Thursday, July 24, 2008

Wrangling all my wild tangential thoughts

Now that I'm going to be static for a month, I'm getting down to brass tacks and emptying my brain into Word. I hope I can go some way toward figuring out the connections between bicycle subcultures and gentrification while I'm here.
I've put out inquiries at several activist organizations in Portland, and I'm waiting to here back about interviews. I think that the struggle here will be useful to find out about not only because I've been interested in Portland's experience of revitalization since I was at Reed, but also because I think neighborhoods like Echo Park in LA are at a different place in the same cycle of gentrification.
One thing I love about Portland is my opportunity to patronize wonderful businesses, such as coffee shops Sound Grounds and Palio, cafés like the Whole Bowl, and of course the king of all bookstores, Powell's. I spent some time there yesterday, and I've never noticed so many tourists in the shop before. The place was packed. I think my bike helmet assaulted more than one person as I squoze past.
The Loose Goose is doing a fine job getting me around town. I find it much easier to use it when I'm not trying to get on and off trains, up and down staircases, and have a steady garage in which to leave it. I saw a couple getting two Dahon Speeds into their trunk yesterday. We exchanged a wave of folding solidarity. I'm pleased that I'm not the only woman on a folding bike in Portland; I have seen only men on them until now. And I mean everywhere I've been this summer. It definitely seems like a middle-aged man toy, the folding bicycle.
I should probably go buy some new shoes.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back in My Familiar City

I took the bus from Atlanta to Chicago, passing through Nashville, Louisville, and Indianapolis. A major difference between East and West: we don't have cities every 100 miles or so. Our cities are like 400 miles apart. Zing! Bobby thinks that's because of the 200 year head start the East has in terms of urbanization and population growth.
I tromped around Chicago for a few hours, once I realized that I would not be able to catch up on sleep lying on a hard wooden bench in Union Station's great hall. Lots of echoes and traffic there. I walked down to the lake, viewing the landscape that defined urban studies. Seemed like a nice city, but I was definitely in a tourist district complete with ample Starbucks, CVS, and Corner Bakery franchises. My shoes filled with water because it was drizzling, and my shoes are not seaworthy. I'm not a practical shoes person, after all.
Then I got on the Empire Builder train headed for Portland. My seat was spacious, with lots of legroom. Traveling by train was a blast! I guess I'd only taken the train between Orange County and Los Angeles before, so two days on the train felt very different. Guess what: the train has extremely different clientele than does the Greyhound bus. The train is neither cheap nor swift, so I was surrounded mostly by vacationing families. The Greyhound doesn't have a vacation feel; I saw a lot of servicemen in uniform, single mothers and children, and people clearly not about to spend a week at Glacier National Park.
Sleeping on the train and the bus is equally difficult in my experience, perhaps because of the incessant rocking. And the train is very loud at night. Now I'm somewhat well-rested, and clean. And it's not humid here, not at all, it's actually cloudy and cool right now.
I've got to listen to Frankie Avalon's "Venus" a few more times before I can get started today.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Atlanta Notes

- I visited the MLK memorial. What a great orator the man was! I sobbed my way through the exhibit, hiding my tears from the other visitors.
- This city is so pretty, I had no idea. Of course, I'm sure the core is too spendy for most of the population here, but what a core it is! The big, Olmsted-designed park, Piedmont Park, is closed to cars, it looks like, so I saw a lot of bicycling there.
- The public transit system has served me well so far, except for the ticket system malfunctioning twice and my bus driver getting into an argument with a rider over her lack of breaks. Both employees and patrons despise the MARTA system, that's not a recipe for happy living.
- I spoke to a bike store owner who confirmed that there is no recent, accurate bicycle map of the city available. I was dismayed to find, when I stopped by city hall yesterday, that the office of transportation were stumped by my request for a bike map. Hmm...

