Monday, March 07, 2011

The good, the bad and the creepy of bike-riding Phoenix

I have not written anything in more than a month because from my perspective, nothing interesting has happened to me. But other people tell me that's not true. I don't know if this topic will be interesting but here goes.

In October, I bought a bicycle. I think of it as one of my best companions now. Only in the last couple of months, I've really taken advantage of it and it's allowed me to see the city of Phoenix from a different perspective. Phoenix, unfortunately, is not the most bike-friendly place. In my middle-class neighborhood, only a few streets have actual bike lanes. There's a sense of relief when you come across one. At the same time, best not to get too attached. It could disappear at any moment! Aside from running simple errands i.e. dropping the mail, stopping at the bank, I sometimes like heading toward the nearby canal. It's one place I usually don't have to worry about cars.

I've been quite surprised by what riding on a bicycle can lead to. First the creepy:
Last month, I rode around the residential streets on a Sunday afternoon. I rounded a corner and came to a quiet intersection. Diagonally across the street from me, I saw a Caucasian man, probably in his mid to late thirties, with his pants down around his ankles. Thankfully, he had some sort of shorts or boxers on! But he was talking to a driver behind the wheel of a pickup truck that was stopped at a red light. Now, even if this guy, who looked like he could've been a vagrant, knew the driver, the falling of the pants doesn't make sense. The truck driver then sped off and the guy pulled his pants back up and rebuckled. He then started yelling at me. I couldn't make out what he was saying. But as I rode past, I could read his lips. He was yelling quite effusively, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" I pedaled as fast as I could, asking why God or the Universe didn't give humans erase buttons for the mind.

Almost exactly three weeks later, I was riding my bike on the President's Day holiday. It was about 10:30 a.m. I passed several people on the sidewalk. And like Opie in Mayberry, I politely rang my bell and nodded or smiled at people. After stopping at the running store, I continued northward and saw a man I had passed earlier on the street. He was Caucasian, white-haired, did not look homeless. He was also talking to someone parked in a truck. I rode further and when I was stopped at an intersection -- whoosh!--the same man was suddenly to my right. Despite having an iPod going, I could still hear him.
"Would you like to be my friend??"
"Excuse me?"
"I saw you riding by on your bike earlier. You were so quick! Would you like to get a cup of coffee with me?"
I resisted the urge to say something like "Listen Gramps, I'm clearly decades younger than you. Stay in your league." Instead I politely declined.
And I sped off muttering about how I can't seem to go anywhere without being disturbed by a creepy guy. I'm now considering just being rude all the time.

Now for some of the good:
The first person I talked to after being hit on by Gramps was a guy who works at an automotive shop near my place. I had tried to interview Hans once while on my inaugural bike ride because I had to find people who collected Social Security. When I happened upon him after the Gramps incident, Hans amazingly still remembered my name. After we said hi, I said "my bike rides keep getting interrupted by creepy old men."
"No, not you!"

Yesterday, my friend Bacon (it's just a nickname) and I bicycled like an old couple (he has two bells as opposed to my one) down the official Sonoran Bicycle Route toward downtown. It was perfect sunny but not hot weather for riding. We had brunch at Local Breeze, a place known for a brunch menu and giving 10 percent discounts for riders (yay!). After our meal, Bacon showed me some of his favorite buildings in downtown. One of them is called the Charles Pugh house.

It was built in the 1890s. Pugh was the editor and proprietor of the Southwestern Stockman. In recent years, it was a Mediterranean restaurant. Bacon and I rode by as a man was cleaning up the landscape. He was telling us all this interesting background/dirt. The owner and her sister had had a falling out which led to the closing of the building. And for whatever reasons, she is hanging onto the building despite letting it sit there boarded up and various homeless people breaking in -- including one who was behind the house while we were there. The owner has had offers including one for $1.4 million but wanted to wait for something better. Good luck waiting! She doesn't want to sell to the city which I'm kind of glad she's not. They might tear it down as is the way for many defunct buildings in Phoenix. The owner already owns hundreds of acres of land in other parts of Arizona. According to the guy we spoke with (who has a day job and just comes by once a month for $100), despite being quite well-off, she is not one to show it. She still drives a pick-up truck. And she is 5'2" and a force to be reckoned with. Anyway, I just love talking to people because you never know what cool nuggets of information they may yield. A bicycle is definitely allowing me to do more of that.