It is and isn't weird

cred: Emanuel Hahn via
In case you're wondering that's Chinatown, NYC

You may or may not be surprised to learn I'm not the only bike rider on the streets of Elgin in below freezing temps. Plenty of bikes cruise past my office window on Highland Avenue no matter what the thermometer reads. The difference is, by my (admittedly unscientific) estimation, I may be among only a handful of folks in my city on a bike in all weather who also has the resources to own a car. Since much of my social and professional circles also have such resources, my riding a bike in all weather makes me appear unique in those circles. But I can be fairly certain that no matter the weather, if I'm out there, I'm not the only one.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Vineyard Church's Friday "Streetreach" program with some houseless friends I've met through connections with my church. I was in much better company there with at least a number of folks who live in cars, tents, or outdoors much if not all of the year. When asked if it was too cold to ride my bike, I could turn to my new friend Doug (who we affectionately call the mayor of tent city) and ask, what do you think? (Spoiler alert: Doug had also ridden his bike to the church that night.)

It has been cold and snowy enough that I have opted for the bus over the bike a few times this winter, and on those days I have noticed others seem to have done the same. By my completely unscientific estimates, I'd say the bus is a fair amount fuller on miserably cold days. I'm thinking that means that a number of my co-riders are walking (or maybe biking) like me when the weather is more bearable. I don't know PACE's policy but I have certainly known of drivers who have stopped on dangerously cold days to pick up mothers with small children regardless of whether they can pay the fare. Recalling that makes me remember that I am fortunate not to have to worry about the fare, and it makes me wish there were more buses to pick up that woman and her children wherever they need to go, regardless of what's in her bank account.

cred: Randy Tarampi via
Don't they have pretty trolleys in Istanbul, Turkey?
When we were waiting in Union Station for our Amtrak train to take us to Pennsylvania for Christmas, I reflected how much less cushy the train station experience was compared to waiting in an airport terminal. Lots more people were seated on the floor. There were a lot more children in various emotional states. On that bitterly cold day, homeless folks were taking shelter on all levels of the station. In an airport, I notice when the crowd is punctuated by a woman in stilettos carrying her Starbucks in one hand and an expensive purse in another. I didn't see that woman in Union Station (maybe she was waiting somewhere else?).

My not so distant ancestors were immigrants and working class folks. My father was the first in his family to graduate from college. I wondered in the train station if my ancestors would think my decision to live even this modicum below my means a form of economic betrayal. Is it my duty to keep marching onward in the accumulation of wealth and comfort? I wonder if the "good Christian folks" in my background could hear the social justice reasons for my decisions. Or, would they understand better the "belt-trimming" reasons?

The truth is I am quitting the personal-automobile-owning life voluntarily because I prefer my life and my world without my personally-owned automobile but some of that preference is due to pure economics.

No one should pity me or my family. I make a nice salary. I live in a nice house. I have good food to eat. My kids want for very little (Except for maybe the latest Paw Patrol toy they spot at the grocery store. Their parents are terribly mean). But I also have bills, primarily student loan bills, that pinch my monthly budget enough to leave me looking for creative solutions. Enter my bicycle.

cred: Adrian via
Somewhere in snow-covered Portland, OR. 
I have lived a largely middle class life, which (coupled with my white privilege) has in some ways allowed me to be blind for a long time to what it's like to be working class. Reading Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickeled and Dimed was eye opening. Working with economically disadvantaged folks as a teacher and a preacher has given me a certain viewpoint. Riding my bike, walking, and taking the bus have given me another perspective on what it means to live below the poverty line in the U.S., to live without access to a personal automobile, and to how our built environment prioritizes those who can afford a car. 

When I biked home in the snow from church Sunday, I remembered that what I'm doing is and isn't weird. I remembered that more likely than not on that snowy day my bike and I were not the only ones. And every time I self-deprecatingly joke about my sanity, I'm doing a disservice to how much sense it makes, economically, environmentally, socially, emotionally, and physically to ride my bike even in the snow.


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