Well, it’s now been about three weeks and I haven’t reported. Perhaps my crushing shame eclipsed my soaring euphoria – I wouldn’t doubt it after all of the vitriol I spewed for the 9 months prior to the aforementioned unreported event.
Basically, what has happened is this: I’ve succumbed. Become the very thing I hated. Done as the Sakiians when in Sakiio.
What changed my mind? One afternoon with Steve in Konnichiya where, after some gentle coaxing, we did a terrible, frightening thing that I hadn’t done in years. As it turned out, I hadn’t forgotten how after all – perhaps human beings really can’t. Despite a few heart-pounding moments, the terrors I’d feared were, to my shock, far, far less than I’d imagined. Furthermore, what could have taken hours only took about 45 minutes. The wind whistled in my ears, the sun set over the hills, my legs got a work out for the first time in a decade and, as we parted ways at the train station, I just had to admit it: riding a bike was not only convenient as heck but a lot more fun than I remembered.
… mine cost me 4500 yen – used and in terrific condition. Hear me out: it took 30 sweaty, soaked minutes to walk down to the used bike shop and 10 brisk, breezy minutes to cycle back. Thus, I’ve never been so happy to be a hypocrite in my entire life.
There are problems, of course, that come with doing as the Sakiians.
With owning a bike comes the issue of parking – bikes here are often subject to kidnapping. Not by thieves (although this, of course, can occur) but by city officials who routinely remove the many, many bicycles from the streets when they are parked illegally or cluttering up the sidewalk. At times, there are paper signs placed on the pavement warning cyclists that parked bicycles will be removed between such and such times but these signs are, of course, in Japanese beyond my capabilities. I have found what appears to be a nice solution, however – parking my bike near the video rental place close to the train station. I have parked my bike there for stretches of 9 hours at a time with no problem. When this video rental place does remove bicycles, they bring them to the roof. Thus, if my bike is ever taken, I’ll know exactly where it is.
Oh my word: the traffic. My first day in Sakiio involved being narrowly debracitated several times because I was not yet used to treating the sidewalks as a highway. I’ve often joked that I’d like to take a mirror with me as I walk to check who is coming behind me. It mightn’t be a terrible idea – on the sidewalks girding the main roads there are usually about 5 cyclists coming or going at any given time, darting in and out of side streets. The sounds of jangly little bells and screeching bicycle brakes permeate the air. In Sakiio the streets are narrow, twisted, rife with blind spots and shared by pedestrians at all times of day. Thus, riding one’s bike can actually be quite a dangerous thing in this city. To minimize the dangers, I take the back roads to the train station. They are less densely traveled by bicycles or people, making it much easier to get where one is going but the downside is that they are shared by cars. The streets are usually wide enough for only a car to pass through, forcing any cyclists to pull over to the side and wait until the car has gone. Nonetheless – my 20-minute walk to the train station is now a sprightly 7-minute jaunt. Add a hands-freeing basket to hold my groceries and we have a winner!
This ought to solve that problem, I think. Now … where to buy?
To the left, to the left. To the left, to the left. To the left, to the left. Every time you ride you gotta ride to the left. Ahem. Japan is a country that drives – and rides – on the left side of the road. This has taken some getting used to for me. It’s fairly easy to avoid this issue on the sidewalks while walking since dodging bicycles is a free for all and, really, the best course is to simply stand still until they pass. Maneuvering a vehicle is slightly different.
A couple of months ago, Bob moved out of our apartment building. He rented a car and enlisted me to help him move. Though we both enjoyed playing with the GPS and being in a passenger car for the first time in months, this was an often heart-stopping endeavor. Bob is from New York like myself – not only had he not driven in years but he, too, has internal body gravity that naturally pulls him to the right side of the road. We yelped quite a few times as he yanked himself away from turning into the right side of the road during a turn, exhaling deeply and laughing like maniacs each time we came away unscathed and agreed that it was a very good thing that Sean wasn’t with us.
I try my best to remind myself: to the left, to the left. There actually don’t seem to be any hard or fast rules for the cyclists so sometimes my poor equilibrium feels confused. I have been counseled, however, to keep to the left as a rule of thumb. It usually works but when I’m not thinking about it and there are no cars or bicycles or playing children in sight, I feel my body naturally swerve to the right, to the right.
My bicycle is a steely blue gray, with a green sticker that reads: “Beautiful Sunday a romantic adventure”