Bicycle Diaries chronicles Mr. Byrne's travels in different cities around the world and exploring their unique characteristics as be sees them. His perspective is that of a casual cyclist, perched slightly higher than the average person. From this perspective, he explains, not only is vehicular and pedestrian traffic more easily observed, but so are cultural nuances, urban characteristics unique to each city he visits. Perched on a bicycle, the view licensed to him allows a very free flowing commentary beginning with street layout and urban planning structure and continuing on to local creativity, history, music, art, behavior, customs, societal problems and idiosyncrasies. The theme is quite inspiring. Sitting on a vehicle that is self-powered leads one to harness his or her own self-powered mind and ideas.
If you are unfamiliar with the experience, long-ish distance cycling is quite an affecting experience. Mr. Byrne has experienced a feeling that is experienced by many choosing a bicycle as their usual mode of transportation. Riding around Boston, there are many people on bicycles that undoubtedly are each experiencing their own mini-conclusions, -questions and -epiphanies. In the past 3 months living in Boston and Cambridge, I have discovered a little bit of interesting unique touches to this area. I live in east Cambridge, across the street from a large park and a 5 minute bike ride to M.I.T..
Many many things are accessible by bicycle from here and so this makes life very easy. Cambridge, and to some extent Boston, has many bicycle lanes on their streets. While not perfect, they are a great improvement to what I am used to. In a way, I believe that I am going to be quite spoiled, they are so abundant. Riding down southeast through M.I.T. is how I usually get to the Harvard Bridge to ride over the Charles River into Boston. I love that ride over the bridge so much. At night it is particularly dramatic. If Andrew (my roommate) and I ride together over the bridge, one of us usually manages to exclaim "I can't believe we live here!". Usually the yelling is drowned out by the cars and busses buzzing by amid a dazzle of city lights in the near distance to the left and right. Most days of the week I would expect to not cross over into Boston. Usually I am spending most of my time either at home or at work. The bike ride to work contrasts significantly from the ride into Boston. I work in Belmont, a township that is west of Cambridge. In recent weeks the trek (ha, I ride a Trek bicycle) has been decorated by fall foliage with leaves littering the sides two-lane roads through small neighborhoods. I really enjoy the fact that I pass two lakes, one of which is belongs to the local high school and is ringed by a park. Belmont is in a county that pays the most taxes in the state. My workplace, Mclean Hospital, is situated on a large hill in the middle of the town and as seen from a distance as I slowly approach, is covered in brilliant trees.
I think the end of this weekend is one of the most appropriate times to write about cycling in Boston. The Daylight savings time change that has occurred over the past night has resulted in a much earlier sunset and when combined with the extraordinarily good weather that we experienced in the past 2 days, I am reminded that bicycling season is over. Yesterday was Halloween Saturday and I managed to use all 3 of my bicycles extensively during the course of the day. Beginning in the morning after baking chocolate-chip scones in our oven, I took my commuter cycle to Jamaica Plain southwest of Boston to visit the Bikes Not Bombs co-operative. This organization has been operating for 23 years and after receiving donations from the community of unwanted cycles, packages them to be shipped to Africa or other countries that have their own exploding used bicycle market like Guatemala and Ghana. I enjoy volunteering there and there exists of course an entire network of people around this shop. It also reminds me my bike co-op I helped start in Ann Arbor, MI. The types of bikes that are commonly encountered and also the programs they do are all established and mature versions of ideas that we had back in Michigan. And they have a ton more space and even multiple buildings that are used for their operations.
Andrew was running errands while I was gone and we agreed to meet up in the early afternoon to go on a long-delayed roommate bike ride. So we put on our cycling shorts and mounted our road bikes to ride to Mclean so I could show him my hospital and then we took a turn south through Watertown and Newton to pick up some craigslist purchases: Backpack, wooden cutting board, iron, glass measuring container, french press, espresso maker, two espresso cups and saucers. Everything but the backpack was 20 dollars. Many of our purchases made for the apartment in the last 2 months have been from Craigslist. We are voracious consumers through that website. The beautiful thing about Boston is that by bike, nearly everything is accessible. And it is also likely when you mount your bicycle that you will take less time reaching your destination than a person stepping out his or her door and walking to a bus-stop. This is the best reality there is when you are using your body to reach a destination. My trip to work takes 30 minutes by bike and 50 minutes by public transit! So not only are Andrew and I reaching our places faster, we obtain our purchases of nearly all of our goods from within Boston, using a system of bicycle lanes and our own legs. Unfortunately this isn't true with food (yet…). Traveling home we rode through more small towns that run into each other (Brighton and Allston) on our way into Boston, stopping to check the dumpsters of some bike shops for treasure and also for some coffee.
The beautiful evening continued as I came home to put on my bright red union suit and took my fixed-gear back into Boston. Being Halloween, there was organized a spectacular parade of costumed cyclists to travel through the squares of Boston and Cambridge. I missed the beginning, which was starting back down in Jamaica Plain, so I crossed the River and sat down in Kenmore Square near Boston University, waiting. I observed several bus-loads of costumed ghouls and sexy-maids filing out of and filling up buses, costumed young people moving up and down the street. And then! A bright announcement of that which I had been waiting fore: A cycle with a large stick pushing out of the back of it, brightly lit and driven by a cow. The parade snaked through Kenmore square to the chagrin of taxi drivers and to the delight of pedestrians and I joined in, a perfect rendezvous. Bicycles carrying speakers and stereos joined in playing Ramones songs and disco music, people were yelling and whistling, moving slowly enough so that the parade would not thin out and allow cars to weave dangerously in between the riders. Even after the front of the parade moved out of Kenmore square, the tail of the snake had not even entered! It was quite a site and I was proud to be part of it. With so many people out on the town, we had a permanent croud cheering us on. Quite dramatic and quite fun.
The parade could be interpreted as a canary for bicycle transportation culture vitality. With such a diverse turn out last night it made me feel really good about being a regular cyclist on these streets. May there be more reports about Boston and Cambridge bicycling from this blog. Maybe this kind of direction is what this website needs in order to keep going. Change might be in good order and healthy for a blog that has lasted this long.