Tuesday, March 25, 2008


As time has moved along, it's become more obvious to me, that the decision to leave San Francisco was ok, not quite as disastrous as I had feared. This doesn't take away painful twinges we feel most weeks, the "what ifs" and the melancholy memories. One of the things that I liked the best about living there, was being part of a community. A fully formed, functioning place that was the sum of it's parts; people, shops, parks, transportation, entertainment, education.

You'd step out the front door and after carefully maneuvering around the block's angry, cursing, homeless woman, there would be endless shops and hordes of people. Where else in the world could you get Durian and Gooey Duck just feet away from your home, and then walk one more block to the Greek grocery store that stocked goat cheese upon goat cheese and unrefrigerated eggs? We had an amazing fabric store with bolts and bolts of beautiful textiles and small bits of trim and buttons. There was an art center that promoted social awareness and charitable giving. The park, Golden Gate Park, as gorgeous as gorgeous can be. Square miles of heaven; grass, pond, tree and ocean. We had spicy noodle shoppes and fresh coffee with tiny Chinese pastries. Barbers, dentists, doctors, a pet store, a hardware store, a drug store, the cleaners, all crammed next to each other, all in our neighborhood. A real, self-suficiant community. The Muni train rumbled by, every twenty minutes or so, shaking our third floor flat. I miss the that jiggle, the complete lack of solid ground, the phantom whoosh the train made as it would glide out of sight, into the ever present fog of the Outer Sunset.

I do miss it all. Our current house is on a block, in the middle of the country, in the suburbs, on a slow street. It is painfully quiet sometimes and lonely at others. Just as I would look out or large picture window in San Francisco and stare at the people boarding the Muni and think "I can't believe we really live here, how odd." I now stare out our picture window in Michigan and watch the squirrels run across our lawn and think "I can't believe we actually still live here, how odd."

Having children changes everything. In a way, and I might get flamed for this, it's like being a pet parakeet , who gets his wings clipped. Jon's stable job in this very unstable economy, and the fact that Noah is lucky enough to have four wonderful grandparents near by, makes it nearly impossible to move. We would be stupid.
So I accept this mundane existence, here in the Midwest, and try to make the best of it, and try to not let it get to me. I've found a truth, that you can be full of gratitude and thankfulness and walk on eggshells hopping the bottom doesn't fall out, and still at the same time, you can legitimately carry sadness and frustration and confusion along with it.

I know this place has a list of positives and pluses a mile long. I'm lucky, we're lucky. There is just something deep inside me that longs for a place that I belong to a bit better. I've always been a square peg here. This isn't a self-imposed pity party, it's the truth. I was ostracized for being different as a kid and even as a young adult and now, as a parent, I still feel slightly different. I've found wonderful friends over the years, they love me for who I am , but that enormous, amazing, creative freedom I was allowed on the streets of San Francisco, was something rarely replicated. The pulse of energy, the colors and sounds and openness, the liberal calls equality, it clicked with me.

Someday, maybe we'll be back. But, I never saw myself as much of a "west coast person", and in fact, even as a small girl, I always assumed my place on this planet was in New York City. Only time will play out this story, and I know, my job is to find the good stuff and the fun in our Michigan home. Things are slowly evolving, and I've caught glimpses of "good fit" coming about. Noah was accepted for next year, into a school for gifted children. It's run by open-thinking, creative and interesting people. The parents I've met have been so welcoming to us, they're supportive, non-judgemental and just the quirkiest bunch of wonderful. I have high hopes.

This post was supposed to be about bicycles and walkable communities. About my hunt for a bike, one with a basket for groceries and a seat for Noah. I have managed once again to go off on a tangent. Here is the link, you see, although we do technically live in a "suburb" of Detroit, Jon and I chose to live in one of the original cities and towns that dot the main Detroit Avenue, as it extends north. We live adjacent to, about three blocks away, from a city that is coined as a "walkable Community", something that is vaguely like our old San Francisco neighborhood. Supposedly, you can walk to grocery stores and restaurants, coffee shoppes, and theaters, doctor's offices and banks. You can, it just takes a bit by foot, but on a bike, how fantastic! So, in honor of traditional communities, my hate of urban sprawl, our planet's lack of natural resources and good old, exercise, I've gotten it in my head that I want to shop by bike this summer.

