Bicycle Writer

Five days in San Francisco, more than I’ve spent any place on this trip. I am restless, and apprehensive. You see, I set up an event in Oakland tomorrow night. A writer’s evening, starring… myself! Ugh. How could I do this, again? What will I read? My angst-laden posts from the trip? Maybe I should write something special, more upbeat. Now I’ve painted myself into a corner. I can’t write under pressure. Nothing worth reading anyway.

I board a ferry across the bay. I’ve managed to avoid the BART this whole trip, which is good, since there are ongoing strikes and “service problems” as talks break down between labor and administrators. I’m told the new head of BART is a cyclist living in Oakland, who lifted bicycle restrictions during rush hours. The ferry pulls under the western span of the Bay Bridge and I catch a beautiful sunset view of both the Bay and the Golden Gate. I’m noticing a growing fascination with bridges, almost a fetish? Matt Love, where are you these days? Posting ugly pictures of the Astoria Bridge. I feel for you brother. Come back to Newport.

Off the ferry, cycling up the hill, right up Fruitdale, through dangerous traffic and supposedly more dangerous neighborhoods. Oakland has a reputation. This is the BART station where the operator shot a young man in the back a few years ago. Racism, still thriving. Economic isolation, prejudice, fear. Lots of fear. But not for me. I’m oblivious. I just ride on through the city, arriving at Marcel and Geri’s house. A joy to be greeted, and by new friends. We talk all night, share stories, concerns about politic and environment and our futures. I retire and sleep on a featherbed. The most comfortable bed I’ve ever felt.

The next morning I ride up to Piedmont with Marcel, then on to Berkeley. I ride straight into campus, pondering how my life might have turned out if I’d gone to grad school there. And if I went back to school. What to study? How to reinvent myself, again. Again. I sit at an outdoor cafe, overhearing students animated in discussion of linguistics. They don’t sound like they have the first idea of what they are talking about. Ah, youth. One of them ends up in a shouting match with an aggressive panhandler, who yells obscenities loudly, all the way down the block. The student didn’t have to escalate this encounter. I’m slinking back into my chair, worried weapons might show up soon. Ah, youth.

I ride out to the Berkeley pier, a beautiful sunny day on the East Bay. Then out, five miles under freeway towers and overpasses, to cycle the new bridge! The bike path here the result of intense lobbying by cycling advocates. Up and onto the new bridge, painted bright white, 10 lanes of traffic, wide bicycle lane. It’s mostly empty today, and not the best destination since it ends just short of Yerba Buena Island. To the south of the path, the empty trusses of the old bridge. Spooky, to see it with no traffic, crews beginning the three year project of dismantling and recycling the valuable steel.

Recycling. Recycling thoughts, experiences, feelings. Living in the past, trying to reinvent a life, trying to capture a youth which is long out of reach. Or not. I still feel it, on my bike. Legs pushing wheels, muscle making motion, a crazy sense that I can go anywhere I want, do anything I want. No limits. Freedom! How is it to build a bridge like this? With modern technology, so much easier and safer than those who build the bridges of the last, early century. The Golden Gate, the Yaquina Bay, running wheel barrows of concrete over the scaffolding in Newport. Many many lives lost building the Golden Gate. This new bridge doesn’t have the romance of the older, more cherished span. Does some of the romance come with the danger, the sacrifice it cost to build? With freedom, there is loss. With adventure, danger. With love, heartbreak.

Back at Marcel’s, I’m glad to see his wood fired oven blazing. Now I wait… Will anyone show? 7pm passes. I’m nervous, but not more so than any of the other events I’ve thrown in the last several years. Learned that it’s hard to get people out. So many commitments, distractions, noise. Then, bicycles in the alley! There they are: Caroline, Lulu, Jonathan, Francios, cycled over from San Francisco (with the help of BART). And the new ‘Zine is here, titled “Always Look a Dog in the Eye.” Wow. My second day’s blog entry is included, complete with typos. I need to go back and edit! Then Tim shows, from the Sun, with his son Rio. And a friend of Marcels.

The Old Hippie Chef does his magic with the wood fire and simple ingredients: dough, marinara, cheeses, vegetables, anchovies, sparsely topped, thin crusted, delicious. Marcel deserves the title of Chef. We eat, converse, laugh, share tales and follies. I’m relaxing, and feeling good about reading. I’ll just pull up some of the blog. Into the living room, even a bit cold for me here in the Oakland evening. I’m going back to Oregon soon? Better get ready for the chill.

The readings warm my heart. Lulu and I read straight from the ‘Zine. Caroline shares her poetry. Marcel reads stories from his blog, true tales from his life. Geri reads some of her grandmother’s poetry. The room feels alive, electric. People sharing stories, depth, lives. Beauty, sorrow, the mundane and the magical. Some stories from cycling, more from the pedestrian. Which is life.

How we’ve been deceived, distracted by our entertainment industry, to miss the genuine event, the age old tradition, of sharing together, in a circle, round a fire, in a living room. Banish the television! Now, the smart phone and tablet! Reclaim the authentic, the moment of the author. Which is me. Which is you. Author of our own lives.

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