Monday, July 14, 2008

I'm sold on DC

If by some twist of fate I end up studying federal transportation policy and move to DC, color me tickled. The citizens of DC seem to be facing all kinds of social problems openly, rather than pretending they don't exist like we do in So Cal (segregation? what segregation?).
Yesterday I took a somewhat ill-advised ride on the Loose Goose all over Rock Creek Park, a short distance from where I'm staying. A major road through the park is closed to cars from 7 am Saturday till 7 pm Sunday, so bikes were all over the place. Lots of gearos with their wannabe Lance attire, some families, helmets here and there, and even another Dahon owner. I took a nap like a hobo on a park bench, right next to the creek. I really wanted to jump into the creek, but it was kind of yellow, with some trash-filled eddies, so I decided not to.
The air was fixing for a thunderstorm, so my body stayed covered in a thin film of sweat all day. After napping at the park, I headed to Columbia Heights on a street with a bike lane, and had lunch at a lovely cafe called Dos Gringos. By the time I made it back to my hosts' house, I had a headache, I was heaving in the heat, and was shaky with exertion. Then it poured once I was safely sheltered.
Tonight I'm getting on the Greyhound bound for Atlanta, or ATL, as it's also known, apparently. Maybe I'll squeeze in a couple more museums before then.

Friday, July 11, 2008

DC Update

I'm staying in DC with my good friend's parents, who have given me a whole room and a bath to myself. What unheard of luxury!
I've been putting my green sneakers to good use, tromping all over and touristing with the best of them! That's right folks, the elitist has left the building and I'm actually experiencing crowds. Oh the inane conversations I've overheard. Here's a list of places I've visited on this, my historic first visit to DC:
- Takoma Park, DC (where I'm staying. It's a nice, quiet neighborhood of old brick, squarish houses, most with porches. Also, the historically black part of Takoma Park)
- Takoma Park, Maryland (the adjoining commercial district. I had a nice plum turkey sandwich here the other day, and today I enjoyed homemade ice cream. With all the lush greenery and old buildings it's downright charming. The historically white part of Takoma Park)
- Columbia Heights (a neighborhood that used to be so bad people in DC wouldn't visit relatives there. Now safe, complete with numerous shabby chic brick townhouses)
- the Mall and surrounding monuments (I went through the Library of Congress, including the wonderful sixth floor cafeteria in the Madison Building. I dined on turkey dinner, chocolate cake, and a sweeping view of the city, plus a peep of the Potomac River)
- some museums (the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery)
- Alexandria (too many Gaps for my taste, but this eighteenth century town had a bunch of crumbling old buildings. It seems to attract a lot of traffic, which makes walking unpleasant because you're constantly inhaling large quantities of exhaust. Same problem I found in Belmont Shore, Long Beach. I really think that cities should consider improving their traditional storefront retail districts by cutting back on the automotive congestion in those areas. Cause you know what? I shouldn't be punished for walking)
- Arlington National Cemetery (this one on the list represents a huge amount of walking. My favorite part was seeing the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Nice one, America! I also liked the Arlington House museum, which was built by Martha Washington's grandson, George Washington Custis. His daughter married Robert E. Lee, and the Union Army was so mad when Lee joined the rebels that they took over the Arlington plantation and made plans to turn it into a Civil War cemetery! So the story goes)
Plus I talked to some folks at the Administration on Aging about the elderly using transit, and learned a whole bunch about federal transit funding possibilities (like there's at least 62 different sources, go figure).
I've been thinking a lot about American aristocracy and how that goes against some ideals I have. It's not something I encounter much or really ever on the West Coast, and I find it nauseating. Here I am, enamored of old buildings and houses, getting tricked into reproducing hierarchies of hero worship in which I'm thoroughly uninterested. Not that these guys didn't do good things, but they also massacred anyone different from themselves and created the situation of intense racial segregation that we all find ourselves in. Not so good, early Americans! It's so schizophrenic that we're supposed to revile slavery, but still cheer for people like Robert E. Lee for supporting reunification. The man worked his slaves, everybody! Over and over in the National Portrait Gallery I read blurbs about the men I saw pictured and saw things like, "destroyed forty Iroquois villages" mentioned as the reason for army promotions. The DC institutions have obviously made a big effort to include non-white people and women in displays, though.
I'm going to stop this and get back to my important work, finishing Gloria Swanson's marvelous Swanson on Swanson.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Time To Pack Up

Today's my last day in Newark. I'm going to Manhattan in a few hours to meet with a woman who may have interests quite similar to mine. Then I'm going to stay with an old friend in Brooklyn. And tomorrow morning, I'm off to DC.
This is a picture of an old subway car at the New York Transit Museum. I particularly liked the gray, cream, and blue color scheme.
I spent July 3-July 6 in Wellesley, Massachusetts, at a friend's family home. I visited the Wellesley dump, which has a reusables area and an extensive book section. Now I have a bunch of Freud pocket editions.
I can't figure out how to get from DC to Atlanta. Amtrak is all sold out for next week, and I haven't found an alternative. I'm tired and I want to go back to Portland, but I know I have to at least try to stick it out and visit Atlanta.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Four Trains Home!

