Archive for the ‘David Byrne’ Tag

Object 10: Skyway Single Speed Bicycle by MEC, 2009.   2 comments

It's a beauty.

It’s a beauty.


This, the final object I will talk about in this mini series of my life, is a little different from the others because it actually allows me to get out of the apartment where all the other objects can be found. But in going through this exercise of telling my story through 10 objects, it would be impossible to talk about the last four years or so without talking about my bike.

It’s a 30 cm single gear Skyway from Mountain Equipment Co-op with fixie option but I’m not that crazy. As with most of the objects on my list, there’s a story about how it happened to come into my possession.

Three and a half years ago, I was struck by a car as I was crossing 17th Avenue, which is a busy thoroughfare in my city of Calgary. I was a pedestrian, crossing in a crosswalk on a green light. A car came up the street behind me and turned left. The driver never saw me. Suddenly I was crawling off the busy street towards the sidewalk in the rain, in an awful lot of pain.

He hit me hard enough to etch the insignia on his vehicle’s bumper into the skin of my back through a light ski jacket. I sustained cracked ribs and some damage to my left hip and elbow as well as whiplash.

It all happened so fast. There I was, minding my own business, on my way home to do my laundry and the next moment, flying through the air above 17th Avenue. How quickly and dramatically our lives can change.

The doctor at emergency was convinced I must be in seriously great shape to have taken such a hard hit and walk (or limp, at least) away from it. It didn’t really seem all that grave at the time. I even had enough wherewithal while at emergency to flirt with my nurse who had actually seen a few of my plays and thought I was kind of a big deal. But there were lingering implications.

The physical effects weren’t all that bad, really, although cracked ribs are hardly a walk in the park in springtime. Yet after the ribs had healed and I could turn my neck again, I found myself sinking into a kind of funk, a lethargy that nonetheless was tinged with a  sense of panic if I had to too much, especially if I had to do more than one thing at a time. I consulted a friend who knows about such things (ie, a shrink) and it seems I was going through some manner of post traumatic stress disorder.

I was growing rather soft and spongy, physically. All of which was surely leading to a low-grade depression, which I am prone to at the best of times.  A friend of mine, one of those extreme-sports-iron-man-triathalon lunatics, got fed up with just sitting by and watching this happening. He came up with a form of therapy that worked both physically and emotionally: I needed to start moving around again, and a new bicycle would be just the thing. (My own bike had been stolen a year or so earlier.)

And so we went over to MEC one day and he very generously bought me this one.

The first summer I had it, I was honestly too terrified of the traffic to use it much. Plus, I couldn’t turn my neck far enough to see what was behind me which is simply not a good idea when riding a bike in a busy city. But I’ve always loved riding a bike, and so I kept pushing it and little by little, day by day, rode more and more until now it’s become second nature.

This in part led to the decision that after 40 years of having a car, I no longer needed one. The decision was partly financial as I really don’t make enough money to justify the expense. It also had to do with my health and general well-being. I didn’t like being spongy. At my age maybe there’s only so much you can do, but everyday I’m out there I figure that by riding, I am  making things a lot better than they would be if I wasn’t out there.

And finally, the decision to opt out of the whole automobile-gasoline dependency addiction that most North Americans suffer from has been one of the most liberating things I have ever done. I’m hardly militant about it , but sometimes when I ride past or through a traffic jam and see the looks of frustration or anger or despair on the drivers’ faces, I can’t help but feel a little smug.

I’m not the only writer of a certain age to turn to a bicycle for solace and companionship. Henry Miller famously wrote My Bike & Other Friends (1977) and if you’re interested in cycling and literature, this is a very good book to read. I found this wonderful photo of Miller which I wanted to share with you:

Funny to think that the author of Tropic of Cancer ended up here.

Funny to think that the author of Tropic of Cancer ended up here.































To answer a question posed in earlier posts: if my house were on fire, which object would I take? I don’t really know for certain, but I would certainly make a speedy getaway from the flames on my bike.

And who knows, maybe once I got out on the street, freed from the tyranny of my possessions, I’d just keep going and never look back, free as a bird.

One of my favourite musicians, who is also an avid cyclist, happened to write a song about burning down a house, so that seems like a good place to end this examination of my life through ten random objects. Enjoy.

Thanks for reading!

The Bicycle Reconsidered   3 comments

Last November I got rid of my car and decided to see what life would be like in Calgary as a pedestrian and a user of public transit. I wrote a post about that on this blog at the time, and then wrote another after 3 months. I talked about the obvious advantages to my general health and finances. At that time, I figured I’d walked about 1,000 km I would otherwise have been sitting down for. Now that figure must be three times that. Put in practical terms, I suppose that’s like walking to Vancouver and back from Calgary.

When I first started this noble experiment, I suppose I felt like someone who in newly single after being in a long term relationship. Some people seem to feel that the default position for a human being is to be in a relationship, and that to be single implies a deficiency of sorts. But having been single for a decade now, more or less, I am finding for myself that it’s actually a positive position. I am one of the few people I know who actually enjoys being single.

Same too with my relationship with the automobile. At first, given that I live in Calgary which is a shrine to the car if ever there was one, my lack of wheels made me feel inadequate, somehow. Lacking. A negative position. But now that I’ve been at it this long, I don’t feel there in anything negative about it.  In fact, I am reasonably convinced that what I am doing is right and that all the people I see alone in their cars burning expensive gas as they idle in traffic jams are wrong, on many levels.

Now that it’s summer, if that’s what this cold rainy season can be called, I have another mode of transportation at my disposal – my bicycle. The freedom and joy of riding my bike has made any desire to have a car again all the more remote.  The great thing about it is the more you do it, the easier it gets, and the greater the distances one can travel. For example, one of the places I work at in North East Calgary seemed impossible to reach by bike a few months ago. Well last week, I rode my bike there. It took me less time than it used to take me to drive.

I just finished reading David Byrne’s book, Bicycle Diaries.  The Talking Heads are one of my favourite bands of all time and I respect and admire David Byrne as a songwriter and performer and artist. Diaries is a meandering travelogue of sorts, having for a large part not much to do with bicycles at all. Which is all right, too. It’s interesting to read his take on arts and culture in different cities around the world.

While he doesn’t devote a chapter to Copenhagen, he does talk about the work of urban planner Jan Gehl, who has helped “successfully transform Copenhagen into a pedestrian- and bike- friendly city. At least one third of Copenhagen’s work force gets to work on bikes now!” I have no illusions about this every happening in Calgary, a city with a vested interest in keeping cars on the road for great distances and long stretches of time. But I notice that the bike racks here have more bikes locked to them this summer than they did last, so it feels like we are moving in right direction.

When David does get down to it, especially in the book’s epilogue, he talks convincingly about the important role the bicycle plays in the greening of our cities. He points out the obvious, that driving an automobile is not sustainable at all, and soon will have to end for all kinds of reasons.  All of this makes me feel I am downright progressive and part of a vanguard that just might help rescue the city I live in and maybe even the planet from strangulation and suffocation.

If you’re interested in David Byrne and his take on different cities of the world (such as London and Istanbul) and cycling in general, this book is a good read. It’s not new, it first came out in 2009. (I found it at Fair’s Fair used book store.) It’s published by Viking.

I’ve included an interview with David about his design for bike racks in New York City.

Thanks for reading! Good riding out there!

%d bloggers like this: