January 25, 2010

The Bike Fund

When I started riding my three-speed bike after graduation from college in yes it’s true, 1972, I never thought to bank the money I saved every day. Instead I began buying fresh flowers, with what I intuited was my extra cash, all because I biked everywhere.

Now 38 years later I am still on my bike, it is one of the great loves of my life. I have ridden home from work twice in labor. Really I could not have considered lumbering into a cab with someone I didn’t know, gasping and occasionally screaming. However peddling home in labor from LaMama, on East Fourth Street, where I was the executive director, to my loft in TriBeCa seemed like the logical choice. I rode home first in December for my daughter, and again in August three and a half years later, for my son. I stopped peddling along the way, gagged and groaned and made my way home; and I would do it again.

On my bike I feel powerful, safe, silly and thrifty. What an extraordinary combination. If packaged and advertised those feelings on television, this amalgam would surely sell soap, cereal or beauty products. It is more than a bike to me; it is a lifestyle a true love affair.

I know on occasion I come off as a zealot, or a proselytizer, but to me it seems clear cut. The bike is near to free, even when it is stolen, you can amortize the cost of a new one in a matter of weeks, if you are a public transportation commuter. If you are prone to cabs, the bike pays for itself in days. I am talking regular easy cheap bikes here not designer, fifty speeds, Hermes seats; it's a bike reminiscent of childhood. You get on you balance and peddle and do that until you arrive at your destination. With the amortization principle in mind, even a few lost cycles along the way, still make you come out ahead of any other means of transport. OK I will bow to walking, but honestly it is so slow, and when you shop you have to schlep your own entire parcels home.  

Bikes are good for the world, we now say they are green and in fact mine is British racing green. Bikes are good for you. Even though I am chubby, or BMI challenged, my doctor still annually extols the value of my bike. “ Wow, low blood pressure, the kidneys, lungs, and liver of a 20 year old, that bike is good to you!”  I may have to give a nod to my equally rotund father, who smoked, and drank, like the Irishman he was, and yet lived to 92. So yes genetics and biking provide the maximum health combination.

I ride in snow, sleet, rain, sun and fog. I zoom to black tie events and tennis matches. For the last two decades I have had the same sweet bike, (knock on wood) I know I can’t count on keeping it and in a funny way; the magic is not linked to the exact machine, but rather the idea of biking, which beguiles me. This infatuation is the exact opposite of what one hopes for in a spouse. Oh honey I love the idea of being married and in fact it could be to anyone. No one would want that marriage, but I would extol my bike love with those exact words.

Biking is an innate sense of freedom. The air cocoons me on a summer’s night as I head home downtown whilst others wade into the humid subway or haggle for cabs. It provides a magnificent sense of power for me as a middle-aged woman. I never worry about how I will get home from any event and I am faster than most other conveyances in midtown. I careen from the east side to west in a jiffy. I can do three art openings from Chelsea to SOHO and back in the time others are saying “taxi” and I am having fun.

I feel like a kid on my bike. My legs peddle or I let them hang down when I take the long hill home down Ninth Avenue. I know all the terrain, the hills, the badly paved streets, the good ice cream stops or soup places, the fruit vendors with plump cherries and ripe pineapples Plop, it all goes into the basket and I carry on.

So this year, on the Epiphany, I decided to begin a new sharing of the wealth I create by riding my bicycle. I can’t share the energy, the giggles, the low blood pressure but I can share the money I save. So I started the bike fund.

Every day I am prepared to share whatever I saved by biking. Yesterday, I went to the World Trade Center Health Clinic at Bellevue, two trips by subway and in fact it was a five-hour ordeal and so I might have taken a cab home. OK tally up at least five bucks. Then I went to a cocktail party further down town and across town to a show. Let’s call it another 5 bucks.

Now I have 10 dollars in the Bike Fund. When I rode down Second Avenue toward home, I spied a young woman with her sweet dog. They were sitting on cardboard with a sign which read, Please help us. I wheeled around and gave her five one-dollar bills.  A passerby chided me, “ How do you know she is not scamming you?”

“Well even if she lives on the Upper East Side, this is a damn hard job, sitting on the ground in the bitter cold; and I want to help.”  He clucked at me and stormed off. I mounted my back and continued home

Later that night after a show at the New Museum, the swell crowd filled the Bowery smoking and parsing the performance art we had just watched. I heard one man accosting a group, “Hey anyone have 25 cents?  I am a quarter short of a million”

Oh I loved that. “ Hey come her I want to tip you over the top and put you on the road to the next million.” I gave the man two bucks. This encounter made me think of a man I saw often when I went to visit my father who worked at NBC News. He was a jolly man who asked for a hand out this way. “Anyone want to help me buy some Lawrence Welk, I love that champagne music shit.” My father always gave him bills.

After pottery class last week on Chambers Street I emerged onto the street feeling like a well-dirtied kid in a great mood. I was. It was cold, but I was hot from the kiln and hadn’t even bundled up yet and there in the bus enclosure was a man with all his belongings tied into a few large plastic bags. “Hey will you help me I am Irish, Jewish and Black, a mixture that needs a lot of help.”

“Like my family “ I say and I go over to my bike to unlock it and fiddle in my purse. I walk back and give him the five bucks. It’s what I would have dolled out to get to pottery on the subway and head home. Easy charity.

Thursday January 21 I rode the Italian Cultural Institute on Park Avenue and 69 Street a long cold bright ride in strong winter sunshine.

