one less car

autobiography Blog

ponies vs. bikes

Are the differences between the sexes fundamental? Are men and women wired differently? It is this blogger’s opinion that all the differences between guys and girls can be boiled down to one essential preference: boys like bikes, girls like ponies.

I can hear the weak-kneed objectors already. “But Kid Shay,” they whine, “in this modern world how can you boil gender identity down to one stereotypical debate?” Allow me to bat your objections away like a giant swatting at pterodactyls in his cave.

Girls love ponies. Should I give you an example? Here’s one right off the top of my head. Oh, was that not enough for you? I think we can all agree that girls, if left to their own devices, would spend their days riding ponies across rainbows and their nights watching murder mystery TV shows.

Plumbing the depths of the female psyche (scary!), I asked my wife to explain the allure of the pony. She said that girls like a big strong animal they can boss around. Setting aside the full terrifying ramifications of that statement, I considered all that a pony is to a girl. Girls like colorful, soft things. Ponies come in different colors. They also have soft hair, which is kind of a twofer because, aside from ponies, girls love hair. (I imagine connecting your hair to a pony would be the ultimate in awesomeness for a girl.)

Boys, on the other (cooler) hand, like bikes.sturgis-motorcycle
Men build machines so we can dominate them. Deep in all men’s hearts lies a fear that one day, machines will rise against us in a Robot Apocalypse. Owning a machine that we are in complete control of is reassuring. “Here’s one robot that will never rip off my head and devour my entrails,” you say as you pat your bike. Men and bikes have a long and happy history together.

Whereas girls like soft, colorful things, boys like hard edges and cold steel. I can attest to this: Titanium is my favorite metal. I don’t think my wife even has a favorite metal. WTF?

I wrote about my love of bicycles in a series, A Brief History of Bikes. I always have loved the freedom a bicycle provides. Even in this age – when cars take people to work, to the bar, across the country, to a bar across the country – I’ve always felt more adventurous in my travels on a bike. You can explore new neighborhoods, take shortcuts, you don’t have to worry nearly as much about parking (but make sure to lock your bike or someone else will be enjoying it soon).

Even when riding my bicycle, enjoying the exercise and fresh air, I don’t feel a psychic connection with it. I don’t worry about leaving my bike out in the cold all night, or getting up early to feed it hay. It is a contraption. A thing – a wonderful thing, to be sure – but a thing nonetheless. And that is a fundamental difference between boys and girls.


bad car good car

Cars, like penguins, have the capacity for both goodness and evil. Do cars have souls? Doubtful, unless they are voiced by Paul Newman. But Saturday I witnessed the extremes of car behavior, and it all happened within a matter of two minutes.

I was on my bike, as is usually the case around these parts. Waiting at an intersection I should have been allowed to cross right away, as there was a crosswalk. Usually, though, cars on this particular road treat crosswalks as though they are speed bumps. Slow down a bit, but go as fast as you can without destroying the shocks.

At this time, there was a man already halfway through the crosswalk as I began to cross. You figure that cars may not slow down enough to see a pedestrian waiting patiently on the sidewalk, but surely they’ll stop when a person is directly in front of them. Not so! This guy nearly got hit by a big green SUV. The driver, a surly young man barely paying attention, stopped only because the pedestrian put his hand out and started yelling. The pedestrian told the driver that you have to STOP AT A CROSSWALK FOR CHRISSAKES. The driver acknowledged this with a wave of his hand, not even lucid enough for a middle finger. I really hope that driver’s girlfriend just dumped him for his younger brother.

Shaking my head, I rode on.

When I looked up again, it was just in time. A car that had parallel parked was halfway into the road. The driver of that car (a midsize sedan of indeterminate color), leaned out of his window to wave me on. “Go on,” his friendly face and extended arm implied, “you’ve got the right to pass.” I smiled and thanked him on the way by.

