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Stay Weird: The Magic of Not Belonging…

At 19 getting on an army bus…

Last night was the fourth. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, since I’m currently struggling to get excited about our country that’s occasionally so divided up into segments of population all shouting out a host of opinions. I sat on the porch watching the wind walk up the street during the thunderstorm, listening to that rolling boom that has nothing to do with pyrotechnics. I read some, and then I started watching TV. As it was I thought I was in for the night.

Then I heard the explosions starting, from what seemed to be a ridiculously close distance–say, next door. I wasn’t sure what our new neighbor might have gotten up to because I came home yesterday evening to her daughter throwing flaming batons in their front yard. I decided to investigate. As the booms increased in frequency and volume, I decided I didn’t want to miss one second of whatever was happening, so I ran across the house to get my shoes and slammed the door on the way out. I got to the street and looked down towards the park where it seemed like all the black people in our neighborhood (and maybe beyond), had gathered for a very large celebration. There were fireworks going off on the street, in the park, and from somewhere behind the new apartment buildings. There was a DJ. There were people of every age, some of whom I recognized from having lived here in Cherry for the past 11 years. A young man let off a mighty box of fireworks and brought the empty box back to the car that was next to the garbage can on which I was leaning. As he passed, i said, “Was that last one yours?” He looked at me with a smile, “Yes.” “It was terrific.”

I forgot to mention that on my way down to the park, a young white mother had come out with her six year old daughter to also admire the fireworks, but when a black woman in a sparkly dress got out of a car at the corner, clearly dropped off late to this party, the mother quickly gathered her daughter and turned around. Which was disappointing, since we’d just had a conversation while walking down the block about the fact that maybe her daughter would see this as the “real fireworks” and then the hassle of a car trip into uptown might be avoided.

It should be understood at this point that I certainly didn’t bust up into the party and make myself known. I quietly leaned against the side of a trash can with my glass of wine, and helped open it twice when people needed to throw things away (including the talented young explosives expert I’d just complimented). This is how I am in all situations. I quietly take stock, often from the edges of civilization. In new situations, I’m always a shrinking violet though to people I know, I’m certainly not shy.

The other day, someone asked me again where I’m from. The truth is I hardly have an answer to that question. I was born in one place and raised in a host of disparate houses, states and schools. I was always on the edge, looking in. There was never a time before the last fifteen years, that I was not the outsider in any situation. Its the reason I now cling so desperately to the communities I’ve found here in Charlotte, but I was thinking this morning it’s the very heart of myself, the weird outsider, the strange minority. I spent my life there, in new schools and new towns. i often watched life unfold from the sidelines of each new place, looking for the similar thread between my humanity and another’s. Not understanding our system of segregation in various parts of the country, searching for ways to experience belonging and sameness–basically with whomever would have me.

In my life I’ve often been the only white person for miles, and I’ve often been the only woman on a team. Over time I just became comfortable with the idea that I will sometimes be uncomfortable. I will sometimes be new, and I will not always know what to say or do. That’s what I learned from years of crying in the back corner of the classroom, or being the only person at school on Halloween without a costume, or moving to a new place where the dialect is different enough that it feels like learning a new language, or living in another country, where the language spoken is my second language, and i do not look like anyone else.

There was the time of being seperated from my then fiance in Seoul, who was hard to find because he was short with straight black hair in a sea of people who looked just the same as him. There was that time on Team Spirit where necessity meant that I needed to be part of communal bathing in the town where we were stationed. I’ve moved a hundred times in my life and observed all manner of community from the outside, trying to see in what ways we were the same and how I could best reconcile myself to “belong” wherever I was.

It means I often don’t have the same experience of fear as people I know. New or different does not equate to dangerous. When I walked down the street last night, I guess I experienced something very different than the mother from across the street. I saw a bunch of people (a few of whom I know, but most of whom I don’t), having a party, which happens every day, all over the world, but which especially happens in the summer in the US, and isn’t a reason to fear. But she saw something different, and turned around at the sight of the sequinned lady getting out of the car. It was a moment where I realized that perspective is everything. One moment we were having a conversation and the next she was walking her child back home.

