Driving and Biking in the Big City

Archive for June 2013

Help, I’m a cute girl trapped in an aging body

with 5 comments

San Francisco biking

My route from Pacific Bicycles to the beach and all the way across the Golden Gate Bridge. My return trip was more circuitous and completely unmapped.

What your beautiful mom and older sisters didn’t tell you when you were growing up is the subtle change that happens as your looks go from cute to beautiful to handsome to invisible to downright off-putting. The change I write of is the change in others. You are the same cute girl inside but the bellman doesn’t know it. Nor does the waiter or the valet or the shop clerk or the athletic guys at the bike shops. You are expecting a little attention, some help, a good recommendation or just nice manners, and you never quite realized until now that you depended on being treated a little more special because you were cute. And now, paybacks are hell, and it’s time to pay back . . .

  • For the times you wore short skirts,
  • For the times you held eye contact too long,
  • For the times you laughed and it wasn’t funny,
  • For the times you acted like you didn’t know and you knew,
  • For the times you were offered help and you curtly said you didn’t need it and you didn’t.

Well, now you do.

A few years ago, I would have said I never had any favoritism because my pride believed I was as smart and as physically strong as the next guy and could compete on a level playing field. I even joked that I’d always get a bit of attention because I have a quick wit, am charming and am sincerely interested in others. Everyone loves a good listener.

If I’m honest with my feminist self, I knew the heyday of my appeal. For many years, I could walk into a room or a restaurant and heads would turn. I remember walking the length of a classroom of adults in a new suit, turning at the door for some reason and the men were falling out of their seats – just like a scene from a sitcom. It was a nice suit.

Fast forward a million years and I’m still that cute girl inside, healthy, clever and still pretty interesting with all my newspaper adventures and folks I’ve met teaching and writing. But, I don’t have that young girl’s long dark hair, ‘70s short skirt and tennis player’s body.

I wouldn’t trade a day of my life, a year off the clock or an experience that gave me these lines or these extra pounds. I’m plenty healthy, current and well-read; I just don’t invite the kindness of strangers that once came my way uninvited.

When the cop stops me these days, he tickets me. I want to tell him of the days a cop would stop me to tell me I didn’t put on a blinker and then let me go with a chat.

So, I took a ride across the Golden Gate Bridge on my very first visit to San Francisco. I had the time of my life driving straight through the city and down the beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. But, when I came downhill from the summit of the bridge, I aimed my speeding bike down the road not taken so that I could avoid some of the tourist traffic.

It was not long before I was a lost, confused, sweaty and thirsty and heading up some pretty steep roads in a town that’s known for its steep roads. And, when I asked for directions, I got a huge runaround that kept me in the saddle for longer than I’d planned and for a total of about six hours for the day. Even worse, I got some bad advice to drive straight up a street that had more than a 45-degree angle. I was not led too far astray, though.

Don’t let my current lack of a short dress fool you. I’m still plenty smart and know when I’ve been given the brush-off. And, in my repertoire, is the “writer” card. I will pull it out if I need to do so – just as I did as a young journalist the first time I was anesthetized in an emergency room. You don’t want to kill a writer. It will make for terrible publicity.

So, when I was lost on the streets of San Francisco, it took a while to get good directions back to my hotel. At one point, I’d given up hope and thought I’d just pay for a ride. But I couldn’t convince anyone to take me and my bike anywhere. I tried to get a taxi that had plenty of room for the bike. I tried to catch the street car, which would have taken me and the bike but I couldn’t get there fast enough. I even attempted to get on some ship-looking vehicle that was traversing the tourist streets.

I got the worst advice — a route straight up a steep street — from a second Marriott that I thought would be nice to me because I was staying at the Marriott Marquis. I may have looked like a disheveled dufus, but there were still some brains left in that bike helmet. Finally, I came upon a second bike shop – not Pacific Bicycles where I rented my bike but one a few streets away from Fisherman’s Wharf where I’d tried to find my own way outside of the tourist traffic.

I told the second bike shop folks that I was a writer from Houston and a blogger and if he got me killed with a bad route, people would know. He eyed me suspiciously, gave a few half-hearted answers and then finally gave in to true help. His instructions were explicit and his route was over the flattest streets he could find in San Francisco. He even filled up my empty water bottle from the tap in the back of his shop. I promptly repaid him by forgetting the name of his shop and not mentioning him in this column about non-helpful service personnel. I was back to the hotel in 30 minutes or so after my Hail Mary for help.

Don’t get me wrong. I like this new phase of my life and am challenged by what new experience may be in front of me. I still feel as curious as ever and mostly as healthy as ever. There are 76 million of us Baby Boomers in the United States who are going to hang on to adventure, sports and new knowledge. And, every so often like when I want to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge in a city I’ve never visited before in my life, I’m going to need some help.

