let them have the whole bench to themselves. There are some people one simply doesn’t dare share a bench with, and Tri-Met should figure that in when it’s calculating its seating. No fair claiming you’re providing seating for six when you know darn well no more than four people would ever sit there at the same time. And anyway, seating for six when there are dozens of people milling around? That's pitiful.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

City Officials Deny Leaf Habit

Here I am in my hidey hole and I forgot to bring the magic cord that sucks the pictures out of my camera and squirts them into my blog. So the photo of the vandalized bike will have to wait till tomorrow, sorry.

Meanwhile, my article about dead leaves came out in yesterday’s Portland Tribune. It’ll be in the stands till the wee hours of Friday morning, at which point Tuesday's will be replaced by the Friday issue. Be forewarned that it’s not as peppy and fun as the way I originally wrote it. It ended up being heavily edited, for the following dumb reasons.

I interviewed a wide variety of official people for the story, not one of whom said there was anything wrong with raking your yard leaves out into the street in anticipation of Leaf Day. Then, the day I submitted the story, they posted on their website the words “Do not rake the leaves from your yard onto the street.”

That’s not what they had told ME. Nay, friends. Even when I specifically asked, they said, yeah, everyone does it, that’s fine. But then when this new Leaf Denial came to light -- after I’d signed off the story and was no longer available -- my editor felt she had to go in and make major changes. boo, hiss.

Ok, so here’s my fabulous opening, as I originally wrote it:

The Life and Death of Leaves

You know Leaf Day’s coming to the ‘hood when it’s getting on past dusk and you hear the scrape, scrape of a whole block full of people out raking their leaves into long snakey piles in the street. Sometimes accompanied by the smell of smoke curling out of the chimneys and a chill in the air, it’s a delicious bite of the essence of fall – at least until the power-toy neighbor (we all have one) turns on his loud, smoke-belching leaf blower, at which point the whole ambience is essentially ruined. But barring that, the common goal of clearing the overwhelming layers of dead leaves brings out the neighbors out in droves.

If you want to read the complete, but watered down version, you’ll find the published story here.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Wheel Theft at Transit Center

The other day when I locked my bike up to the bike rack at the Hollywood transit center, another bike locked there had had its wheel stolen. And I know it wasn’t just taken off by its owner as is sometimes done to prevent theft, because for one, it was the back wheel, and who does that? takes off their back wheel and drags it along? No one. Two, the bike was left resting on its derailleur mechanism smack on the concrete, so obviously the bike owner wouldn’t have done that either. I took a photo I’ll post tomorrow. It looks so ravaged.

So I’m liking less and less the idea of leaving my bike there for eight or nine hours at a time. The following day I tried going back to Plan A, of taking my bike with me on the train. Just as before, I didn’t like that either. I didn’t feel confident that one of the other passengers wouldn’t just roll it off into the sunset while I was buried in my book. Or that it would remain standing throughout the wiggling of the train trip. Or that someone else boarding with other wheels (bikes, strollers, wheelchairs..) would be able to maneuver around it. And again I didn’t feel like unloading the stuff from the basket and lifting that horse of a bike onto one of the hooks. Ooof. Like sometimes I’m tired, ok? I’m not always so peppy as I may appear here on this blog. And lately my back’s been iffy, and I don’t want to push my luck.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Wheel Chair on Max Train Capsizes, Ejecting its Passenger

I heard exclamations accompanied by the thud of – of what? landing bodies?

My first thought was that a fight was underway, and my impulse was to immediately distance myself from the epicenter. But as I looked away from my book and began to collect my things, I saw with horror that a woman was sprawled on the floor in front of me -- Good Night! She lay thrown to her side, a short distance from the motorized wheelchair she’d fallen out of, that too on its side.

Already, three or four surrounding people had dived in to help. One learns a lot about oneself when something like this happens. My first inclination was to hold back and let others handle it – though certainly I would have jumped right in had there been no one else. But as it was, I sensed a great commotion coming on, and my priority was to get my VERY EXPENSIVE reading glasses safely into their case, and make sure I had a firm grip on my bag. Maybe that kind of instinct is a result of spending much of my youth in the writhing metropolis of Naples, Italy. Or I suppose it could simply mean I’m a selfish pig, I don't know. I do know that situations of chaos and commotion are prime opportunities for spontaneous robberies. In any case, once my personal possessions were secured, I dove into the pile to help out.

I’ve never seen one of those things tip over. They look so bottom-heavy it never occurred to me they could. I’m not sure how it happened. I think she was anticipating her stop and traveling toward the door at the same moment that the train went round a bend and then stopped at a station.

We buzzed the emergency button I’ve mentioned in recent posts, without doubt this time as to whether this was a legitimate use of it. The driver asked if we needed her to call an ambulance, to which we conveyed the woman’s clear answer: No. Please do not call an ambulance. After a while the driver’s voice came over the speaker asking how we were doing back there. “We have a lady down,” answered one astute passenger who seemed the most on top of the situation, “and we’re going to try to get her back into her wheelchair.”

At this point the driver stopped the train and walked down the platform till she got back to where we were. Shortly a Tri-Met uniformed man (whom I think the driver had summoned) also appeared on the platform. Much discussion ensued, and I found myself in the role of translator (like I so often am in real life) since I was the closest to her head. Her head was on the floor, and she said she was hard of hearing on the upward side, so “translation” or message relaying back and forth was necessary.

We followed her instructions and got her back in her chair. Her arm on the down side had been scraped and bruised. She was completely a good sport about the whole thing, and thanked us all profusely as the Tri-Met official wheeled her off the train. Names and numbers were solicited from those involved. No doubt they’ll want to figure out how this happened. If they ask me, I’ll have to say I have no idea, since I only saw the done deal.

As you know I’ve seen some doozies on that train, but I have to say that everyone around her was nothing but kind and helpful. No slobs to be seen.