Thursday, December 21, 2006

You're Not Alone on a Bike

Have we talked at all about social ecosystems? I don’t think so.

Original running title for the academic paper reads:

Living the Cultural Ecosystem

A social ecosystem is your world. That includes the media and the world you are in right now.

1. There's you.

2. There's your immediate family, the one you live with, could be friends or just your cat. Could be just you and your partner, spouse or significant other.

3. There's the family of origin, the people who raised you and your siblings, it’s possible you don’t live with them any more.

4. There's extended family, includes all blood relatives.

5. There are your close friends, both near and far, some on the other side of the world, perhaps.

6. There are acquaintances you see in your neighborhood. This would include that little subculture that you see hanging around in Starbucks or Borders.

7. There are the people you know from work, school, or place of worship.

8. There are people from the bar, sports center, work-out club, church, local government. You might call them “acquaintances.”

9. There are the people you connect with directly via your computer or telephone.
Even telemarketers are a part of your ecosystem, as is the barking dog next door.

10. There's all of the information you get from television, newspaper, and radio. You might include books, too, since they expand your experience.

11. If you're an astronaut, then space might be part of your eco-system.

12. There your “higher power,” perhaps.

Maybe I left someone out, hope not. You get the idea. The ecosystem consists of all of the people and all of the information that has a direct influence on how you feel, think, and behave.

Sometimes people feel very alone, even when their entire world is very big. They don't feel connected to their ecosystem, not intimately.


FD and I make a big deal about riding our bikes. Getting around the city this way has worked for us on a lot of levels, but these days when I personally talk about my bike it's generally to complain about how people in cars seem to have to swear at me or blast me with their horns.

They act as if I should MOVE OFF THE (expletive) ROAD. Like roads are for cars, not transportation.

Truth is, I’d have given up riding my bicycle years ago were it not for F.D.'s nagging. I’d have succumbed to the lure of potato chips and television, effectively, perhaps permanently, locking the serotonin in my neurons forever, wondering if I should start Paxil or Zoloft, knowing I'd hate them both.

The bikes, our original bikes, are a common thread with us. They’re a link between us, one of those historical reminders reaching back to the first day we met. We were buying bus tickets at the student union to go home before a Jewish holiday.

“Come out with me for a Pre-pesach beer?” he asked. Beer has malt, so you can’t drink it on Passover, the fast-approaching eight-day holiday.

“I’m in.”

That day, or was it the next, he won his Raleigh ten-speed in a raffle for the North American Indians, I think that was the cause.

I didn’t have a bike at the time. My original red ten-speed, a bike I had used to explore my world throughout high school, had been stolen freshman year, first week of school, and I didn't have the money to replace it. 
The bike I ride today was our first "big" pre-marital purchase at a little under a hundred bucks. So you could say it’s a piece of our marital history.

He would say we keep the stupid bikes because we’re too cheap to get the newer more fancy ones with 36  thousand speeds. I would say we're sentimental. But the truth is we've kept them because they feel good and we don’t trust the new ones. And they remind us of a very romantic time. Keeping stuff like that alive is key in marriage, in case you're wondering.  Creating those kinds of things.

Oh, and the new generation, now an old generation, the mountain bikes, were always just plain silly for Chicago, a very flat town.

So before we even had children, we were that young couple that took out the bikes at the first sign of spring, shaking the lead out, feeling better about having had cheese cake or ice-cream when we got home.

But even during pregnancy F.D. would nag me to go out riding with him. “Come on,” he’d say. “You know you’ve never fallen off a bike in your life; let’s go, you need the exercise.” He needed the exercise.

Being a doc he was also afraid I’d throw an emboli and have a stroke during pregnancy. He was always afraid of things he wouldn’t tell me about but I could tell from that far away look in his eyes that he was thinking something scary.

So I’d go with him well into the pregnancies, nauseous, fat, get on the bike and tool around in the suburbs late at night when everyone else was tucked away in bed or watching a warm TV.

