July 7 2011 Ride: Embracing Change

After a gentle reacquaintance with The Viva Kilo the day before, I knew it was time to drive the bike over to Ballard to see Fritz the Wonder Boy at Dutch Bike Co. to get the front drum brake cable adjusted. When I purchased The Viva from them, Dutch Bike warrantied it for a year. While this provided me with peace of mind, it also meant that any repairs on the bike required over an hour of driving through Seattle’s warren of freeways and back-streets to the Scandinavian corner of the city. I loaded the bike up, girded myself for battle, and headed out. Fortunately, the roads were relatively empty, and I arrived at Dutch Bike in no time: less than an hour.

To be fair, I had another reason to go to Dutch Bike: I had volunteered to facilitate a Craigslist deal for someone on Bike Forums. Yeah, that Bike Forums. I’m still there, but trying to affect a thicker skin. There are too many nice folks to let the trolls get to me, though they still do, sometimes. I figure the occasional troll-battle is good for me. You know, it builds character, or whatever. Anyway, a gentleman named Scott emailed me and asked if I would be willing to pick up a bike and then drop it off at my local bike shop to be mailed to him. That was all I had to do, so I agreed. The seller was happy to meet me at Dutch Bike. Before I met him there, though, I wanted Fritz to take a look at The Viva.

I wheeled the bike into the shop. “What happened?” Fritz asked immediately. “My drum brake cable slipped and the lever is soft, see?” Literally ten seconds later, it was fixed. It was the sort of simple fix that makes you feel like a bit of a fool for not being able to do it yourself. Ah well, I know my strengths, and fixing bikes isn’t one of them. I decided, while I was there, to add a taillight to The Viva’s fender, and Dutch Bike had just what I needed, a Spanninga SPXbA fender-mounted taillight. But that would have to wait, as Fritz was headed out to lunch. I wandered out to the parking lot to check on the arrival of the seller, but he was running late. Instead, I took a picture of the back of Dutch Bike, which is in the bottom of an amazing modern building, butting right up against the vintage brick behemoth that is Ballard Hardware.

I have to admit, I like the juxtaposition here of the modern with the simplicity of the older building. I’m not always a modern architecture fan, but this works for me. The picture also turned out to be portentous, considering the rest of the ride. Note The Viva waiting patiently in Dutch Bike’s rear rack. It dwarfs the other bikes parked there, being a Danish giant.

Dutch Bike has a new employee, a very nice young woman named Val. I kept her company for a few minutes while I waited for the seller to arrive with Scott’s bike. Val is, without question, one of the most beautiful women I have ever met (sorry folks, no pictures), but she’s also sweet and cheerfully chatty, so that meant I wasn’t as intimidated as I might have been by her sheer gorgeousness. Also, I’m old. When I was her age, someone as beautiful as she is would have made me feel uncomfortable, but now I’m so far beyond young and pretty that I’m not bothered anymore. I’m not saying I’m not attractive, but you know, I’m not twenty-gorgeous, which is its own brand of beautiful.

Finally, the seller arrived, the deal was completed, and I was free to go ride the Burke Gilman Trail. Dutch Bike is about half a mile from the trailhead, winding through the back streets of Ballard.

Though Ballard used to be a working, industrial area of the city (it still is, at the port), the last twenty years have changed much about this borough. A certain hip young crowd discovered the relatively cheap housing here, and moved in with their faux-Scandinavian-named condos (the Häagen Dazs of condos, I guess), specialty breweries and boutique clothing stores. Of course, this has created a real tension between the older residents and the younger families. Nowhere is this tension better illustrated than at the home of Edith Macefield.

Edith owned a small house close to the wharf area in Ballard, where she lived by herself. As the neighborhood became gentrified, her neighbors sold their houses to a developer looking to build a shopping center called “Ballard Blocks.” Edith, who was in her eighties and had no family, refused to sell. Soon, the developer had offered her a million dollars for her tiny house, but she was insistent that the money meant little to her: all she wanted was to die in her home. The developer built the Blocks around her home. Edith died in 2008, after befriending the building’s lead contractor in the last months of her life. She left the house to him. Though I had read about her battle and even seen a picture of the home, I didn’t realize it still existed, nor did I realize I had ridden by it literally half a dozen times without seeing it! But today, I saw it, and it stopped me in my tracks.

