Category Archives: Love

For Darsal

paintedtulipsI’d known Dave Salovesh for something like ten years before we ever met. When we did finally meet, it was because I was leaving the United States to live in the Netherlands, and I was selling some things. He bought my bike trailer.

Bikes and bike-things are personal, and it can be hard to let them go. It’s much better if they go to someone you know — to keep it “in the family,” as it were. I was really pleased that Dave wanted the trailer, and even more pleased when he texted me photos of errands he’d done with it. He was so tickled at the way it opened up the possibilities of what he could carry by bike, and I was tickled to be included in the Continuing Adventures of the Burley Flatbed.

It’s usually a little awkward the first time you meet online friends in real life, but occasionally it feels like you’re not so much meeting them as recognizing them. Dave was like that.

A lot of people have trouble understanding why I’d move across an ocean, by myself, just to be able to ride my bike in peace. Not Dave. I said something like “I just can’t do it anymore. And I’m not willing to give up the bike,” and he immediately did that emphatic nodding thing people do when they TOTALLY GET IT.

After he loaded the trailer into his car, we stood there in the parking lot of my storage unit chatting, the sort of biketalk that people who are of an age and have a similar love of bicycling do. Mostly I remember his face that day, the wry smile that seemed to live there, and the way I felt comfortable with him in a way I don’t with most people.

Dave was killed by a reckless driver 3 days ago, and when I heard the news, I kept seeing his face in that moment, over and over again, smiling that crooked smile.

I’m having trouble processing the reality that he’s actually gone. That I will never have a beer with him. That I will never meet his partner or his daughter. That I will never go on a goddamned bike ride with him.

redfield_vert_cropThe night before he died, I was up very late (the frat house next door was having another of their all-night parties), so I was actually awake for the #bikeschool twitter chat, which is where I’d first met Dave in, oh, about 2009. I wasn’t paying good attention to the chat, to be honest, but I saw a @darsal tweet pop up & thought “Oh hey Dave!” as I always did when I saw him on there, and favorited the tweet (because it was a good one). I wish I’d said hi properly. It would have been my last chance to talk with him.

The next day, after I heard, I kept thinking if they can do this to the strongest of us…

Dave was strong, but I’m talking about a rarer kind than physical strength (though he had that, too, of course). He was committed to telling difficult truths — and to persisting in telling them — even though that very often meant that people got uncomfortable and pushed back. I think he believed that making the streets safe for people on bicycles and feet (and mobility scooters and skateboards and…) was too important not to keep pushing, not to keep speaking the truth. And the truth is that it’s not safe in Washington, DC, and it’s not safe in any other US city, either.

That belief was something we shared — as well as a willingness to call out bullshit half-measures (although it’s more like microfraction-measures) and the kind of incrementalism and foot-dragging that gets people killed.

I left the US because I didn’t want to die like Dave did. I don’t want anyone to die like Dave did. I wish to hell Dave hadn’t died like Dave did.

One of the terrible things that’s run through my mind the last few days is wondering if he was aware in the last moment, if he knew what was happening. I hope it was so sudden that he didn’t have to know, but if he did, I’m pretty sure I know what he was thinking: OF FUCKING COURSE.

pinkhyacinthI’ve been riding around on my little old mixte every day since Dave was killed, watching the families go by, parents’ steadying hands on the backs of young children riding next to them. I can’t help thinking that if Dave’s family had lived here, he’d still be alive. I might have seen them in the flower fields yesterday, bikes propped on their kickstands (all bikes have kickstands here) while they stopped to smell the hyacinths — the whole field a cloud of perfume.

I’ve had a hard time looking at the photos of his friends crowded around the ghost bike. I keep expecting to see a furious @darsal tweet about the terrible death on Florida Ave., and it’s weird when someone retweets one of his tweets because for a moment, just a split-second, I think he’s back.