Meanwhile I just stood leaning on the garbage can on the sidewalk, watching human beings behave like human beings. I did what I always do, which is to find the common thread of humanity we might have, and teather myself to it whenever I feel uncomfortable, whenever I’m existing on the fringes. Truly it’s that very thread that has always helped guide me home.

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The Art and Struggle of Learning to Ride…

I’ve recently started giving private bike riding lessons, sometimes starting from scratch, and sometimes working mainly on safety training. This morning i was starting from scratch in Independence Park with a brand new bike and boy who hadn’t yet learned to ride. I’ve done this a few times now, with various degrees of success. Sometimes a person is so ready it just comes naturally, and sometimes it takes a little time to get things going.

Through this process I continue to learn lessons about children, humans and how we learn (as opposed to how we’d prefer to learn). With my perverse sense of always wanting things to be easy and go smoothly, i sometimes feel that watching someone learn to ride bares a pretty decent resemblance to how I learn lessons, and sometimes have to learn the same lessons again.

I think I should say this now. I experience great excitement in vicariously learning to ride a bike again and again. Seeing that face when a child has learned to combine balance and pedaling…it’s a really good feeling. It sends joy sparkling through my entire being to watch someone’s smile when they are flying down the sidewalk and they’ve realized they’ve made their own bike go. It’s one of the most unique feelings of freedom that exists, wheeling around on a bicycle.

Today I got to watch a young person work so hard (we were both sweating). He tried again and again, amongst many failed attempts and a few falls. I’ve learned from experience when a little, well placed advice is called for and when to stay quiet and allow focus to happen. And also when to squelch my joyous enthusiasm as there’s nothing more detrimental to focus that a poorly placed, “OMG YOU’RE DOING IT!” In my moments of keeping myself restrained, and managing my own behavior I began to have a conversation with myself about struggle and how struggle and failure get such a bad name in our current world.

This morning in the park I was considering my own relationship with struggle. Struggle is such a natural ingredient of bike riding. You simply can’t learn without struggling to do it. Its kind of the same thing as learning to walk. If you’ve ever watched that process in a little person, it’s excruciating and takes such a long time, from pulling up, to balancing for a few seconds, to sliding along furniture one handed, letting go of the brace for the first time, and finally taking those first few wobbly steps. It’s the same struggle learning to bike. There’s no way around that hard work and difficulty. Today I mentioned, “Your body is learning to do a new movement, it’s learning how to balance, lean a little and turn (we were practicing turning). Right now your body is figuring out how much to lean and how much to turn the handlebars.” He replied with a smile, “I wish my body would hurry up.”

I think we all wish that about ourselves throughout life. I wish I could just get past this struggle. I wish this was easier. Why does this take so long. Why do I keep having to learn this? I’ve learned over time, I think sometimes from watching people learn how to ride bikes, that we are all just living here on this planet, learning to be human. We come to each new stage of the came so unprepared for the next part. We get this new bit of life and have to learn a brand new skill and we’re like babies learning how to walk all over again.

I’ve learned you can’t push someone into learning faster, you can’t force it, you can’t rush it. The body goes through the practice for as long as it needs to and it happens when it happens. All that body needs is some time, and, in the best circumstances, for someone to bear witness and be patient. Today I got to see the exact moment of transition from, okay I can sometimes get this bike going but it’s still sort of accidental, to a body realizing without thought or pressure that it knows the movement, that it knows how to fly. If you watch someone on a bicycle you realize what a balancing act a body is doing to make everything go and turn and keep from falling. It’s kind of a miracle.

Anyway, enough. Just know that whatever bicycle you’re learning to ride today, give yourself time and call on the patient people in your life to let you know you’re getting there and to just keep trying.

