Tuesday, July 26, 2005

M23 Back in the Saddle


I am ashamed to admit that I am only bike commuting after nearly a year of living in Mexico City. Today was my second day. I’ve already had my first run-in with rent-a-cops and an accident.

Fortunately, the former didn’t involve bribes or handcuffs and the latter only involved flesh and liquid as opposed to say, metal, pavement and/or glass.

It all started by selling my car and then getting my act together to build up the dream bike that I’ve been talking smack about for so long. For only slightly less than the price for which I sold my SUV, I’ve got one of the world’s nicest road bikes, a Seven Axiom, custom made in my home state of Massachusetts and pictured here for your viewing enjoyment:

http://homepage.mac.com/briankemler/PhotoAlbum46.html

Now I am car free and carefree. Well, car free at least. We can talk about the cares later.

You might think that commuting in Washington, DC on a brakeless fixed gear and competing in live-traffic alley cat races up and down the east coast for the better part of the last decade would prepare me to ride in the world’s second most populous city.

It didn’t.

This is one of the most, if not the most, crowded, car-centric and bike-unfriendly cities on the planet. There is no regard for bikes or pedestrians. None. If you get hit, they will run you down again just to make sure the job is done and you don’t live to tell. I am not kidding.

I am always amazed at just how often locals warn me about the ever present threat of crime. Yet, it just doesn’t seem that sketchy here. And I say that as someone who has been held up. In fact, crime seems to be a rather abstract threat compared with the clear and present one manifested in the culture of the motor vehicle. How about the threat of walking off a curb? I am still frightened. And, as an aside, shocked at how many times cars would actually stop in the middle of traffic to let me cross the in Massachusetts! That’s happened to me here a grand total of one time.

Bike dangers here include but are not limited to the following: sewer holes without covers, foot-high curbs, glass, storm drains designed by bike hating sadists with slits that are created specifically to trap bicycle wheels, pollution, blatant disregard for traffic rules, wild bike attacking dog packs and policemen that will arrest you if you pee in a deserted area unless you bribe them - not that I would know any of that from personal experience.

Should I be surprised then by any of this in a city that is building triple-decker highways to solve its traffic woes? If your sink wasn’t draining would you add a second faucet? Well, I guess they’d rather send their money down the drain of automobile transport instead of mass transit or god-forbid encouraging the use of a mode of transit that is actually within the financial means of masses, the bicycle.

The sad thing is this city is potentially perfect for bikes. It’s mostly flat and has perfect whether. Then why should it be that there is better and more bike culture in frozen Toronto than perpetually 75-degree DF?

But I still prefer riding to walking, the subway with sweaty people pressing against me and taxis – even here.

So I am converting my trusted road bike into my commuter and starting to ride to work every day. Day One I forced myself to ride even though I knew I would think of all sorts of excuse not to. “It’s only a 30 minute walk or for that matter taxi ride, there’s no where to lock the bike, what will my coworkers think when I walk in sweaty in my Sidi’s”?

Blah blah blah. My new motto is “who cares”?

Monday when I got back from Boston, I hopped on my purple Masi with my new Baileyworks messenger bag containing my dress shoes, my laptop, power supply and work papers. It felt like I was carrying bowling balls.

When I arrived I was entreated to Spanish lesson on not locking my bike to an out of the way railing by the building’s rent-a-cop. It seems Latin America’s tallest, most modern and expensive building doesn’t have a single bike rack. Not one. It barely has anything that will even substitute as one as I found out in today’s fruitless search.

El renta-policia instructed me to go to puerta tres or door three where I was told to lock my bike. So I went there today but there was nothing to which to affix ride.

As I pulled out of “door three”, making my way down the back street in search of a proper mooring, a woman was standing on the curb with arm extended like a slot machine’s in the down position.

She was holding a big gulp-sized cup of coffee.

I was already late for work because I had been on my long Tuesday morning ride with my riding friends. I kept my focus ahead on the look out for traffic in the upcoming intersection when I felt an abrupt smack on my right shoulder and then a warm rush of liquid. Jackpot! Was I bleeding? It wasn’t so mellow dramatic.

The mujer con café walked into my path without looking. Strike! My white dress shirt was now cafe brown. At first I was kind of irritated, but then I thought it was pretty funny.

And because of my bike, it only took me 14 minutes to ride home, change and get to work, albeit an hour and a half late. I locked a half block away to the railing of an unused building.

Maybe my new found daily 46 minutes coupled with my new policy of not leaving the office after six or checking email from home will allow me time finish all the stories in my backlog.

As always, stay tuned.

2 comments:

mom said...

-Brian I'm so glad you have entered the world of
> the blogisphere and after all, how trendy can it be if I read
> blogs?

Brian Kemler said...

glad you like :-)