"The stereotypes from 10 years ago are not the stereotypes of today," Pflaum said.
Though I often pounce here on intolerance, selfishness and injustice, don't get the wrong idea. I habitually scan the universe for hopeful signs.
None have emanated lately from the White House, the Pentagon or the U.S. Supreme Court. But there is one thing...
Mitch Berg is riding his bicycle to work.
It's not as earthshaking as Katherine Kersten marshalling the Gay Pride Parade or as unlikely as Bill Cooper investing in Joel Kramer's online news venture, but it cheers me more than both of these combined.
It will be good for him.
True, the exercise and fresh air we cyclists take in can lead to irrational exuberance. After a ride, I once imagined that President Bush's bike escapades might prove salubrious to the nation. Okay, maybe not. But I remain firm in this belief: It's virtually impossible to use a bike for transportation without growing more tolerant, flexible, generous and joyful.
Unless you were a total saint to start with.
Notice, I said "bike for transportation" — not racing, triathlon training or any other use that requires spandex, logos and titanium components.
For several years I've been weaning myself from routinely using a car. This doesn't require retiring the Jag and becoming a hemp-wearing cyclo-centric fanatic. It does mean making driving a conscious choice. Every time. Before going somewhere, I simply ask myself, do I need to drive?
Sometimes the answer is still yes, but less often than most Americans would imagine. Here's a sample of the week's transit decisions:
Sunday: Light rail from the airport to downtown; hitching a ride the rest of the way from a neighbor.
Monday: Grocery run for two 12-packs of soda, cat food, smoothie fruit and rice & beans makings. "Will you be driving up, sir?" (No, I'm on my bike.)
Tuesday: 90° and humid. Road bike to the office downtown, then to a planning meeting across town. Got home and discovered a letter I meant to mail. Biked it to the nearest mail box to beat the 5:00 pickup by a minute.
Wednesday: Had planned to bike to a meeting in St. Paul that was cancelled late Tuesday. Made a quick morning tee time, and rode to the course on the errand bike, with clubs and shoes. Later, biked to the store to pick up staples, dinner makings and 28 pounds of cat litter. ("Will you be driving up, sir?") Had to return some potatoes with hidden rot; bike again.
Thursday: Meeting in St. Paul with potential client I'm meeting for the first time. Decided I needed to drive.
Admittedly, my schedule isn't yours. This approach might not turn out well for a garage door installer or a working single mother with three kids. But I'm not trying to convert everyone, just inviting you to consider how convention, habit and convenience blind us to perfectly workable alternatives.
Notice how many minor complications presented themselves — distance and timing, weather, sizes of the loads, abrupt change of plans, decorum of a quasi-business meeting, carrying papers and clothes, last-minute errand, unfamiliar route and uncertain travel time, and "no one bikes to a golf course." Each sent a subliminal signal to hop in the car, and no one would fault me for so responding.
But by conditioning myself to ask instead, "How can I do this?," each otherwise routine or obligatory trip contained the potential for a tiny adventure.
When I did take the car on Thursday, funneling through the 394/94 bottleneck toward St. Paul, it gradually dawned on me that I was driving differently — as if I were still on the bike:
- Taking only the necessities. My phone and Daytimer. I don't show up with that ubiquitous black leather Tuomi bag any more.
- Leaving ample time for the trip. My former self would wait until past the last minute and then speed to my destination, heart pumping from stress instead of exertion. A bike offers no such option to kick it up 20 mph higher if you're running late.
- Staying closely attuned to the other cars and what they were likely to do next, giving room and yielding without taking offense. A bike's vulnerability engrains this essential behavior.
- Keeping the radio off.
Like I said, it will be good for him.