Street Gifts, Big and Small…

This morning I was on my regular route from home to school, right along the greenway, through Freedom Park, catching the Jameston/Irby connection when I rolled up on this latest gift on the route. It’s a flashing red. It’s at an intersection (Westfield and Hillside) that is already a four way stop, at a place where a whole bunch of people need to interact, walkers, cyclists and drivers.

I’ve watched all improvements taking place over the course of the past few weeks on this small section of the greenway that many of our school families use every day, and that anywhere between 20-50 kids use on any given Friday during the school year. The women that run our Bicycle Friday ride are so thankful that we are getting these improvements. We’d love to see anything that brings increased awareness to this route that we travel so frequently.

I think I felt doubly thankful because I’d just come by that bend in the road on Irby where a driver ran me off the road a few months ago because they were driving on the wrong side of the road in a blind curve. This morning a policewoman was there taking a statement in that curve from one of the neighbor’s there who’s car had been hit while parked there, by someone once again driving on the wrong side of the road, or at least driving to close to a parked car because they weren’t paying attention to the very important task at hand.

One of the major issues we have on our Friday rides, besides the surprising frequency with which a few of our children lose their shoes in the middle of the street, ride through mud puddles willy nilly or shout weee down long hills, is the fact that drivers are distracted. It’s the elephant in the room of using Charlotte streets. We all know it’s happening, it’s allowed to happen, and if you happen to kindly point out to a driver that they should put their phone down, they’re likely to get upset with you for pointing it out rather than themselves for doing it.

Last night I went to something called the Ride of Silence, which honors people who’ve been hit by drivers on Charlotte Streets. I realized as I was there how very tired of this ride I am. How very tired I am of hearing another friend/mother/father/sister/child was hit by a distracted driver while just trying to get where they are going.

Yesterday evening I stood at a crosswalk and waited for one car to stop and let me go (I had the signal), the countdown of the walk signal began before someone stopped. Yesterday on my way home from the ride, I was crossing an intersection when a driver suddenly darted out and stopped right in front of me, then laughed and yelled out the window, “I bet I scared the shit out of you.”

These moments make me feel sad and hopeless, so I needed this little blinking light today. I need the improvements that are being made at this intersection (one of my Bicycle Friday teammates said today, “it feels like they’re making that intersection safer just for us.”). I’m going to go with that.

I’m proud of the work our city is doing on creating better roads, using traffic calming and active transit design, and expanding our greenway/trail system, because our world is changing and we’re going to need all of these solutions.

My hope is always that at the end of the day, children can ride and walk safely in their own neighborhoods, that they can enjoy the freedom and wonder that playing outside brings, as well as the seemingly forever adventure of the walk/ride to school. It’s a gift, one that we all once took for granted, that I’d like to see taken for granted once again. You can contribute to this gift by putting down your phones and driving well. And we’ll contribute by continuing to show our young people how to be good road users. 🚲❤️

Clt 7th Street Cycle Track Connection

If you are a cyclist in Charlotte who hasn’t been living under a rock, you will have heard of or seen our latest bit of cycling infrastructure. It’s been touted as an awesome connection from the Little Sugar Creek Greenway to the Irwin Creek greenway on the other side of town. I had a bit of time today after a bike riding lesson. So I scouted it for an upcoming ride, and spent some time riding it in both directions all the way to where the finished construction ends at the train tracks at Imaginon/Seventh Street Station. It ended up that I wanted to write a bit of a review from an educational standpoint, just because I tend to ride everything from the point of view of how would I ride this with children.

Above is the first section of the cycle track, as you leave the greenway at seventh street. You don’t have to cross traffic to get to it, you can just hop right on. The only issue with this is that because you have hopped right on going opposite traffic on the wrong side of the street, there’s really no way to get anywhere to the right/north of 7th. Which is fine if we assume that’s what you want, to go directly towards uptown, and not use any of the wonderful connections that exist to get north of town, which only seasoned riders would know about in the first place.