People don’t usually think you can communicate to the outside world once you’re in a car, but that is not the case. This driver knew that.

The rest of my trip was uneventful. But in that matter of minutes, I experienced both the worst driving and the nicest. And it wasn’t even raining.

autobiography Blog

no more cars

This morning on my way to work I almost got run over by a bus. I was crossing on a sidewalk. When I stepped off the curb the little man was lit, and a few steps later the red hand began to flash. I thought – naively, apparently – I was still safe to cross. A bus, coming the opposite direction, took a right hand turn directly in front of me. I kept thinking he’d stop when he saw a pedestrian in the crosswalk. Nope. He started gesturing at me to get back to the sidewalk. I wish I had flipped him the bird. Instead I pointed out the green light. I was amazed at his incompetence and his self-righteous anger. He really thought he was right. Well, I’m here to tell you that he was wrong.

Cars are indirectly killing us all. They are slowly suffocating us with their evil emissions. They will eventually contribute to the end of life on this planet as we know it. Say what you will about the dinosaurs’ evolutionary skills, at least they didn’t commit species-wide suicide.

Worse still, cars kill people directly by running us over in crosswalks.

I am hereby submitting my proposal to every city in the nation: ban cars from your downtown. Whether your downtown be a single road with one traffic light or one hundred blocks of intersecting road, do not allow cars to drive there. Emergency vehicles, buses, taxis, and delivery vehicles will be excepted (restrictions apply). Think of all the space you’ve just created for yourself. A lane for bikes, a wide promenade for pedestrians. Maybe an avenue of trees. Don’t these things sound better than dirty, loud, smelly cars?

I admit to owning a car. Road trips have long been a way to explore this grand country. But there must be limits. Since none of our governors is man enough to draw a line in the sand, I will be the one. No more cars downtown. No more needless deaths, either from carbon emissions or from physically being hit by that tangled mass of steel.stretch_hummer

autobiography Blog

History of Bikes: Portland Bike

We have reached the last post for Bike Week at Falling Rock National Blog. Today I talk about my current bike.

My bike is a Trek 7200, good for riding around downtown as well as some trails. While I’m sure fancypants bike riders, like the ones I saw in Boulder with $4000 bikes and $1000 worth of clothes and gear, would guffaw at this bike, it suits me just fine. It fits into the category (I hope) of “nice enough to ride, not so nice it will get stolen.”

When I got a job in Portland, the first order of business (almost before food) was buying myself a bike. This is the first time I’ve needed fenders to shield myself from wet streets. It has a back rack, too. A real commuter bike.

I am truly humbled by the bike riders here. Yes, Boulder has an active bike riding community. But most of those people are into long distance road rides. You’d see them on the mountain roads, riding for most of the day whenever it was sunny. Here people ride bikes as a job. There is a tough, small clique of bike messengers who make bike riding part of their identity. Long pants are almost unheard of, even in winter. They have walkie talkies and are in constant communication, even if they work for different companies. There is even a bike messenger race. They set a series of “pick ups” that each rider must make, then they all converge at one house and get incredibly drunk. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. There’s drinking beforehand as well. Nothing like riding full speed through the streets of Portland in the rain while hammered. So I hear.

While not as hardcore as the bike messengers, I do ride to work and to run errands. I also have a couple of favorite rides. One is FlavourSpot. This is a cart located in the parking lot of a video rental store in North Portland. They make waffles, then wrap them into a cone and put delicious fillings inside. Nutella, ham and cheese, sausage and maple butter. It’s the best. Even better is riding your bike there so you can eat even more and not feel bad about it later.

To get to FlavourSpot, I ride north to the St. John’s Bridge, cross the river, then ride east along Lombard. On the way back I go on the bluffs overlooking the industrial sites on the river, then cross the Steel Bridge and ride through the new, fancy Pearl district to get back home. You get to see so much of the town this way.
The Springwater Corridor is a long trail that begins downtown and heads east all the way to Boring. Boring, Oregon is a real place. I really need to get pictures of their City Hall sometime. My wife and I will take the Springwater if we want a ride that doesn’t involve traffic. One of the odder things you pass along this trail is a fair, which seems to be permanent. You can see the Ferris wheel as you go by. Then the trail turns and you’re left to wonder how that came to be there.