Because he felt the need to exercise. Face it. I could have done yoga if it was about emboli. There are simply some things one does for a relationship.

When my excuses started to mount (the seat feels too hard, the handle bars are too narrow, I’m bored, bored, bored and want to throw up) he’d work on my bike and make it friendlier. The wide seat, wide handle bars, the perfect high stem that gave me the leg length and stretch that I needed-- all thanks to F.D.

So he'd have someone to ride around with late at night.

But at the end of the day I got pretty addicted to the feeling I’d get from riding, much more than he did. I had the longer ride to work. The fresh air, the visuals, the sounds woke me up. I liked that it was me who knew the geese were back in the city in the early winter. Because we talked. “Yo geese.” “Yo back, watch what’s on the bike path. Don’t look up so much.”

Well, one day a group of dog people were out enjoying a summer evening and their dogs were off their leashes. The dogs saw me, a red speeding bullet flying through their park (they had marked it) and of the same mind this pack of dogs thought, “Deer.” They were off to the chase. A pack of dogs. Domestic dogs.

I saw them coming and got an adrenaline rush that helped me out-distance them in seconds. But it was thoroughly terrifying. I shook for days after thinking about it.

The next night, as I approached the park, I stopped, looked around, saw the dog people and their dogs way ahead of me. I slowed it down to a crawl until I was close enough to get their attention and explained that it wasn’t safe, letting their dogs run around unleashed. This wasn’t an official dog park.

What if I hadn’t been able to out-distance the dogs the night before? What then?

“It’s because you have that flashing light in the back of your bike,” I was told.

Thanks. In other words you’re not leashing them?

“No, turn off your light when you pass through.”

I don’t think so.

I wrote a letter to the Chicago Tribune and the editors published it! But still, the dogs sniffed and roamed and I was stuck slowing down to a halt whenever I passed through. Didn’t seem fair. It's at least a half-mile of park we're talking about.

Then one night I saw a police car parked at the very end of the park. I pulled over to him, casually mentioned the problem.

He cruised on in and fined them all $500 bucks a pop. That's what it'll cost you if you don't leash your dog in Chicago, unless you're in a designated "dog park".

Should I have felt bad that they were fined? I didn’t, still don’t. I worked that ecosystem to my advantage and in the end it worked well, even for the dogs who will never be impounded for eating the flesh of the bikers or pedestrians in their world. The dog people have leashed their dogs.

The interesting thing is that now when I see them? Things are different. The dogs have been on 30 foot leashes since that day, and when they see me they're very friendly. We have this strange genuine bond going. We smile and wave. Sometimes I’ll even stop and talk for a couple of minutes, just comment on construction or the weather.

It’s like I’m a Park Person, if not a Dog Person, I'm a part of the culture.

They must not know it was me who worked my ecosystem, right, to get them in trouble?

But I've become a part of their world, the person on the red bike. I’m ONE OF THEM.

People like familiarity, being in the same place at the same time with the same people. This is why I tell single people to become a part of a mini-culture, a system within the ecosystem. Become a regular at the library, or at a bookstore or a coffee shop. Go to a church or join a political organization. Meet people or not, if they see you they get comfortable at the thought of you, like you are comfortable with certain checkers or baggers at your local grocery store.

Being lonely is a state of mind, you know. You’re never really alone.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc


bjurstrom said...

Dear Doc, strange as this may seem -reading your blogs has become part of my morning ritual--I never know what I'm going to learn--but learn I do. George and I have lived in our house for 29 years...our ecosystem runs deep. Have a good (bike riders read safe) day.

have popcorn will lurk said...

Heh. On direct communication when (very) pregnant: I once screamed at a man brandishing a shovel: "Are you threatening me?? Because if you're threatening me, I'll call the police!!" It was right after a snowstorm and he was accusing me of taking a parking spot he'd just shoveled out on a public street. Thing is, later I realized I probably had. DOH!!

Better Things-- Seeing Ghosts