A cyclist is a cyclist
There are cyclists who ride for fitness.
Cyclists who ride for pure joy.
Cyclists who commute.
And, of course, cyclists who have no other wheel-powered choice in their lives than the bicycle.
I’m reminded of that last group each morning on my commute. Along with a healthy doze of commuters, I pass an always somewhat surprising number of cyclists who don’t have a home, yet have a bike.
A number of them react with surprise when I offer the same greeting I would offer to anyone on a bike. Almost always, they respond in some manner. Even if it’s just a puzzling look.
Each time I pass, I think back to a time when I lived outside of San Diego. A good friend of mine was working on a project for a college class. I went out with him, video camera in hand, to interview some homeless individuals.
You might imagine what some of their life stories sounded like. Real life tragedies. Yet, almost to a person, we heard the same sentiment. We don’t want pity, they said, but we do want acknowledgment.
I remember Jack better than anyone. When we approached Jack, and asked if he’d talk to us, he couldn’t stop staring in disbelief. Then he wouldn’t stop talking. The most painful thing, Jack said, is being ignored. Seeing people purposely look away, least they make eye contact.
I’ve tried to remember that lesson. Always.
We’re coming upon an emotional time of the year for me. Just after Labor Day 2008, as summer began to slip to memory, I got laid off. It would be more than two years before I gained full-time employment again. Yes, eventually landing this job, here at Bike Friday.
While still unemployed back in 2010, I ventured past one of the homeless here in Eugene. He had his bicycle and bike trailer pulled beneath an underpass, with the trailer up on a rock. He’d pulled off his tire. Needed to repair a flat. And find a way to pump it up. It’s a long ride to the nearest gas station with free air, he said.
I didn’t have a 20-inch spare on me, nor could my presta connection help his Schraeder valve. But I was, I had to admit, on my way to a bike store. If he promised to sit tight, I’d return and help out. He said he’d wait.
I couldn’t tell him I was headed to exchange a pair of cycling gloves that were under the tree on Christmas morning. They were nice. Really nice. They fit. But cycling gloves, given our employment status, became a luxury item, at least in my mind.
When I got to the shop, I exchanged the gloves. For a couple of spare tubes. And a portable pump. I gladly paid the difference.
Upon my return, of course, he tried to make a big deal about it. He thanked me. Pointed out at least 20 other cyclists had ridden right past, and just ignored him. I was the only one to even speak to him. He felt guilty when I told him to keep the pump.
Don’t worry about, I told him, I’d do the same for any cyclist.