Cycle Perspective

“I used to love my bike more than life when I was a kid,” I said.

“Then why don’t you have one now?” she asked.

Good question. I thought of that feeling I used to get as a child, zooming down the street on my blue banana seat bicycle with the extended handlebars. No doubt I was on a mission.

I’d be going as fast as I could, feeling the wind in my hair. I’d let out a triumphant whoop. It was freedom. It was speed. It was distance from my stepfather and my family dysfunction. It was the closest thing I had to control over my life. I was calling all the shots. It was pure joy.

I would do figure eights in the street. I’d ride around the speed bumps as fast as I could. I’d wave at people as I passed, but I wouldn’t stop.

One time I was riding barefoot (stupid) and I somehow got my pinky toe caught in the bike chain. I nearly ripped it off. I came home bleeding and crying, and my stepfather decided to take the bike away. (Wouldn’t “wear shoes” have been sufficient?)

My solution was to steal my own bike and hide it and still use it. It’s not like anyone knew or cared where I went or what I did anyway. And that’s what I did for a good month until everybody forgot I wasn’t supposed to have a bike in the first place. I lived in a world without consequences. I’m amazed I didn’t misbehave even more than I did.

One time my bike actually was stolen by a kid from down the street. (That family would steal bikes, repaint them, and then sell them at flea markets, so it was hard to keep a bike in my neighborhood.) But as quiet as the experienced little thief tried to be, I still happened to see him. I ran screaming after him as he tried to cut across a field with my beloved bike. I wouldn’t give up. I just kept running and screaming for my freedom, and shouting, “I know who you ARE!” He finally dumped the bike and ran away.

It’s never a good idea to underestimate me. Especially when I know I’m in the right. And to think that I rode the school bus with that little sh** every day.

My childhood was strictly about survival, and in that, my bike was my best friend. It gave me superpowers. It allowed me to be alone and yet active. My bike was everything.

When I got older and got a used car, I dropped my bike like a hot rock. I don’t even recall what became of it. Maybe I gave it away. Maybe I just let it rot. Children rarely pay the proper homage to the people or things that were once important to them.

I didn’t have another bike until I was in my 40’s and living in Vero Beach, Florida. It was a nice way to cruise my neighborhood in the evenings. I brought that bike with me to Seattle, but I was shocked to find out that the place had hills. The bike went quickly to the Goodwill.

Bicycles no longer represent freedom to me. If I want to get away, I just drive now. Besides, my house is on a highway, so it’s not suited to doing figure eights. And I’d look a little silly doing those at my age. That, and I don’t really enjoy sweating anymore. All my exercise these days is in the swimming pool of the YWCA.

But every once in a while, I close my eyes and picture myself zooming down the street, the wind in my hair, triumphantly whooping. And it’s good.

Hey! Look what I wrote! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Because Why?

So, the other day, some idiot left a rental bike on the movable part of one of our drawbridges here in Seattle. It’s not the first time someone has gotten that bright idea, and it probably won’t be the last. But this one was destructive and expensive. I’m glad I wasn’t on duty.

Unfortunately, the bike was parked in such a way that the bridgetender couldn’t see it prior to opening the bridge for a boat. The movement caused the bike to be caught in the span, and when the operator attempted to close the bridge, he couldn’t. He had to raise the bridge up a bit, and with the help of a pedestrian, he was then able to pull the bike out.

bike

But then when he tried to close the bridge again, the bridge wasn’t in the mood to cooperate. Mechanics had to be called. The bridge couldn’t be opened for traffic or for vessels for 1 hour and 45 minutes.

The things pranksters don’t ever seem to take into account are consequences.

  • If that bike had fallen during the opening, it could have severely hurt, or possibly even killed, a pedestrian.

  • If it had fallen into the canal, it could have struck someone in a vessel crossing under the bridge.

  • The bike was ruined, and those things aren’t cheap.

  • The bridge was damaged, causing the taxpayers of Seattle a great deal of expense.

  • Traffic was backed up for miles. People may have lost jobs because they arrived late to work. Sick people might not have gotten to the doctor. Kids may have missed school, thus increasing the potential that they, too, will be stupid enough to pull a trick like this someday.

  • Idling cars caused pollution.

  • Road rage spiked.

  • Commercial vessels were not able to transit the canal, and were therefore unable to deliver their payloads on schedule, which caused independent truckers at the docks to lose time and money.

