February made me shiver

Spring is never coming and we need to accept this. It will be winter forever and the temperatures will never rise again and that ice cream sandwich that you've left in your pannier will never melt, keeping you clothes pristine and free from melted ice cream stickiness and gooey, sopping chocolately mess. So, at least we've got that going for us.

But at least it's dry sometimes. It doesn't rain or snow or sleet every day and there isn't always besmirching road wet. Sometimes it's dry and there's only dirt and loose gravel and potholes the size of pasta pots and not sauciers. Criminalize potholes.

Winter makes bus fumes feel like the warm wafts of summer air or maybe the exiting gases of a no longer dormant volcano. Waiting behind a bus on a red light is like being at a sauna for bike commuters. Soak it in. Cough it out. 

Spring is never coming and that's a good thing. Chirping baby birds chirp annoyingly. Sod off, baby birds. And who likes flowers anyway? They put flowers on tombstones. Warm weather and sunlight is for chumps. The chumps get on their bicycles and they get in your way, you who has grown solicitous of solitude since before the solstice. Flanneled flaneur, you've grown used to having your voice muffled by your muffler, your mutterings and mumbles kept to yourself. The "warmos," as you've styled as people ensconced in their cars, don't deserve to hear you anyway. Whatever sayings you've said belong to you and to the cold winter wind.

It will never be warm again. That's ok. 


I chased mailboxes. They got away.

The inimitable MG of the blog Chasing Mailboxes and various biking contests wherein people have to ride their bicycles miles to purchase hot beverages or they're forced to assiduously clean and polish various tandem bike components in the Dining Room Bike Shop for 6 months before given the ability to earn their freedom by completing a full R-12 series (to be honest, I don't know if those are the exact terms of coffeeneuring- I've never actually made it to the bottom of the rules) has decided to profile this here very blog, Tales From The Sharrows, in her otherwise amazing series On Writing & Riding

I am honored.

I thank MG for including this blog in the list of those profiled, a list that contains so many very excellent blogs about bicycling and also this one. I also thank her for her very thoughtful interview questions which really challenged me to come up with creative lies about why I started writing this blog (real answer: if I ever typed under 55 wpm, Dennis Hopper would blow up my computer), what I've gotten out of the experience (real answer: the Speed and Speed 2: Cruise Control Criterion Collection DVD box set from an anonymous adoring fan), and why I care so darn much about pogo sticks (real answer: [insert pun about Dennis Hopper]). The whole thing was a grand time and I only cried a little from all of the introspection. Totally worth it.

You can read it here.


Prison Memoirs

"Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is... maybe he didn't."- Eli Cash

I worked from home today, which a thing that I'm sometimes, but not frequently, able to do. I have a pretty standard work schedule and a pretty regular commute, meaning I ride into work on the five weekdays and at pretty on the "get in by 9, leave after 5" kind of schedule. How very gray flannel suit of me. Anyway, I realize that my situation, and perhaps increasingly so, is not really the standard one for many area bike commuters, who either work from home and have to carve out rides at different times of the day or work on a shift schedule or work on weekends or work overnight or work from various locations in non-traditional office settings. As one might learn from an elementary school play, we're not all the same.

Sometimes when I leave work early or go in late or have a day off and find myself riding at different times from my normal rush hour, I feel like I'm confronted with a totally different terrain and a completely different cast of characters. Cars are parked where they're not "normally" parked. Pedestrians aren't where they "normally" are. Pogoists clog the streets, springing from "out of nowhere" and making you question why they're not mandated to carry licenses and insurance. The speed of traffic flow is faster or slower. Those you ride along with are more louche or more serious or more self-serious or less attentive or more vigilant or more soccer mom or less bus driver. The whole thing is like watching the actors from Mad Men performing an episode of How I Met Your Mother on the set of Battlestar Galactica. ["Have you met cylon Don Draper?"] You recognize the constituent parts, but the total experience is dissonant. Bike commuting isn't an act without context and often it's the context that shapes the experience more than the act itself.