I want him to haunt us, to pop up with that Cheshire cat smile and make another wisecrack. He was so good at that. He was good at a lot of things. He was good at being a friend. A lot of people have mentioned times when they argued with Dave, when he drove them crazy, and they mention them with fondness. I find these stories deeply touching. That is how humans love one another, in real life. A lot of people loved Dave. He was a very human human, and a very good one. The world feels wrong without him; there’s a hollow where he should be.

Bearing Witness

I never could get the hang of slapstick humor — the kind with pratfalls, where one character is always getting hit in the face with a door and we’re expected to laugh at their “clumsiness.” It always felt cruel; it was painful to watch, and it made me angry.

Several times this week, well-meaning people have told me that I shouldn’t be “so upset” about what the people in U.S. concentration camps are going through. That it’s not my place to feel pain for them. That they can understand why I’m thinking about it, but not why I’d feel it, since it’s not happening to me. That I’m not helping anyone by feeling horrified, by losing sleep over it, or whatever else may be going on with me.

Counterpoint: they’re fucking wrong. Being able to emotionally experience horror, or pain, or fear that is unrelated to one’s personal, physical situation is called empathy, and it is a feature, not a flaw. It is the foundation of compassion. Not becoming numb even after being exposed to a great deal of pain is a strength. Having an emotional response to someone else’s terror serves a purpose, both for me and for the people enduring hardship.

It keeps me human. It keeps me from being able to accept atrocities, from becoming inured to injustice. And that serves a purpose in society. Societies are made up of individual humans, and the moral compass of a society is built on its individual members’ compassion or lack of it.

Watching someone else get hurt should not be funny, or even acceptable. It should feel bad, and wrong. It should make us angry, or sad, or horrified, or all of these.

I feel a certain responsibility to read the hard reports, to watch the hard video, to listen to the hard audio. It’s only recently that I’ve understood why.

Part of our responsibility as resistors to oppression is to bear witness. That doesn’t just mean observing bad things; it also means feeling the weight of them, the emotional truth of what they are.

To make sense of atrocities, we have to feel what they mean, and that is what’s going on with me when I read the affidavits of people who have been separated from their families by the government of my own country, people who have been starved, and held prisoner in overcrowded conditions with tinfoil for blankets, and denied medical care, and denied even the ability to wash their bodies. People whose young children have been taken away — often far away — to be caged alone with other children, underfed, unbathed, uncared for.

I can’t begin to explain how upsetting this is, and I shouldn’t have to. You should know. We all should know. We all should feel it.

PS. Being very upset is not necessarily a sign of inadequate self-care. I take breaks from the twitter horrorstream, I ride my bike daily, I eat well, et al. It is simply a sign of still having a human heart, and that is a crucial tool for resisting cruelty and oppression.

Dear Bicycles…

bike+burstIt occurred to me today, while riding a narrow fietspad flanked closely by tiny canals (don’t wobble if you want to stay dry), that if I hadn’t fallen in love with bicycles, I never would have come here. That the thread that led me here began with a hard entry into bicycle transportation, a sudden leap from zero to bike commuting 16 miles (each way) to work in #bikenyc on September 12, 2001.

That insane commute evolved into a passionate love affair that has at times threatened to eclipse most of my other interests. It grew into a steadfast (read: stubborn af) commitment to move about my daily world by bicycle.

It took me out of NYC (because gawd that was brutal) and to the U.S. “bike mecca” of Portland (not all it’s cracked up to be). It made the DC metro area (where I’d moved to be near family) an impossible devil’s bargain. It took me a hair’s breadth from moving to Minneapolis (but the stroads!), and finally it spurred me across an ocean, in a move born of desperation (but also of that same deep and abiding love for the bike).

Dear bicycles: I’m incredibly grateful to you.

