The Common Good
July 2012

Born to Pedal...

by Ed Spivey Jr. | July 2012

Like Jesus, I'm saving a lot of money on gas.

THE FIRST BUG was a surprise, glancing off my front teeth to lodge in the nosepiece of my fashionable clip-on sunglasses. Note to self: When biking to work, keep your mouth closed. So the second bug was totally my fault, but I defy you to bike three whole miles without exuberantly singing songs from Broadway musicals. (“Oklahoma” is particularly susceptible to bug ingestion.)

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Fortunately, the second insect was quite palatable: chewy, of course, but with an aftertaste of fresh clover and just a hint of oak, suggesting it might go well with a nice pinot noir or, on a particularly hot day, a carafe of iced sangria. (Note: When June bugs are out in force, replace wine with a mint-flavored mouthwash. And flossing is a necessity.)

I BIKE TO work these days because the District of Columbia has strongly suggested I do so, in lieu of spending a year in jail and up to $5,000 in fines. Frankly, I could use the time incarcerated to catch up on my reading, but it seems to me that in imposing a fine they’re just trying to punish me. (Although there’s a chance that was their point.)

This was communicated to me in a letter from the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (SATAN). Using the terse and unforgiving language of a junior high school principal, it informed me that my license has been suspended for 180 days. But I can explain:

You know how it is when you’re northbound on I-95, a highway of mind-numbing flatness, like Kansas, but with more Starbucks. And you know how it is when you’re driving your hybrid electric car and feeling your oats—or, for younger people not familiar with that expression, feeling your Red Bull—and you want to see how fast you can go while STILL getting 58 miles per gallon.

And you know how it is when you get pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy from Unnamed Rural County, Virginia, and you decelerate safely onto the shoulder and reach into the glove compartment for your registration, taking care not to look like you’re hurriedly assembling a shoulder-fired missile launcher.

And you know how it is when the police officer gets out of his car, walks up, and his young, round face fills your window, prompting you to wonder if you should helpfully point out the spot he’d missed during that morning’s shave. (But sometimes, at life’s critical moments, it’s best to count to 10 before being helpful.)

Well, apparently this young man can’t keep a secret and notified D.C.’s Department of Motor Vehicles (LUCIFER), and its computer immediately assigned 12 points to my driving record, meaning that this otherwise blameless and innocent citizen must now use the same number of carbon credits that Jesus did during his ministry, but with a better bicycle.

Of course, Jesus didn’t arrive at his destinations with helmet hair, which would have muted the enthusiasm of the crowds. (“Dude, what’s with his hair?” “Shut up, he’s talking. And I heard he brought food.”) But after biking to work, much of my day is spent with hair that flairs up around the edges, making me look like one of those African Cape buffaloes, or a young Mary Tyler Moore.

On the plus side of biking, I do get to wear super-hip reflective ankle ties, which make my pant legs balloon up attractively, and an orange safety vest that just drips cool.

SO WHILE ONCE I was an assertive driver, commanding the road with speed and skill, now I’m a two-wheeler and a militant advocate for biking rights. I proudly claim the curb side of the road, and respond adamantly to vehicular intrusions. “You honking at ME?!” I shout back, resisting the temptation to question the driver’s maternal lineage, adding, “What part of ‘bike lane’ don’t you understand?!”

I also walk a lot, as Jesus did, communing with the common folk that make this nation so great, when they’re not shoving each other out of the way to get into a subway car.

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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