The bicycle I currently own is sadly in horrible shape. My father gave it to me in 1995, as a way to get around campus. I have to admit that hauling this big bike and my heavy backpack in and out of my dorm everyday, up to the fifth floor, did not appeal to me so well and it has suffered some Michigan rain storms and even snow. So now it's time for a new bike. I know EXACTLY what I want...............
a fabulous, Dutch shopping bike, like the jorg & olif Scout Bike in red. But, alas, it's quite expensive, and then even more expensive once you add in international shipping and import tax, and the cost of final assembly AND a child's seat AND a large basket. So, I continue to search for the perfect "urban or city bike" as they are now being called, but domestically.

That's what this post was going to be about, just driving around on my bike this summer. Make sure you check out THIS page, to see what I want my life to be like, even in Michigan!



Jeremy said...

Those are beautiful bikes, they are really built for commuting and they last ages. There is a reason their single and three-speed designs haven't changed much over the history of the bike.

I would say research if there is a U.S. distributor, it might save on shipping charges. If you need someone to help assemble the bike, well, I have a garage full of bike tools that will get the job done.

However, playing the devil's advocate, have you looked into U.S. made bikes as well? Companies like Schwinn and Trek manufacture "cruiser" bikes (as they're known in the U.S.) and you can get one for about half the price, or spend the same amount and get twice as much for your money.

They look very much the same, they have all the bells, whistles, lights and storage capabilities, but they also have all the latest technology on them - they probably weigh half of what the other bike would be, and they'll last just as long.

But what it comes down to is what "feels" right for you, so if you have a chance to test one out, I'd say go for it. You probably wouldn't want to go through ordering one and shipping it just to find out you don't like how it feels. Oh, and if there is even the slightest of hills around you, I would suggest the three-speed version.

I'm not beyond spending $750 on a well-made bicycle. I paid twice that for my mountain bike, so it would be hypocritical for me to say go with a less expensive bike, but just make sure you're comfortable with the bike you're getting.

Lolo said...

Hey Jeremy,

Thanks, thanks and thanks! Good advice. Yes, I did look around for domestic dealers of Jorg&Olif bikes and other Dutch or European brands. Honestly, I haven't found anything out there yet. I did like you said, take a look at American bikes, there is a quickly emerging genre called "city bikes" or "urban bikes" that are very close to the ones I like. So far, the domestic bicycle that I think most fits my bill is one of Gary Fisher's "Simple City Bikes". They're pricey though.
You are so right about trying the bikes on first, which I will do. Thank you a ton for the offer of help putting the final touches on the bike together. I might just take you up! I know you're a pro. :)
I originally just thought I wanted a neat, vintage bike, but Jon made me realize that I needed a bicycle that wasn't super heavy and frustrating to ride, and one that was new and sturdy enough to carry Noah and I, plus a large basket of groceries or some pannier bags on the back.
Thanks a bunch, lots to consider huh? I will keep you posted!
(Did you see that site with all the photos of people riding in Amsterdam? Looks like fun!)

Jeremy said...

Seriously, if you need any help, lemme know.

I don't discuss it much, but bicycles are one of my passions.

You should check these out:

Schwinn Cruisers

Those "urban" bikes are what used to be known as "hybrid" bikes, which were sort of a cross between cruisers and mountain bikes. They were made to be light and maneuver quickly in traffic.

If utility is what you're after, any cruiser bike will offer that up. And instead of a child seat for the bike, have you seen those awesome trailers they have? Those are way cool, kids love them and if you want to go grocery shopping, you can haul back just as much as you would in your car.

Lolo said...