Love always,

—L

Not losing my religion

ripplemonumentI suppose it is a measure of how much bicycling is still a fringe activity in the U.S. that the most commonly asked question of someone who rides is “What kind of bicyclist are you?” as if you’re meant to choose a team. The multiple choice options are generally something along the lines of: recreational, commuter, racer, fitness, “avid,” etc.

I hate that question. No one in the Netherlands gets asked that question, because there riding a bicycle is embraced as an ordinary part of life. Here, if you’re an adult on a bicycle, well, you’d better explain yourself. Preferably by choosing one of these little icons so we understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and can place you in your proper box.

The thing is, none of those boxes fit.

My real answer to this question is: observant. I am an observant bicyclist. No, I’m not talking about noticing natural beauty in my surroundings or being alert to potential dangers (although both of these are true). I mean observant in the religious sense. I am a practicing bicyclist. I am devout.

Before you scoff or assume that I’m exaggerating for emphasis, think for a moment about what religion is, the purpose it serves for people of faith. At its most basic, a religion is a basis for understanding life — both one’s own experience and the possible reason (if there is one) for existing. It’s a way to make sense of the world, and of one’s experience moving through it. Most of all, it’s a way to interact with our core selves, to make contact with the quintessential spark that makes it so obvious when a living creature is inhabiting her body, and when she’s left it.

Fundamentally (no pun intended), religions exist to connect us to and help us understand life — both within us and around us.

All of those things come to me and move through me when I’m on a bicycle. I make sense of my world by riding through it. When I am mired, confused, struggling through the difficulties of my daily existence like so much sticky pudding, I get on the bike and pedal my way clear.

swampfenceOn the bike I am both free of the world and part of it. I am distinctly, purely me, and yet I am also body, blood, and flesh of the land, water, and sky.

It is as natural for me as breathing, the most simple and mundane of activities, and yet I guard that time on the bike with a ferocity I cannot explain. It is sacred. It is for me and me alone that I ride, and you are not invited into that space.*

Nor will you ever take it from me. The very idea of being forced off-bike turns me savage. I resent intrusions, demands that I sacrifice this one thing I do for me. This one thing that makes sense, in all the world, and that — in the moment, at least — comes closest to making sense of the world.

If (more likely when) I flee this country, it will be as a refugee. No, that’s not a metaphor.

swampreflection*That’s not to say I don’t like riding with other people. But it is different, just as going to a church fete is different than solitary prayer.

Breathe

There are times when I need a break from the bike. Often it’s about having a break from being threatened by drivers. Sometimes it’s about not having to carefully layer myself against the elements. Sometimes I just feel like resting in the cocoon of the apartment.

As simple and logical as that sounds when I write it out like that, it’s usually a struggle to allow myself a day off, especially if, as was the case today, I’ve already had a day off this week.

I feel…disloyal.

It’s hard to explain my relationship to the bike. It’s a little like a lover, it’s a little like a limb, it’s a little like the bike is a part of my soul made steel.

All of those might well sound like hyperbole. Faith might be the closest word, and my faith in the bike might be the closest thing I have to a religion. That sounds even more hyperbolic.

I can’t explain it, but I know I’m not the only one who feels this kind of connection. I’ve seen it in people’s faces, I’ve heard it in the way they talk about riding or about bikes they’ve loved. I also see it in the way they ride, something about the way they move, the bike becoming the bones of a bird under their hands.

Every time I choose not to get on my bike, I have a secret fear. My fear is that I’ll be off permanently. That I’ll be exiled from my faith. That I won’t have the courage to get back on. Excommunication.

Why, then, do I do what I did today? Because I also need the break, the moment away, to feel what my legs feel like walking, that plain, smaller act. More arduous and more basic. To remember I can still breathe, even winnowed down to my bare feet.

Tomorrow I’ll get back on, I’ll be winged again. I’ll spin up on rainy streets or in the sun. I’ll look for birds, the raptors and the tiny swifts in their fractal swirls. I’ll gasp when a blackbird swoops suddenly across my path as they do. I’ll dream that I, too, can spread a feathered tail and glide across and over the fields.

