29 August 2009

the best fifty-nine cents i spent this summer.

Some people have backseats and trunks. I have the Ikea tarp bag. I got it on my first shopping trip in the city and have used it again and again. I can get on the bus with loads of stuff (like pillows) and it looks (and indeed is) completely controlled and deliberate. Why use five bags when you only need one? This bag kicks the ass of every other bag I own.

28 August 2009

one of these things is not like the others.

When I first got my Mac and had some trouble making the switch, the guy on the support line told me that once I got past the initial challenges, I was going to put the experience behind me and absolutely love my computer. That's exactly what happened. I was trying to keep that in mind today because I recognize that I have zero patience for error, and really, five hours after it arrived, I am back from my first ride on the Dahon and feeling much better about the purchase.

I went all the way out to Performance (which is so far away that it is almost in New Jersey). The guy popped out the offending packing piece and pumped up the tires. I was there all of five minutes...

...Which was long enough for him to lecture me about how I shouldn't buy anything online and I should always come to the store. For his information, the store is too far out of the way to be useful to me after an extremely harrowing experience trying to ride through unavoidable Downtown on the way back (I ended up mostly walking the tiny bike and stopping for a worthwhile and much needed Hot Sausage from a street vendor).

Really, it is getting bitched at and denigrated that keeps a lot of people, especially women, from going into bike shops in the first place. I shouldn't have to defend my choice to buy something online when it is cheaper to anybody. The bike would've cost me $500 with tax from the store, which was more than I paid. I don't need to be intimidated when I come seeking help. That was disappointing and even if it was closer, I wouldn't go back to that shop.

So that pissed me off, but I got on my bike and rode off the angst. End of story.

So the Dahon- the bike, the actual bike itself- is fantastic. As a short legged person it is so hard to find a bike that fits perfect, but this one does. Once I got onto bikeable streets, I felt like I could really fly on that little bike. The Schwalbe tires were great on Philadelphia's debris laden streets (much like the ones on the ODT), and the gearing- well, usually on the ODT it takes all 3 gears to get me up the hill from the Downtown area and on the Dahon, I stayed in 3rd the whole time, quite comfortably.

The positioning is pretty upright and I felt visible and safe on the bike- though I will be adding a bell and using a blinkey light. I like that the rack came with a special little bungee so I could strap my purse on. Not having a coaster brake takes some getting used to, but what the bike has works fine. And of course, most importantly, it fits through the front door and is not hard at all to get up the stairs and through our sharp cornered hallways. I think it's pretty sweet that Dahon throws in a little vial of touch up paint and a bunch of stickers. I'm looking forward to many pleasant miles on my little bike.

if only i could ride the bike i just bought.

The D3 arrived this morning. It's an pretty overcast day here, and I woke up feeling not so well, so getting the bike was pretty exciting. It was easy to get up the stairs which is about all it takes to make me happy. Or so you would think.

Getting it together was, for the most part, a breeze. I really liked all these clever little hinges. It really does just snap together.

So this it where I started to have problems. As you can see, there's no seat. Currently, as it stands, if I try to put the seat post in, the seat is taller than the handle bars. As I have a 28" inseam, that would work, oh, I don't know, basically never.

The problem is that there is this white piece of pipe stuck up the stem (?- my bike vocab is limited here). There's no mention of this piece anywhere on the instructions or in any picture. My first call to Performance's product support, the guy says, "Yah, that's just a piece of packing material. Pull it out." And I was like, well, funny you would say that because I already tried that, but what the heck. I'll try again. So I hang up, and I try pulling really, really hard, and it won't budge. So I call Performance's product support again, and I'm like, no really, that piece of pipe won't come out.

And so this guy, he's a little more committed to being helpful and suggests maybe needle nose pliers, which would work if I had pliers that had an eighteen inch nose on them. And ultimately he says, well, you should take it to a shop. Which pisses me off to no end, because for this bike, they don't give you the option of shipping it to the shop to begin with, which I would do because I'm not a mechanically oriented person. So now I have no option really, lacking the necessary brute strength to get the pipe out (really, I think most people would- it's going nowhere), but to try and figure out how to get it to a shop. As SEPTA has a no bikes policy (including folding) and I lack bungee cords to strap this shit on the back of the ODT, I feel pretty hosed right now. Going to give the local Performance shop a call to see if they can make this right.

27 August 2009

a poem from my previous life that's been on my mind the last few days.

