Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Live it, y’all, live it.

This is not related to bicycles, nor is it about transportation. In fact, it’s not really about anything but me and my family and maybe the reminder that life is so, so precious. Pardon the self-indulgence.

grammy n me

That’s my grandma. Even though I took that picture last spring, I think it’s the last picture I have of her. The look on her face is quintessentially Grammy: the “I think what you’re doing or saying is totally ridiculous but I’ll humor you anyway” sort of look she got when she thought something was totally preposterous. In this case, that look was because of the selfie approach to picture-taking (though even she had to admit that it sort of worked;)

I miss that look. Grammy died this weekend, the day before James and I were going to see her, the day I’d sort of thought would be the last time I’d see her. I’ve been telling people–perhaps you are one of them, dear reader–how excited I was to see Grammy when James and I went to California, how it might be the last time. I’d sort of imagined this as my time to say goodbye. And to miss her by a day seems too cruel.

She’d just turned 96 and it’s not like her death was particularly surprising; she had a long, mostly happy life, a life surrounded by family, a live of travel and Tahoe summers. I’m sad not for her but selfishly for me, for the missed chance to say goodbye.

My brother and I often joked that Grammy was the nicest bigot we knew, and for sure she was often intractable in her thoughts. She was also unfailingly generous, so proud of her family, and the strongest, feistiest old woman I know. What follows, something I wrote back in the day when I had a livejournal (remember those?:) is I think the most fitting tribute I can think of. Thanks, Grammy, for everything.

July 2007:

I am continuously adding to my mental file of who and what I want to be like when I’m old. If I were telling you about it, I’d usually just say “I want to be like [insert any one of the people I admire here] when I’m old,” but what I really mean is that there are one or two specific things about that person that I want to try to emulate.

I mention this because recently, I was surprised to discover that my grandma is one of the people I want to be like.

You have to understand that I spent much of my adolescence in what I think is probably the typical fashion: hiding away with my brother, talking about why my family was so ridiculous. At first we centered on our parents, then expanded to the entirety of Dad’s side of the family (the side with which we were much more familiar and thus much more prone to pick apart), then rested comfortably on a few select cousins, only to spin around again, mix it all up, and decide that my grandma–sometimes racist in that endearing old-woman way, definitely set in her ways, woefully unable to navigate the world of email or even technology at all–was the one conniving behind the scenes of it all. Don’t get me wrong, I love my grandma and my family, I just spent a lot of my junior high and high school years focusing on everything that was wrong about them, everything that I wanted to do better.

So to realize that I want to be like my grandma in a lot of ways is particularly groundbreaking for me.

This is what I like about her, and this is what I want to have: tenacity. Before we went up to Tahoe a few weeks ago, just the two of us, she confided that the last time she was up there, she could feel the altitude affecting her heart. She’d been unable to go swimming (this is the woman who I think has gone swimming in Lake Tahoe every single day she’s been up there since she was born), unable to walk to the store, even unable to take the 5-minute stroll down to the beach to see the sunset. All she could do–which really, she was totally happy with, as hideously confining as it seems to me–was stay at our cabin and read.

This time, though, she was on the offensive. The day after we got there, she walked with me down to the end of the driveway and back. Next, it was down to the communal mailboxes and back. Down to campfire and back. Every day, she walked a little more. It wasn’t much, but dammit, she was going places. And about halfway into our trip, I convinced her to go down to the beach with me. I’d bought her a new bathing cap hoping to entice her into the water, and I drove us both down there (as much as it breaks my heart to drive a distance it takes 5 minutes to walk) so that she could at least put her feet in the water and see the mountains over the lake. When we got there, of course, she couldn’t help but try swimming at least a little bit. (Don’t worry, I made her promise not to have a heart attack.)

Anyway, to make a long story short, she swam that day–and then the next day, she swam even further. And that’s what I really admire: sure, she’s only the most marginally active as she’s ever been up there, but no matter what, she was trying every day. She wasn’t discouraged by the fact that she could barely walk a tenth of a mile at first; she just got up the next day and went a little bit further. That is what I want to be like when I’m old. Regardless of my fake hips, my reconstructed knees, my ankle that always gives me trouble when the weather changes, my arthritis, my aging bones and muscles, my whatever-can-go-wrong, regardless of how little I can do compared to how much I can still remember doing when I was young, I want the spirit that compels me to be out there trying. I never realized my grandma was like that, but it turns out that she is one stubborn old lady–and dammit, I’m going to be like that too.

Thanks, Grammy.


Bike picture of the day:)

This is from two weeks ago, but I think it’s still my favorite picture right now:

loaded work soma

It represents the melding of many things that are good in the world: my bike, loaded for a trip to the coast that I embarked on right after work, and my work, full of nature and birds and teaching and maps. Heh–and an electric pencil sharpener. For good measure.

How did I get so lucky that my life is full of so much amazingness?? Gosh:)

“Should” I be Angry?

Should I be angry?