Pedal revolutions

mistwashmonumentIt’s winter, which may have something to do with the big, twiney thoughts that are absorbing my attention most of the time, to the point where Jeezuschrist could you all just stop calling me, don’t call us we’ll call you, I AM ON THE BIKE AND I AM BUSY.

I’m not much of a phone person under ordinary circumstances, but lately, every time that little robot noise goes off, I want to fling it into the Potomac.

I read this a while back, and the ground-level truths of it took up residence in the corners of my consciousness, and they’ve been growing seedlings there. Like the kindergarten time-lapse movie of bean sprouts, I can almost see them growing, unfolding bright green leaves that shake me with little moments of realization. Oh. Oh. OH.

If it was a snake, it’d’ve bit me. All that frustration, all that deep perplexity over why our culture makes insane choices to value parking and traffic “flow” over minor things like, oh, human lives. Why didn’t I see it before? It’s capitalism. It’s not that we don’t know the consequences of these choices; it’s that we’ve trapped ourselves in a huge edifice that’s built on priorities other than keeping people alive and well — namely, money — usually expressed, in “stakeholder” meetings about bike & ped infrastructure, as “the needs of local businesses” (which, in a capitalist society, amounts to a sacrament).

Choose money over people, power over people, and what you get is death. Nearly 40,000 in 2015, the largest single-year increase in 50 years. We’ve institutionalized prioritizing profits over people, and this is the price. Well, this and the fact that one century very soon our planet will cease to be habitable.

You can see why I don’t want to answer the phone.

greenfencenearWhat can be done? Saving ourselves and our planet would require radical changes, and we all know what they are, and I’ll bet you every penny I will ever see that we’re not willing to make them.

So what I personally do, mostly, is ride my bike and try not to despair. I try to encourage other people to use their cars less. To consider that there are alternate ways of managing many of life’s day-to-day demands beyond the private metal box.

I wave at small kids on bikes and hope for the best. And I rage. I DM furiously with like-minded friends. I suspect the climate scientists are in a similar lather of despair and conscious deep-breathed getting on with daily living.

I didn’t intend to write this post. I meant to write the other post that’s been in my mind the last few months — the one about how much I love winter riding. Either I’d forgotten how I feel about winter riding while I was living in a place with mild winters, or it’s something that’s changed in me. Winter is the time with the best solitude, and on (or off) the bike that’s (almost) always what I crave. It’s an analog for how we move through life — alone with our thoughts. If we’re doing it well, we move gracefully, fluidly, birdlike. If not, we might stumble a bit, occasionally fall, but it’s not such a big deal to get back on and pedal away from those occasions.

I’m thinking of changing careers, just slightly, and I keep getting caught a little on the thought that all I really know how to do is ride. That’s not strictly true, of course, but I have increasing trouble sitting still for anything else. Maybe I’m just conscious of time passing, of fleeting moments being all I or anyone, or even the earth has anymore. I want to keep flying, breathing, shifting smoothly through the air because that is where I am me. If I could write while riding, I would. If I could take photographs to show you what I see without having to stop and maneuver a camera, even a damned-easy phone camera, I would do this constantly. But I can’t, so it’s rare that I hook myself into paragraphs, or stop to try and grab that little scene.

Mostly I just keep thinking and pedaling. Did I think I would be turning into a revolutionary as I aged? No, I did not. But the bicycle has many surprises.

PS. Do try not to troll me with your urgent political viewpoints and BUT BUT BUTs. I meant what I said, I have no desire to be capitalismsplained or any other splained, and I will throw you into the Potomac.

Floating down to earth

waterside

“Well, here I am,” said Jubal Early, floating out into space in the last few minutes of Firefly.

I’ve had that floating-in-space feeling for almost two months now, with occasional moments of landing on my feet, just for a minute or two, before I begin to feel unmoored again. It’s disconcerting, but I guess it’s just part of the process.