I hope you got a good laugh, genius. Oh, and by the way, if you were the last person to rent that bike before dumping it on the drawbridge (which is highly likely, since the back wheel won’t roll without credit card authorization), I hope they’re tracking you down via your card even as we speak. If so, the joke is going to be on you.

_____________________________________________________

Like this blog? Then you’ll love this book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Know Before You Go

This is a cautionary tale for those of you who love to travel. Do your homework beforehand. Read as much as you can on the destination. Because I’m here to tell you there’s nothing more frustrating than getting back home, only to discover that there was something awesome to see there that you completely missed.

I used to be much more organized. Now I’m much more of a lazy fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type person. In other words, I haven’t been heeding my own advice, to my detriment.

Recently, I wrote about my delightful visit to Vashon Island. Much to my horror, while researching for the blog post, after the fact, I learned that there is an iconic tourist destination there that I had totally overlooked. It is the bicycle in the tree.

bikeintree

The most romantic version of this legend is that a boy left it chained to a tree and then went off to war, and that either he never came back, or when he did, he discovered the tree had grown around the bike. While that’s a poignant notion, I doubt it is true, because it’s clearly a small child’s bike.

When I found out I’d missed this amazing landmark, I was frustrated. Little did I know, I’d be going back the following week! Sadly, the bike has been vandalized since someone took the above picture. (Why do people do that? What possible satisfaction can they get from taking the front tire and handlebars off a bike in a tree? I don’t get it.)

Anyway, the point is: do your homework before you travel. You’ll be glad you did. I’m a much more well-rounded person for having seen the bike in the tree.

bikeintreeandme

Like this blog? Then you’ll love this book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

 

“Wasteful!”

One of my duties here on the drawbridge is to keep the sidewalks and bike lanes clean. I used to do this with a hand broom. It would take several hours and I’d come away each time covered in sweat and with an angry set of blisters.

But it needs to be done, because you don’t want debris falling down into the machinery below, causing repairs at taxpayer expense. Also, garbage accumulates moisture, and has the potential to freeze, thus making the bridge dangerous for anyone crossing it. Safety first.

You’d be amazed at how much crap winds up on a drawbridge. Don’t even get me started about cigarette butts. I’ve ranted about them before. Why smokers think that throwing them on the ground makes them magically disappear is beyond me. Someone has to deal with them. And in this case, it’s me. It’s disgusting.

We also get a lot of leaves and sand, and I’ve found all sorts of garbage, car parts, and all manner of organic hazardous material which I won’t go into detail about for your sake. It’s not unusual to find the contents of stolen wallets, the occasional suspicious package, and various items of clothing. Bridges seem to be society’s dumping ground.

After about my 20th set of blisters, I suggested that the City of Seattle provide us with leaf blowers. That way we could at least blow all the stuff into a pile and then bag it. But I insisted it be the rechargeable battery type of blower, not the gas type. I do care about the environment. I was thrilled (and frankly shocked) when my request was granted. Now I can do a much better job on the bike lanes in about 30 minutes.

So, the other day I was out there with the leaf blower, taking pride in the quality of my work, and smiling to myself for getting the city’s cooperation against all odds, when a bicycle zoomed past. That’s not unusual, of course. But this rider gave me one of those disapproving head shakes that a tiny, yet extremely annoying minority of Seattleites seem to have honed to a razor-sharp edge. As he passed, he said, “Wasteful!” and then continued on, depriving me of the opportunity to discuss his pompous, baseless judgment with him.

But the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. The guy was riding a bike worth at least 500 dollars. How wasteful is that, in a city with a homeless crisis? His shoes were leather. Cows are one of the most environmentally destructive animals on the planet. He was carrying a Starbucks coffee. It takes 37 gallons of water to produce one cup of coffee. I’m quite sure his computer uses much more electricity than the occasional use of my leaf blower does. And what do you want to bet that his privileged butt replaces his iPhone every time a new model comes out, whether he needs to or not?

Gimme a break. Yes, a leaf blower is wasteful, but I weighed the alternatives, and I took the situation seriously. I’m trying. None of us is perfect. I’m doing the best I can.

You know what I’m not doing? Riding around on my $500 bike, passing judgment without having all the facts, or giving people the opportunity to provide them. Arrogant coward.

End of rant.

university bridge sidewalk level

Claim your copy of A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude today and you’ll be supporting StoryCorps too! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Bike-Share Stupidity

It happened again the other day. Some fool left a bike-share bike on the movable portion of my drawbridge. Fortunately, I’m used to looking out for this, because if I were to open the bridge with a bike on it, it could fall down and take out a pedestrian, or even worse, my parked car. (Just kidding that the car damage would be worse. I’d never forgive myself if someone got hurt on my watch.)

