Legend: BLUE-open, RED-closed, GREEN-by donation
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Saturday, July 26, 2008

my green guru

it's been almost a month since i made a commitment to driving less and riding more. just like many fellow motorists around the city (as well as around the country, for that matter), i was pushed to do it due to rising gasoline prices, the effects of vehicle emissions on the environment, and the scarcity of affordable parking here on the westside during the summertime (what with everyone headed for the beach to cool off).

i kept my initial goal fairly reasonable: on the weekends, i would either ride a bike or ride the bus to get to where i needed to go. it may not be feasible all of the time, but at least i'd try.

to seal the deal, i plunked down some cash and bought myself a cute lime green 3-speed beach cruiser complete with wicker basket and ding-ding bell. after all, i wasn't planning on tackling single-track mountain trails nor training for a triathlon. i just needed to get from point A to point B. and have fun while i was at it.

surprisingly, after spending close to four weekends riding my bike around town, i've found that my new fun friend has turned into my new wise teacher. through him (it figures i'd give myself a male sidekick), i've learned a lot about myself and my surroundings.

in no particular order, here are ten lessons my green guru has taught me:

1. patience. getting from place to place takes longer, now that i'm riding around at a leisurely pace instead of zooming around at the speed limit (of course i'd never admit to driving faster than that!). so i've had to give myself extra time to get to where i need to go. which can be terribly frustrating, especially if i have a bunch of to-do's on my calendar for the day.

2. discipline. riding a bike is just like driving a car. there are things i make sure i do to keep myself safe. before starting my car, i buckle up my seatbelt; before hopping on my bike, i buckle on my helmet. when i reach an intersection with a red stoplight, i stop. it doesn't matter if i'm in a car or on a bike, i don't want to risk getting hit. and when it gets dark, i turn on my lights -- both my headlight and taillight -- to see and be seen.

3. awareness. call me paranoid, but not only do i have to worry about whether i'm parking my bicycle in a safe place where it's least likely to get jacked, but i also have to make sure that my bike lock is securely wrapped around the bike and the immobile object that i've parked it against. you'd think that my using a four-star rated U-lock/cable lock combo would give me some sense of security, but this is LA, remember.

4. consideration. there's been an ongoing animosity between motorists and cyclists, with each one claiming their right of way. on roads that are already too crowded. in a recent car vs. bicycle incident that happened not far from where i live, a case of road rage ended up putting two cyclists in the hospital. as rodney king said back in the 90's after the riots: can we all get along? i'm trying, believe me.

5. tolerance. of course, there are those drivers who just don't care if there's a bicycle sharing the road with them. so i accept their need for dominance and stay out of their way. even if it means that i have to pull over and wait for them to pass. it's all about peace and love, man.

6. balance. and then there was the time i decided to swing by whole foods on my way from yoga class one sunday morning. not only did i start out with my yoga mat on one shoulder, my four pound U-lock on the other, and a satchel with my towel, wallet, keys, and cellphone in my handlebar basket, but now i had to find a way to add on a shopping bag with cheese, crackers, fruit, pasta salad, brownies, and water -- in other words, my hollywood bowl dinner for that evening -- and ride back via busy wilshire and santa monica boulevards... i'm happy to report that we all made it home in one piece. thank god.

7. thriftiness. did i ever mention how i miss paying close to $5 a gallon for gas and up to $20 to park my car near the beach? if you believe i did, you'll need to admit yourself into a substance-abuse program, stat. after all, a penny saved is a penny earned... which means more pennies for yoga classes for me :)

8. endurance. after a particularly long training run or a lunge-intensive yoga class, the last thing i want to do is pedal a heavy cruiser uphill when my legs are dead. but visions of a relaxing shower and a satisfying meal are usually enough to make me ignore the burn and power my way all the way home. it's funny how i'm willing to go through a lot of pain to achieve pleasure!

9. fitness. i have to say that after spending all that extra time pedaling furiously to get where i need to be when i need to be there (as well as dodging cars and unexpected potholes), my bathroom scale has informed me that i've lost a pound or two along the way. and my favorite pair of jeans has warned me that if keep it up, i'll actually be able to breathe again after a big meal. if i keep this up, i might actually be bikini-ready by the time swimsuit season's over.

10. community. being out on a bike affords me the ability to smile at and maybe even talk with cyclists and pedestrians that i encounter on the road, something i can't readily do while i'm cocooned in my car. there was an early-morning ride when i chatted with a surfer while we were both making our way to venice -- him to the beach and me to yoga class. and a late-night ride when i found myself following a group of boombox-blasting bike cruisers after the glow festival at the pier. there was also the time i was waved down by some friends who were checking out bikes at a local store and i ended up offering to let them try out my bike. and i'll never forget the time i waved past onlookers when i unexpectedly found myself in the midst of the local fourth of july parade, looking perfectly legit with the flags i'd attached to the front of my bike!

isn't it interesting how one can end up wiser merely by living simply?