Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fun in Philly

It’s hard to believe, but I had not been to Philly since the cycling yogi’s birthday in May. You see, he lives without air conditioning and the summer was, let’s face it, brutal. Even though I braved the heat and humidity to cycle all summer long, I’m not inclined to attempt sleep without air conditioned comfort. So my visit last weekend felt like old times, especially since I left the dogs at home and traveled via Amtrak. I was glad I walked, instead of biked, to Union Station, as every bike rack was full – some with three bikes crowded onto a single “staple.”

Union Station needs more free bike racks!

Some things had changed during my four-month absence. When I hopped the SEPTA train at 30th Street Station to head out to Mount Airy, there were shiny new rail cars, still sporting that “new car” scent – a huge relief after enduring the bad smell of noxious cleaning fluid on the Amtrak train. On Saturday, I was attending the Barrelhouse writers’ conference, located at the University of the Arts in Center City. I still don’t feel confident about finding my way this distance in Philly on my own, via bike. Fortunately, the cycling yogi is always happy to get an extra 10-20 miles of biking and he accompanied me.

I did not like that he avoided traffic by starting out with about a mile of very bumpy, gravelly, trail through the Wissahickon. Although I can’t say I enjoy riding in traffic, I also am no mountain biker and I had to take it very slowly, complaining the whole time. But our trip improved dramatically when we reached the 3-4 mile stretch of no-cars-on-weekends road along the Schuylkill River. That’s the biking life! As we reached the fringes of Center City, I noticed another change: a number of Green Lanes to clearly highlight the previously-existing bike lanes. However, despite the bright green, bicycle-emblazoned lane, a tour bus must have mistaken the bicycle symbol for a big stinkin’ bus, because he proceeded to hog the lane, driving erratically and spewing out exhaust fumes. I made a mental note to report him to his company, but, of course, I don’t remember its name.

There were bike racks galore the entire block in front of the University of the Arts building on Broad Street. However, about half of them were the old fashioned racks designed to stick the front tire between in a narrow slot. Sadly, today’s theft prevention precautions require use of a U lock to secure both the front tire and the frame to the bike rack. As the photo below clearly illustrates, the street-smart Philly bikers know this, as every bike was lifted over the rack, frame resting on top.

Philly cyclists know how to lock up
After my day of workshops, cycling yogi met me, as we’d planned a dinner-and-theater evening. But when I unlocked my bike, the front tire was completely flat. With the help of Siri, we located a bike shop just blocks from us. As it was almost 5:00, and we didn’t’ know how late the shop would be open, cycling yogi quickly detached the tire and carried it on his bike to the shop for repair. Here he is, elegantly bringing it back – good as new.

Isn't he cute?
 When the show was over, there was quite a downpour, and we rode our bikes fast down the sidewalks the mile or so to the SEPTA station. Fortunately, there were few pedestrians. On the new rail car I encountered yet another change. The conductor graciously escorted us to the door we were to enter, and proceeded to fold a long bench up along the wall of the car to reveal designated bike storage on the train! There was even an adjustable seatbelt contraption to strap the bike to the wall – although it was not long enough to secure both bikes. Nevertheless, our two bikes nestled against each other without dislodging.

Guess which bike is mine
A few stops later, two more bike riders came aboard and – surprise – the conductor flipped up the long bench across the aisle to accommodate two more bikes. What I wouldn’t give to have such luxurious amenities on D.C.’s metro!

Easy storage for 4 bikes

 I took the early train back on Monday morning. As I walked from Union Station to my office, I was waiting for the light to change at North Capitol Street. There were no cars moving through the intersection, so pedestrians were jumping out ahead of the changing light. But I could see a young woman on a bike approaching the intersection, with the light. Of course I waited for her to cross, noticing her nice red jeans and pink yoga mat tucked into her backpack. Realizing, I imagine, that it’s primarily fellow-cyclists who resist jumping out in front of an oncoming bike, she rewarded me with a knowing smile as she passed.

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