One day as I cycled home from work, I passed a field overgrown with shaggy Brazilian pepper trees and sable palms. From out of nowhere, a swallow-tailed kite shot above the tree line in a completely vertical ascent, banked into a sharp turn with a slight flick of its forked tail, and dove in a near free-fall back down below the trees. I watched this graceful and dramatic display in a state of awe, then envy. If only I could fly like that.
Not a swallow-tailed kite, but close enough for illustrative purposes!
As I turned my attention back to staying within the confines of the bike path, I noticed the building to my right, across the street from the field. It was an old age home. Residents lounged in the shadows of the front porch, some stooped over on benches, others in wheelchairs with their attendants. At the time, my grandmother was in a home not unlike this one, and I began to wonder what they were thinking. Had they admired the kite’s acrobatics too? Then it crossed my mind that perhaps they were watching me. I considered the possibility that they might long for what I took for granted—mobility. Suddenly I saw myself occupying the middle ground between the kite and the elderly, and I was thankful for what I had. Still, I felt somewhat guilty that it took a comparison to a group less fortunate than me to realize this.
I try to keep the lesson from this day in my mind as I encounter life’s inevitable aggravations. Sometimes it is difficult. However, when I take a deep breath and decide to focus on the most important details of the landscape, my perspective becomes a little higher…not unlike the swallow-tailed kite’s.
One afternoon as I cycled home from work, a horn honked behind me. I glanced at my rear view mirror, which revealed the grille of a large red pickup truck bearing down on me. “Oh, great,” I thought with a sinking feeling. The previous week, a guy in a dually truck jacked up with huge tires had leaned out the window and shouted, “RETARD!” at me from across the street. I suppose that the pink streamers my boyfriend fashioned, as well as the silver pinwheel he stuck on the back of my basket (similar to the ones that the pig in the Geico commercial holds in the air as he rides on a street luge screaming “Wheeeee!”) didn’t do much to boost the sophistication level of my ride. Still, though, I’d rather look visible and silly than not.
As the red pickup truck passed me, I braced for another uncomplimentary remark. Instead, the driver, a good-looking man in his thirties, waved and gave me a thumbs-up. Clearly, you can’t judge a book by its cover, or a driver by his monster truck.
More generally, the sight of a bicycle inspires a range of emotions in people. Mostly, it inspires people to jam down on the accelarator pedal so they won’t have to wait for my slow meanderings across the intersection. And while some of the comments are negative, as the retard example illustrates, or the time a lady in a rusted old carcass of a car screeched out in a ragged voice, “Get a job!,” overwhelmingly, the comments are positive. When I cycle through the parent loop of an elementary school, the little kids “ooh” and “ahh.” Once I heard a parent comment to another, “I’d like to see more of those bikes on the street.” When I cycle through an economically depressed part of town, the men and women on the largely black side shout, “You go girl!,” while the whites from the trailer parks wave and say hello as they walk their dogs. Occasionally, a curious driver will ask me a question about my bike. Even if I start my ride in a grumpy mood, I am far more likely to be in a good mood by the time I arrive at work than if I had driven, no doubt due to combination of endorphins, fresh air, and the positive comments of others.