A Catbird in a Snowstorm

Home is eight miles away, it is snowing,
I tell myself to be careful.
Both lights are still working: that’s a relief,
I zip up the jacket, buckle the helmet,
And sense the endorphins coming on.
There is ice on the frame, snow on the seat;
the catbird has been outside for long.
But now, bike and rider are cautiously ready
For the slow, steady ride home.

We test for slippage and seek grippy patches of road
Our senses are on red alert;
Is that salt below, or mud, or is it black ice?
We brake with care, and a hint of prayer
But the bike stays true; like it always has.
It’s not fast, it’s not light, it isn’t pretty,
But it knows me, and I know it.
Briskly we try out speeds, test cadences,
And settle on a comfortable clip for a snowstorm,
Pedalling faster, going slower than normal.

We can’t relax, even on the home stretch;
White sidewalks converge ahead,
Though snow obscures their virtual meeting point.
Below, the frame glistens red catching the taillight;
The catbird’s steady blinking heartbeat.
Snowflakes sparkle, always 3 feet ahead of us
Issuing outward like fireflies from a fantastic tube
We feel quiet, hearing no wind, no horns, no people
Only the sound of labored breath
And pin-pricks of snowflakes on a cold leathery face.

The catbird and I have gone many hundreds of miles
We are both silent and we are both lonely.
But we are not tired. Life burns madly in us;
Sad but fierce.

[Written almost a year ago, soon after biking from Boston Common to my apartment in Cambridge, past midnight in the middle of a snowstorm. “Gray Catbird” is my doughty commuter bike, and we have many stories to tell.]

Wheel Love


This made me smile.

It also made me think two thoughts.

First, I thought of a wizened man in white kurta-pajamas who would come and shout in our neighborhoods: “Do you have something to sharpen?” ¬†He would come with a bicycle fitted to a sharpening wheel. It was a basic contraption – a wheel with a hard, rough surface that could be coupled to the pedals using a belt. Housewives would take their old knives and scissors and flock to him in groups of two or three. That was how it used to be – people didn’t throw their stuff away to buy new things only to throw them away again. Pay a few rupees to this periodic visitor and the knife would be as good as new. As kids, we weren’t interested in the sharpening; it was the sparks that made our day – orange flickers along the wheel’s tangent. Not oppressive welding sparks that you couldn’t bear to see, but sleek flecks of energy accompanied by a hiss of roughness and metal. I longed to touch the wheel to see if it was hot. But, I never did.

Then, I also wondered how we don’t do things with our hands anymore; we touch them on a screen and think it is all very cool. We don’t fix things; we just replace them. We don’t make things; we just buy them not knowing who made them or what went into their making. I know it’s about civilization and technology and how it makes for a better life – the greatest good for the greatest number. But still, it’s reached a point where we think that making things is something cute, a sort of playful deviancy for slightly crazy persons. So cute, that like the Peseta Caps in the video, we keep them in a museums. At arms length. So we can entertain ourselves when we are bored. This makes me a little sad.

So, which lovely car would YOU like to be doored by?

It happened again. I narrowly escaped being doored in Inman Square. I was on my daily bicycling commute going at a leisurely 8-9 miles per hour just past Cambridge Hospital (convenient, eh?) when suddenly: A woman abruptly strides into the lane 3 feet ahead of me, and in a split second flings open the door of her Mercedes straight into my path. I swerve, stop, and give her a shocked glare. She starts to apologize, “Oh, I didn’t …” and then, as if a switch flicks on in her mind, she suddenly changes tone. “I came here first, you should have seen me!”. And then, without bothering to listen, she repeats this twice. For emphasis. Then, she enters the car and shuts the door.

Sigh. I tried to control myself and explain. She had walked into the lane without looking left or right, on a busy street during morning rush hour. No effect. Apparently, I was at fault. I should have stopped when I saw her materialize in my path from behind a parked van. In that epiphanic moment when she switched gears from apology to defense, she must have calculated that at a speed of 8.5 mph, I had a full 0.25 seconds to react. See? If only I had lightning fast reflexes and good peripheral vision, I could have stopped and allowed Lady Mercedes to open her door and drive leisurely away.

She had medical scrubs on. When the buzzing in my ears stopped, I wondered if she was having a bad day or something. Or, maybe she had been on medical call the night before and was sleep-deprived. Who knows? I just don’t want to be doored, and after three close shaves so far, I wonder how much longer my luck will hold.

536 miles since Memorial Day

A bicycle ride happens every weekday at 8:30 am. It isn’t always fun doing this – creaky knees and unslept calves stoke the devil in your mind: “Don’t bike today”. You find it within yourself to persevere. At first, out of shame; the ride is less than 4 miles each way (come on!). Then, to avoid going to the gym. Then, to feel the wind on your face. To relive a rustic weekend ride out of town. To escape the loneliness of living far from a loved one. To be on a bicycle again. Just to be.

——- 0 miles: June 30, 2010 ——-

400 miles: September 19, Waltham (Walden Pond Ride)

500 miles: October 15, Cambridge

600 miles: November 16, Cambridge

700 miles: February 18, Cambridge

800 miles: March 15, Cambridge (Paper Source)

900 miles: April 2, Cambridge (the day India won the Cup!)

—– 1000 miles: April 27, 2011, Cambridge¬†—–

1500 miles: September 28, Cambridge

1700 miles: January 29, Boston (Emerald Necklace Ride)

1800 miles: February 26, Cambridge

—– 2000 miles: April 15, 2012 Cambridge —–

2800 miles: December 12, Somerville

—– 3000 miles: February 4, 2013, Cambridge —–