I don’t know how the heck I rode right past this little house again and again without seeing it. Suddenly, it leaped out at me and grabbed my heart. I was actually breathless with shock. Nothing I had read had prepared me for the reality of Edith’s home.

The east side of the house is the most visible to the passer-by. The slat-board wall sits just over a foot from the concrete of the new building.

The house is now so neglected that I could see light from the rear window through the wall. The contractor who inherited the house has sold it to a company which runs motivational seminars. Supposedly, they plan to elevate the house to nearly the level of the surrounding building, and build a park beneath. This seems a bit unlikely to me at this point.

Right now, a chain-link fence about eight feet high surrounds the house, doubling the small fence Edith put there when the house was part of a neighborhood. A portapotty sits on the western side of the house, but I can’t imagine anyone uses it.

I was touched by Edith’s home in ways that are hard to explain. On the one hand, the small details of the home itself reminded me of the stubborn tenacity of its owner. The house is nothing special, really, architecturally. It has no street appeal if taken on its own. But here was Edith’s porch light, which she must have switched on in the evening, when the fishing boats were returning to the wharf through the nearby Ballard locks.

And beside it, the metal holder for her coiled hose, assumedly there to help her water a garden that no longer exists.

Edith’s home seems to me to be the epitome of everything both beautiful and foolish in human nature. Her cussedness pleases the side of me that hates the ugly progress represented by the Blocks. Unlike the building where Dutch Bike is housed, this development adds nothing but a big, black wall to the neighborhood where it was placed. It may utilize space with efficiency, but it has little soul. Edith’s home puts the brutality of this into stark perspective.

On the other hand, we are such funny creatures — attached to things of relative impermanence. Edith could have used that money to live in a comfortable nursing home, where she would have been well cared-for as she grew too sick to live on her own. In the end, that was where she ended up anyway, after a bad fall. What folly it is to cling to something with such bullheadedness, when there are obvious benefits to accepting progress as it is. Of course, had she moved right away, she would never have met that kind building contractor and had the friendship they nurtured despite their differences.

Years ago, I studied Buddhism with the idea of “converting.” I chose not to go that formal route, in the end, as I’m not really suited to any one school of thought. I like the idea, though, that suffering comes from our inability to accept change. If we would only allow ourselves to roll with life’s inevitable shifts, we could be free to attain nirvana. Buddhists understand, however, how hard this is. Suffering, they maintain, is inevitable precisely because this idea is so contrary to our nature as human beings. We will suffer, we will resist. I think what eventually convinced me that I was not a Buddhist was the visceral beauty I saw in that resistance, in that suffering. Edith resisted change with all her might, and left us a beautiful reminder of how ephemeral we really are.

Finally, having taken my photos and started my philosophizing, I headed out for the rest of my ride.  A cloudy Thursday afternoon is a whole new experience in terms of the normally-crowded Burke Gilman Trail. The emptiness suited my desire to just ride and think. The Viva and I had a quiet time toodling along, without worrying about being slaughtered by some reckless commuter doing 30 to get home for dinner, or a joyriding roadie trying to be Lance Armstrong in the middle of the city.

We stopped to take photos in places where I’m normally too worried about being plowed over to pause. The Viva and I approve of this little blue bridge, the Fremont Bridge, which connects Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood to Queen Anne hill. It opens around 35 times a day, making it the “most frequently opened drawbridge in the United States,” according to Wikipedia, which knows EVERYTHING. That said, we have never seen it open, so (insert suspicious look here)… who knows.

This bridge, the Aurora Bridge, is quite a beauty as well. I didn’t realize, until consulting the above-mentioned Font of All Knowledge, that it is actually called the George Washington Memorial Bridge. At any rate, it’s a lovely spot for a photo of Lake Union. I believe I have now photographed this bridge in some form every time I’ve ridden this trail.

Next to the bridge is another species of rare, small house, stubbornly clinging to a lifestyle many folks believe is coming to a close: the houseboat.

As romantic as these houses seem, they are inordinately expensive to buy and to maintain, routinely selling for a million dollars when they are under 1000 square feet. Even in a pricey city, that’s a bit rich. Will there still be houseboats on Lake Union in 50 years? I have no idea. But I like them now, even if I wouldn’t ever be able to afford to live in one.

The Viva and I stopped to take a photo by this charming mural, which has been featured here before. We had time to align the picture just the way I wanted it, which is hard given that it’s on the other side of the trail (and the non-drive side of the bike). Normally, we’d be signing our own death-warrant by stopping here.

