Running From Consumerism (September 18, 2013)

I tend to view myself as an independent thinker. I’ve been a target of mass marketing, commercialism and political ideology like everyone else. But historically, I’ve congratulated myself on the ability to understand exactly what I’m hearing and maintain my own truths against the assault of outside influence. Deluded fool that I am. While out for a regularly scheduled run last Friday evening, I stopped dead in my tracks near the completion of mile five to face an uncomfortable truth: I am a member of the culture of consumerism’s well-tended flock of sheep.

It all started innocently enough. I jogged past a café and noticed an adorable red bicycle locked to a post. I own a cutie pie 2011 model red Schwinn Madison myself. However L’il Red is a bit beat up after high volume use, and an unfortunate wreck last Election Day that left me with a shattered tailbone and sacrum. I am healing slowly and nearly ready to terrorize the streets again. Thus I’ve been debating whether to take L’il Red to the bike hospital or upgrade to a newer model. So as I blew by the café and thought, “Oh! Sweet bike. I want!,” the reflection seemed appropriate.

Other thoughts of which I had no apparent control didn’t seem so logical:

Breezing past a convertible: “Wouldn’t I look cool driving that?” When I have my wits about me, I am THRILLED not to be a car owner. I live in the City of Chicago and wouldn’t go back to the parking hassles, gas prices and city sticker bullshit for anything.

“Those boots would look great with my long trench coat.” No they wouldn’t. I am a sensible shoe wearing lady – gym shoes, flip flops, hiking boots – and when I must dress it up, comfortable flats. Also, I never wear that trench coat. There’s this long, annoying slit in the back and when those famous Chicago winds kick up, the damned thing flies right open.

Trotting past a 7-11 window display: “Pepsi-flavored Cheetos are coming to the US? I have to try those.” I certainly do not. I loathe Pepsi products and the idea of uniting the flavor of the too syrupy cola with cheese flavored processed food should have immediately produced a stomach turn. Plus, um, I’M RUNNING AND THOUGHTS OF CHEETOS HAVE NO PLACE HERE!

And finally, the best for last: “Insidious Chapter 2 made $40 million at the box office last weekend. I wonder if it’s as scary as Saw.” No I don’t! You want to know why? Because I’ve never seen Saw. I avoid horror movies like so many Pepsi-flavored Cheetos because dammit, real life is scary enough. I can’t abide the sight of blood and violence, staged or otherwise. I watch most episodes of Grey’s Anatomy though my hands for Pete’s sake.

Oh the self-flagellation I have deservedly experienced since the conclusion of that eye opening jaunt around the neighborhood. Like the character of Silas, the albino Opus Dei monk featured in The Da Vinci Code, I feel the need for metaphorical bloodletting in order to cleanse myself of lemming disease. This might sound arrogant or naïve but I truly misunderstood the degree to which I am a product (pun intended) of the constant barrage of sales messaging. But now that I am aware of it, I vow to be more on my guard.

Got a bridge to sell me?


Bicycle Bumper Cars Part II (May 5, 2011)

Some of you who have been reading my posts for awhile may recall this one from last October, Bicycle Bumper Carswhich recounted the experience of being knocked off my bike by a heartless hit and run driver.

Since that time I have upgraded bicycles (see photo above) and to say that I am having a love affair with my 2011 Schwinn Madison is possibly the understatement of the year. My Facebook friends are absolutely weary of endless bragging about my mode of transit’s speed, attention grabbing proclivities and general adorableness. Tough for them. I won’t stop.

I used part of the cash settlement I received as an outcome of my separation from Eddie to invest in the cycle. I no longer have a car (one of many things I have had to relinquish post-marriage) and my bicycle is now my primary form of transportation. I needed something light (so I can carry it to my third floor walkup), fast and naturally, aesthetically pleasing. The Madison satisfies all of those requirements.

But apparently, it can’t do much to protect you from other people. Shame.

Yesterday after work, I took advantage of a rare sunny, and somewhat warm Chicago spring day to enjoy a leisurely ride around my neighborhood. I live on a side street in the Rogers Park community and the road is fairly narrow. At one point there was a large SUV that wished to pass me, so I scooted slightly to the right, nearish but not adjacent to a row of parked cars.

