Cruising for a musing
DC Moments: Terrible café dates, the enigmatic ex-official, a 4th of July tip, and some milkweed & trumpet vines
Happy 4th, y’all! I don’t want to get in the way of fireworks so briefly, please feel free to subscribe if you haven’t yet:
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Forgive me for my writing, I am at a cafe, and a woman (a woman!) has explained to her date how she conditions her hair, why Tableau is better than Excel, and that she bought some stock at $110 per share and why that was a brilliant move and I think I’m about a minute away from jumping in and ringing a bell to declare this date over. Holy shit. The man is now explaining why he didn’t spend $30k on the stock she recommends. This woman is a traitor to all women everywhere. I love DC but I hate this moment.
I had another classic DC moment this past Saturday, picking up a new cruiser bike.
The trumpet vine behind the bike — remarkably to me, actually native to the area.
I need the bike for Burning Man, apparently, pretty much all the guides (of which there are approximately one jillion one hundred and seventy one) say so. I thought about trying to get creative — learning how to skateboard in the next two months, buying a used electric scooter and then ruining it in the famous Black Rock Desert dust — but then had a rare moment of sanity and realized that I should do exactly what everyone else does because the reason why it’s the popular solution is because it’s the right solution.
I turned to Craiglist, searched for bikes, and there she was. A perfect cruiser, exactly what you need in the desert — cheap, ruinable, but also tough to ruin, with a thick body, sturdy tires, and a wide seat. (Wait, am I describing myself? She has a blue paint job, I guess that’s how you can tell us apart.)
I went to buy it on Saturday. It’s a funny neighborhood, as so many DC neighborhoods are. It starts with people who are wealthy but not wildly so, definitely within ordinary boundaries for DC, but as you go on, the places get tonier and tonier, the lawns expand in a George Washington’s Mt. Vernon estate way, you can’t help but imagine the money and power living behind the doors. And yet, fifteen minutes away, I had just dropped off a vacuum cleaner at Goodwill to make room for the bike in my trunk.
The guy with the bike was in his late sixties and handsome. He shook my hand and crinkled his face a little with his smile. I think maybe I was supposed to recognize him, but I didn’t. He was retired, he said, and now was a consultant. I gathered, from the look of the place, a very highly paid consultant, which means he likely was once a very highly placed government official.
He was an avid biker himself, he said — had biked into DC for nine years, rain or shine — and they had gotten the cruiser for his wife in case she occasionally wanted to come out on a ride with him. She didn’t, as it turned out.
Nine years would have made him an Obama official, by my calculations. He alluded to climate change, which about cinches it — ex-Obama official, left at maybe the end of the first term?
I haven’t broken out Wikipedia to track him down. It’s a DC thing I guess, buying your Burner bike from someone who maybe was the Secretary of Agriculture or a top General or whatever he was.
I will say this: he could tie one hell of a knot.
I lifted the bike into the trunk of my car — and thank goodness I got rid of that vacuum cleaner, the bike is a bit of a behemoth, it would never have fit otherwise — and he found some twine to tie down my trunk.
“The question is,” I said, “am I brave enough or foolhardy enough to stop at the George Washington Parkway trail on the way home? If I do, I’ve gotta get the bike back in the trunk by myself.”
He grinned at me. We didn’t know each other long, but it was long enough for him to know I was gonna do it.
It was fantastic. I won’t get into the whole thing here, but in grad school, I got kinda into biking, but in maybe a not-great way. I liked the biking, but I also felt anxious about it — I had a middle-of-the-road mountain bike, didn’t feel very fast or skilled at biking on it, but I also felt a lot of internal pressure to get fast and skilled.
And I don’t think I had a good bike for me, it was heavy and slow and that made it hard to look around and see things. I had to concentrate on just the biking, but looking around and seeing things is, of course, what I live for.
This bike is perfect. No one expects anything of you on a cruiser, and so I don’t expect anything of myself except enjoyment. I stop to watch the bees on the common milkweed (which is also native).
I got to slow to a crawl for a European starling — even though they’re an invasive species and incredibly problematic, they’re still beautiful.
I’m upright on this bike so I get to watch the kids playing soccer and the families having a BBQ. That’s all I really want from life, watching families having BBQ’s and wondering about their little frustrations and loves and who cooks the best beans or mac and cheese.
Back at the car, I did a terrible job imitating the Obama official’s (if that’s what he was) knots.
I was, briefly, a girl scout but I don’t know what your experience with scouting was but when I did it in the 80’s, at least with the girls, we mostly built stuff out of toothpicks and gumdrops. If there’s a wilderness or adventure experience that requires tiny houses made from toothpicks or gumdrops — maybe popsicle sticks — I’m 100% your girl. Otherwise, I’m pretty useless.
I’ve gotta go back and read up on knots.
Somehow or another, I made something that vaguely resembled the slipknots the guy had done. I made it home, with the twine on the very last thread before completely springing open.
And now I’m toodling around the neighborhood, watching things, observing.
Yesterday, I took the bike to the Capitol, only to remember that it was the day before the 4th, which means it was rehearsal day.
If you ever want to do the whole 4th of July thing on the National Mall, one tip is to do it the day before, at the rehearsal on the 3rd. You get right up close to the stage, and you get to watch them work out the kinks. Elmo kept re-introducing himself every time his mike failed.
What a strange place DC is, full of power and pageantry and families playing soccer and eating BBQ and bees and trumpet vine and milkweed. What a place to noodle around on a big blue bike.
Happy 4th of July, folks. Hope you have a wonderful week.