Landscape taken from north of the Hawthorne Bridge toward downtown; in the foreground a portable TV

Five percent more chill

Published 2020-02-05

Every morning I wrestle with this feeling that maybe people driving cars are just lazy. I’m thinking this as I ride with my kids five miles in the rain and cold to school. Depending on the day, they ride anywhere from five to 15 miles. It isn’t physically difficult at all, we do it every day, year round, in all weather. They each started pedaling themselves to school under their own power when they were about six years old.

So right away, I’m comparing the amount of effort put forth by people driving cars to a six-year-old on a bicycle. The people driving cars are not looking good.

But I’m not so mad at their physical laziness — hey, it’s wet and cold out here and pedaling a bike can be tiring if you’re not used to it. I’m mad at their inability to get out of bed five minutes earlier and leave the house five minutes earlier and drive with five percent more chill.

Every day we have an interaction where someone driving less than five miles downtown is in such an important hurry that they might have to murder some schoolkids to get there on time. Every. Damn. Day. If I can pull my shit together sufficiently to get three kids and all their crap five miles to school on bikes, these Very Important People can pull their shit together enough to drive five miles downtown with five percent more chill.

(Parenthetically: when I say “people driving cars” that’s shorthand for “people with lives like mine:” able-bodied adults who live less than five miles from an office job in the central city. People who have service jobs, jobs at odd hours, people who commute between suburbs, people with disabilities affecting their mobility, people who live on the other side of I-205 — they have very different lives from me. I don’t reflexively consider those people lazy.)

So I wrestle with the feeling that people driving cars are just lazy. That’s a smug, judgmental way to view my fellow citizens. It is not good for my psyche to keep feeling that way. I have a visualization exercise I play with myself to try to break that feeling:

About twenty(!) years ago, during our first separation, my ex-wife left her bike in the apartment we used to share. The apartment was in Northwest Portland, she had moved to a house in the Clinton neighborhood, about five miles away. My experience of Portland thus far was pretty well confined to a tight circle: Northwest, downtown, Old Town, the Pearl. Sometimes I rode my bike around inside that tight circle, but mostly I walked places, or sometimes I drove my beat-up little Honda Civic. Clinton Street was practically the edge of the known universe. Riding a bike there felt like an enormous adventure.

So one Friday afternoon, in the late summer, I put my old Bike There! map in my pocket and set out for Clinton Street from my office in Old Town, on her bike. I arrived an hour or more later, soaked with sweat, totally exhausted.

I ride more than this route every day now. My kids’ school is on the far side of the Clinton neighborhood, and I once again work in Old Town. Heck I often ride it twice a day, or more. It was an adventure then but it’s routine now.

Twenty years ago, I was that lazy person. A year afterward, I bought my first road bike and began riding my bike to work. And everywhere else. I’ve been doing this so long, it’s easy to forget I didn’t always do this.