I could have gone a more obvious route with this post by titling it with a line or two from 'Bicycle Race' by Queen. But since I saw 'Hamlet' this weekend--London's Globe Theater Company, on tour, for the US premiere(!)--I thought this title was punnier. (Not to mention, I adore 'Hamlet.' My mom reminded me that it was three years ago on Halloween that I saw Jude Law in the title role on Broadway over fall break.)
So after living in Boston for about 3.5 months, I finally got a bicycle. I probably would have gotten one sooner, but living in the Cambridgeport hell sublet meant not acquiring anything remotely expensive or bulky, and until mid-September, I hadn't any real desire to visit Allston or Brighton and when I did, I still had the patience to deal with the Green Line.
The bike came on Wednesday and I spent about three hours trying to assemble the thing myself, even though the assembly for it didn't match most of the instructional videos I had acquired on the internet. In the narrow hallway by my bathroom, I looked like some failed Rosie the Riveter in my efforts to assemble the thing. Luckily, I was visited by AC (whose shock of blue hair matches the sky on a day like today, and is just as uplifting) who, among his many talents, is extremely skilled with bikes. I haven't thanked him enough yet.
It turned out that I had not only put the handlebars (mysteriously) on backwards, but also that putting on the handlebars backwards would only be the beginning of hijinks with my bike, Winston.
Winston's maiden voyage was set for Saturday morning--I was going to bike to Johnny D's in Somerville to meet AP (co-op matriarch, 2010) for brunch. The ride was supposed to take a little under 25 minutes, but I gave myself an extra 10, just in case. After all, I hadn't biked in recent memory. (Thinking on it more carefully, I believe the last time I got on a non-stationary bike was when I went to Jackson Hole in August 2008. And that experience also began with me getting paralyzed with anxiety.)
It took me about an hour to reach Davis Square for brunch. How was I spending the thirty minutes I was late, you might wonder? The first five minutes, I tried getting on the bike and riding it down the old brick sidewalks of some small sidestreets in Beacon Hill. I adjusted the seat because it felt too high (and if I fell, which I was sure I would--and I was right about that--I wanted to be able to have the ball of my foot touch the ground. Not just my toes). With the seat a little lower, I felt better and made my way over toward Beacon Street because I had failed in my attempt to locate the bike path that goes along the Charles River on Storrow Drive (which I will be using for my morning commute, as soon as I figure it out). I decided I would just get to Davis by biking down Beacon to where it intersects Massachusetts Avenue, and then ride down Mass Ave and make the two turns past Porter Square to get me to Johnny D's. I'd walked all these areas before, so how hard could it have been to bike them?
Well, I didn't realize that there are some designated bike lanes and other just "share the road" indicators. And that most of the designated bike lanes either haven't been repainted or can only be considered lumpy side-road asphalt backwash. Worse, cars just think bike lanes are extra space, and taxis don't think at all. This, combined with my fear of cars, irrationally instilled in me by my father, a (primarily automobile) accidents lawyer, was a recipe for me clutching the handlebars for dear life, clenching my teeth for the full time I was on the riding the road.
The worst part: in my attempt to pass some fratty college students on the sidewalk who were smoking a doobie at 9AM, I ended up biking onto the street from the wide, smooth Beacon Street sidewalk. I pedaled hard and fast so I could get ahead of them, and then tried to get back on the sidewalk. Much to my dismay my bike couldn't handle the curb height, and I ended up crashing into the curb and falling off the bike, tearing a hole in the knee of my pants and scraping my knee and my palms a little. A runner came by to ask if I was okay and to help me up, but I could barely eke out "thank you" to her. I had tears in my eyes and was so embarrassed at having fallen, angry at myself for thinking getting a bike could ever be a good idea, but above all, really, really scared of getting back on the bike and making it to Somerville (at this point, I was maybe .3 miles from my apartment and more than 4.5 miles away from my destination).
In the end, I managed to give myself a pep talk and get to Somerville on Winston, and given all the trauma, a half-hour late wasn't so much. AP was sweet, understanding, and full of hugs when she saw me, very shellshocked, at the restaurant.
The next major bike experience was on Sunday, on the way back from meeting JMC, the most charming and handsome Bolivian I know, for brunch in Inman Square. Unlike my trip to Davis, this voyage went without a hitch. On the way back, I felt super ambitious and decided to stop at Newbury Street before going home--I wanted to try on a winter coat at the Patagonia store and then order the same coat from last year's collection online for less than half the price. I headed into another store and tried on a few coats and, settling on one then and there, decided to buy it. Since I brought my bungee cords with me, I thought, "What a great time to learn how to secure things to my wire rack on the back of my bike!" Riding home on Commonwealth Avenue would have been a death wish to begin with for someone who had the experiences I had had on Saturday, but it was absolute suicide because I was convinced that the paper bag with my decently expensive "Survive Boston Winter" jacket was going to fall off the wire rack and get shredded by cars on Comm Ave. I was looking behing me pathologically. I stopped in the middle of the bike lane just to check the bag was still there. I'm not sure if I was worried more about losing my life or losing the coat.
Now it's Monday, and I'm about to do the work commute on Winston (remember that bike path I couldn't find?--I'm planning to own it, and the city biking learning curve, in the next hour). Regardless of whether they make it to this blog, there will be more bike chronicles, and I hope that I, mostly unscathed, will continue to be able to share them.
The Hamlet-inspired bike lesson: when biking in Boston, "the readiness" for T-buses, raging cabbies opening driver-side doors into bike lanes, soccer moms on the phone in swerving minivans, Harvard tourists, and negligent, texting students "is all."