Well, you know when you pedal, and you don’t go anywhere?” my friend answered when I asked her what was exactly wrong with my fashionably functional bicycle.
Though I had ridden it to her house only the night before, I had a feeling there was something slightly off with my bike, but I thought it was just me. How could I blame my bicycle-induced huffing and puffing on the faultlessly yellow 1983 Schwinn ridden through the streets of Los Angeles by a history grad student who sold it to me only two semesters ago?
Anna tried to raise my seat with her wrench a few days before, but couldn’t do so without somehow twisting the brakes. Since Anna was late to class, I couldn’t help but think that she probably got hit by a car as I wrestled with the handout I would’ve tag-teamed with her. If only I hadn’t been so lazy last night, and rode my bike home instead of taking the bus back to Berkeley …
But I had just spent three hours working on a problem set with her that night and wanted to enjoy my triumphant buzz soaking up an album in my iPod while watching bicyclists, drivers and pedestrians dodge me and fellow lone riders on the F bus.
My childhood infatuation of dodge-free bike-riding has met the practicality of adulthood, as I often only ride my bike when I’m in a hurry. Though riding my bike downhill and through the streets is a release that lifts my head above and body back down-to-earth, these hills were made for walking.
Floating down memory lane in the suburbs of my childhood seems to justify my country-bumpkin bewilderment of Berkeley’s urban landscape. My friends and I rode our bikes as carelessly as the identical rows of houses and picturesquely barren sidewalks let us, speeding through road bumps and past elderly couples as if they weren’t there at all.
While the middle-class gated communities of Metro Manila granted us the freedom to be the kids we read about in our American chapter books, tinted automobiles carried us to the potholes and paupers of the main road even more often.
Though my address seemed to change as often as my hormones, the isolated freedom of suburbia was consistent. While iron gates don’t barricade most American suburbs, mazes of road do instead.
Convenience is stretched all along freeways and highways, encouraging an escape at every exit. Car talk and radio waves fill the silence between destinations, but the landscape we see through the window is nothing more than a picture worth thousand-year-long stares and petty words.
We don’t pedal and go everywhere. A journey from Oakland to San Diego is less than a two-hour dream suspended in the clouds, lucid with plans set in the ground before landing. Just as my twenty-minute bus ride down Shattuck afforded me the leisure of projecting my music to the scene around the bus, as well as thinking of what I was going to eat when I got home, the perks of stationary traveling seem to outweigh the release of riding downhill.
But as I watched the passengers get on and off the bus, I couldn’t help but wonder what they were like, or where they were going. When I took off my earphones to answer someone’s question about the bus route, the background noise was not the art I heard in my head, but that of the engine’s murmurs and a man’s unconscious words to the stoic bus driver.
The commotion of human interaction is reduced to the small-talk of daily routine that we miss what’s going on right in front of us, or what we could be a part of. I was so stuck in my routine grocery shopping at Safeway freshman year, that I only rode the bus on College to get there, and forgot my foolish desire to venture into the windows I only gazed at from the bus.
Natives of land-locked suburbs are acclimated to Berkeley’s urban landscape with the rational transaction between money and transportation, as day trips to the City are a default weekend getaway. Though modern migrants are confined to BART’s colorful routes, Berkeley’s land stretches beyond downtown, campus and Telegraph, as the hills behind Clark Kerr are only a heart-pounding hike up Dwight, and the Marina a friendly bus ride or bike trip away.
Anna got to class an hour late, but not because of a bike accident. She figured out that my brakes were actually rubbing against the front tire as she rode, so changing the gears for speed and ease was essentially useless. Though I felt dumb for not thinking of that myself, I rode my bike up to work that day knowing I was in better shape than I originally thought.