The Character of a Happy Life

    HOW happy is he born or taught
    That serveth not another's will,
    Whose armor is his honest thought,
    And simple truth his highest skill;

    Whose passions not his masters are;
    Whose soul is still prepared for death,
    Untied unto the world with care
    Of princes' grace or vulgar breath;

    Who envies none whom chance doth raise,
    Or vice; who never understood
    The deepest wounds are given by praise,
    By rule of state but not of good;

    Who hath his life from rumours freed,
    Whose conscience is his strong retreat,
    Whose state can neither flatterers feed
    Nor ruins make accusers great;

    Who God doth late and early pray
    More of his grace than goods to send,
    And entertains the harmless day
    With a well-chosen book or friend.

    This man is free from servile bands
    Of hope to rise or fear to fall,
    Lord of himself, though not of lands,
    And having nothing, yet hath all.

    Sir Henry Wotton

I think of the last line of this poem daily.

26 August 2009

come to mommy.

So I mentioned the other day that my doorway and stair madness had me thinking about getting a little sister for the Old Dutch Treat. Well, today I cracked. Performance, who already has the Dahon D3 (in Pink!) for sale at a very reasonable price, is running a 12 hour 20% off sale today.

I had a lovely time doing bike errands on the ODT yesterday, but getting it up the stairs did brutal things to the neck and back. I need my neck and back, and the D3 has gotten great reviews from a reputable blogger, and hey-- I did sell my car. So there's not a whole lotta guilt there. The ODT will still be my go-to bike for longer excursions, heavier loads, and Sunday pleasure rides / spiritual realignments, but I'm excited to have the Dahon for everyday quick trips and traveling. Isn't it cute? Expect a review as soon as it arrives.

ADDENDUM: Now that I'm going to own a folding bike, I get to be a proponent of links like "How Many Folding Bikes Does It Take to Fill a Parking Space?" (hat tip to Let's Go Ride a Bike).

23 August 2009

the old dutch treat takes philadelphia by storm.

This is too perfect. In honor of my 500th blog post (not all of them have been posted, I think, but blogger counts and I don't), I picked up The Old Dutch Treat from Trophy Bikes in University City. The bike was finely tuned and the ride pacific and pleasant. The humidity was unnoticeable; there was little traffic and plenty of bike lane to get me home. Even the hills were easy. Three gears are all a girl needs in Philly. I felt totally at home.

Everything was as sublime as the Rothko painting I saw yesterday at the PMoA until I came home to this:

As it turns out, the hand brake makes my bike just a bit too wide to get through the door. It took some jimmying to get in, but not after I damn near had a heart attack and said all the bad word combinations I haven't been using since I stopped driving. And getting it up the stairs, well, that was a pain too. It was a bummer end to a lovely afternoon ride.

I won't be getting rid of the beast- I enjoy the ride too much- but the stairs are definitely going to require adjustment and practice, and the reality may be that the ODT may not be the best everyday gig. Don't worry- the blog won't suddenly be "Church of the Folding Bike," but
this just became a lot more appealing.

19 August 2009

bikes, boats, planes, cabs, buses, trolleys, and walking; or, being car free.

Last month I found myself suddenly car free. I listed my car on Craigslist, and, it being the Honda that it was, it was sold to the first person who looked at it for cash. This is what a Honda looks like when you hold it in your hands:

I no longer have that money in cash. Please don't rob me.
I was surprised that my car sold so quickly, but as it was a car that had been stolen, rear-ended, needed and gotten new brakes and tires, had insurance that was going to triple, required gas and washing and oil changes and made me worry about theft and future maintenance, it was pretty liberating.

Before I left Tacoma, being carfree offered me the challenge of biking through and too parts of the city I hadn't thought to be very bikeable. It was surprisingly easy. I had the opportunity to take a boat ride around Puget Sound, and while it was more for leisure than getting anywhere, it was cool. When I moved, I flew and allowed somebody else to do the driving as I shipped my stuff and took a cab home from the airport.

So before I got to Philadelphia, I had the sense that being car free was going to work out ok. Now that I'm here and carfree is the only way I know the city, I can't imagine living any other way. Philadelphia is quite walkable and has a very developed transportation system that includes buses, trolleys, and a subway (I haven't taken the subway yet). Some lessons that I've learned in the first week:

1. With planning, bus travel is an easy way to get around. It is not always fast, but it is cheap. So far my bus excursions have taken me to Ikea, Target, Trader Joe's, and Center City (downtown). In the next few days the bus will take me to West Philly (to pick up my bike!), the 30th Street Station (to pick up my BFF!), and t
o all the best tourist spots. Once I got on board with tokens, it's become even easier.

2. Trolleys are badass. I am fortunate to live in an area with restored 1940s trolleys and I'm sorry, but the design is so classic that you can't help but love riding them. They stop almost every block but are still pretty efficient and have been touted for their abilty to drive traffic to local small businesses.