I've just arrived back in Newark from a rollicking good time in Brooklyn, where I toasted the accomplishments of the Wanderlust bike tour. My dear friend Lizbright rode into town today with the other Wanderlust folks, and the tour organizer graciously had well-wishers over for a rooftop BBQ that included a partial view of Manhattan. Charming! Getting home involved
1. the G train
2. the C train
3. the PATH
4. Newark Light Rail
All with the Loose Goose in tow. It only fell over once. So far Tri-Met trains in Portland are the only ones I've encountered that are equipped with bicycle hooks.
Earlier today I spoke with a fellow at Transportation Alternatives, a stellar organization in NYC. He loaded me up with many reports and pamphlets to peruse, I've got studying to do. If there's one thing I've learned thus far it's that I need to learn several new vocabularies, literatures, and disciplines if I really want to get my head around transportation. My brain gets foggy sometimes trying to sort out all the bikeways and policies and how it's all related to gentrification somehow.
Also today, I finally rode my bike in Manhattan. It wasn't nearly as exciting and death-defying as I thought it would be. My favorite part was the river path, which I rode from Chelsea (or something, don't ask me!) to the Williamsburg Bridge. Then I rode across the Williamsburg Bridge, huffing and puffing. My good friend the Loose Goose can do well in terms of speed, but those little wheels make the uphill parts annoying cause my feet are turning the pedals sooo much, in addition to being in a gear of less resistance. In short, some people passed me and I felt jealous that they were going faster. Then I rode on some lovely bike laned streets in Brooklyn, and I liked it.
We're going to Wellesley tomorrow for the Fourth of July. I've never been on the east coast for the fourth, so I hope I get to see some old-timey, colonial-style Americana. I'll be wearing my favorite colonial times jacket.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Aggressively Pedestrian

What's with the double meaning of "pedestrian"? How did the word come to be associated not only with traveling by foot, but also with being boring?
In this part of the country there is a totally different pedestrian culture than on the west coast. The walkers are at war with the drivers, they push into the streets regardless of the color of the traffic signal. I keep noticing how cowed I am as a pedestrian, acquiescing should a car come my way. Not so in New York or New Jersey! On Sunday in Coney Island I saw a guy crossing against the light who paused, looking unconcerned, while a firetruck screeched past him. He stood between lanes of traffic and then proceeded when the truck passed. Granted, he might have been a wee bit intoxicated, but it exemplified the attitude people here have regarding crossing the street. I love the aggression from pedestrians, but my orderly mind abhors all the lawbreaking. The drivers are pushing forward, speeding along, and the walkers are just as bad. I keep marking myself as an outsider because I hesitate at crosswalks, looking both ways. Heck, I even step back onto the curb if the light changes. Every time I do that some other person walks briskly past me and into traffic, defying the drivers.
So Coney Island is filled with garbage, big surprise! It's just like Long Beach! Lots of casual littering here, you know, a guy'll be walking along, and a wad of paper will just drop from his fingers as he ambles along. I mean, I'm not going swimming at a beach where the ground is two parts sand and one part trash. And neither should your children, folks!
As often happens when I am parted from my instruments, my fingers are itching to sew and to strum a guitar. Here I am with this silly bicycle and no creative implements. I seem to be doomed to forever desire instruments when they are away from me, and to be bored by them when I have them.
No camera cord yet, but I have lots of pictures from the New York Transit Museum, which is a Valhalla for train enthusiasts like me. It's in an old subway station in Brooklyn, and down on the platform you can go in and out of trains from every era of the IRT. Suhweet! MTA portrays itself as having a longstanding commitment to the environment and public transportation above single occupancy vehicles. I wonder if that's true.