Note from Eugene Bicyclist: On the off chance you’ve been wondering where the hell I’ve been, look: I’ve been busy … driving around in my new GMC Yukon and laying on the couch with a Double Big Gulp of Mountain Dew. So Sharrow has taken matters into her own hands, offering a guest post today in efforts to keep the blog fresh as I cried out, “What’s the point of it all!?” and plunged into an existential bicycle crisis. And a fine post it is, too, on such very matters:
The girls and I rode to Vanilla Jill’s on Coburg Road on the first real sunny day of spring. We started dressed in layers, and by the time we sat down to eat outside, we’d peeled down to our T-shirts, our forearms warm and pale on the tabletop. The battery-operated Easter chicken Eugene Bicyclist’s mom had mailed the girls was at the table with us, clucking and laying plastic eggs and getting its polka-dotted fur all yogurt-y.
It was the kind of afternoon that fills me with gratitude for the sun on our foreheads, for afternoons off with my two chattery girls, for the bike Eugene Bicyclist put together for us, for the car-driving humanity on Coburg Road, for the LTD bus finally roaring out of the way in the bike lane in front of us. It was funny, even, when the 3-year-old, who rides in back now, kept pulling down the back of my pants and exclaiming “POOP. THERE’S POOP IN THERE” and the 5-year-old started singing, “I see London, I see France …”
On the way back, a youngish guy in a watermelon helmet on a Bike Friday pulled up next to us at a stoplight and asked the girls if they were having fun and if they loved biking. They regarded him and nodded, which is about as much as you can hope for with them and inquisitive strangers.
Before he rode off ahead of us, he turned to me and said, “Thank you. Thanks for doing this. For riding with them.” I’m never quick with answers when I’m caught off guard; I can’t get my tongue to work right, and I think, there in the traffic, my reply to watermelon head was something really complicated like, “Yeah … it’s wonderful.”
But later I thought it was kind of silly, really, to thank me for riding my nice bike with my nice kids in the sunshine to go get some frozen yogurt and kombucha.
“Are you kidding me?” I wanted to say to Watermelon Head. I don’t think I know a parent who wouldn’t have had her feet on my pedals given the chance on such an afternoon. I think most people I know would rather, if they could, ride to as many places as they could — if work wasn’t so far away from home and the kids didn’t have to be dropped off in 10-minute increments, if they had better gear for the whole family, if they didn’t have three meetings that day.
Not that I’m an apologist for car culture. (You ought to see me take Lincoln hill with the Xtracycle loaded down with groceries on a rainy day, high on eco-ego-adrenaline, going all Al Gore in my head about people who drive to the gym).
No, it’s the back-patting we do that icks me out a little bit. Maybe because I do it all the time. I’m constantly keeping a ledger in my head, hearing a little voice — yeah, she’s a cousin to the good food/bad food police — who tells me what lousy modeling it is to drive my kids to preschool a mile away, how ridiculous it is to strap them into their car seats for a trip to Kiva when we could bike or walk there so easily.
It is, I think, the politicization of biking that my dear Eugene Bicyclist resents. That we don’t always bike because it’s fun and healthy. Sometimes we do it for the cranky little editorialist in our heads. Sometimes we do it for the gray-haired woman in the Prius who gave us a thumb’s up one time in the rain when our panniers were bulging with groceries and there was a 12-pack of toilet paper bungied to the back of the bike. When that happened, I thought, “Are we in a commercial for something?” And maybe we were.
I drove the girls to a birthday party once in the middle of a rainstorm — not a particularly torrential one, but not a timid one either. It was windy, too, and that damp-cold that it gets here only in the spring, maybe to punish us for trying to wear our spring clothes too early. So, I thought we were absolved from Cranky Voice.
But then another Mama showed up at the party with her kid on their bikes, drenched even in their raingear, having walked the last quarter of a mile because they’d gotten a flat tire and didn’t have anything with them to repair it.
And you know what? I felt a little ping of covetousness for their experience. They were muddy and wet-haired and red-cheeked and smiling. They unpeeled their layers and were warm underneath. They tore into their pizza and cupcakes, happy and alive in a way that you can be only after braving the elements. And that’s the thing, I think — the truest thing about all of this.