While traveling in cars, shrouded in these plastic-and-metal manifestations of our status and self-image, we never see anything fresh, anew. While driving we must observe and monitor pedestrians, bicyclists, autos, and road hazards but this type of road-awareness is a necessary autonomic function. It’s impossible to appreciate subtle and unique experiences at 35 MPH.
This is why I walk my hometown of Windsor.
So I can see and smell and hear, directly, the differences between my neighborhood off Old Redwood Highway and a cul-de-sac off Hembree. Between a lively trailer park littered with tricycles and skateboards and an upscale subdivision that’s so postcard-manicured and quiet it seems devoid of habitation. This Tuesday evening, prior to the second Presidential debate, I strolled up Old Redwood Highway in perfect 80 degree warmth, kicking at crackling piles of fallen maple leaves. The final desperate trickle of commuters were still zipping and speeding home as I sat on a curb and stretched my back. I relaxed when, across the street, a Sonoma County Transit bus thundered up and wheezed to a halt, disgorging students, mothers, and the one DUI guy in a new suit (with cell phone and laptop) who’s slumming on the bus until he gets his license back.
I sat there a minute before walking up past Raley’s and Safeway to Los Amigos Road. I always think of Los Amigos as the “Road to Nowhere”. It is a flawlessly paved two-lane thoroughfare that is perfectly unpopulated. There are no stores, schools, or houses. It backs up to several high-fenced subdivisions to the east and a cyclone fence bordering 101 to the west. This time of evening it is frequented by strollers from the Windsor Senior Center—always friendly and energetic—and dog walkers: poop-scoop bags at the ready. Shortly after my turnaround (before Los Amigos dead ends at Arata Lane) I noticed a bicyclist—officially decked out for the Tour de California in helmet, shades, team-logo-jersey, shorts, and gloves—flying my way. I waved and he passed without a nod or wrinkle of acknowledgement, which didn’t surprise me: I’m a recreational cyclist and I noticed the more expensive the bike (this guy was on a carbon fiber Cervelo, I figure about $3500) the more intense, severe, and unfriendly the rider. So I exchanged passing pleasantries, “Dark early, huh?” “Hard to believe it’s fall!” with several retirees and ambled back to Old Redwood Highway. About a block from home, nearly dark now—tonight’s debate already begun, I heard a hollow CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK.
It wasn’t a car (no headlights; silence but for the CLUNKs) so I turned and, for a moment, saw nothing. Then out of the dusk I saw a round little man riding an ancient creaking bicycle: the CLUNK CLUNK being the sound of his aluminum lunch pail banging against the handlebars. Walking backwards, I waved.
So, that’s Windsor on a Tuesday night in October. One walker; two bicycles.
Two contrary and divergent bicycles: one cost more than the first three cars I bought and the other my son might have owned twenty years ago. One is a dedicated fitness toy ridden by a serious athlete, the other an indispensable mode of transportation pedaled by a smiling grunt on his way home from work.
Leaves are falling, a presidential debate rages inside. I suppose a more thoughtful writer would use the two bicycles as symbols for where America has been in the last twelve years and where we’re possibly headed—depending on which of tonight’s debaters wins the election. But these bicycles, ultimately, aren’t and shouldn’t be symbols: there are simply parts of two vastly different lives I brushed up against tonight in Windsor, CA.