169 tagged with #daily

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how to bike on black ice

my bike creaks and rattles down the hallway; salt crust and dirt clogs the chain and builds up under the fenders. someone in a black university hoodie stays at the door when i'm on my way out, holding it open so i can scoot past.

'there you go, get on out!'

and at the second door, someone on their way in holds it open for me, too. 'nice, one shot to get through!' i laugh, and the first door-holder laughs with me. 'just the way i like it!'

i nearly splatter into the curb as soon as my tires hit the sidewalk; the world is an unexpected sheet of ice, with a fine dusting of powder on top. my shoes have no tread, but they miraculously balance on the ground as i pause to collect myself.

none of the cars are happy in this. for the most part, they tentatively creep along, but there's the occasional daredevil whose decided that maximum velocity through every intersection is the only way.

against all my expectations, i can creep slowly uphill. there's fresh powder in the bike lane, which gives me more traction than trying to ride on the tire-beaten slick ice that encases the road.

here's how you survive on black ice:

  • keep your center of gravity low; this means you should weight the pedals more, lifting yourself slightly off the seat.
  • go slow. expect to go slow. expect to be cold because you have to go slow.
  • do not brake. if you must brake, gently engage the rear brake, and only very tentatively feather the front brake if you somehow managed to go so fast that your rear brake is not enough to slow you down.
  • (if you lock your rear brake, that's okay; do not panic. ride out the skid. let the bike pick a direction to slide, and slide with it. do not lock your front brake. do not lock your front brake.)
  • if a car's windows are still snowed over, there's probably no one in it, and it's probably okay to ride in the door zone. at the door zone, there's more likely to be a sliver of snow covering the ice. this is a risk, because it encourages cars to pass you closely, but consider this risk against the cost of failure if you ride on a patch of ice, fall over, and are in front of a car that cannot easily stop.
  • dismount before you reach a tricky spot. if you need to dismount during a tricky spot, you will have a much harder time staying upright.

i hopped between spaces where parked cars had left; those dry squares became islands where it was safe for me to put down a foot. memories flooded my body, of other times when i needed to balance and control my motion. you have to be calm. you have to be quiet. you have to know that you've got it, and know when you don't got it. never move aggressively, never show off, never let hubris take over when you've successfully navigated six slippery intersections without a single wheelspin.

i've had lessons in this before. a snowboarding instructor, trying to help me figure out how to straighten my legs easily enough so the edge of the board bit into the snow. a motorcycle instructor, constantly bellowing 'keep your head and eyes up', with reminders to look where you aspire to be, not where you wish you weren't. a surf instructor, who coached my timing because i didn't know it yet, but gave me the space to discover that when i stopped thinking about why something worked, it worked better.

the world is a mashup of anti-lock brakes firing, and i stare with disbelief that four blocks of rubber have enough friction to stop a minivan from sliding into me. other pedestrians share the look on my face, more than they usually do, of survival and worry for other people not in metal boxes or brick buildings. a pair of them come up behind me as i carefully remount at an intersection.

'oh, be careful,' one of them mother-hens at me.

'yeah. yeah, this is hard.'

'this is all ice,' the other one says as i gingerly walk my way across.

'yeah. i know.'

'just take the sidewalk,' he recommends. 'it's clearer up there.'

and i scoot past them, following one other set of bike tracks. the sidewalk is all snow, not yet packed, and i can hear the ice below it when my tires crush a pattern through it. two people walking out to their car in the parking lot, one of them inhales in shock. 'a cyclist!' she identifies. 'i can't believe it!'

she speaks in the tone of voice that motorists often do, that 'i am in an enclosed object and you cannot hear me, but even if you could hear me, i do not care, because soon i will be far away from you' declaration.

seeing is believing, ma'am, i say in my head. i'm safer biking than driving.

'but you could fall over!' i imagine her protesting, because her four wheels are certainly more stable than mine.

sure, but if i lose control, i'm much less likely to kill someone.

the conversation i wish i could have with everyone who chooses a car in these conditions. the hanging accusation that they are irresponsible for choosing their own comfort of being in a warm, four-wheeled object that will effortlessly transport them home, while overlooking the potential for harm that decision carries. every time they show concern for me, i wish they would acknowledge that they could be driving safer, they could be following the speed limit, they could be stopping at stop signs, they could be passing me with reasonable amounts of space.

a woman stands in the middle of the sidewalk, her back to me, texting. 'excuse me,' i chirp optimistically while i approach.

