Friday, August 31, 2012

morning commute

I ride my bike to work 5 days a week. Roughly 4 miles each way, same route, same hill to contend with on the way to campus and on the way home. Same time of day. Same road, same turns, same stop lights.

The best part of this habit, this sameness, are in fact the differences. The little things that change that become big things. Here's how it goes:

I leave the house with my messenger bag slung on my back, stuffed to the gills with work clothes, dry clothes for the ride home and my lunch. Cue montage of me placing these things inside of it, five times a week, contents varying. I pump my tires, sling bike frame over my shoulder and hustle down the stairs. Couple of turns and I'm at the first light. Cue montage of traffic, five mornings of it--sometimes a crossing guard, sometimes not. During the summer months the caddy-corner church steps are empty--during the school year, you'll find kids sitting there looking tired and already bored. I see the same guy in hospital scrubs at the nearby bus stop. Sometimes he must take an earlier bus or sleep in, but I see him enough to wonder why I do not know his name yet. That's one of the funnier aspects of my commute--seeing individuals every morning yet knowing so very little about them.

For example, there is the moped scooter guy. I hear him before I seem him, that whirrrring motor sound of a little enginge that could(that can, that does). His helmet is wrapped with designs, reminds me of Ed Hardy attire. We jockey for position now and again over the miles--I zoom past him in traffic, he leaves me in the dust on the hill close to Shady Avenue. Sometimes I beat him to Oakland, sometimes I'm left staring at the back of his Ed Hardy helmet. But we'll pass somewhere on our commutes. There is also the boy that walks while reading a book. I can usually compare his location with how late I left the house.

There are other cyclists, warriors of the morning. The woman who never wears a helmet but knows all the shortcuts. The older man who rides a too-small bike--his knees jut out awkward as he pedals. The man with panniers and monstrous calves.

I adore things that cycling allows me to notice, things I would otherwise miss or know nothing of if I chose a different mode of transportation. Like I've dodged the same growing pot hole for months upon months(at least 6 now) and then yesterday I went to dodge and found it finally filled. Road work that cars barely bump over, metal plates I have to scoot around or new divits to avoid. When I come around the downhill bend of Forbes Avenue, I know that I have to ride in the center of the lane, know the holes and uneven parts that line the right side. I catch whiffs of heavy perfume or pot from cars that pass. Snippets of radio and bored drivers and cigarette fingers.

I see roadkill, I smell the death stench. I witness its process of decay. Flat and fresh, splayed in the bike lane. Then bloated in the same spot. Then flattened and kicked to the side by other wheels. Then gone. A late night storm leaves debris in my lane by morning, sometimes entire branches, thick trails of wet leaves and dirt from river of water that forms and tumbles to the storm drains. Yesterday's clear path is tomorrow's thicket of litter. You can never not pay attention.

I see empty lots with signs of COMING SOON! promising new apartments. The lots remain empty until one day a fence is erected to partition construction zone from road. Another week, heavy trucks appear with dirt or cement. Two weeks later and scaffolding is erected, workers slop bricks together in early morning light. They pour the sidewalk, traffic backs up and becomes one lane for a few days. Another week and the windows are in, they are almost livable. The road here becomes dusty and different, repaved for sewer and water lines, bumpy. It takes me a while to adjust and remember where the rough spots are. And then one day they are built and ready for tenants. Morning by morning I watch empty space become full, unsure of how it happened though seeing it step by step.

Soon the leaves will change. I can see the tips of some already going yellow. I can smell the transition of season in the air as I bend my way from home to work. I slip my wheels to the left and right, avoiding the dropped acorns. I try to keep my middle finger and smart mouth in check, even when dealing with the most inconsiderate drivers on the road(those that honk belligerent, cut me off, swerve to intimidate me off the road). On occasion I glance down at my legs working the pedals, marvel at the muscles revealing themselves on the downstroke. I wonder what loved ones are doing as I breathe in through my nose and out through mouth. Sleepy eyed upon departure and a sweaty mess when I arrive. It is most certainly my favorite moment alone.

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