We soon returned, having ridden just over twelve miles. The Viva is too heavy to take for rides amounting to much more than that. Fritz was back, but it was Val who installed my taillight. Fritz was helpful though. As she started to wrench off the wheel, he gently suggested she simply deflate the tire instead, so she could loosen the bolt holding the reflector in place. He was very patient with her obvious inexperience, and she soon had the fender adjusted and all was right with the world. Pictures of the new taillight will happen in the next ride, as I forgot to take one after I left. Val also had to help me in the parking lot, when Scott’s bike and The Viva became entangled on my rear rack as I was loading them up. It’s one thing to put one giant Danish monster on a rack, another to add a second bike, even a slim vintage Fuji roadbike. We got it, though.

I drove home with both bikes, and later dropped the Fuji off at GHY for shipping to Scott. He’s enticing me with a possible bike to add to my collection, cheap, as a reward for my fetching of his new bike. I’ll keep you updated, should this exchange occur! It would be… wait for it… quite a change from what I usually ride.

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7 Responses to July 7 2011 Ride: Embracing Change

  1. monk says:

    I don’t know how they came to be known as “trolls” but it sure ruined the book for me. I had my own bad experience with one on YouTube. Now every time I read that story to my granddaughters I keep hoping the troll drowns, which of course he never does. Love the way you related Edith’s story. I had my own burst of emotions as I read that and viewed your photos. I could relate as I have my own stubborn streak, but even I would have taken the million so I’m not even in her league. 😉

  2. Auchen says:

    Edith Macefield abjured change for a little houseful of memories: I am sure every board, nook and cornice was for her a vestige of her youth, her love and happiness. -The very same things we all cling to.

    We all KNOW that change will ultimately prevail, and yet we resist. I think there is something more heroic in that, than the passive acceptance of our fate.

    (I guess I’m not a Buddhist either.)

    PS_ Don’t complain about trolls if you persist in riding your bike under all those bridges. 🙂

  3. Erin B says:

    Gasp! Are you getting a Unicycle?!

  4. rideblog says:

    Monk, I grew up reading D’Aulaire’s Book of Trolls, which is wonderful. In it, the authors explain that trolls have “troll splinters” in their eyes, which cause them to see everything backwards: good looks bad, ugly looks beautiful… and when a troll dies, it’s eyes shatter and those troll splinters fly out and hit human beings, which is why sometimes we see things backwards. I loved that explanation, even now.

    And yeah, I’m stubborn, but very few of us are Edith-stubborn!

  5. rideblog says:

    See, Auchen, I should have known that the bridges were the problem! Actually, the problem with BF is that many of the “mean” posters aren’t trolls. They’re there all the time, and are more bullies than trolls. But I’ve been slowly learning who they are, and as I learn to recognize them, I find it easier to let their comments slide off my back. It’s when I perceive someone who seems trustworthy as being suddenly mean that I get flustered. Then I just add them to the list, if I can’t resolve the problem privately. I hate having to have a list, but that’s life.

    With Edith, having read about her, I don’t think she had that much invested in the house, per se. I think that’s why I would stay somewhere: that investment in the memories of a place. Though she had lived there a long time, I think her motives were more complex, and at the same time simpler: she just wanted to stay put. This blog has a reprint of a great article about her. She told people she was a spy in WW2, and wrote a book she dediced to a man who claims to have briefly been just her doctor, but the book is about lasting love in the face of rejection and lonliness. Strange lady… interesting. Here’s the link.

  6. rideblog says:

    Erin, no. That would be sort of awesome, but no. I did work somewhere once with what I think would now be known as a bunch of hipsters, though we just called ’em tech nerds. They were into whatever stupid trend was making the rounds that week, and would do it like it was the greatest thing ever, then forget all about it. For a short time, it was unicycling. My ex tried to do it and even bought one. Epic fail. I never spent more than 10 seconds on one. It was most definitely NOT for me.

    No, this is a bike. It’s just not like anything else I’ve owned. I’m about 80% sure it’s coming my way now, but don’t want to give anything away until it’s for sure, and even then, it’s going to require some alterations to work for me. Stay tuned… it may surplant Dream Bike for a while, at least financially :).

  7. Pingback: August 26 and 27 Rides: Betrayal and Redemption | rideblog

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