Monday, November 9, 2009

Green Day

No, I don't mean these guys. When it comes to applying eyeliner, I'm no Billie Joe Armstrong. I'm referring to my own modest green day. No, I did not save the planet. I didn't sell my vehicle or give up meat or install solar panels in my roof. I didn't purchase a composter. Here's what I did: All bike. No car. All day. Well, just a teeny-tiny bit of car. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll confess that I drove my van to the service station for an oil change and rode my bike home. But the station is only two miles away and an oil change will result in a better-running vehicle, so I think I earned enough carbon-offsets to wipe out the effect of my drive.

As I had written in an earlier post, I had hoped to get panniers for my birthday and my family obliged. Panniers are heavy-duty tote bags that attach to either side of a rear bike rack.

This is what an empty pannier looks like on my bike. It folds up into a compact shape.

Today, I put my panniers to the test. First, I stuffed a bulky winter coat in one, and in the other I put my camera, a small purse, and a bike lock. Nothing too heavy. Here are all of the things that went into the panniers. The winter coat is in the Whole Foods bag.

The pannier expands in every direction, and can hold a surprising amount of stuff. A loaded pannier looks like this. I know what you're thinking: "Can my bike ever look that cool?"

The scenery in Burke offered more variety than I expected. During my time in the saddle, I passed the Silas Burke house, home of Lt. Col. Silas Burke and built in 1825. Architecture in Burke is so new that 1825 might as well be part of the Paleozoic era. I saw a diversity mural, laid out in colorful tile, on the facade of my local elementary school. I spied a giant inflatable turkey on a front lawn. I got a close look at something I've passed thousands of times while driving: a homemade roadside memorial. A white cross fronted by fresh mums was etched with the names Jason and Liz and the date September 23, 2006. Forever in our hearts.

I won't bore you with my grocery list, but I did stop at Giant. There, I unclipped the panniers from the bike and carried them into the store. They have sturdy handles, and loading groceries directly into them eliminates the build-up of plastic shopping bags in my house.

My purchases are shown below. Some of the items were small and dense, like sweet potatoes and a bottle of maple syrup. Others were light but large, and one item - my panettone - was shaped like a trapezoid. I packed the panniers carefully (with room to spare) and paid some attention to weight distribution. I weighed both when I got home and the total was 21 pounds, 18 pounds of which I'd estimate is attributed to purchases.

18 pounds hanging off the rear rack of my bike is much better than 18 pounds hanging off my back. Not wearing a backpack was liberating. Honestly. The extra weight didn't compromise my balance at all. And more importantly, I felt smug and terribly self-righteous.

But I looked like hell. My helmet completely flattened my hair, so much so that my head appeared to be almost wet. I had foregone makeup, exposing my ruddy complexion. My windpants went
swoosh swoosh when I walked so I couldn't even skulk, unnoticed, in the stores. But hey - I brought my own reusable bag and reusable water bottle. Isn't that beautiful in its own way? Anyway, this isn't about me. It's about her.
Fortunately, I am not vain. If you could see me, you'd realize how much of an understatement that is. But, just to maintain a shred of dignity, I carried my bike helmet in plain sight, a sort of tangible, preemptive apology for my bad hair. Nobody would criticize the appearance of a middle-aged woman who rode her bike to the store. Having achieved success, I've decided that I'll always carry my bike helmet in stores, even when I've driven there, as a sort of
carte blanche for a lousy appearance. I also flaunted my Whole Foods reusable bag. I could have taken my Giant or Target bags, but I wanted to show a true commitment to social responsibility and a certain amount of taste.

That was my personal Green Day, and I plan on having many more. Not be outdone by the other Green Day (Billie Joe and two other guys) I rewrote the lyrics to "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" so they apply to biking. If you don't know the original song, click here to hear it. Then read my own lyrics below. I think I may be a rock star.

I ride suburban streets
with this awkward helmet on my head.
Stop at each red light
to avoid conversion to the dead.

The hills seem steeper now;
they looked so much flatter from the car,
I persevere somehow,
knowing that my house is not too far.

I ride alone.
I ride alone.

I ride alone.
I ride a-

My quads they burn - I think I've got a fever.
The wheels, they turn - I need some pain reliever.
I soldier on - I am a bike believer.
For now I ride alone.

Ah-ah, Ah-ah, Ah-ah, Aaah-ha
Ah-ah, Ah-ah, Ah-ah

My ride was not too long,
And I ran my errands on my bike.
Plus I wrote this song,
Now Billie Joe and I are just alike.

Ha-ha, Ha-ha, Ha-ha. Haaa-Ha
Ha-ha, Ha-ha, Ha-ha


  1. I clicked.

    My first thought,"Where are Cathy's dots?!" I so loved your dots and I shall miss them.

    And then I read your variation on Green Day and I'm dying laughing and don't care a lick about your lack of spots. It's quite possible that I like your version better!

    I saw that you had commented on my blog about appearance, and I love that you carried your helmet as this kind of proof. A kind of armor to say, "before you judge, please have all the facts." And with your reusable bags, *you* get to make *them* feel bad for doing it in the first place, because you're being a better person ;)
    - Katie

  2. I want to see a picture of your bike and "panniers." There's nothing quite so dorky as bags on a a cool environmentally-friendly sort of way, of course!

    Also, your Green Day lyrics are much better than the original.

  3. You have to sing this song in class.
    This blog is going in good ways -- you're becoming Momma Bike for the DC area. It's full of news and information and you have enough posts now to establish your bona fides. For the recreational biker, this is a terrific resource -- full of information that you make seem reliable, and it also provides a way of approaching biking without spandex. That is, integrating it into a real life. SG