So on seventh street I crossed the bridge and went through the underpass, where I faced my first point of confusion. The lane ends. It appears in the way it ends that you’re required to jump a sidewalk here, or take that left into the parking lot behind the building at seventh and Mcdowell. That’s fine, it goes all the way through, nearly to the corner of Mcdowell and 6th where you can get back onto the cycle track. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about bikes is that you can take routes cars can’t, so I was okay with that option. But again, It’s important to remember that once you pull out of the parking lot, you still have to ride a few feet on a sidewalk facing traffic before you get to the corner. At the corner you can cross over, and get onto the bike lane and continue your ride. The first part of the bike lane is one way, like most lanes, but at the corner of N. Meyers, it transitions into the two lane cycle track that was promised. I forgot to mention that on the seventh street portion, the way it is currently marked, it’s unclear if it’s a one or two way track. I’m hoping signage and road markings will improve to reflect what should happen in both directions.


Once you are on the two way portion of the cycle track it’s pretty clear what should happen. There are a few important things to remember. The first important thing to remember is that you should ride a cycle track that’s next to parking garages and pull outs the same way you’d ride a sidewalk. Never assume you are seen. The bright green paint they laid down all along sixth street isn’t to make the cycle track look super cool. Bright green paint actually marks the danger zones that exist on the track. Those pesky intersections of cars and bikes where many of us get hit. Those are to warn both you (and hopefully the driver as well) that everyone needs to be paying attention.

The other thing to remember is that people on scooters are already using this bike way as one would use a multi-use path. If you’ve done any riding on the greenway, you may tend to recognize the pattern. People who travel in groups love to travel side by side and take up the whole road in mixed use areas, which means anyone passing has to make some sort of noise to get around–sometimes loud noises, if a person is using headphones and unable to hear. Twice on the two way cycle track today, people on scooters were using both lanes, which would seem to indicate that this will be a mixed use track, and one needs to watch out for folks who don’t want to use it as suggested. But that’s kind of the case whether you are using road, mixed use path or bike lane.

I’m kind of holding off final judgement until all the signs and markings are in place, For now this infrastructure gets a “Meh.” I mean it’s alright. To a person who is experienced and confident riding in traffic, and knows all the best routes through the city, it is a limiting bit of infrastructure. However I can envision circumstances in which I would ride it or suggest it to someone as a route (with qualifiers). It’s also important to remember that it might also be the one reason someone begins bike commuting to their uptown job, and for that person, it may feel like a pretty awesome way to go. So much depends on perspective. In all, i’m all for using the various methods within our reach of getting more people in our city active, healthy and comfortable with riding bikes.

Life is Full of Shit and Also Wonder

This past weekend, I got to take a wonderful, pre-birthday trip down to Greenville, South Carolina. A group of four teacher friends went down together to unwind on this last weekend before Spring Break (and also, the weekend before my birthday).

This is my second such trip down to Greenville, and what I so appreciate about it is what a gentle experience it is to spend time in the company of wonderful people. We spent a lot of time chatting through some of the world’s biggest problems, taking in all of the multitude of spring blossoms, birds and weddings, riding bikes, and eating good food.

On Saturday we rode down to Furman University. There we snagged a chocolate chip cookie a piece and walked down to the lake to find a slice of shade on a bench, under a tree. As we’d ridden around the lake at Furman, we couldn’t help but notice all the young folk dressed in formal wear, waiting for whatever young folk dance was taking place that evening on campus. Families snapped pictures, couples hugged under shade trees and leaned against the rail of an arched wooden bridge. It was all a little bit magical. Someone celebrated a 20th birthday with friends, turtles sunned en mass on rocks and islands, ducks, geese and swans floated on the water that reflected the clear blue sky.

We, the four friends, soaked it all in.

