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
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.