Wednesday, November 29, 2006

On Monday morning, I hit snooze on my cell phone alarm clock a few times before seriously lifting my head. I muttered to myself and kicked at the sheets, grabbed the string for the venetians that dangled by the head of my bed and tugged the blinds open - not much brighter.

Yeah, it's getting toward December all right.

It's still mild out but I took a look at the bike, and at the clock steadily creeping past 8 AM, and decided I'd take the subway in. It's not really a decision based on how much time I have, because riding the bike is quicker especially when I factor in the walk from MSG to my office, but the later it gets, the harder it is to get going, and something just made me not want to get on my bike that morning.

Maybe there was an accident waiting to happen.

On the subway I got the opportunity to watch people disengage with their surroundings. iPods everywhere, tinkering with cell phones, or just staring straight ahead, numbed out. What a world we live in, where we take every opportunity to shut ourselves out from it. It makes me grateful I don't have an iPod and it makes me grateful that I don't take the subway to work - with fatigue and resign, I too would just look for ways to disengage.

I've spent a lot of time in various parts of my life doing things that have been disengaging rather than engaging. I like to think that biking is a way to engage with the world - I get outside more often, go places I wouldn't otherwise, meet people I wouldn't otherwise, interact with strangers more, perhaps, than I would if I were on foot - but it's a bit more complicated and more dynamic than that, because I'm sure that some people around me may have noticed my occasional tendency to sink into a space where I only think about riding. It's happened. It will happen again. I try to be careful with myself when patterns and priorities emerge in my life. There was a few months last year when I spent almost no money at all, except on alcohol. It's good to track those sort of things, to be clear about how it's choice and not happenstance.

This started with me thinking about how I'm glad I don't have an iPod. But I also have to realize that I've barely discovered new music in the past two years. I can count on one hand the number of artists who have broken in to my steady rotation. So what I really need to do is give friends 5 blank CDs and tell them to get to work on my "New Year, New Music" gift.

I gotta get on that.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

This morning, I met up with another biker on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge. We had organized the way young people these days tend to do, using the internet.

I got there first and watched the diversity of bikers coming and going over the south side pedestrian path. People on high-end carbon fiber time trial bikes and people on cruisers and upright hybrids, and a majority of people in spandex with alu and carbon bikes with Ultegra and Dura-Ace drivetrains. In otherwords, some real bling, and lots of high quality. It should go without saying that there was lots of lycra. Waiting for my riding buddy I must have stood out with my fixed gear, my camelback, my dickies and windbreaker outfit.

My riding buddy showed up and led me around the bridge to River Road, a thin, winding road down the Palisades to the edge of the Hudson. Pictures would be appropriate, but I have none. The road is thickly lined with fallen leaves. In many places there is just a ragged barrier of small, well-placed boulders between the road and a drop to the shallows of the Hudson. We see few other bikers - most are on 9W. It winds past small waterfalls coming down the Palisades; looking out over the river affords a view of the Hudson on a day that's remarkably clear, crisp but bright and warm, for late November; beyond the river, the hills of the Bronx and Westchester County. Greens, greys, and blues...

There are two significant climbs, the second of which takes us back up the cliffs and has us at a snail's pace until we reach 9W again and pick up the pace. Cars hammer by when they're impatient, but most are familiar with bikers on this road. There must be hundreds if not thousands on any given beautiful weekend day.

Up to a biker coffee shop in Nyack--now nice to see a place where bikes are parked without locks on racks in parking spaces on the street and people linger on the sidewalks, sipping coffee at tables, enjoying that last weekend before fall draws itself to a moody close and reminds us that winter is coming in earnest.

And, settling in to a long bike ride back to the Bronx...


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

This morning I got hit by a car. The clarity of the slow-motion pre-impact: it's u-turning. I can't stop in time. It's coming closer. The hood is getting larger. I recall people using the phrase, "going up onto the hood of a car" to talk about accidents. I'm about to roll on to the hood. I'm airborn. My helmeted head hits the pavement. Then, of course, everything stops and re-starts and accelerates and before I know it I pick myself up and am sitting on the curb shaking myself off, inspecting myself, trying to clear my head and figure out what I need to do.

Two cops walk over from where they were chilling across the street. Oh good, I think, sometimes cops can be really useful. "Are you okay?" one asks. I answer, "Yeah, I think so." "Good," he said, "Now: what the fuck were you doing in the middle of the road?" I give him the dumbfounded, you-gotta-be-kidding-me look. I drop a couple of sentences about how there are cars, cargo trucks, and pedestrians between the beams of the elevated train and the curb, and how I was riding in the lane safetly. He tells me he saw me riding on the yellow line all the way down the street, and then he challenges me to call him a liar. The rest of the interaction proceeds like this.

