Sunday, June 17, 2012

Need more Stink in your Tires?

Portland's commuter biker culture is like none I've ever seen in any city.. They range from the most brilliantly diverse welded fixed gear double-decker bmx frames, to the lightest and most aerodynamically machined frames that NASA surely played some role in; from trikes to recumbents, to trainer bikes for two, from wicker baskets and bamboo fenders, to faux leopard fur side bags, from little old ladies with wide white walled tires, to triplet prams on wheels, from food carts, to portable DJs, from wedding processions, to night time neon runs lit oop like the bloody fourth of July.!! It's not only something rare and wonderfully individual, it's something I graciously take part in.. I took my old broken down 10 speed with me from Detroit, and I've outfitted it with a leather motorcycle bag I found up Tabor.. I geniunely want to be part of the biker culture, and when my brilliant girlfriend took me to my first REI used gear sale, I fished out some gloves, got a light worth 130 bills for 5, fenders, rack, made a tool kit with wrenches and repair stuff and band-aids and did what I could afford to gear up the old sport, and give it a go as a Portland biker.. excited to be a working member of the community at large..

Capt.Critique of the Laurelhurst Racing Brigade
Gouache on Paper, mounted on hangable board
10 x 20in. - $100.oo
Now as beautiful and wonderfully diverse as the culture might be, bikers are however one of the biggest sources of Portland Stink-eye on the streets today.. Some of it is well warranted and I mourn the white bikes on the corners just as much as the next when I'm driving, and make it a point to share the road, and stay safety conscious of everyone on the streets and in the bike lanes (perhaps to a fault).. but some of it? Wow.. It's just about every time I drive, I get some kind of Stink-eye for something I can't do anything about.. For a quick example of the depths, some bikers reading this might have already taken issue with me using the term "biker" in lieu of another? Folks who have an axe to grind, that use the bicycle as their form to implement it.. (and this is of course different than writing a blog about Stink-eye for basically the same purpose =), but there is at very least a tension between cars and bikes in Portland, and as we'll find, even between bikes and other bikes.. Although I've not seen the episodes of Portlandia, I'm told there's a re-occurring bike messenger character, that coincides nicely with this quarters' story of the Stink-Eye.

In any case, shortly after I'm outfitted with my gear and road worthy, my car breaks down, on a day I need to attend some thesis students' presentations.. But now I have a bike!  I shrug my shoulders, pack the stuff I need, and I'm out the door and moving in the next 5min., no rain forecast, I'm smiling at the day and happy that I'm saving the Sphere by not dumping more crap on it for that day anyway.. I get to school, see the days worth of what would become my awesome mentorships last semester, the helmet hair wasn't even noticed, and at around 3-4pm I head back up the short but moderately hilly ride to Tabor and my apartment.. The car is still busted, but the day was bright and right as rain, so I left my light in the bag..

So, I'm humping up this hill, my heavy bike is hard on my out of shape legs, but I'm as happy as a cat in the sun.. as I'm working up the road (which still feels odd to me, even on side streets with the bike graphic on em), see a fellow biker comrade, sliding down the hill..  He's of the biker kind what has spent a grand deal of his funds, his time and his life, getting his bike on; fancy helmet, gloves and aviator glasses, light weight earring plugs and pedal shoe cups, an epileptic light on his handlebars (I call the strobing lights on bikes at night, "epileptic lights" as some are so strong, they could trigger an epileptic fit in folks they pass)  nut-cracking leg muscles, and a body fit enough to wear the uber-tight gortex spaceman uniforms (that probably make you pass into another bike dimension of some kind, to get you through the less than a foot of space on the road without regard to danger)  He enters races, he's definitely one of the cool kids and has been for quite some time.. The Capt. Kirk of bikers, his cross-dimensional biker space pants serve him well, he can fix a flat with his mind, and as we pass I do the upward Detroit nod of greeting.. Low and behold, he returns with another nod, and an audible "Hey-rrfftt"

I got my first greeting from a real biker! I mean one of the officer class, no less!!  Well I smiled contentedly to myself, and the road seemed a bit easier, as I gave my pedals a little more to reach the top of the hill..  I'm a part of the community now!!  Did you hear that?  I've been approved.. and by a regular authority on the whole matter, none other than Capt. Gortex of the Laurelhurst Biker Brigade, I'm sure you've heard of him, lightest weight earring plugs you'll find in Portland?  And then.. cocking my head sidelong, I realized what he'd said, wasn't "Hey-rrfftt"

It doesn't get mildly dark here until around 4-5pm, somedays it's still light enough to read my dashboard at 8pm. That day it was around 3pm, but what he said was, "Light!"  He wasn't telling me how brilliant the Sun was, welcoming me into the biker fold, greeting a fellow biker who took time out of his pedaling to nod hello?  He wasn't impressed with my homemade motorcycle bike bag complete with reflectors, or the fact I was contributing in some small way to better the Sphere?  Hell he wasn't interested in warning me of a pothole, or up coming car?  It wasn't a thumbs up, acknowledgment, or even encouragement..   No, apparently Mr. D-bag, who was the only other person on this side street for blocks, pleasantly coasting his 97 lbs. downhill, and who could see me quite clearly, was critiquing the fact that my bike light wasn't giving folks epileptic fits at all hours of the bloody day!?!

I'm not a swearin' man all the time Folks, but I did have the urge to tell him where he could shine his light..  I'm not proud of it, but the thought of tailing him, and critiquing portions of his biking behaviour for the next mile or two, followed.. "I don't really think your tire pressure is safe, man", "Are you sure those reflectors of yours don't need a polish?", "Dude, You know you just didn't have your heart in that last hand signal", or "Stop that guy, he just stole someone's bike light!"  Alas, I just didn't want to go back up that hill again, so I painted this chiaroscuro painting of what I could remember of the actual Stink.. =)

My sincerest of congratulations on to you, Capt. Gortex!!  You're the second contestant on the Stink is Right.. =)  I'll definitely try to be nicer, and more tolerant of folks because of your unwarranted opinion, but in the mean time, here's Stinkin' atcha kid.. =)

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