Wednesday, June 04, 2008
A Good Night Calls For An Extra Post

Tuesdays are generally my equivalent of a Saturday. It's my first of two days off, and I always set out with good intentions, aiming to get a lot done -- laundry, grocery shopping, whatever else is needing doing. Instead, I always end up doing the same thing: sleeping as long as possible, puttering around the intertubes until I feel like getting up, taking a long bath with a library book, then absentmindedly heading out by car or on foot to think and breathe and watch humanity and listen to music. I never get anything "done," but I usually feel better by the end of the day. Sometimes by the evening I'm up to some effort, and I can edit or attend to some other task or project.

This evening I decided to stretch past my habits a bit and do something entirely new. I went to the volunteer orientation at the Community Cycling Center, and it was the best thing I've done all week, probably all month. I was a little shy at the outset, and pulling up before the orientation I struggled with the temptation to flee -- "I don't have to go in, I could just go home instead." But it would be a month before I could try again, and I knew that failing to go through with it would only set me up for another failure next time -- and in any case, most of the best things that have happened since I got here began with me feeling shy and uncomfortable.

It started out with the standard blah-blah-blah and a tour of the facility, but immediately afterwards we were all invited to start help stripping down donated bikes for parts and scrap. Some guy and I managed to tear apart five bikes in an hour, and it was immensely fun and fucking satisfying as hell. My hands got all greasy and nasty, hacking through rusty chains and yanking off wheels and handlebars. There's a steep learning curve from ripping a bike apart to putting one together, but it was a good beginning, and it's one of the few organizations I've come across that genuinely has more work that needs doing than it has volunteers to do it. So there'll always be stuff to do there.

I went in part because I just want to get back in touch with bikes and bike people. I rode a lot as a kid, and at one point was quite accomplished at it for my age. But I began to dislike it when it became a competitive thing -- when I rode, I rode for the pleasure of riding, and never because I wanted to compete. I quit riding entirely at around fourteen, and haven't been on a bike since. So while I theoretically know a lot of what I need to know to ride in Portland, I'm desperately out of practice and essentially need to start over. Going to the orientation tonight was the first step along the way. The more time I spend around bike people, the more I'll start thinking and acting like one, until I become one myself. As long as I can avoid the pressure of riding in competition against anyone (myself included), I think I'll remember how to ride for pleasure again, and that promises to bring all kinds of benefits.

The other part, of course, was just to make an effort to meet some new people, people I might not meet otherwise. The whole "volunteer" thing is kind of cheesy, but the simple fact is that it's a relatively painless way to come into contact with people who are passionate about something, who are motivated enough to do something about it, and moreover who are expansive enough to do something for the benefit of other people with no direct reward for themselves. And in that kind of setting, I'm on an equal footing with people I might not normally approach under other circumstances -- my time is worth the same as everyone else's. I'm poor, I'm living through a somewhat mixed bag as far as my own luck and accomplishment are concerned, but I can still do this. And if it's not exactly a huge victory, it's one modest little step in a promising direction.

Anyway, on my way home, nibbling a cupcake (did I mention that one of Portland's cupcake-only bakeries had dropped off a sizeable donation of many dozens of cupcakes at the CCC? It was like a sign from the gods), I caught a little of Obama's victory speech on the radio. I admit that I choked up a little. I have a few things I could say about his opponent's supporters -- and maybe I will -- but for tonight, before the real election begins, I'm happy just to sit back and enjoy the victory of the first post-Boomer nominee. And more than his being black, I think that's what's really different this time.
1:32 AM ::
Amy :: permalink