After making my peace with the driver - who was in tears and very grateful that I wasn't hurt - and verifying that my bike was fine (surprisingly! front wheel in true, fork undamaged, frame unhurt! go figure!), I take my leave of the obnoxious cops and the rest of the situation, which pissed me off. My leave-taking, that is.

I should have gotten the driver's information, but I didn't. The cop led me to believe that I could file an accident report but that was the only thing I could do, and he wouldn't tell me what would happen if i filed a report. Due process bullshit - I was in a situation where I was shaken and not thinking and planning well, and I'm completely unaware of my rights and options and the repercussions of my choices.

Part of my thinking was about the driver. I felt no ill will toward him and did not want to unleash a world of bureaucratic bullshit for this nice guy who hugged me when he realized I was okay. In the back of my mind, also, was - what if he's got outstanding warrants, or undocumented residency, or something? What's the worst possible scenario? I wasn't pleased with the options, so I let it drop. I was fine, my bike was fine. I seriously did not want the state involved.

Not pleased with being unaware of the processes of accident follow-up as they pertain to police, the law, accident reports, and insurance dealings (what if my bike was damaged?), I'm doing a little bit of research to put together a "What If I'm Hit" document that can be stored between the spokes of just about anybody's wheels, so that they'll be readily available for consult when it's most necessary.

In other news, the South Bronx Greenway Plan is going to happen. The city is finally taking action to address the many environmental justice and public-space concerns that are regularly raised by residents and community groups in the South Bronx. Included in the plan is 12 acres of waterfront space, 8 miles of green streets, greenways, bike paths, jogging paths... this is pretty rad. Finally.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

An odd feeling: relief that Monday morning comes, so you can settle back into a quiet routine for a few days and let the fatigue drain. Cranksgiving was on Saturday and wore me out - the race, the afterparty, and showing up sweaty, gross, drunk and a little bit impolite at a Very Respectable Housewarming party. And then back to the Bronx, where I woke up the next morning feeling like I fell down a flight of stairs: awesome.

Fatigue feels great.

I met up with somebody I've ridden with in the past, at the registration point by the Jacob Javits Center, and we sat around and talked about bikes while an awkward photographer from some newswire - who said he was doing a piece on messengers - snapped pictures and asked awkward questions. More and more people show up, including a bunch of people from Hartford and New Haven, some of whom I know, some I was just meeting. One guy came with a seriously bent fork - an accident about thirty seconds after leaving the train station found him on the hood of a cab, and as we were shooting the shit, five or six guys were standing around his bike offering advice on leverage for cold-setting his fork into something rideable.

We get our manifests. We've got a lot of choice of routes for this race - we need to hit 4 of 8 grocery stores (buying food to donate instead of standard alleycat checkpoints), but we need to hit one in each listed area - east village, battery park city, upper east side, upper west side - and we've got to do them in a figure 8, with a midpoint at columbus circle (where we are told the finish line), which means lots of going crosstown, in nyc, on a saturday early afternoon. Our first stop must be a store in the east, our first option is to go north or south. We decide to go south (a bad decision; 2/3ds of everybody went North, including the winners, who are also faster so that's not really the point).

"Go!" the organizer yells after saying some thank-yous and ride-safes. We break for the crossstreets with grunts and that slight sound that your chain makes when you're accelerating from a stop; we hit the street and immediatly have to dodge a tractor that's rumbling down, and we laugh as we fly East. A sprint over to the East 20's, picking up potatoes at a grocery (a realization: yeah, bad idea to hit up the store where we had to get potatoes, the heaviest item, first). Then down to Houston and over to Broadway, hammering down to a store on South End Ave. Where's that? It's West of the west side highway. Who knew? Then 3 of us in a paceline (riding with wheels so close they're almost touching - you've got to be careful, but it cuts down so much wind resistance for everybody but the leader) for several miles going up the West Side Highway bike path, occasionally yelling to clear the way of pedestrians. One guy preferred to just yell like an animal; I tried the "charitybikeracecomingthroughsorrytobotheryouthankyou!" which was only marginally successful.

A stop at Columbus Circle and then a haul into the headwinds going up 3rd Avenue. A stop, then through the park to the West Side to our last stop, then back down toward the finish, which required weaving through madness on 59th street and a last haul down 2nd avenue, which produced the worst, tightest, most maddening traffic I've ever ridden in. I got knocked down on 59th street (just hit a mirror with my shoulder at moderate speed and couldn't recover), and I lost the two guys I was riding with in the traffic on 2nd. Made it down to 35th street & East River for the finish, and was a little disappointed to see so many finish before me. Oh well.

The course was 20miles, maybe a bit more, with long hauls uptown and crosstown between checkpoints. It was a tough time of day for an alleycat (but really, what's not?), a pre-holiday Saturday, midtown-heavy traffic. I'm eager to see the results, when they're compiled and put out over the internet.

