Do you want to know how I came to be full time riding a bike?
I mean the real story, not the feel good one. For all the years I was raising a child, I struggled to pay the bills, feed us, and maintain a car. I somehow did all of this on 20 k per year without much outside help. One summer we used food stamps (that was one of the early summers). Every summer I paid my rent for three months with my tax return. While other folks were planning on how to spend their tax return, (a flat screen? a trip to Wilmington?) I was carefully planning how to get bills paid, make sure I could keep a roof over our heads and stretching that 3,000 dollars as far as I could make it go.
Then sometimes something would go wrong with the car. The year of the big cutbacks to assistant pay (where I went from making over 20k per year to below), my daughter and I discussed how we’d make it through. She was working part time by then and arranged to buy all of her school clothes. She insisted that I keep on doing this job because it’s what I enjoy doing (she was right, I do), and that she simply make up the difference with her paycheck. We cut out any unnecessary bills and we managed to pull through the beginning of the year except for the car.
The car needed something that was going to cost $700 dollars. It needed that in order to be registered. So we got together and discussed some more. I could not face having to ask any family, or friends for money that year, on top of all the other things that were going on, so I made a decision. We’d go car free. We’d use alternative transportation to get around Charlotte. I’d write about it…I still am.
To be honest I’ve used other than a car lots of times in my life, so I didn’t worry about it except that I knew it’d be hard for Madison. The first few times she called from school saying she missed her ride were the hardest. The first time I borrowed a car to pick her up, but after that I said, “Car free means we find other ways of getting around.” So we did.
I’m saying all of this not as a sad story. Cycling made us stronger. It helped Madison become a better planner. It made trips to the store a family fun event. And of course it saved us money. Thousands?, per year. I’ve since had the money to get a much better car than I’ve ever been able to purchase as a single mother. But I don’t want to drive anymore.
What I want to say here is that I’m every cyclist. I’ve ridden behind the infuriating weaver (for a little bit, and afraid for my life, but he seemed to know what he was doing), I’ve ridden with cyclists who are much more aggressive and impatient than I am. I’ve ridden up Tuckaseegee (hundreds of times on my way to USNWC for two years), and passed by cyclists who ride helmet free in the wrong bike lane–and waved and smiled and said hello. I’ve ridden with bikers in gear, I’ve cried when forced to ride the Back Yard Trails on my commuter bike. I’ve ridden with those infuriating cyclists who take the lane (we are so often squeezed by cars who won’t move over even a little), and I’ve ridden with cyclists who are afraid to take up more than an inch of road. I’ve ridden with cyclists who, like me, don’t own cars, and with other folks who own two cars and seven bikes. I’ve ridden with cyclists with varying accents, of various races, religious ideals, and sexual orientations.
We get on our bikes, and we ride. The time I rode with the weaver, the crazy cyclist who goes in between cars and onto and off of sidewalks (you know who you are), that was probably the most scared I’ve been. But other than that, I’m not intimidated by people on two wheels.
When I experience hostility from drivers, over myself or others, I’m frustrated. I always get the line from cyclists and drivers actually, that bad cyclists are giving us a bad name. Meanwhile, there are so many drivers in our city giving drivers a bad name (distracted, impatient, thinking I’m the one person who needs to go through this red light, and my needs are greater than the community needs). We don’t think of drivers giving other drivers a bad name even though 38,000 or so folks died of car crashes just last year alone. That phrase “giving us a bad name,” only applies to cyclists for some reason. It shouldn’t, but it does.
I’m writing this with a heavy heart today because among all the things that happened yesterday, one of them was my friend being purposely run over by a driver, while riding in the bike lane. My friend Dread, whom everyone loves for his kindness. Father, husband, son. He is safe and alive, but probably not the same as yesterday. So I want to say I am Dread. I am my friend Noelle who was hit this summer. I am Joe. I am Greg. I am Anna. I am Rocky. I am Geoff. I am Jessica. I am Kenya.
Watch for us please. We are living, breathing human beings with families and people to love. We want to live on this planet as hard and as long as you do.