'whoa,' she turns, and she looks like she could be one of my aunts. 'be careful! don't fall down!' i laugh; i haven't fallen yet this season. i don't mind falling. it's the cars that might not stop for me that i mind.

it used to be hard for me to bike up this hill, in my city of hills. on a fair day with a freshly tuned bike, i'd struggle and stare down at my knees slowly bobbing up and down, because the sight of the endless slope rising above me would demoralize me. now, it's a gentle cruise with a week's worth of groceries on a grumpy frozen bike with questionable traction. this is how i know i've grown stronger, more stubborn, more experienced over the years.

this is how i know i exist.

24 January 2018 22:53


it's hard to grasp thoughts these days. i pedal through my street and feel the thoughts churn through my head, phrases stitching into sentences, and my impression of them is that they are good. they are gone by the time i reach any place. were they ever real? my life is dreams.


my life is sliding under the sky; my life is a fender that persistently rubs against the wheel. my life is dogs that strain at leashes when i pass them. my life is a series of exhales, each of which removes something from my body so that there is room to bring something else in. of course, it's not possible to control what comes in; that's what my snot is for. that's what my lungs are for. that's what my blood cells are for. these parts of my body sift through what passes by and grips the pieces it wants to survive.


this week's rules for reading the news: throughout the day, feel free to queue up articles indiscriminately. when you go to bed, anything from the day that you have not read through, you may dequeue forever.

there's no real reason to take in every set of words that anyone else has ever produced.

23 January 2018 14:42


bruce understands some words, and some expectations, sometimes. he barks when i carry my bike the dozen or so steps to his porch; the barks quell when he hears a key slip into the lock. 'place,' i say, as he starts to nose toward me. he turns and sits in his bed, just out of reach of the door. 'stay, bruce.'

i've taught him over the half dozen meetings we've had that it's not fun if he jumps on me immediately on greeting. he sits quietly in front of me, though he's twitching with the effort of containing his enthusiasm. 'good. gooood, bruce.' once he receives a pat on the head, he bounds away, taking a lap around the living room. we've completed the meeting, so he jumps on me. i turn and sidestep, and he crashes to the floor behind me. he's learning, here, that jumping on me after we've already met is also not fun. next time, maybe he'll accept a second compliment before jumping on me again. how high can a dog count?

when i walk with a dog, an entire channel of thought drops out of my head. i know that for the dog to behave its best, my head must stay quiet; there are too many distractions already, smells and sounds and threats. bruce doesn't need to feel my tension when i anticipate what the dog three blocks down might say to us. bruce doesn't need to second-guess my hesitation for dashing across the street on a yellow light. bruce doesn't need me to look down whenever his head whips aside to catch a scent.

bruce needs me to show him how we carefully, quietly, calmly walk to campus. i can do that. i can't not do that.

my mind is never as quiet as it is when i'm holding one end of a leash and the other end is attached to a dog. i fantasize about having a dog of my own, one i can teach to be a good dog in the world, one that will follow me and trust me and respond to me; i wonder what the long term effects of such a quiet brain might have on me.

22 January 2018 20:52


the roof heats up; all night long, we listened to the song of ice blocks freed from each other, gathering speed as they slide along the slots between tiles, sounding like large claws scraping across hollow scales, a hitch of breath as they launch over the gutter, an impact. sometimes, they shatter like a dropped pot on the brickwork; others, it's a dull thud into melted snow.

in the morning, the front step is littered with unmelted remnants; i listen for the ominous crack of another projectile being sloughed by the house before i step out from under the eaves. when i clear the threshold without getting pelted, i look back at the roof.

it's already dry.

21 January 2018 16:07

Not Sunday

A long, rainy day. There are few days when I do not leave the house. But they are the days when I lock myself inside my head in an attempt to pry out the thoughts I need to put together.

I've managed to separate the need for pleasure from the need of food, such that I can eat for the pure utility of putting nutrients into my body, regardless of what those nutrients are. I used to wonder how my father could stand to eat plain white rice with plain vegetables and lukewarm water; as time goes on, I become my parents.

That thought used to scare me. It doesn't anymore; it almost becomes a note of pride when I observe it.

Hard boiled eggs are to be eaten in one gulp, whole, unseasoned, with the shell casually peeled away. It's okay if it crunches a little. I needed to clear out the weeks-old celery that doesn't even snap with crispness. Empty cans of cheap lager stack up on my desk. I haven't even stood on the porch in hours.

It's summer. I'm flying away, soon.

I'll be back.

15 May 2014 21:17

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