Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Zen of Gasoline on My Bicycle


With beginner's mind I sit on my bike before the sign, and breathe

Do what it says. Pay up. Or choose not to.

In my heart as well as my imagination I see the falling down of this particular cheap-oil-dependent way of doing things since the cheap oil is going going gone, and being replaced with wild profiteering price swings, and desperate expensive environment-destroying technological gambles in an era of ever-rising demand around the world, but: I observe my breathe going in, going out, as I spin my feet around a small circle and propel myself forward under my own power. 

I gaze on all the mind-blowingly expensive shiny ego-boosting metal boxes blasting down the road at high speeds with CO2 billowing out of their exhaust pipes moving 4000 pounds of steel and technology to carry 200 pounds of flesh to the store or work, and I think that soon, soon, all of it will be worth so very little, the market value of the gas fuelled vehicles will plunge as the oil to run them skyrockets in price, but I pause mid-gaze to observe the words themselves running around my brain, those fickle, unpredictable, unreliable, willful words bouncing around of their own dubious accord, and this much the still small voice knows: no one knows what the sunrise brings, except for light. Maybe it will all work out, maybe the dinosaurs will live on.

Though I seldom drive and haven't run my credit card through a pump scanner in months, I, too, recite the mantras to save the oily soul: Athabasca, Green River Formation, fracking, but they bring me no peace, and I fall back to sitting in quiet on my bicycle seat, assuming my semi-crouched position of meditation, breaking through the harsh vidiotic noise with the clear sounding of my dingy bell: ding ding. Here and now, the fact of cheap energy pumped easily from the ground is at an end. A hundred bucks a week is too much for gas. Five thousand dollars a year is too much to pay for something I can easily, and better, do with my own power, with my own two feet. The chain running through the sprockets does not drown out the sound of morning birds like an ill-muffled exhaust of an ego-boosting truck roaring past. The mockingbird rolls out his repertoire as I roll past, and it flows through me with words or mantra: morning music, true pure and noncommercial. 

If I divert my bicycle into the park in order to pause a moment to roll around in the grass on a warm spring morning, I make no excuses. I do not have to explain myself to you as you drive by in your car. I am I, here, in this park at this moment, rolling. There is no charge for doing so. It is free. I am unencumbered. Have you felt that lately? Whenever I drove past the endless signs like the one at the top of this post, with the price rising (and it may sting to consider how much that is market demand driven profiteering, plus taxation), it wasn't that I didn't have the money to pay for the gas, no. It was a feeling of being powerless and having to pay whatever was asked, whatever the profiteers and taxers demanded. I cringed, I died a little bit inside. Until I freely chose to drastically curtail my gasoline buying by drastically curtailing my driving. My choice. My decision to roll in the grass in the park instead, and spend my hard-earned money elsewhere.

I respect anyone's decision to do otherwise, to keep driving, to keep paying whatever price is demanded, but I do not respect many of the excuses offered, since anyone clearly has the opportunity to examine their reasons, to see if they are, in fact, excuses, for choosing not to get around under their own power: it's not hard, it's not expensive, it's definitely not all blood sweat and tears. The sleek and determined visages designed onto the front of our vehicles appear to offer the possibility of personal transformation, with the implied sexy promise that as they move us rapidly and powerfully from A to B, they also will remake us into someone or something better. With a good shiny new one we can do anything and be anyone. This is what we are sold. Then we arrive at our destinations, eventually, poorer of money, poorer of time lost in commutes down endless stretches of pavement populated with thousands of others doing the same, having added tons of CO2 to the atmosphere, and find that we are not transformed, merely lessened. But, go ahead, tell yourself the car story. 

My story is that I ride a bicycle, and I'm rolling around in the grass in the park. That sign above no longer gets me down, but merely serves as one more focus point for my detached meditation practice, since it signifies nothing to me any more. I won't do what it says, I won't pay up. Pretty white numbers floating on a calm blue background. A hidden, secret code which says: sell your car, ride a bicycle, and seek out a quiet spot of your own to enrich your inner life, rather than working another day to fill the pockets of some oil profiteer on the other side of the world. 

The bicycle story truly is one of transformation: of physical weight loss, improved fitness, economic advantage, and a lighter heart. I observe my own breath going in, going out. I am that, and it feels like smooth balanced motion.

    

12 comments:

  1. Wow. You write really good. I'll take the bicycle story.

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    1. RANTY with the cheap gas you have the bicycle story is more of a challenge, I would think.

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  2. Ding, ding and ding! Great post!

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    1. Thank you Ben. It's kind of crazy how many cyclists ding back at me, when I ding my bell at them. And nice.

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  3. Nice piece. Been commuting by bike for about a year. Not completely free yet but making a move in the next couple of months that will allow my family of six to keep the monthly gas budget to less than $100, even with the higher prices. And in the next couple of years hopefully totally gas free. Thanks for the work on your blog.

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    1. Thanks Steve K. We're also a "car-light" family here, and trying to figure out how to stay that way when the kids reach driving age.

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  4. Rantwick now knows why we Americans are a poor country. Gas is $1.37 up here.

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    1. So you're saying the market for huge gas guzzling Merikan Trucks is on the rise up there?

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  5. Mrs. Cat, who drives but doesn't ride, has often said she wishes they'd run the gas price up to 10 bucks a gallon; she says she'd laugh like crazy as she drives her little Honda by all those parked SUV's.

    I have told her "Noooooo! At that price, as I rode my bike by the gas stations, my grin would be SO wide it'd HURT!"

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    1. At ten bucks a gallon, I think we will be seeing bicycle traffic jams..hey, wait a sec...

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  6. Nice essay.

    Somewhere is an essay I wrote for HBL as I was moving out of Honolulu. There was an abandoned old road, the Old Pali Road, that went along the Pali Highway, winding underneath or snaking near to the new four laner before ending at the Pali Overlook. As I cycled off the main road in Kailua and onto the little secondary road that led to the abandoned one, I was increasingly aware of how quiet it was and how I could suddenly hear the sounds of the tropical forest. For all those folks up on the superhighway, that was a sound unlikely to be noted or appreciated. Funny how Joni Mitchell was so right: we could indeed pave Paradise and put in parking lots.

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    1. Khal, next time I visit HI, some cycling with the goal of finding some of that stillness is in the plan. I did hike the Awa`awapuhi Trail, which was nearly deserted, and very still.

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