So this morning I'm on my customary Ship Channel ride. It's a crisp morning. 45 degrees. I'm stopped at Telephone Road and I-45, waiting for the light to change. There's no one else around, except for one of those guys who cleans windshields with a squeegee, expecting a buck in return. From the median where he's standing, he yells at me, "How much that bike weigh?" I'm riding my fixed gear Swobo Del Norte, which even for fixies, is a boat anchor. Taking him seriously, I answer, "It's not very light." He's a good 20 feet away, the freeway's roaring above us. He erroneously repeats, "It's not very heavy, huh?" At that moment I realize that he's not really interested in the weight of my chromoly steel bike. I could have said 45 pounds, or 15 pounds, or five. It wouldn't have made a difference to him. All he wanted was to make a connection with someone. There, on the median, standing in the cold, he couldn't clean my windshield or, really, do anything for me. Except just ask a question that was more than anything, a human being reaching out to another for a little warmth. A black man asking a white man about his bike, just because it's a subject matter that was available and obvious. Once I got that; once I understood his sincerity, I asked him, "How you doing? Keeping warm?" He said, "Yeah, doing the best I can." The light turned green. "Same here," I said as I rolled off.
I rode the rest of my route with an extra layer of warmth that inspired me to start this blog. I thought to myself, this is part of cycling that car drivers never experience. There's something about being on a bike that puts you on a closer connection to the street or the road. A bike is a unique mode of transportation, in that it is part of two worlds: the motorized world and the pedestrian world. In the motorized world, the king is the semi, the eighteen-wheeler. His court, in descending order, is composed by cargo trucks, dump trucks and cement mixers, mail vans, pick-up trucks, Station wagons, cars, motorcycles, scooters, and finally, the court jesters – bikes. In the pedestrian world, bikes are king. You can walk. You can run. Or you can ride. When I'm in a car, I never talk to people outside the car. I'm totally isolated from them. On my bike, I talk to cops, firemen, construction workers, runners, people waiting for the bus, kids playing, homeless people, dogs chasing me, the old Asian woman tending to her flowers, the "paletero" guy with his popsicle trike. For me, it's a totally different world. Same streets, different dimension.
Lest you think that this blog is going to be warm, fuzzy, feel-good and inspirational, I assure you it's not. Because we're human, whether we walk, ride or drive. Whether we're black, white, rich or homeless. As I was getting home, riding down Gray Street, by the Greyhound station, I heard a guy call out, "Hey, hold up, man." Another street level reach-out to connect, human-to-human? Or just a bum wanting a handout? I made up my mind way too quickly. "Hell, no," I thought. I didn't even turn to look at him, I just pedaled a little faster. In seconds, a range of emotions went through me like an electric shock: fear, contempt, skepticism, annoyance, relief and guilt. Just 30 minutes earlier I had established a connection with a total stranger, and now I was ignoring another. Crap! I just shunned, dismissed and blew off someone who was calling me. I'm not as good a person as I thought I was. Or maybe I was just reacting as I know how to, reacting to take care of myself, protecting myself from the harsh life of the streets. Maybe sometimes I'm a nice person. Maybe sometimes I'm an ass. Sometimes connecting, sometimes rejecting. Human.