Wednesday, November 11, 2009


It's remarkable how much stir a bicycle helmet can make. No, I am not talking about the debate about whether folks should wear them or not. I wear one. I make my kids wear them. Do whatever you want, but don't argue with me about it or try to sway me to take off my helmet. 

Simply, the act of walking into a large conference room with a bicycle helmet strapped to my work bag prompted quite a number of comments. I was amazed. First, though, let me back up...

Last week, I spent two days at a conference.  It was a relief that this year the conference was held in a city not far from my own since last year I had to travel to Boston for a couple of days. Now, I like Boston, but at this time of year, I find it extremely difficult to be away from my job and my kids for multiple overnights. So while the idea of luxuriating by myself in a hotel room (a.k.a. going to the bathroom without anyone barging in) makes me salivate profusely, the truth is that getting away right now is more difficult than the pay-off seems to be.  Therefore, I appreciated that this year I could commute to the conference from home and even stop into the office if necessary.  

The question I batted around with my colleague, who was also attending, was just how we were going to get there.  It's a pretty convenient train ride to this other city so that seemed like the obvious choice, but there was some concern that we would have far less control over our schedules and there were logistical questions of getting to the train station from home and getting to the conference site on the other end.  While I do own a car, I did not offer to drive. Since we are a one-car family and I was leaving P with the juggle of getting three boys to different places and some prediction of bad weather, I thought it best to leave him with the four-wheeled beast just in case.  My colleague, ultimately deciding that she would like the convenience of deciding our own departure times and not be beholden to Metro North's schedule, offered to drive us both.  I was actually quite pleased thinking that this would be far-and-away the easiest thing for me. I wouldn't be the one driving AND I didn't need to figure out the logistics that would require multi-steps and some advanced planning of getting there not by car.

While I hunkered down at work and skipped the first day of the conference, a newcomer's session, my colleague headed south in her car.  Unfortunately, right before she reached the conference site, she ended up in a slight accident that thankfully caused no injuries, but did some damage to her car.  She did not feel comfortable driving it until it was fixed so that evening by phone, we plotted a Plan B.  Yes, we would take the train.  How would we get to the station? Well, I couldn't ask my husband to wake up three kids at 5:20 AM and drive us there (nor could we leave three little sleeping boys home alone).  Yes, we could call a cab. Or simply-- we could ride our bikes.  

We arranged for a meeting time and place and the next morning.   Far earlier than normal, I strapped on my bike helmet, loaded my Xtra with my laptop and work bag, dropped my travel coffee mug into its brand new holder on my handle bars, added some good lights to my bike, and pedaled off.  I must admit that I was cursing myself a bit here.  Because we were taking the train, we needed to leave earlier than I thought we would had we been driving. And because I was riding to the train station on a bike on a day where some bad weather was predicted, I had to think a bit more about what I would wear and bring with me to accommodate the time and weather. The weather turned out to be brisk, not horrible, and thanks to Daylight's Savings Time (ugh, I hate it in the evening), it was fairly light out.  The streets were mostly quiet but it was interesting to see who was out and about at that time of the morning.   Not too long into my ride, I met up with my colleague on her bike, and off to the train station we went.  

Two sights particularly grabbed me on those two morning commutes to the train station.  The first was a large group of construction workers streaming out of a huge, multi-leveled parking garage on their way to work, building a huge, multi-leveled parking garage a few blocks away.   The second sight caused me far more delight: a gentleman wearing a jaunty beret, riding a tandem bike alone with an accordian strapped to his back.  I so wished I had a camera to capture him, pedaling along. I couldn't help but wonder who he was and where he was going. Who normally rode that bike with him? And just what was the deal with the accordian?  I wondered if I would have really seen him, I mean really seen him, if I were traveling by car. 

The ride to the train station turned out far easier than either of us expected. We found open bike parking and locked our bikes together. We then unclipped our lights, threw them into our bags, and strapped our helmets to our bags' shoulder straps.  We bought our tickets with little fuss, waited a bit at our assigned platform, jumped on the train, and made it to our destination city likely more quickly than we would have in a car (bad traffic).   We were able to walk from that station to the conference site quite easily, and there we began our workday, sitting at a round table for the next many hours in a room with ugly chandeliers and no windows.  

Oh, and the thing that caught me so by surprise-- the number of other attendees who stopped us during the two days of the conference to ask, "Were you the ones who came in with the bike helmets?"  While there were a number of people who came from out-of-state and were staying at the conference site, there were plenty of Connecticut-conference-goers as well.  Folks seemed pretty darned surprised that 1). we took the train and 2). we rode our bikes to the train station.  Wow, we do live in a car-centric place.

I guess to be a bit circumspect about the experience-- we really did sort of surprise ourselves as well. We really had planned on driving -- thinking it would be easier-- but due my colleague's mishap, we figured out that biking, training, and walking worked quite well.  I swear that every time I am out on my bike, getting somewhere I haven't cycled to before or realizing that I can get all my errands done perfectly easily by bike with some adjustments or ferrying my kids to where they need to go on two wheels and not four, I learn how much my family is capable of living a car-lite life.   I realize that not all people live or work in places where they could ride their bikes to school or work, BUT the truth is that many of us do live and work in places that we might be able to bike to--- if we even thought that it could be an option....


MamaVee said...

Rock the F on! I Love love love this story! I also have that happy surprise each time I am successful traveling by bike. I assumed you had gone into NYC, but it seems you were in a CT city which does def rock even more b/c "no one used public transpo to go from one CT city to another".

I figure out I could take the train to a monthly function I go to within newton. It would probably take me 3 times as long as driving, but the idea that it was an option was nice ( I can't bike it due to no lights right now and I don't think I would feel comfortable biking it at night ever- high speed cars on winding roads) I even made a comment about taking the train when women were getting fancy drinks at the bar. I was looked at like I had three heads. I wonder if they even knew the train station was not far from the place.

Andrea said...

Jaunty beret, accordian AND a tandem bike? What a great sight to start your day...And the irony is, taking a car turned out more dangerous (for your colleague)...Yea bikes and trains...and yea Sara!

Dottie said...

What a great story! I agree that there is so much people could do without cars if they simply thought about it for a while.

Some people complain about having to carry a bike helmet everywhere, but I like carrying mine for the reason you bring up here - the helmet opens up a dialogue with so many curious people.

Terra said...

Love, love, love. Great post. My friends in DC who never rides caught wind of the first ever Tweed Ride in DC - I can't go with them bc I'll be out of town, but I'm giving them some pointers and encourging them. Will post more later!

Angie said...

What a wonderful story!! I love that your colleague was willing to bike it with you. And you are so right--amazing the things you see by bike that you know you would have missed in a car.

Congrats on another carfree success!!