Thanks for sticking with me for Bike Week. One never knows what tomorrow will bring for Falling Rock National Blog, you can rest assured you will be the first to know.

I’ll leave you with this picture from Tucson. A bike with wings:bike_with_wings

autobiography Blog

History of Bikes: Boulder Bike

After college I wanted to take my Gary Fisher with me to Colorado, but I couldn’t fit it in my car. I went through a experimental phase with a road bike that constantly got flat tires when I rode it around town. Worse still, it had these bizarre racing tires that had the tubes stitched to the wheel, so if you got a flat you had to unsew the tire, put on the patch, and sew it back up again. Not exactly my kind of a bike.
I was reunited with my Gary Fisher when my parents drove up to visit me; they graciously brought the bike with them. I was ecstatic; I began to go on longer rides around town. Like the Silver Stallion, I now had the freedom of exploring the town in a way I couldn’t have with a car or on foot.
I went through a number of jobs and the thing that united my experience was the ability to ride to work. Only one job I took required a car commute, but that was a temporary gig.
I’ve talked before about the bike path in Boulder. Let me say here that the Boulder bike path should be used as a template for all cities in this and every country on the planet. You didn’t have to ride on the shoulder of the road, hoping that SUV wouldn’t roll right over you. Yet the bike path went almost everywhere you needed to go. It was fantastic.
My happiest rides were from my job to the apartment where my girlfriend lived. I worked near the university, so I’d pedal through campus. In the winter it would be nearing dark when I rode, so I used bike lights to see once I got off the well-lit campus path. I’d pass by the two new dorms the university built, then the path went straight through a grassy field. After that I’d be in her neighborhood. When I got to her place, I’d call up and we would have dinner together, usually something warm and delicious (sometimes just warm was good enough). Then we’d watch DVDs on her computer. It all felt very cozy.
There were some weeks in the winter when I didn’t ride. I don’t think riding in the snow and ice is ever a good idea. But even on a cold day, riding your bike was easier than taking a car. No hassles with parking, no traffic jams. It’s less stressful and makes running errands almost athletic.
When my girlfriend and I moved, I decided my Gary Fisher was meant to stay in Colorado. I sold it at a sporting goods consignment store. I’m sure it is still loved.
Here’s the latest version of the Wahoo. Mine had a metallic tan color; it also had none of these fancy shocks. Heck, in my day bikes had one big wheel and one little one, and women rode them while wearing a bussel.wahoo_p
autobiography Blog