Thanks Jeremy! You know, I did look at the Schwinn cruisers last night. No doubt VERY cool bikes, but at first they struck me as "too American-retro-beachy" and not European-minimal, but, that said, on your suggestion, I looked again just now. I do like the coffee/cream bike and the Sid/Nancy. Ok, they are officially on my list, thanks!

About the trailers...yeah, not for me. good idea though. We actually have one that my stepsister loaned us. Noah seems to be the only kid who hates sitting in there. He doesn't like to "chill" and sit, that's why a bike seat, up where he can see all of the action, might work better. I know they carry a lot too.
Call me a poser, but, I think it would be fun to replicate the "European version" of the urban utility bike as much as possible. So that means a bug dorky basket and a bike seat.
Thanks again, I really appreciate your input. I might write with some questions.

Lolo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeremy said...

No prob.

The only reason I brought up the trailer is because they have a better safety record than bike seats on a bicycle.

But hey, Europeans don't give a crap about safety, do they? Why should you! (in a non-sarcastic voice fyi)

Question - does Noah have a bike yet? He's at the right age, it might be fun to take up biking as a family activity.

Lolo said...

Ha! Safety-Schmafety!
I know trailers are "safer", but I also think post 1980's Americans are alarmists. So, I will "take my chances" with a seat. I know, my brother and I are lucky to get out of our bike seats alive.

Yeah, Noah is a kick-ass bike rider. I wanted to buy him a "big boy" bike this year and I might, but he has this retro radio flyer trike that's great and he loves zooming around on it. You're right though, family bike rides would be fun. What was Logan's first bike?
Thanks again J.!

Jeremy said...

Logan's first bike was a Schwinn Tiger AL - it's an awesome bike, and I think this summer, we're going to get those training wheels off finally (we bought it towards the end of the summer last year, but he was getting the hang of it by fall).

Sarah said...

If he's biking well, you might consider getting a trail-a-bike and letting him pedal along behind you rather than sitting.

My sister has a Schwinn - not sure what but one of those granny bike-looking things.

Sarah said...

This is it I think -

Lolo said...

Jeremy, I remember the pictures of Logan on the Tiger, AWESOME! I remember my Dad teaching me to ride without training wheels, it's such freedom. I bet Logan will do great, take pictures! Go Logan! :)

Hi Sarah, those trail-a-bike's are neat. I still kind of want to have a more "minimalist" bike, the trail-a-bike is a little too "Mommy" for me, and since Noah is already a huge back seat driver, I think sitting on half a bike "almost" biking, would really frustrate him. I think it's all or nothing with Noah. I'd like him to ride along side on trike or bike, but somedays, it's good to strap him in and go I'd think.

Meagan has an interesting bike. I kind of like this Schwinn: http://www.schwinnbike.com/products/bikes_detail.php?id=1027
But I still try to hunt down a Dutch bike in the U.S. Some way, somehow!

Thanks for the comments guys!

Sarah said...

Hate to break it to you, chickie, but a granny bike w/ a basket and a bike seat is pretty "mommy" too :)

I do understand what you mean about aesthetic - I just thought Noah might be more likely to be satisfied if he was actually DOing rather than just riding...

Lolo said...

Hey Sarah,

No, I'm not looking for a "granny bike" at all. What I'd really like, if you see the original Jorg&Olif link, is a type of classic continental European bicycle, known as a "Dutch shopping bicycle" or a "Utility bike" or an "Urban or city Bike". Well, Different in aesthetics and purpose from a granny bike, or at least the link you put up. Many bikes in Europe have huge baskets for carrying goods and extra seats for multiple riders, I don't think it's just a Mom thing. I guess I should say that the trail-a-bike is a neat product, but too "American Mom" for me, I'd like something different, more simple, less complicated.

I get your logic with Noah and peddling. I think because the tailer is essentially riding a bike minus steering, he would get very frustrated that he can't lead or "Drive". If I strap him into a bike seat, I take the idea of being in control out of his head, therefore avoiding a power struggle, and as I remember from being a kid, sitting up high, with the wind in your hair, can be lots of fun!