I’ve also seen these rental bikes abandoned as far south as Renton, even though they’re not supposed to leave the city of Seattle. It usually takes several days for the company to find and retrieve them. That means they’re not available for another user during that period.

Even worse, I recently read a Seattle Times article about a bike-share bike being left on a ferry. The Coast Guard had to treat it as a potential man overboard. This unnecessary rescue operation cost the taxpayers $17,000, and this is not the first time it has happened.

Another Seattle Times article warns that some bikes have been found with the brake lines cut. That’s not funny. Unless you’re into being a murderer without even witnessing the crime, I suppose. What kind of a sick, twisted human being does that? Check these bikes thoroughly before you use them, folks.

I love that there are several bike rental companies in Seattle. Anything that cuts down the traffic congestion gets my vote. And we all benefit if commuting is more green and affordable. But we also have to behave responsibly so that this privilege isn’t taken away. These companies are not charities. Too many expenses cutting into their profit margin and they’ll soon decide it’s not worth it. Then we all lose.

bike share

Read any good books lately? Try mine! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

People are Strange

Apparently yesterday was Crazy Dude on the Bridge Day, and nobody warned me. I should actually read the e-mails, I suppose. But no.

My first tip-off was when I heard a blaring of honking horns. (I’m making it official. A group of honking horns is called a blaring.) I looked out, and there was a man standing in the middle of my drawbridge, blocking two of the four lanes of traffic. Aw, shit. Paperwork.

Every time someone tried to veer around him, he’d shuffle sideways so they couldn’t accomplish their goal. All the while, he’s screaming at the top of his lungs. At best he was shredding his voice, and would probably wake up the next day unable to speak without remembering why. Worst case scenario, he was going to get himself killed. Either way, it was obvious that some substance or other was involved. I called 911.

As per usual with 911, they assumed I was a crank caller. “You work where? Which bridge is that?” Then they started getting bombarded with calls from the drivers. I guess that gave me an air of legitimacy. They sat up and took notice then.

Especially when I told them that the guy was now throwing his bicycle at cars. He’d heave the thing, hit a car, then retrieve the bike after the car sped off. Rinse. Repeat.

I saw a pedestrian videoing him with his smart phone. I’d love to see that footage. But I bet the video-er had second thoughts when the guy went over to the bike lane and started hassling bicyclists. Scatter!

This guy needed help. It’s scary to think the republicans just took away the last obstacle to his getting a firearm. But a bike can be a deadly weapon, too.

Naturally, he rode away long before the police arrived. That must have been one sturdy bike. I suspect he went elsewhere and caused more trouble. I bet they could track him through downtown Seattle just by the 911 calls.

Just another day at the office for me.

Brain on Drugs
Your brain on drugs.

Read any good books lately? Try mine! It beats standing in traffic.  http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Warped Perspectives

It’s a cold, rainy day here in Seattle, and I’m sitting here at work, grateful for the fact that I’m being paid to be someplace warm and dry. Being perched high up in a drawbridge tower, I have the unique opportunity to observe people without them even knowing I’m here. That means I often get to see the best and worst of humanity.

Today, unfortunately, I got to see the very worst.

I looked up just now to see an old, homeless guy pushing a grocery cart down the street. He was skin and bones, and soaking wet, and limping, and you could tell he’d been out there for a long, long time. I felt sorry for him.

He pushed his cart into the bike lane to get out of the way of some joggers. Then this guy came barreling up behind him on what was easily a $500 bicycle, and had to just slightly swerve around the guy. He had plenty of warning that the guy was there, and yet, “Asshole!” the rich biker screamed. And then again, over his shoulder, much louder, “Asshole!”

The homeless guy just came to a dead stop. He stood there in the cold, pouring rain, saying nothing for a minute. Then he continued his resigned trudge down the street.

Was that necessary? Why? Why?

Granted, I have no idea what is going on in rich biker’s life. Maybe his dog just died or something. Maybe he wasn’t hugged enough as a child. But when people display a total and utter lack of compassion and tolerance like that, I can’t even begin to understand them. I’m not sure I even want to.

A friend of mine said he thought it was a test that a higher power put in rich biker’s path to see if he was a worthy human being. Well, that’s one way of looking at it. If so, I think he failed. Miserably.

Homeless