We sat on that bench near the lake, looking out at the various goings on, when all of the sudden, we noticed a heron. Standing, somewhat like an alien, or oddly shaped human, right at the edge of the pond, looking over the water. When we first spotted the heron, it was about twenty feet away, just inching towards us, slowly scanning the surface of the water. At first we chatted among ourselves, but after realizing the heron was sidling ever closer to our bench, we became silent. There was this energy of expectation, of witnessing a miracle in progress. I sat there silently watching it, my head spinning in weird thoughts. I’ve always seen the heron as my spirit animal in the sense of it’s slow and prideful independence. I thought perhaps the universe had taken this moment, just days before my 50th birthday, to reveal itself to me. I know, looking back I totally realize that was possibly a bit of foolishness, swimming around in my nearly 50 year old head as the heron drew ever nearer. On the bench we continued to hold our collective breath and stare silently, as the heron filled our souls with something like bounty.

By the end it was within five feet. And then, I don’t know what happen in it’s heron brain…maybe…”these ladies are creeping me out,” but it turned away from us, after it had ventured so close. It just turned, and as it stalked off into the grass near the lake, it unceremoniously shat on the ground in our direction. And just then I had an epiphany about life. That this is exactly it. A never ending story of the miraculous revealing itself, followed by unceremonious squirts of shit. I walked away from that bench, back to my bicycle, back to all the hard news I’ve heard these past few weeks from family and friends, with the realization that life is full of shit, but also….wonder.

Jesus is on the Bus…

This is going to sound like I’m very weird, need a tinfoil hat, or have completely lost my marbles, but just about every time I get on the bus I think about Jesus. The first time it happened I was around twenty-two, traveling on public transit where I lived at that time, in Monterey. A crazy guy got on the bus all the sudden, as we were traveling the streets of that picturesque town. My first reaction was discomfort/fear. He was in a state of talking to himself and others Invisible to me. He had scraggly, long, blonde hair and clothes that were dirty and holy (not in any spiritual way), he had a grubby hiking pack. His blue eyes were wild. And I heard something in my head as he sat down in front of me. “That could be Jesus.” It was so random and weird (particularly since I hadn’t been to church in years) and outside of my train of thought. I started thinking about it though. “Maybe that’s Jesus, trying to see what kind of a reception he gets in that disguise.”

Nothing like that has happened on this trip, unless you count the guy who had trouble differentiating his own personal space from mine on the trip out. Mostly it’s just weary travelers, who, like me, probably just got through a Thanksgiving Feast with family and are now headed home. But there is literally every kind of person here at the Atlanta terminal. A guy that came in on the bus with me was wearing camo pants and an Abe Lincoln in sunglasses shirt. There are no less than fifteen children here right now. Around my seat I hear no less than three languages being spoken. Any one of these folks could be Jesus. What started me on the Jesus bus this evening was a post from my daughter, thanking me for being her friend. That made me think about how I hoped she felt loved enough by me. Then I got to thinking about the young man in the hoody in front of me, whom I’d smiled at on the way down the aisle. I hoped he felt loved. Then I looked around the bus thinking about what would happen if we could see each other with that kind of love.

And then there was the crazy Jesus thought. He actually said to love your neighbor as yourself (it’s part of the “Great Commandment”). Except it always gets past over because I think that many folks like the parts of the Bible that can be translated into, “you don’t belong here,” which of course seems to maybe miss the point just a little. Of course its always easier to love folks in theory than reality. Like, you know, there are going to be prostitutes and lepers, and crazy people who sit there and talk to nobody in particular or that lady across the way who’s wearing a get-up of camo shirt, blue teddy over the top, high black boots, bright pink socks/leggings and a fluffy plaid miniskirt. She’s topping all that off with a giant teal hair clip. She’s even got a pack of marlboros in her hand. I have real issues with smokers. She’s just held up her newspaper and it’s entirely written in Korean, which is a language I still read. Maybe that’s my sign.