3. That brings my to my third point, which is that being car free has encouraged to patronize local small businesses. Sure, it is
fun to say I made it back from Ikea or Target with a ton of stuff (pillows!), but the really of those trips were that they took about 3 hours round trip and were totally exhausting. Ok for a special occasion like moving in when you need to do heavy shopping, but not ok for every day. Instead, when I needed Drano, rubber gloves, and a box fan today, I hit up the local hardware store. I walked there. I got to talk to the shopkeeper about her shop dog, and I felt very happy walking three blocks with my box fan. I paid a little more, but in an area with too many empty storefronts, it's worth saving myself the time and trouble of the trip to keep a business going.

4. Public transportation can suck, but providence takes a hand. Today I planned to take the trolley to a meeting at the University (my first trip to campus!). I made sure to leave early since I needed tokens and wanted to be on time. I missed the trolley by just a second (I was visiting with the token lady at the check cashing place, also a recent transplant to PA). I thought this was no big deal because they come quite frequently in the morning. And then it didn't. After the fourth trolley passed in the opposite direction, I called to tell the person I would be late and started walking. I walked and walked and walked. I walked down some streets my roommate would call "cracky." I got a huge blister. I was sweaty sweaty sweaty and late to my meeting. But you know what? I wasn't upset because when you walk 40 minutes, the good exercise chemicals get released in your body. And I still got to visit with the cute granny at the trolley stop for a while. My meeting person was fortunately flexible. And on the way back, I did get to take the trolley, which during the day serves a predominantly senior citizen population. When I was at Utah, one of the things that I disliked was that I never got to be around old people. That is not the case here.

5. I can get single portion desserts on demand. Popsicles, gummy worms, and ice cream are available at the locally owned mini-marts, 7-11 downtown offers delicious peach-mango slurpees, and the soul food restaurant has yummy squares of eight different kinds of cake available. I don't have to keep the crap in the house, it's cheaper to by just a little of something, and when I walk to the junk I don't feel too bad about it.

6. Although I don't have a scale, I've definitely slimmed down. It may be that I haven't had much beer since the local beer store looks sketchy, and maybe it's from the stress and activity of moving, but I like to think all this walking has me craving healthy foods and that it's doing something good for my body. You know when you walk a lot when you're travelling? I'm doing that almost every day now.

7. I think this is apparent from the six other points, but being car free has put me in touch with my community. Today an old guy asked me for a token, and since I hadn't used my budgeted token earlier, I gave it to him. Lucky me, I got a friend for the whole ride! In slightly unintelligible English, he told me about his untreated diabetes and seizures. He told me about how he hates that his friends offer him booze when he's sick and we got to chat about Christ in the wilderness. It was kind of a funny experience but it made me feel good.

Walking and using public transportation has shown me what a friendly neighborhood I live in- I mean really, I couldn't hear every guy say in an overfamiliar tone, "Hey baby, how you doin'?" if I was in my car.
Since the granny bike won't be ready until Friday, look for a second installment on biking in Philly once I've gotten to do it a little.

14 August 2009

"this is not hicktown."

I'm here. I'm saving myself twenty phone calls (for now) and writing it out because I am still reeling from a day of travel and air sickness, weeks of drinking, playing and packing, and months of not having an address that was actually mine. So now I'm home for the first time in months and setting myself to the impossible task of trying to absorb it all right away.

Some first impressions:

1. Flying over the city upon descent, I didn't believe that this was actually where I was going to live. The city is vast and tall and industrial. You would not believe the port on this city! It even has an aroma. I feel right at home.

2. It's hot and humid and diverse here.

3. From my windows (two!) I can see: a trolley line, a house that looks straight out of Rocky or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia or, let's go crazy here, Sesame Street (my house probably looks like that too), and people out enjoying the evening on stoop and sidewalk. One person just defended Philadelphia against Pittsburgh, saying, "This is not hicktown." No, it's not. And I'm not in Kansas anymore.

4. The thought of twenty-seven g*d d*mn boxes showing up is terrifying. A yokel from the moving company called me while I was in San Diego to tell me it would be difficult to get a truck onto my street annoyed me, but now, surveying the street and my narrow little stairs, twenty-seven g*d d*mn boxes is a math equation that I can't solve right now. And don't get me started on getting the Old Dutch Treat in and out of here. I'm going to deal with everything tomorrow. In the mean time, I'm going to loose twenty pounds instantly going up and down our stairs.

5. On the cab ride home, I couldn't help but feel that I had no idea what I was signing up for when that big white envelope showed up last spring. I've had a sense of that as I have done the unthinkable- turning down a good offer from another program, selling my car- but up against downtown the gravity of my decision stood out in sharp relief. It wasn't a bad thing, but it was overwhelming. I don't doubt what I chose for a second, but man, I'm feeling what it meant to take the risk that I did. And I'm loving it because not in a million years could I have expected any of this.