Anyway, after a beer and some snacks at the finish line, I and some others took off to run an errand and grab some bites to eat. Then to Brooklyn to drop off the food - a little odessey of its own - then back to Alphabet City for the afterparty, where I got to recognize people I've never met and introduce them with, "oh, hi, I recognize you from the internet," to which one guy responded, "Oh, awesome! It's always nice to meet people I spend all day at work with," referring to the nyc fixed gear message board. Bike dorks with day jobs and computers...

People also talked about crashes and injuries. There were a few too many for a charity bike race. A Connecticut pile-up (thanks to a pedestrian crossing between cars!) that resulted in a broken Spinergy carbon-fiber front wheel and a damaged keirin frame. One nyc guy got clipped by another rider - knocked down and broke his elbow - and the other rider didn't even stop. That's foul, really foul.

By the end of the night I was tired and buzzed enough to accidently get the name of a friend of a friend Very Wrong (oops!) and generally be socially awkward at this Housewarming party. Left for the ride home to the Bronx, and completely hit the wall on the 3rd Avenue Bridge, absolutely crawling in the face of the cold winds. I fell into my bed - not even late, at 1 AM - but tired as hell, and slept for ten hours.

Anyhoo, woot. Back at work. Time to rest. I'll either boast or swear to improve, publicly on this blog, when results come out.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

This post by Rick got me thinking about some things that I've been thinking about. I used to be involved in a lot of activism, organizing, and radical-style community building and education. In fact, I almost dropped out of school because there were other projects that I spent more time on... anti-war organizing, medic organizing, Food Not Bombs, traveling to protests, organizing health trainings, this, that, and et cetera.

I burned out, a little bit. Then I graduated, took a job at a teensy tiny community-oriented non profit organization in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and sort of stepped back from a lot of organizing, and stepped back from my connection and involvement in a lot of projects that meant a lot to me, that I had put a lot of energy in to. To some extent, I felt that some of them had run their course. I stopped being vegan and started cooking really good meals with yogurt and cheese in them.

A year and a half after getting my diploma, I'm settling into a life that I might occupy for an indefinite time period. I'm feeling really settle-y. I might have this current job for several years, I want to pay off debts, save money, and importantly, I want to live somewhere where I don't have a move-out date in mind. Except for my eleven months in Bridgeport, I haven't lived somewhere uninterrupted for more than three or four months at a time since I was seventeen and moved out of my parents' house when I went to school.

And now as I'm getting kind of settled and Growing Up just a little bit, I'm wondering how I want to re-insert myself into movements for change; how I want to participate in valuable work and projects. Because, really, while it's nice to have a Real Job, it is *not* the thing in my life that I want to take the highest priority. Being employed is a priority. Job = Life is not an equation I'm interested. I want to be a part of a larger community and I want my participation to be defined by doing positive work.

And I am feeling that defining that participation in Change - standing for something larger than myself, as Rick phrased the question - is a long, long way away from how I defined it three or four years ago, when I was all to willing to scream things at the top of my lungs while cops were arresting me. It's a long way away from two or three years ago, when I was interested in teaching people how to be healthy and safe so that they can scream things at the top of their lungs while cops were arresting them.

There's so much room to build infrastructure to ensure that radical communities can support radical change-oriented projects. The question is, how? And, now that I'm in New York City, where do I start? That's something I'm working on.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Yesterday, I had my 30-day new-employee check-in with human resources. It was brief; mostly, the very nice HR lady was checking to make sure I had gotten my medical insurance cards. No, I told her. After saying, "Hmmm, I can't believe that!" a few times (to which I replied, "No, really. I didn't get them. Yes, I'm sure."), she said she'd look in to it. An hour later I got an email from her assistant telling me that she had put them in my box. I replied, "Ah, my box. Great. What's my box, and where do I find it?" Apparently there's an inter-office mail system that nobody told me about. I've got a box.

I had been afraid of getting a job that offers eight hours a day of senses-dulling mindlessness. I don't think this job will offer that, and that's good. Perks include a very pleasant officemate, and a casual dress code. Jeans and a sweater, today. Some days I barely change out of bike clothes. I do add deodorant. It's necessary.

Sometimes it's hard for me to figure out how to interact with people. Nodding and smiling in passing in hallways is a pretty good way but them somebody breaks the I'm-too-busy-for-interaction wall and tries to engage me in pleasantries! What do I do? "Uh, good. How are you?" Good. Passed that one okay. This is not my ideal environment and I think that my ability to demonstrate basic social may suffer.

A lot of environments cause this. Not just for me, but for everyone. Elevators: nobody talks in them. Why not? What's wrong with greeting the eight people with whom you sardine yourself for a vertical journey to your workspace? Why pretend you don't notice them? Why are some people so startled by a simple "Hello"?

