Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Take a Hike...If you dare.

After 22 hours, I'd had enough.

The ice-mist had been steadily falling since 5:00 PM the previous evening, just before my extended family packed themselves into my aunt's SUV to head home from our Saturday early-Christmas dinner. I don't think I set foot outside the house all day, and I was seized with the sudden need to stretch my legs before night fell again. I decided to leave the rest of my gift-wrapping for later, laced up my almost comically thick hiking boots, donned a winter coat I hadn't worn since high school, and headed out into the sub-freezing afternoon air. 

As I half-walked, half-slid down the icy road that connected my childhood home to the growing commercial hub a mile or so away, I became more and more aware of how much I'd come to take the walkability of DC for granted. The snowbanks, ice and slush that lined the streets were honestly the least of my problems- the sheer lack of pedestrian infrastructure shocked me much more than I thought it would. I mean, I'd traveled the road hundreds of times before, and knew full well that it was basically impossible to get around much of my suburban home city without a car. But when I passed the desolate looking mall...

How many shopping days left?

...and continued toward the roundabout that, on most days, would be controlling the traffic flow through the area...

I think there was a sidewalk here at some point? Maybe? I can't be sure.

...I suddenly realized that I was that guy. The guy that I, myself, had vocally or silently made fun of dozens of times while still living at home. As some hapless walker would hop between curbs, and negotiate the travel lanes like some high-res version of Frogger, I'd voice a mix of sympathy and disdain for this poor soul who either didn't have access to a car, or had somehow CHOSEN not to use one. In the same way that 17 year-old me couldn't imagine wanting to travel any other way than by car, 29 year-old me was taken aback not to be given the option. Not really, anyway- I have to assume that the motorists who slowed to let me cross the street did so only out of the same misguided blend of sympathy and disdain I used to feel, sprinkled with a little Christmas spirit perhaps.

Of course, I made a conscious decision to get to the Mount Auburn Ave. Starbucks the way that I did. Many people, both here in my first home and in my adopted home of D.C., don't get to make a choice about the way they get around every day. And while downtown, Eastern Market, Columbia Heights, and other places I've lived are easily walkable and bikeable, so many parts of town are structured more like my suburban hometown. People without a car or who'd rather not use one are confronted every day with the obstacles I sought out while on vacation. I imagine the thrill of adventure would get old pretty quickly.

I couldn't even imagine what it would take to make this area, and other like it, more pedestrian and bike-friendly. The one half-assed bike lane on one side of the street ran for a whole 100 feet and ended promptly at the curb where the road narrowed after the turn-off. The sidewalks looked like they'd be an afterthought on the best of days.

 But I had to wonder if the area, and the dying mall in particular, might be better off with a few smaller stores and some useful infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists- even to get from one side of the giant retail complex to the other without having to drive in between. Certainly, such a suggestion would be looked upon as wasteful, beneficial only to the few people who live nearby or are somehow both rich enough AND poor enough to be riding bikes around.

If you followed that link, by now you'll know a thing or two about what cycling does for the places that welcome it. So maybe a little bit of investment in non-internal-combustion-engine movement would do the area some good. At the very least, it might lessen the chance of an idiot like me getting hit by a car while sprinting from curb to curb across 4 lanes of traffic just to get a peppermint mocha.  And I think that's a goal we can ALL get behind. So as we close out December and get ready for 2014, let's put our support behind walkable and bikeable communities no matter where we are.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, keep your 2014 resolutions reasonable, and for God's sake don't fall on the ice. Or off the curb.

-AWG that all the children call their favorite time of year.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Collaboration and its Discontents

Like most of you who use Skype even occasionally, I sometimes get e-mails about the stuff that they're doing or want me to participate in. Also like most of you, I get way too many e-mails in general. The majority of the stuff Skype sends me doesn't even bother to look interesting, so their messages tend to be summarily DELETED along with all the "special offers" from every store that's ever sold me something online. Yes, I realize I can unsubscribe from like every single one of those. But this is me we're talking about. What if I happen to be in the market for a mechanical omelette flipper and I don't know I can get 90% off at Bed, Bath, and Beyond because I didn't get their stupid e-mails? What then, check the website? WAY too much work. Yeah, welcome to my brain. It gets dark in here sometimes.

Anyway, I was conducting my daily mass deletion of junk e-mails last night when I noticed one from Skype that somehow caught my attention. The subject heading read: You're invited to join the Skype Collaboration Project.

