“You rode your bike? In this weather?” I hear this greeting many mornings as I stride into work at the 789 Eisenhower building, wearing my helmet and backpack. Often, the amazement from my coworkers is followed by a hearty “Good for you!” as though I’ve done something spartan and challenging—two adjectives totally alien to me.
I ride my bike for no other reason than pure physical pleasures. It’s surprisingly real to me—surprising because I’m anti-exercise as a rule. But I revel in the caress of a balmy, sunny day, and I delight just as much in the bracing stimulation of a gray, chilly one. It’s liberating to coast down Georgetown Boulevard using only the power of gravity. There’s relief and triumph at the top of the hill on Eisenhower’s railroad bridge (not exactly a mountain, but then I’m not exactly an athlete). The greatest pleasure, though, is the amazing sensation of being in an environment that is not the inside of a car.
I watch the seasons change along the city’s edge. A tiny family of black squirrels manages to establish a colony in a yard on Georgetown Boulevard. A squadron of furious sparrows chases a small hawk out of a leafless bush. A riot of wildflowers, berry bushes, and sumacs grows, dies, and is reborn along the concrete bridge over the railway. On a sunny day, pigeons lounge on the telephone line above the tracks, black against the cobalt sky. Once, I saw three majestic white birds, perhaps swans, in formation overhead, silent and deliberate in flight. Of course, the reality of nature’s encounters with the automobile are everywhere—smashed squirrels, mangled birds, and, once, a flattened, dried-up frog, its gray, bulging eyes seeming to hold an extra measure of death. I’ve turned away in horror as a speeding car caught not one, but two frantically dodging squirrels.
The human landscape changes, too. Once a week, I glimpse people’s lives through their recycle bins. Houses go up for sale—and stay that way. Renovation projects begin, go on forever, and then are suddenly finished. I’ve seen bumper stickers change, holiday decorations come and go, ash trees fall, driveways get paved.
It sounds banal, yes, but if I were in the car, I’d be flipping between stations, watching traffic, checking the gas gauge—the soulless activities that lead to the unsatisfying end of an unlived life. In the twenty minutes that I’m outside on my bike, I weave a different way of being into my suburban existence—and that’s a pleasure.