Yeah, yeah, I know, I just wrote about how I'm startled by a simple "hello." I'm still figuring out how to behave. Once I figure it out, I'll start disrupting it. Promise.


Monday, November 13, 2006

"You gotta be crazy." I hear it all the time. Coworkers, the UPS guy who's always hanging around my work building's loading dock, or anybody else I engage in conversation who can't fathom the idea of riding a bike in New York City tell me that I must be crazy.

I guess I am. It's really unsafe out there and it's really frustrating, too. One second I'm flying down Lexington with plenty of space on my left and right and the next moment a bus is pulling out in front of me while a cargo truck behind me lays on the horn. All I wanna do is cruise safely--why is everyone honking at me?

Some days are better than other. Last week was terrible. I had so many close calls--looking down a one-way street at a red light, seeing nothing, and proceeding only to realize that I had looked down the wrong way of the one way. Getting bumped by a minivan going around a cab. Getting threatened by a cabbie in an SUV who pulled next to me (setting off the alarm: danger! asshole is attempting to contact me! i feel threatened!), basically threatening to commit vehicular assault if I continue to get in his way. And a bunch of the usual stuff--getting honked at and yelled at when riding in a lane, which is perfectly legal--just making me a whole lot aggravated, angry, frustrated, upset, and scared. And, also, violent. I've started feeling like it's more necessary to have my u-lock accessible in order to brandish it at an aggressive driver.

This morning I reminded myself that if I take off somebody's sideview mirror (called "u-lock justice" by people who probably talk about it more than they do it and do it more frequently than they should) because I'm pissed at them for driving like an asshole, it's not going to help me a half a mile down the road when somebody passes me on the right and then attempt to turn left across a lane--my lane--of traffic.

Reminding myself of this during my ride to work today helped me to stay calm and remember why biking is fun and that I can chose to have it be more or less fun.

In other bicycle-related news, I've been meaning to replace my chain before it damages my chainring and my cog. See, under stress, chains stretch and then wear down the teeth of the chainring and cog to the point where a new chain won't evenly and smoothely sit on the old chainring and cog. This is undesirable and it means that you should have spent $20 on a new chain several months ago, but now you've got to spend several times that on a new chainring and cog. I've been having odd dreams lately, and I dreamt that I checked my chainring for wear and found it comically, unusably, wacky-in-a-way-that-only-dreams-can-provide worn and destroyed.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Welcome to my serious blog.

Last night I went to an open mic at a cafe in New York. I was looking forward to it because I want to meet other musicians. I'm part of a small group of musicians who have founded an independant record label called Frictionless Records, which is a member-run musical collective dedicated to artistic and musical cross-pollination--musical mutual aid. We help each other write, record, and perform. We are friends. We are also geographically scattered, and since I just recently settled in New York, I'd like to get my feet on the ground, poke around in some musical scenes, and keep eyes and ears open to how we might be able to expand. Expand in terms of performance and expand in terms of size--we want to find more like-minded individuals with whom to work.

I went to an open mic as a sort of Step One in this process. Unfortunately, this open mic was a serious clique-fest. Some skilled people, some interesting guitar work, some beautiful voices, but there was limited time and the MC let his drunk friends prattle in front of the mic for excessive periods of time. What's with the mentality of not respecting other performers and just waiting for your time to dominate the mic? I'm so not interested in that.

Time ran out. I did not get to play. I biked back home to the Bronx and fell asleep and now I'm at work, tired and a bit grouchy because I got less sleep than I generally prefer.

This blog is about lots of things, and music and bikes are two big things in my life. Music has been in my life for as long as I can remember and I'm experiencing a really serious revitalization. A few weeks ago, my band opened for The Wrens, an older, well-respected, super-talented indie rock band from New Jersey that we adore. It was a pretty big deal for us; I don't go to many shows and I'm completely not down with the tour circuit and who's releasing what new album when, so it was my first musical innundation in a while. The Wrens blew me away with their talent; I got re-inspired and am putting a lot of new effort into my music.

Biking is a more recent love of mine. Two/three years ago I got interested in bikes, and started out by learning the duct-tape-and-hammer mechanic method--not unlike the "shake it until it works" school of home engineering. I borrowed a friend's urban singlespeed road bike and was thrilled at how fast and effortless it was, and needed to have one. Bought a fixed gear beater from a friend for $80 and a spanish textbook. Shortly thereafter I got a job in a bike shop and built up the bike that I've been riding for the past year and a half, an IRO Mark V frame with a variety of random components on it. I commute 20 miles a day, do some casual alleycat-style urban racing, and some long distance utilitarian biking.

There's a bike scene in NYC, too--an urban fixed scene--and I'm not much in it yet. But maybe soon.

Also of note and of excitement is: I might be buying a real pretty classic track frame. It's a possibility, far from a probability. It will be nice to have nice things. I don't own a lot of nice things.

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