So, allow me to solicit your feedback. How is your ride shaped by when you do it (and with whom your "sharing the road")? Do you think that grass would be greener if your commute was your commute but at a different time and with a different set of fellow travelers? Additionally, do you think that grass would be greener if you stopped riding your bike over it and listened to various lawn care professionals and watered it every so often and maybe used a turfbuilder for once? Or, thanks to circumstances, do you think that you're met with unparalleled favorable conditions that you would never trade, no matter what? Not even for a million cheeseburgers [or cheeseburger equivalents for those of who don't denominate in cheeseburgers]?


Old Books

When I was in school, the chair of our department was an archaeologist and when we arranged to have lectures on codicology, it was very much presented as the "archaeology of the book." Old books are lovely objects, but they don't really excite me, at least not in the way that they excited some of my colleagues. I liked that they were old (I think I'm not unique in appreciating extant Very Old Things), but, you know, it was still just an old book, about which I felt very little sentimental attachment or intellectual curiosity, and, while I might be mistaken in this belief, I suspect that there were much more interesting things in the pre-modern, mostly illiterate world than the contents of very old books, the script used, the vellum, the ink, the binding and all that, even if those other things no longer remained and even if those things couldn't be placed in the middle of an old wooden table at some church rectory library. Refusing to engage with the object on its own terms was my deficiency and not a problem with the manuscript or codicology itself. I just didn't feel it. Anyway.

Sometimes I think about metaphors to better explain what it is to be a bike commuter in a place where a bike commuter isn't a thing a lot of people are expected to be. Once I thought that if the act of commuting, the mass act undertaken by all people trying to get to home or work from work or home, was like a manuscript, then perhaps the bike commuters would be the smaller and less important words in the text. Still integral to the text and still with meaning, but not like the giant letters or the big pictures of the Evangelists or proper names, they exist alongside and carry equal weight in the overall understanding of the text.

I don't really think this anymore.

I think that bike commuters are marginalia. The text is the text and we are not it. We're not even the little and unimportant words or the things that are abbreviated and you'd need a Cappelli to grok. When I think about it, I'm not even really riding on most days in the same physical space as most drivers. We share the road as you might share the dining room at a restaurant, them at the big tables in the middle of the room, well lit and with ample room, and me at a tiny high top cramped between the swinging door entrance to the kitchen and the hallway that leads to the bathroom. For the most part, I'm riding in the gutter and I'm filtering and I'm off to the side between the parked cars and the stopped cars. What is a bike lane but a margin? (And what are we but marginalized?) The roads as they are now weren't exactly designed with us in mind and even the retrofitting of "bike friendliness" seems to be have done with the idea of disturbing the status quo as little as possible. When the text is canon, interpretations are limited.

But being marginalia is freeing. We can question and we can be playful. We can engage the text as little or as much as we want. We can continue to exist on the page without having to march along, evenly spaced on evenly spaced lines.

I rode behind a girl today who was was listening to headphones and bopping her head and drumming on her handlebars and having what appeared to be an absolutely great time. This was on 21st Street and there were blocks upon blocks of drivers blocked by drivers blocking blocks and blocks of intersections. And she just rode past them on the right side, drumming and bopping and I rode behind her and we made it through much faster than anyone in a car made it through. It was nice.


Snow Pile

It's currently on its way to destruction (UPDATE: destroyed), but for almost a week since the storm, there has been a giant pile of snow in the middle of the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack directly in front of the Wilson Building, in which are the offices of the Mayor and members of the Council of the District of Columbia. I've had some fun over the past two days tweeting about it and I've storify-ed these tweets in homage to a much better collection of storify-ed tweets about the ups and downs of snow cleaning efforts vis-a-vis DC's bike facilities.