But it would have been so expensive if I had taken a cab even one-way, but I biked both ways. On the way back home there was a person, from afar very androgynous, but a person in a mountain of clothes outside Marble Collegiate Church. I stopped my bike and popped it up the curb. I could now see it was a man, engrossed in counting change He held a cardboard sign that read HELP ME. When I approached he said, “Good afternoon miss how can I help you?”  All intoned in good, smooth accent less English, the clip to which newscasters aspire. “ Well I thought I’d give you this.” And I handed him a five-dollar bill. “Thanks have a good day.” It was one of the most polite interactions I’ve had in ages.

I know with the situation in Haiti and the degradation, which abounds in our world that my tiny bike fund makes no dent, but it allows me to help in a small way and always shakes me, reminding me how lucky my life is. I am grateful to have fallen in love with my bike so that I can share some of it benefits with others.


January 4, 2010

Sled Alone

It has been said that man does not live by bread alone, but I found that woman can live by sled alone.

You can trudge up the hill and carefully, painstakingly, carve a firm path down by inching your way in a snow coaster, or flying saucer, as we used to call them. After a few slow, snow packing trips down the hill, where you walk up hill breaking another path in fresh snow, you will have a hard packed run, where your coaster will glide to the bottom. In fact it will go further on every run.

I did this today in a feather-light snow storm with only my reluctant Maine Coon cat Auggie as a co-conspirator. Auggie didn’t help. He didn’t want onto the coaster, he just walked way out in the field with me and sat on the Adirondack chair observing my folly. After a few runs as I edged closer and closer to his quiet chair, he jumped into the snow and left wonderful tracks with his huge snowshoe feet. And I was left to sled alone.

I turn 60 this year and at first I thought, oh this is attempt at sledding is pathetic, but as the run got faster and longer it was marvelous. Why, I pondered, am I so happy to bike, swim, skate or swing alone, but I always consider sledding alone to be a sad endeavor.

I trudged to the top again and again and every time I pushed my start back a few feet and began to more quickly cross my legs so I was a little swift ball on an orange disc. I found after the first few feet, the coaster rotated 108 degrees, so that I ended the run turned around. And as I couldn’t see I landed smack in the black berry thicket OUCH.

A good thing about sledding as an adult is that you can turn on your problem solving brain. I would parse the physics of my coaster. Problem: I end up reversed. Possible solution: if I began facing backwards, would the same rotation, spin me so that I make the bulk of the trip careening frontward? Well it did, and on the first try. I felt like a jubilant Olympic athlete. I had made my own run, problem solved and although I fell off at the end, every time, I t made me laugh out loud.

And there I was, snow covered and alone, giggling. Auggie had gone home; I had obviously embarrassed him. The weak winter sun was setting and the trees scratched the sky as lacy snow flew in blustery guts off the roof of the barn. The nuthatches and golden finches gobbled at the full feeder of thistle seeds and I was full of joy.

No one was there to see it, or share it and still it was palpable and soul soothing. If you sled alone, chortle and return home snow encrusted at nearly 60 is the ebullience imagined less real because no one saw it save a large feline and feasting feathered friends? I think it is more solid as it proves that the glimpses of pure joy, free, timeless and solitary are gifts for all ages. 

January 2, 2010

XX X Triple X New Year Resolutions

January 1 XX X

As you can see that I have decided that this will be the triple X year. In Roman numerals one X is ten, thus two are twenty, a space and another X is ten again. Making it the year  XX X or 20 10.

Oh my dyslexic self loves the look of this; without the space it is another perfect palindrome year like 2002. This stuff makes my heart soar and my differently wired brain hum with a combination of calm and clarity.

Ok So the first day and I have named the year, taken down the Christmas tree, swept up, mended shirts, and obsessively organized all my passwords and codes into an alphabetic wonderland. My husband Zach and I attended two open house parties where we found old friends, a nemesis or two and wonderful food and conversation. For New Year’s Eve, we danced at home to James Brown and watched, he for the first time, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and we quaffed champagne and nursed caviar.

All in all, it was a good first day filled with work, thought, love, goodies and possibility. I can’t ever ask for more. Let’s hope I won’t.

Here is the encapsulation of my new year’s resolutions.

Less Waste

Less Waist

Less Waste: Use what you have well; stop thinking you need new whatever. I like my 1968 Raleigh and although it poses some challenges so does my 1950 corpus. I’d like a new refrigerator, but this one keeps things cold, and that’s its purpose right?  The list can go on. Less waste means using up the food bought during a shop, no tossing because it’s about to spoil and it isn’t convenient to cook tonight. Less Waste means mending shirts, coat linings, and sweaters.

The biggest place of WASTE for me, is time. To that end my daughter bought me a half hour, sand clock, similar to the one the wicked witch tortures Dorothy with, cackling that her time is running out. So the timer gets me started on writng. Turn it and write for a half hour, what do I lose. Or it limits the time I can fall into a sinkhole of social networks and (sometimes) useless information.

Less Waist is deciding that a little less of me and my expanding waistline could be a god thing. Nice to have a husband who adores me at size 12 or 16 but my knees would like a return to less. I read that every pound off the body is 4 pounds off the knees.  I ‘d like to keep riding my old bike and walking up stairs and running after toddlers with abandon and I need knees for that.

So that’s day one.

Happy Triple X   or   XX X  or   20 10