When I started riding my three-speed bike after graduation from college in yes it’s true, 1972, I never thought to bank the money I saved every day. Instead I began buying fresh flowers, with what I intuited was my extra cash, all because I biked everywhere.
Now 38 years later I am still on my bike, it is one of the great loves of my life. I have ridden home from work twice in labor. Really I could not have considered lumbering into a cab with someone I didn’t know, gasping and occasionally screaming. However peddling home in labor from LaMama, on East Fourth Street, where I was the executive director, to my loft in TriBeCa seemed like the logical choice. I rode home first in December for my daughter, and again in August three and a half years later, for my son. I stopped peddling along the way, gagged and groaned and made my way home; and I would do it again.
On my bike I feel powerful, safe, silly and thrifty. What an extraordinary combination. If packaged and advertised those feelings on television, this amalgam would surely sell soap, cereal or beauty products. It is more than a bike to me; it is a lifestyle a true love affair.
I know on occasion I come off as a zealot, or a proselytizer, but to me it seems clear cut. The bike is near to free, even when it is stolen, you can amortize the cost of a new one in a matter of weeks, if you are a public transportation commuter. If you are prone to cabs, the bike pays for itself in days. I am talking regular easy cheap bikes here not designer, fifty speeds, Hermes seats; it’s a bike reminiscent of childhood. You get on you balance and peddle and do that until you arrive at your destination. With the amortization principle in mind, even a few lost cycles along the way, still make you come out ahead of any other means of transport. OK I will bow to walking, but honestly it is so slow, and when you shop you have to schlep your own entire parcels home.
Bikes are good for the world, we now say they are green and in fact mine is British racing green. Bikes are good for you. Even though I am chubby, or BMI challenged, my doctor still annually extols the value of my bike. “ Wow, low blood pressure, the kidneys, lungs, and liver of a 20 year old, that bike is good to you!” I may have to give a nod to my equally rotund father, who smoked, and drank, like the Irishman he was, and yet lived to 92. So yes genetics and biking provide the maximum health combination.
I ride in snow, sleet, rain, sun and fog. I zoom to black tie events and tennis matches. For the last two decades I have had the same sweet bike, (knock on wood) I know I can’t count on keeping it and in a funny way; the magic is not linked to the exact machine, but rather the idea of biking, which beguiles me. This infatuation is the exact opposite of what one hopes for in a spouse. Oh honey I love the idea of being married and in fact it could be to anyone. No one would want that marriage, but I would extol my bike love with those exact words.
Biking is an innate sense of freedom. The air cocoons me on a summer’s night as I head home downtown whilst others wade into the humid subway or haggle for cabs. It provides a magnificent sense of power for me as a middle-aged woman. I never worry about how I will get home from any event and I am faster than most other conveyances in midtown. I careen from the east side to west in a jiffy. I can do three art openings from Chelsea to SOHO and back in the time others are saying “taxi” and I am having fun.
I feel like a kid on my bike. My legs peddle or I let them hang down when I take the long hill home down Ninth Avenue. I know all the terrain, the hills, the badly paved streets, the good ice cream stops or soup places, the fruit vendors with plump cherries and ripe pineapples Plop, it all goes into the basket and I carry on.
So this year, on the Epiphany, I decided to begin a new sharing of the wealth I create by riding my bicycle. I can’t share the energy, the giggles, the low blood pressure but I can share the money I save. So I started the bike fund.
Every day I am prepared to share whatever I saved by biking. Yesterday, I went to the World Trade Center Health Clinic at Bellevue, two trips by subway and in fact it was a five-hour ordeal and so I might have taken a cab home. OK tally up at least five bucks. Then I went to a cocktail party further down town and across town to a show. Let’s call it another 5 bucks.
Now I have 10 dollars in the Bike Fund. When I rode down Second Avenue toward home, I spied a young woman with her sweet dog. They were sitting on cardboard with a sign which read, Please help us. I wheeled around and gave her five one-dollar bills. A passerby chided me, “ How do you know she is not scamming you?”
“Well even if she lives on the Upper East Side, this is a damn hard job, sitting on the ground in the bitter cold; and I want to help.” He clucked at me and stormed off. I mounted my back and continued home
Later that night after a show at the New Museum, the swell crowd filled the Bowery smoking and parsing the performance art we had just watched. I heard one man accosting a group, “Hey anyone have 25 cents? I am a quarter short of a million”
Oh I loved that. “ Hey come her I want to tip you over the top and put you on the road to the next million.” I gave the man two bucks. This encounter made me think of a man I saw often when I went to visit my father who worked at NBC News. He was a jolly man who asked for a hand out this way. “Anyone want to help me buy some Lawrence Welk, I love that champagne music shit.” My father always gave him bills.
After pottery class last week on Chambers Street I emerged onto the street feeling like a well-dirtied kid in a great mood. I was. It was cold, but I was hot from the kiln and hadn’t even bundled up yet and there in the bus enclosure was a man with all his belongings tied into a few large plastic bags. “Hey will you help me I am Irish, Jewish and Black, a mixture that needs a lot of help.”
“Like my family “ I say and I go over to my bike to unlock it and fiddle in my purse. I walk back and give him the five bucks. It’s what I would have dolled out to get to pottery on the subway and head home. Easy charity.
Thursday January 21 I rode the Italian Cultural Institute on Park Avenue and 69 Street a long cold bright ride in strong winter sunshine.
But it would have been so expensive if I had taken a cab even one-way, but I biked both ways. On the way back home there was a person, from afar very androgynous, but a person in a mountain of clothes outside Marble Collegiate Church. I stopped my bike and popped it up the curb. I could now see it was a man, engrossed in counting change He held a cardboard sign that read HELP ME. When I approached he said, “Good afternoon miss how can I help you?” All intoned in good, smooth accent less English, the clip to which newscasters aspire. “ Well I thought I’d give you this.” And I handed him a five-dollar bill. “Thanks have a good day.” It was one of the most polite interactions I’ve had in ages.
I know with the situation in Haiti and the degradation, which abounds in our world that my tiny bike fund makes no dent, but it allows me to help in a small way and always shakes me, reminding me how lucky my life is. I am grateful to have fallen in love with my bike so that I can share some of it benefits with others.