"But wait, there's more," he says to the collective groans of everyone who has read this far. I have some additional suggestions for when another massive snow pile (because, of course) is once again situated in the middle of one of the District's premier and vital pieces of separated bike infrastructure. So, in no particular order, please find below my very serious suggestions for best uses for future massive snow piles:
  • Bike-through oyster bar
  • Eskimo hostel
  • National Yeti Memorial
  • Artisan, locally sourced Slurpee distribution center
  • Iditarod training facility 
  • Backdrop for some Chris O'Donnell movie promotion that's 14 years late
  • Location for the 2015 NHL Winter Classic 
In conclusion, I look forward to spring. I look forward to reminiscing about the massive snow pile in the middle of the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack every time I open my freezer or they release another Ice Age movie. I look forward to sincerely believing that the "powers that be" (whoever they are) have learned their lesson and won't repeat the mistake of allowing problems like this to linger. I look forward to being able to ride my bike to work without thinking about the travails of the Donner Party. And while I recognize that this massive snow pile was constructed to keep White Walkers away from our elected officials, I hope that we can, in the future, find a way to do so without imperiling bicyclists and inhibiting their access to bike facilities that were built for year-round use. 


With all due apologies to the estate of Robert Frost

Whose city's this I think I know
He moved to the suburbs long ago;
He will not see me biking here
Through infrastructure full of snow.

The passing drivers think it queer
They give a honk and pull too near
Riding in the center lane
Not the bike lane, far from clear.

A wobble, skid and then a fall
"Eff this, man, eff it all"
Colliding with the muddy thud
Upside-down, in winter's thrall

Complete streets are what we seek
The hurdles, though, they seem so steep
Promises they have to keep
We have miles to go before we sleep.


It is unlikely that you would type 'p' instead of 'h'

This winter and its polar vortices and snowy weather and icy bike lanes and that I fell off my bike once and sort of hurt my shoulder saw me not riding to work for about a week, which is a longer period of time than I normally spend not riding to work. I rode the Metro some and I think I even drove my car once. I tried to start and cap my commutes with Bikeshare trips and while it was nice to spin the pedals, it's really not the same as riding the whole way.

The bicycle has become for me a tool of independence. Faced with the alternatives, I simply don't like them. I'd rather not wait 10 minutes for a train. I'd rather not rely on thousands of other car drivers to not slow down my own car driving. I'd rather not rely on global helium supplies to stabilize in price and thereby facilitate cheaper and more regular zeppelin service. I don't want to hope that I'm not dockblocked. I hate paying money for travel, travel that I know would otherwise be basically free if I can manage to muster the will and energy to get myself there. With my bicycle commute, I set my own timetable and while I am somewhat beholden to the vicissitudes of traffic conditions and other roadway impacts, there is, for the most part, just enough infrastructure and just enough other people not taking advantage of that infrastructure, to leave me with basically unfettered access to an essentially independent commute.

And I've become dependent on this independence.

It's become a hassle for me to not commute by bicycle. Not so much in an actual sense (I live in a city and it has options- there is Metro, there are buses, there are pogo sticks strewn by the roadside, tempting me with their spongy springs and the joys of repeated hopping, part Icarus/part-yo-yo), but in a purely mental sense. Once you've tasted the mostly unadulterated freedom of urban bicycling, it's hard to taste anything else. Kind of like garlic..

I don't think I'm telling you anything you don't know. You probably ended up here because you also have an affinity for bicycling (unless of course you made a typo and while "Tales from the Sparrows" sounds like a fantastic bird blog [37th most popular bird blog in DC], it is not mine) and maybe you feel the same way about not riding your bike as I do not riding mine. Or maybe you're less sentimental about the enterprise or more ambimodal (which I also believe is an pain reliever/sleep aid) and you're much less dependent on fully taking advantage of the luxury it is to bike commute. Or maybe you don't believe me about the lack of sparrow content and you think that any second now, BAM- BIRD PICTURE. Not gonna happen, my friend.

Ok, just one.

This guy.
To conclude, it's very nice to return to riding to work and then to return from work riding my bike. I missed not doing it and I would miss not doing again and I hope that weather (and the response to the weather) permits me continued dependence on my continued independence. Or that my lack of good judgment prevents the lack of good weather from preventing me my bike commute. Either way, really.