History of Bikes: Silver Stallion

I had to get the previous post off my proverbial chest. I feel much, much better now. Now we can move on to the next of my series of bike posts, my college bike.
When I first got to college, I walked everywhere. I was a putz, a lowlife, a nobody. I was a freshman (or, in politically-correct speak, “first-year”). Those dark days ended when the Bike Co-op held their annual fall bike sale. The Bike Co-op was run entirely by students. They were located in the basement of a residence hall, and they had a proper bike repair shop as well as rooms for bikes. All you had to do was search around and you could find some real treasures for sale. The bikes they sold were refurbished, meaning you could probably ride them from your dorm to your class without all the gears falling off. The bonus was, if you joined the co-op, you had yearlong access to repair equipment. I ended up spending some time in that dark basement.
Back to the fall bike sale. I searched around and found a silver road bike for $25. It was spray-painted silver; I found out what boring color it had been before. I called it the Silver Stallion, which partly explains why I like that Cat Power song so much.
My life improved 1000% on that day. I could get everywhere quicker, meaning I could sleep a little longer in the morning and extend my afternoon naps in the library. I could explore the town, as well. My little college suddenly became a part of a greater world. I spent my first summer working at the school and took bike rides in the evenings.
In later years I didn’t stay at the college during the summer but I made sure to keep my bike somewhere safe. Sure enough, it was always there for me in the fall. It’s funny; I bought a cheap bike so I wouldn’t worry about it getting stolen, but I spent a lot of time and effort making sure I held onto it for all four years.
I’m kind of sad I didn’t take any pictures of my bike. By my senior year it was partly held together by duct tape. The handlebar pads were cracked and falling off, so I just wrapped some tape around them to give myself some sort of padding. The tape slowly unwound and looked really cool blowing in the wind as I rode. I also taped up the seat, as it was crumbling at a steady rate. Fortunately the duct tape matched the color of the bike. Yeah, I was pretty image-conscious.
I did sketch my bike quite a bit. On warm nights I’d sit beside where it was locked and draw in my sketchbook. I tried to restrain myself from patting it as you would a horse. The shapes I drew from that bike probably influence the way I draw my robots today.
The day before I graduated I donated Silver Stallion back to the Bike Co-op. My brother and I walked it back to where I had bought it four years previously. The Co-op had already closed for the year. There were rows of bikes chained together outside, waiting to be fixed up for next year’s batch of freshpersons (from the original Latin phrase meaning, “people who are fresh”). I leaned my bike against one of the rows. I stepped back and looked at it among its kind. It seemed so natural there and I knew this was the right thing to do. I couldn’t take it with me; where I was going, a college bike would not fare well. This was its home.
I didn’t cry for it then, but I think of it from time to time when I see someone riding a really crappy bike. I wonder if it is still being used, or if it was stripped down and used to repair future bikes. It’s the circle of life.
Next: the return of an old friend!
autobiography Blog

History of Bikes: High School Bike

The first bike I saved up for was also the bike that lasted me the longest. It was a Gary Fisher Wahoo. I prefer to think the name refers to the sound you make while riding it and not to the Cleveland Indians’ racist mascot.

I was one of, oh, about three people in my high school who still rode a bike. We had two gigantic parking lots but not a single bike rack. I had to lock my bike up to the fence at the school entrance. But I was proud to ride my bike to school. It let me avoid the parking lot traffic jam every morning and afternoon. I also got to listen to mix tapes on my Walkman, which made for a much more pleasant listening experience than any of the radio stations Tucson had to offer.

I rode my bike to Saturday track practice and Saturday swim practice, depending on the season. My track coach once told me I should be doing triathalons, since I did all three sports already.

Summers were the worst time for bike riding in Tucson. Once, bored out of my mind at home, I decided to take a trip to the public library. It was so hot I had to stop at a mall just to be in some air conditioning for a while. By the time I got to the library I was covered in sweat and didn’t feel like reading anything. I stayed long enough to cool off and headed back home.

The trip that really defined the miserable hot Arizona summer was one that I took with my two best friends and my younger brother. The four of us wanted to ride out to a baseball card shop. We told our parents what we wanted to do and they gave us a series of rules to follow. The rule that made the least amount of sense was also the one that our parents were most admant about. We were not to cross any “major intersections.” If you have lived in Tucson, you know it is virtually impossible to get anywhere without crossing a few roads. Some of those roads can be considered “busy” if by busy you mean cars are on them.

We of course agreed to our parents’ stipulations, little knowing the high cost of our little adventure. Below is an approximate map of the route from our house to the baseball card store. The longer, winding line is the route we were forced to take so as not to cross any busy streets.

Our improvised route took us through a golf course, a huge wash, some neighborhoods I’ve never seen again in my life, and finally up the biggest hill you’ve ever seen.bike_route

Each of these elements presented its own unique challenge, which would have been tolerable if the temperature that morning wasn’t 100 degrees and rising. Walking your bike through a sandy wash is not only uncomfortable in the best conditions, but when the sun is beating down on your back and you don’t know where you are you begin to wonder if life has any meaning. That question was answered by the huge hill at the end of our ride.

