Sunday, March 13, 2011

29th Avenue and Unknown

Down there, into the unknown

A long time ago, I lived for an extended period in a foreign country which was so different from what I knew that what was actually going on around me at a detailed level was largely unknown to me. Initially, it was a stark and intense experience, to feel so cut off and alienated, and as time went by, of course I learned more of the language and culture and the separateness decreased. But, also, as time went by, I became more comfortable with not knowing, and for me, that was an eye-opening experience. I figured out that the intensity of the feeling of alienation arises from the way that we normally see ourselves against the fabric of the familiar culture and society around us, and when that fabric is removed and replaced with something utterly foreign and unintelligible, we can ourselves become lost and unknown. Without the familiar anchors, we're cast adrift. It's like standing in a well-lit room, then turning all the lights off, and feeling a sudden sense of vertigo and space.

It reminds me of an excellent work I saw at the Phoenix Art Museum called "You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies", by Yayoi Kusama. You walk into a pitch black room with mirrors all around, and little LEDs hanging all through the room. It's too dark to see much except the points of light reflected in the infinite field of the reflected reflections, and you, more or less a dark shadow, moving through and among them. It's entirely disconcerting at first, but then you grow accustomed to it, and being obliterated by a dancing swarm of fireflies becomes something delightful, or transcendent.

Which brings me to Saturday's ride. Mid-80s. Single-digit humidity. A light breeze. When you ride up to some of the tunnels along the Arizona Canal, you can look down and see all the way, or almost all the way, through them, and you know what you're getting yourself into. You can tell if they are clear, or if there is a family with a mother pushing a jogging cart with twins in it followed by two kids on tricycles. Some of the other tunnels are like this one, though, some more than others, where you just can't see. Prudence, safety, common sense, would dictate slowing the hell down, announcing your approach, exercising due caution.

On Saturday's ride, I decided to lengthen the normal route, yet still ride it at the same pace I usually do on the workout rides, which is fast enough so that I am pretty much spent when I roll up the driveway. Do that, but add six miles, see how that goes. At least the weather was perfect. This was just between me and the fixed-gear bike, nothing stopping us, no strong wind to complicate the equation. Only longer.

I tried to clear my mind, and as I hit my pace and kept going beyond my normal turn-around point, it seemed to me that my mind was clearing so much that I was forgetting myself. Not obliterated in a dancing swarm of fireflies or anything, just my mind slipping itself of itself for a little while. It gave me an overwhelming sense of not feeling tired when maybe I had an excuse to feel tired; it gave me the strength to keep going when maybe I could have easily invented an excuse to turn around. I kept going. And then I came to the 29th Avenue tunnel, when you can't really see what's coming. I just put my head down, and spun that fixed-gear faster and faster going down the ramp. I hugged the wall and dinged my bell, just in case, and plunged into the shadows. Somewhere down at the bottom, near the edge of that shadow, below the cyclist symbol, I evaporated and no one was on my bicycle. Just for an instant. When I rematerialized, the chain caught my clips and kicked my feet back into their circular spin. Where had "I" gone in that moment? 29th and Unknown. Get up. Go ride.



  1. Man, those underpasses are cool.

  2. And not just figuratively! In the summer when you plunge into them, you can feel the drop in temperature, somewhere between "cave" and "basement".


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