Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Day in the Life

May 17, 2012 – A Day in the Life

My heart skipped when I went to the place I’d locked my bike and saw…nothing. I’d been at an all-day meeting at the HHS building, and had looked all around the front for a bike rack. Finding none, I wheeled over to the fence around the outdoor play area used by the kids at the building’s daycare center. I carefully looked for a “no bikes allowed” sign and, seeing none, locked up.

When I discovered my loss at the end of the day, I hoped that I had violated some unwritten Federal rule and my ride had been confiscated, not stolen. Sure enough, after a lengthy negotiation with no fewer than four officials, I was escorted to the basement storage room where my bike was returned to me. I left behind the vintage 1980s-era kryptonite lock that had served me so well – now hacked in two along one straight edge of its steely U. Replacing the lock is small potatoes, compared to the price of my still-new bike, which I was just happy to get back. But the disturbing part was the officious lecture I received from the security guard.

When I told him I had looked for a “no bikes” sign on the fence, he informed me there was a rack along the 3rd Street side of the building. That part was fine. But – regarding the sign – I was told, “This is Federal property. We make our own rules. We don’t have to tell you not to park here.” He seemed to take absurd delight in this pathetic wield of power. He then launched into a lecture about my bike being a safety hazard to children using the play area.

I proceeded to the metro, where I had a much more pleasant encounter. I asked the homeless guy panhandling at the escalator whether he knew where the elevator entrance was. He politely directed me and, as I slipped a bill into his plastic cup, he complimented my bike, asking if it kept me in shape. Clad in shorts and a tank top, I bravely replied, “You tell me.” He nodded enthusiastically, and a nicely dressed man in a business suit who overheard our exchange smiled and added, “Oh yes indeed, I’d say so.” Pushing 60, it makes me feel good to still get a thumbs up on my physique.

But some days you can’t count on your luck to last. In making “improvements” to the bike route at the East Falls Church metro, they’ve installed one of the truly annoying curb cuts that are narrow, with high edges on either side, and must, therefore, be approached straight on. These are popping up all over Arlington. Does it take a genius to understand that a broad, wide curb cut is much more user-friendly – for bikes, wheelchairs, strollers, and suitcases alike?

As I waited to cross Sycamore Street to get on the bike path, I could see a pedestrian toting a wheeled suitcase trying to get past me. There is not really sufficient space for multiple users – especially those with various types of wheels – to negotiate this much-used sidewalk space. Attempting to straighten out my bike to allow him more room to pass, my front wheel caught on the high curb and I toppled straight over onto my side, bike on top of me, wheels spinning uselessly. The guy with the suitcase looked back at me sprawled on the ground and didn’t so much as ask, “Are you all right?” For anyone old enough to remember Laugh-In, I felt like the guy in the weekly skit who used to pedal a tricycle and then, for no reason, just fall off to the side. I felt like a dope and had little bloody scrapes on both legs. The tumble also derailed my chain, which I can’t seem to fix without covering my hands in sticky black grease. At least I was prepared with both water and a washcloth. Yippee! And the weather was perfect, allowing me to savor the rest of my short ride home. So, despite my whining, as usual, the bike ride was the best part of the day.

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