My advice is:

Don’t overlook us. We tip well.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

June 13, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Biking in the big city – this time San Francisco

with 4 comments

HighI love a city that is truly biker friendly, and San Francisco is. By the time I’d finished my adventure of riding over the Golden Gate Bridge today, I’d seen most of the city and truly felt like I’d sampled a slice of what it would be like to live in the City by the Bay.  And I would love it. The weather was great for this sweaty Houston sauna rider, and the bike lanes were perfect. I can’t imagine what that would look like in Houston, but it would be nice to try.

As my legs begin to turn to stone from about six hours in the saddle, I wonder if I didn’t make my first mistake when I wore an MS 150 t-shirt. The concierge thought it would be no problem for me to go to the nearby Pacific Bike Shop and do the entire excursion on two wheels. The other option would have been to rent at Fisherman’s Wharf and ride a couple of three miles on the way to the bridge and then the mile or so over it. So at least half of what I rode.

Looking up.

Looking up.

The Pacific Bike Shop folks were quite nice and helpful and thought I was up to it, too. I think this happened when I told them I was from Houston. Everyone presumes their city is kinder than Houston and may be correct.  However, he warned me of the “aggressive” drivers. Hmm, I thought. I know aggressive drivers. Well, he said, it’s both the bike riders and the car drivers. As a matter of fact, he said, they have a bit of a feud going on, and I saw two examples of this – one pretty heart-stopping. The first was a driver-biker altercation over a driver being on her cellphone. Whatever was the initial concern, both ladies were too busy shouting at each other to notice they had clogged both car and bike traffic. I won’t even mention the levels of intelligence they were suggesting for each other.

The other nail-biter was a biker who was going a million miles an hour to cross this intersection, sweeping right by my already-stopped-nicely self. This was later in my adventure and after I’d come to understand the dilemma of San Francisco biking. Because San Francisco is so hilly, a biker wants to pace him or herself to miss red lights. The best biking scenario means keeping up a good pace so that you can take the next hill. I saw one guy who could balance on his bike at full stop and for several minutes so that he could pedal onward without a pause. Well, this speeding biker zoomed into the intersection in front of me after the light was completely red in our lane and as cars revved up and headed full speed across the intersection. His agility and brakes were remarkable. He did a full U-turn, reminiscent of Steve McQueen and “Bullitt” on four wheels (get the San Francisco reference?) and returned to his rightful place of waiting. I would have been killed. Seriously. He could have been killed pretty easily. He was a great biker but not a share-the-road type and you heard plenty of honking and shouting until all concerned had passed.

The most interesting cycling feature San Francisco has adopted is this wild, middle-of-the-road bike lane. It’s not true mostly. But, when you come to a thoroughfare-type street with several lanes, the bike path will go to the very middle so that drivers can make their right turns easier. Makes sense, but it took me a bit to get up my nerve to join the hubbub with cars whirring on both sides of me.

So, I biked straight down Folsom from the bike shop all the way to the Bay. Fortunately, an experienced cycler soon passed me and I had her to lead the way. She was pretty friendly and showed me the rules of my new roads, waving me off when she finally had to turn and go her own way. It was perfect role-modeling to get my confidence up for the craziness of Fisherman’s Wharf.

The trek down Embarcadero was an adventure in itself with people-watching as good as or better than I’ve seen (and that includes New Orleans). Three young traveling troubadours with laden cycles, backpacks and musical instruments pulled in front of me at one point, singing and occasionally playing a flute.  My bike shop friends had warned me that it would be crowded with tourists and street vendors, and it was. That’s where I learned that I had excellent brakes on my rental.

As soon as I spotted the beautiful blue-green bay, I saw the Bay Bridge and thought, for a brief moment, that this was going to be too easy. The Golden Gate must be one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world so it didn’t take me long to figure out that I still had a way to go.

The Golden Gate Bridge winks through the fog.

The Golden Gate Bridge winks through the fog.

And, that’s what was most confusing. Just like a trip to the mountains, you don’t truly know how far away they are. That was the case of the misty laden golden beauty who would peak in and out of the fog to give you a peek at her beautiful long lines and girders. At one point, I snapped a photo, sending it to family and suggesting it was about a mile away. It was still at least three miles at that point.

We won’t even mention the steep bike paths in many, many places along the way there. Embarrassingly, I had to get off my rented friend and push, more than once. And one of those times, I couldn’t even get off the bike without going backwards. I didn’t quite fall but I came close and had some weird new bicycling experiences because of the unfamiliar landscape and pretty big, high performance bike. One false move and I’d have been rolling down an incline, leaving most of my skin on the pavement. I saw it happen to one poor tourist and, because of two bad wrecks in my history, was quite cautious.

And finally, I was there. It was pretty cool and not so crowded that I was put off. I had some long passages alone and certainly could stand forever taking in the sights. The bridge itself is high enough that I got a bit weak kneed when I walked to the edge. Today was incredibly windy, and I had to hold on to my camera and sweatshirt.

So then it was time to go home. I would like to say the trip downhill was a breeze, and it was certainly easier. I controlled my bike, though, and never got going too fast.  In the end, the trip had enough newness and danger to make it fun but not too scary.  Definitely one to mark off the bucket list.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

June 7, 2013 at 9:02 pm