"The Skype Collaboration Project? And I'm invited?!" I shrieked with excitement, thinking that my chance had finally arrived to do something meaningful. Having been inundated with studies and anecdotes arguing for the power of technology to foster understanding and forestall violence, and remembering the role played by social media during the Arab Spring, my thoughts immediately turned to the applications of Skype as a tool for peace. As I opened the e-mail, my brain was on fire with possibility- would we be conducting video panels on open government? Sharing insights on rule of law with local stakeholders? Participating in a dialogue for human rights advocacy? Harnessing the virtually unlimited power of technology for the betterment of a troubled world?


None of the above. Promising "the who, what, where, and how for the next generation of do-ers, " Skype had instead blessed me with the opportunity to cuddle up to my "favorite industries" and have them tell me what I ought to putting on my lanky frame over the next 20 years. As an added bonus, I'd get to hear Posh Spice wax nostalgic about her own meteoric rise as a...whatever she considers herself to be. I guess some lesser gods of fashion and design would also listen to my puny contributions? Maybe? At some point?

"When in doubt, pinky out"

The whole thing is nominally aimed at helping me "fuel [my] own creative journey," but let's be honest here. To the extent that I even have a creative journey, stylists, brand consultants, and award-winning textile designers probably aren't going to be prominent characters in it. Are these really the "do-ers" I should be emulating?

Despite the lofty rhetoric, somehow this seems like the darker side of "collaboration," like locals collaborating with an invading military force or something.

I mean, I'd almost rather they just gave it to me straight and said "We know you like to consume, we've been tracking your page visits. Why don't you go ahead and cozy up, and we'll tell you what to buy and what to talk about. You'll even feel like you're making a difference, a little!" I think I can indulge my inner Little Eichmann just fine on my own, thank you.

Then again, maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way. Maybe some of my "favorite industries" could include breweries that support sustainable transportation initiatives. I literally just thought of this. Textile makers/designers committed to socially just sourcing and labor standards. IT companies dedicated to connecting under-served and marginalized populations and fostering civic engagement. Corporate social responsibility! Maybe this could be a tool for good rather than just another attempt to splice rabid consumerism into my very DNA, and we should all get involved instead of being a Grinch about the whole exercise.

So all right, Skype. Let's see what you've got behind that "Get Involved" button. Let's see what the fashion world can do for the rest of the world if I decide to "collaborate." Cause I'll do it.

Right after I finish buying clothes and accessories and all manner of branded items for the people in my life this holiday season, to show them that I care.


...but if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing's changed at all?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Monday, Monday

I'm no different from everyone else- Mondays are not my strong suit. The day after a holiday weekend is even worse, since in my line of work, families getting together usually means lots of disputes to sort out the next time we open our doors. Even if you have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend (which I did- Amanda time, chill time, dog time, lots of food, bike riding, and the Hunger Games,) the hangover of a new week hits you pretty hard. But letting myself feel drained and irritated by lunch time is not the most adaptive way to handle this inevitability, there must be a better way. Darryl at Loving the Bike tends to treat every Monday as a mini-Thanksgiving of sorts, a time to post about the things he's thankful for and happy about. I guess it must work- dude seems to be happy a LOT.

I'm always hearing that I should "choose my attitude," so in that spirit, I made a point of noting the best things I saw during the day yesterday. Fair warning, my observations are tinged with plenty of sarcasm, because a sea-change in worldview in the space of one day just isn't going to happen for me. Be assured, I really am trying. So, rank-ordered list here we go.

Going to a spin class instructed by a woman who looked like she probably hadn't touched a bike in years, but was a surprisingly good coach.

A guy wearing a t-shirt with that "Injustice anywhere..." quote attributed to "Martin Luther King, Jr., American Activist." Because it's important to avoid confusion with all the other Martin Luther King Jrs. who might have said that thing.

A bike cop with one hand holding his coffee cup and the other on the handlebars, talking on a phone that was tucked between his cheek and the chinstrap of his helmet. He rode up onto the sidewalk, I suppose to regain his balance, and got the antenna of his walkie-talkie stuck in between two parking signs. It took him a full 30 seconds to get it unstuck.

A guy standing in the locker room, eating Milano cookies in his underwear. Unclear whether he was about to start his workout, or had just finished. Which would be funnier?

So there we are. Good/funny things on a Monday! Positive attitude! Holiday Cheer.

Went to buy batteries, and almost said "B-batteries" in a fake stutter to the lady at the counter because of a Demetri Martin joke from like 6 years ago.

Happy Tuesday!


...I think we could use a little memory to add to the database.