All that fretting and soul-searching and fretting some more, and drinking beer with friends in a mad rush to try and see everyone while I was even more madly packing up a house, draining it of its extraneous contents (many Portlanders are by now wearing my clothes or using my cast-off furnishings, with help from Goodwill).

cottonspintree

A dear friend said to me, on my last night there, “Even when it’s a change you’ve planned and worked toward for a long time, there’s always a moment when the change takes effect. And that feels sudden.” Damn right he was. It still feels sudden, as if I’d left in a madcap whirl: “Oh hey, I’ll think I’ll move to DC now. Zap!”

Well, here I am.

It’s not perfect in #bikedc, by any means, but if it seemed perfect I’d know not to trust it (see also: 3 years in PDX). I moved to Portland seeking a safe bike haven, and did not find one. I found other things — mostly people, who are always the best “things” to find. I found a little house, which I soon found I couldn’t afford to keep.

I found inspiration, and the ability to climb hills, and friends I hope to keep, and the very nicest bike shop, and a very loud voice (okay, I knew I had that, but it was interesting to hear it echo in a smaller place).

I found that I knew exactly who I was, away from everything and everyone I knew, and that was valuable. I also found that I missed my family, and my east coast people, and that it was okay to admit that, and to go when it seemed the time for going. And I’m glad I did. I think it’s going to be good. Imperfectly solidly good. As soon as my feet find the ground.

plantshadows

The way home

“You’re a runner,” she said, meaning I use my bike to escape things I don’t want to feel. She had a point.

But the opposite is also true. Sometimes I don’t know I’m feeling anything until I’m 12 miles out and have sloughed off the carapace that accumulates when I’m stationary, indoors, or around people.

My Twitter stream sounds like I’m constantly running errands. Like everyone’s, my daily life entails lots of little missions. But I also have a habit of lining up bike errands for myself nearly every day so I have an excuse to get on the bike.

The cat was out of wet food today (thank you, Cat!), so I rode out into a typical November day – rainy and cool. I started to go the most direct route…and then turned around. When I get the detouring instinct, I try to follow what it’s telling me, because it knows what I need better than I do, and that’s not necessarily cat food (though I did buy that, because: Cat). As I looped through one neighborhood, and another, and another (neighborhoods here are wee), the day began to be beautiful. I don’t mean that the sun came out. I mean that mine did.

goldleaves2

Over a golden carpet of heart-shaped leaves, through rows of rosy trees, and do you know how many different colors grey can be? You do if you live in the Pacific Northwest. They are all bewitching: bluish, purplish, like so many dove-wings hanging above you.

Rain falling on my nose, delicious.

Yesterday I’d gone for a long ride, one of those times when I don’t even pretend to be riding for a purpose, other than because I need to. I rode the bike that’s a part of me, as if we are a bird together. It’s the one I keep in the house, because it might be made of a piece of my heart. It’s steel.

For the first hour I was angry, tangled like some tough old cocoon. When I got to the farm just outside of Gresham and looked at the lambs, their little legs dark in the mud, a dream I’d had that morning came to me:

I had wings, but they were ugly, made of flesh, and only half-grown. I hadn’t even known they were there.

And then I was crying a bit, on the bike. It used to be I could only cry while riding through the park at night alone.

In that moment I understood that my wings were stunted because I’d been told they were something to be ashamed of. That was why they’d been hiding there all this time, half-grown against my back.

I rode 20 more miles then, through the hobo camps along the Springwater at dusk (ride fast, dodge but don’t stop), turned on my light, listened to the geese. At one point I thought a bike was coming up to pass, but it was the wind.

Stopped at the grocery store (sometimes the non-errand rides get errands thrown in). Carried a half-gallon of milk on my back. Fed the cat.

I’m not always home when I’m in my house, but if I ride I usually arrive at myself.

ridesky