Love is hard. The people we’re tasked to love in our lives (including, I’m want to add, ourselves) are problematic and flawed. They brought their crunchiest chips on the bus, or an onion sandwich. They sometimes look for all their might like they just got off the crazy train. They’re small and they cry or need to much. My daughter was never still and hated being hugged. But it’s still the great commandment. And on nights like this, when I drank a red eye before riding, and had an hour of uninterrupted thought after the sun went down and I couldn’t read anymore, I think that Jesus is on my bus, in disguise, trying to see what kind of a reception he’ll get dressed up in the most outlandish getup you can imagine, doing the Korean crossword in pen.

Pedal Chic, a She-Bikes Paradise

When I was around ten years old, we moved to northern Mississippi from northern Illinois.  One of my first, most pervasive, memories from Ripley Mississippi was watching my boy cousins taking apart the bottom bracket of a bicycle, under what southerners like to affectionately refer to as a “car port,” grease the ball bearings and put everything back together.  I remember asking to help and being told that I was a girl and that girls aren’t supposed to get dirty.  It was a hot summer day and I was squatting in the dusty corner of the carport, amazed at the inner workings of a bicycle (I’d only just pedaled at that time).  I’m pretty sure my knees were smudged and I was wearing shorts (I typically dressed for adventure), but that was what they said, and it stuck.

I’ve often joked about putting broken bikes by the tree out front, to be fixed and used by someone in the neighborhood.  When I first moved to the Cherry neighborhood in Charlotte I did that with an old bike I had.  It was a bike Madison’s grandfather left for us that had fallen into disrepair.  At that time I’d no better idea how to fix a bike than how to do brain surgery.  I don’t think I could even change a tire back then.  But a few weeks later, I watched one of the neighborhood boys riding that bike down Luther.  I thought of the magical knowledge my cousins had, the basic understanding that comes from being allowed to get one’s hands dirty.

By this time in life (49), I’ve ridden a bicycle in rural Louisiana, Monterey, San Francisco, Seattle and Charlotte, but it is only in the past 5 years that I learned anything about how to work on bicycles.  The first time I had to fix a flat, I did that thing like in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, where I phoned a friend.  My neighborhood friend was Kelly Platt.  She came and picked me up in her truck and dropped me off at home.  Then I went to Target on my daughter’s giant cruiser (the old time cadillac of bikes) and bought some inner tubes.  At home I used a butterknife (you shouldn’t do that) to change the tire.  Eventually I learned how to do it better, taught a class on bike safety and maintenance for beginners,  and most recently, rehabbed an entire bicycle with not very much help.  I got so dirty (you shouldn’t get dirty), and I loved every second of fixing up that bicycle.

Last weekend my 49 year old beginner bike mechanic self took a trip to Greenville with my Bicycle Friday friends.  It was suggested that while there, we take a trip to Pedal Chic, which we later found out was the first woman owned bicycle shop in the United States.   You can read more about the founder of Pedal Chic here:  https://pedalchic.com/pages/the-founder

Please take some time to read her story.  But what I want to mention is how I felt going to Pedal Chic.  It was the answer to my ten year cynical girl self’s question, “wait, should girls get dirty?”

Yes.  Absolutely.  Girls should get dirty.  Girls should grease ball bearings and change tires.  They should ride bikes and fix them.  They should have black under fingernails and not be sure if it can come out.  I walked into that store and looked at the wheel and chain chandelier, the bar on the end, the fashionable kit, and yes, the stylish bike shop and I understood.  This place was made for me.  The women I work with, my Bicycle Friday group that rides every week with a whole bunch of spunky children, we all stood there looking around that store like our souls were being fed.  Every inch of that store called to me.

That day we began at Pedal Chic, where we got Heather’s tire pumped, got some gear, and found our hearts desire at a tiny bike shop in Greenville, SC, which, eight years ago, became the first women owned bike shop in the United States. It’s right on the Swamp Rabbit Trail in the heart of Greenville, so it’s not very difficult to find.  If you are ever in the area, please visit.  Stay for a minute.  Have some wine.  I promise, that this little store that was built from someone’s heart, in the heart of downtown Greenville, right next to the falls, will make your day.