I found myself thinking that this morning as I laughed my way down SE Lincoln Street. A few people in an oncoming car had tapped their horn, all friendly-like as though maybe I knew them, as I’d biked by. The driver had a giant grin on his face, which is the first thing I noticed. I smiled too–instinct–and sort of halfway waved (did I know these people?) before I realized that the smiley dude was flipping me off. I’m pretty sure. A smile and the bird.

That’s how I found myself laughing my way down the street, wondering why a car full of strangers had so happily flipped me off. I mean, this guy’s grin had been gigantic. How I was supposed to interpret that ridiculous incongruity? I imagined them in their car: had they premeditated this to see how some random passer-by like me would react? Had I been part of a controlled social experiment? Were they wondering why I’d waved back to them even as they flipped me off?

I was pretty confused, and very amused. But then I wondered. Should I be angry?

It’s a phrase that came up not too long ago when a friend was telling me and James about her boss. Her boss isn’t very nice to her. In fact, it sounds like she says some pretty rude things. But our friend, one of the most chipper women I know, laughs it off. “People tell me I should be upset,” she told us, “but I actually think it’s kind of funny.”

That idea of “should.” Should she be upset. Should I be angry. It’s such a weird way of invalidating your real feelings–who’s to say when someone should or shouldn’t be angry? According to which objective scale of anger-inducement? And especially in my friend’s case, when she’s perfectly happy: why would anyone want to convince her that she should be anything but?

It may be that there’s a time and a place and a need for appropriately-expressed anger–if nothing else, simply to let another person know that what they do could potentially have negative impact on others. As an educator, I’m keenly aware of letting people know how their actions may affect others in often unintended ways. And to make that point, maybe sometimes it’s worth it to express anger (or whatever) even if you’re not feeling it. I don’t know.

But to tell someone who’s actually quite happy that they should be angry? That seems a little silly to me. If I’m not angry, I’m not sure if whether I should be angry is a helpful question.

Though that being said, what the heck were those people in the car doing??:)

It’s nice out! Let’s be nice to each other too, eh?

Along with being awesome for its own sake, nice weather is fun for how many people it brings out, many of whom are getting places on their bikes or on foot. Of course, this means that a lot more people are trying to inhabit the same space that mere months ago was fairly empty. Which means it’s also a good chance to practice being a considerate human being in our more busy shared space.

No, I’m not the world’s leading expert on considerateness, but I do have a few thoughts from the last few days of sunny-weather biking.

1. Speed

You may be strong and speedy. You may have muscles of steel that propel you effortlessly to your destination at 20 million miles an hour. That’s impressive when you’re on some stretch of open road by yourself. It’s wholly unimpressive when you blow past some old man trying his best to hold his line on the overcrowded Hawthorne Bridge. Similarly unimpressive when you and your muscled legs cut close in front of some lady with two kids on the back of her Extracycle. I like going fast, too. I’m even impressed sometimes by other people’s fastness. But I’m definitely not impressed when you’re being an asshole.

When there are other people around, please slow down. Fast biking and close passing may not seem aggressive to you, but it sure does to people who aren’t used to being in a paceline. They matter, too, and have just as much right to feel safe on the road as you do. Save your speedyness for when you’re not in a crowd.

 2. Passing

Sometimes it is infuriating to be stuck behind someone slow. Especially when you’re used to not being affected by traffic and you’ve had the winter months largely to yourself on the road. But suck it up.

You generally don’t want someone in a car to pass you until there’s enough room for them to give you a wide enough margin to pass safely, right? That goes for other people on bicycles, too. Wait until there’s a break in traffic, then go around. And can I suggest a friendly “on your left” or bell ding? It may slow you down for a few seconds, but seriously. None of us is so important that we can’t be five seconds later to wherever we’re going for the sake of everyone else’s safety.

3. Rules of the Road

You know how it sucks when someone cuts you off? It similarly sucks when you’re a pedestrian trying to cross a street and get dusted by some speedy fool on a bike who’s too cool to stop. Pedestrians have right of way! I know, it can be hard to work up momentum again when you’re pedaling. But come one. Again, for the sake of someone else (they may be late to work, too!), you can be inconvenienced for five seconds.

If you need a silver lining, think of it as an extra workout to get those legs going back up to speed. :)

4. Assuming positive intent

Sometimes people in cars confusingly cede you right of way at controlled intersections. Sure, it’s weird and awkward sometimes, but mostly people are just trying to be nice. Treat them accordingly, will you? The worst thing ever is repaying someone’s attempted kindness by yelling at them.

4. It’s nice to acknowledge other human beings! 

Hey! There are a lot of people out! It’s a good chance to practice your smile and wave! Or perhaps you’re not feeling so overtly friendly? Maybe start just with eye contact, or a finger waggle. We’re all people out here–it’s nice when we’re treated as such.

5. Enjoy yourself!  

It’s a lovely day. Hooray! Enjoy it! Whee! Smile! Smile at someone! You might just make their day, and yours too:)

Happy sunny biking, everyone!