It had already taken us all morning to reach the hill. There was no way we were turning back. At the same time, we had been beaten down by the sun and the sand and the neverending ride. Our morale was very low.

We began to ride up the hill. It was slow going, made even worse by the cars that would speed past us, throwing dust and hot exhaust into our faces. If I had been in the mood, I would have remarked on the irony of avoiding every major intersection only to have to ride on the shoulder of a road up this steep hill. Dangerous? Perhaps. Uncomfortable? Definitely.

Needless to say, we made it up the hill and into the plaza where the baseball card shop was located. We called home and let our parents know that there was no chance we’d be riding our bikes back home. By this time it was after noon and the temperature would only rise for the next three hours. They came in shifts to pick us and our bikes up.

Beaten but not broken, we continued to ride our bikes throughout our high school years, though we never attempted a ride as long as that one in the heat of the day.

Next up, the bike held together by duct tape: my college bike.

autobiography Blog

A Brief History of Bikes: My First Bike

Hello friends, welcome to Bike Week at Falling Rock National Blog. We believe that bikes–not cars, planes, teleportation, catapults, or Acme Rocket Packs–are THE transportation of the future. It is a bold vision, but we at Falling Rock believe it is not antithetical to the American Dream.

This week’s postings will each chronicle a bike I have owned. Today I’ll talk about my very first bike. It was the bike I learned to ride, and when the training wheels came off I rode all over the neighborhood.

My idyllic childhood was spent in the safe neighborhood of a Denver suburb. Before we moved to Arizona, I explored the curvy, quiet streets first on foot and then on bike.

Just like the cliche, I learned to ride in our driveway. I rode tight little circles and, when my parents allowed it, onto the sidewalk (but not too far). I can remember the feeling the first time I rode without training wheels. My dad ran beside me, his hand on the seat of the bike, and then he was gone. I was terrified to stop. Eventually I did by tipping myself over. My dad then showed me how to put my foot on the ground so I could be on the bike, stopped, and not have to fall off.

The bike itself was a Schwinn. It was red and silver. There was no basket, no baseball cards wedged between the spokes. It was a man’s bike, a bike made of steel with solid rubber tires.

The crowning achievement of my first bike was my first bike race. The county set up a race course that began and ended at the local pool. There were age categories, but I was the youngest entrant. My dad decided to ride with me (probably a good idea, since you don’t want your six year old riding off and never finding his way back). I quickly learned the difference between riding up and down my street and participating in a race: a race is hard.

It was slow going. There were hills, and you had to follow arrows to know where you were going. I decided early on that I was not going to win this race. In fact, I came in dead last, but that didn’t really bother me. At one point I needed a drink of water. A man watering his lawn let me drink from the hose.

Here’s where my memory fails me. I don’t remember starting the race with my younger brother, but I clearly remember him with us at the end. Maybe he decided to join us partway through. At any rate, he was there to see my big finish.

My big, awesome finish was actually quite big and awesome. We crested a hill and saw the finish line there below us. I looked at my dad and he gave me a knowing nod. “Go ahead, Son. Do me proud.” I crouched and flew down the hill as fast as my bike would take me. There was a crowd–everybody else had finished the race already–and they stood on either side of the street, cheering me on. I crossed the finish line in a roar of noise and adrenaline.

That race is probably what prompted my parents to get me a new bike. I don’t want to play Monday morning quarterback, but I think the fact that my bike weighed more than I did contributed to the difficulties riding uphill. My next bike did not have solid rubber tires.

I have fond memories of that bike, of the new freedom it gave me. I was suddenly mobile, as mobile as I’d be until I was able to drive a car. When I learned that driving a car is just a lot of rules, I would realize that bikes really are the most freedom a person can have. But that’s for another post.