I was humming along, enjoying the feeling of warm rays on my face, eyes firmly engaged on the pavement ahead when it happened….

BOOM! Car door! Had I ridden by one second later, it would have missed me altogether. Had I arrived a second earlier, I would have swerved around the careless parkers. Just one of those perfect timing things.

The impact sent me flying over my handlebars. My front right thigh bears a blackened imprint that bears a perfect resemblance to the bar. I landed on the backs of my hands and slightly to the left of my keister, so there are swollen bruises in both of those general areas. But seriously, apparent bad bike karma aside, I must have a guradian angel watching over me. It could and should have been much worse.

My assailants clearly knew they were guilty of attention deficit, because you never saw men so solicitous for my well-being. The real tragedy only became apparent after I stood up and realized that I had not broken any limbs. My beautiful, beautiful bike suffered some scratches, a loosened handlebar grip and – horrors! – a realigned front end. The men held the bike in place and readjusted the forefront of the cycle to a point where I could adequately finish my ride. However I will have to stop at a Schwinn shop for a full workup. Yes, I helicopter parent my bike. What of it?

The gentlemen did have the integrity to ask if I wanted to call the police, but given that I was alive, if shaken, and my baby (Lil’ Red) was operational, I thought it best to put the incident behind me.

I think this narrative provides an accessible metaphor for my life at the moment – a journey into the unknown equally fraught with danger, excitement, and the occasional fall. The bruises adorning my body reflect interior contusions that I often struggle to articulate. I can achieve moments of assured self-confidence yet turn into an insecure sobbing mess just as quickly. There are many things that are exhausting and painful in a divorce, but the sudden removal of a stable identity is among the worst. It presents a tabula rasa on the one hand, yet a sense of failure and isolation on the other.

I mean who are we really as individuals, independent of others? Is such a question even answerable? I am slowly becoming aware, through ample self-reflection and quality therapy, that so much of the construction of “I” is based upon relationships: personal, professional and otherwise. Is there a consistent “Becky” that I could identify, had I been a feral child raised alone in the wilderness, a woman who never met parents, sister, husband or colleagues? Would she have any traits that I would recognize, that would remain after 32 years of being smacked by the car doors of culture and society?

I admit that I am a little more fearful and cautious in my heretofore bat-out-of-hell riding style after yesterday’s dethronement, so perhaps that answers my question.


Boop Bikes to Cougar Town (September 2, 2010)

Cougar Town

Due to a foot injury that has been stubbornly slow to heal, I have had to relinquish my favorite outdoor physical activity: running. Instead, after a few weeks of total rest, my good friend and devoted personal trainer Rob stopped by to give my long-dormant bicycle a once over. Rob is what you might call a bike expert – given that he lives in the city and it’s his chosen (and only) form of transportation. My old Schwinn, under utilized and weather beaten almost beyond recognition, was as good as new after a few minutes of Rob’s McGuyver treatment: brake repair, a little oil and a cleaning, and Ms. Boop was road ready.

Last evening after I returned home from the office, I set out on my second sojourn. My route thus far has been a seven mile course to my old neighborhood and back, ridden at a decidedly relaxed pace. There is some trial and error involved in selecting the right path. Last night I learned that one busy avenue has a handy stretch of bike runs that travel far to the side of traffic, increasing rider safety and allowing me to indulge in the beloved neighborhood voyeurism that is one of the hallmarks of my personality.

These one hour rides provide much time for observation and quiet reflection. I am learning to cherish them as much as I ever did my runs. However, as was the case with the thrice weekly jogs, sometimes unwanted attention or distraction breaks my stride. It seems that a certain subsection of the world’s menfolk interpret an active lady in sportswear as a potential romantic partner, even as she drips in sweat and stops for no conversation. Most of these “gentleman” confine their attentions to a simple honk of the horn or wolf whistle, easy brushed off or avoided by turning up the volume on my iPod.

But for obvious reasons, I do not wear headphones while melding with the street traffic. I try to be a good citizen and observe all the same rules that guide automobiles. I stop at stop signs, use the turn lanes and brake for red lights. As I sat at a long light at the crosswalk of a busy intersection on my way back home, I encountered some suitors who were a little extra obnoxious.

A group of young gentlemen, who could not have been more than 13 or 14 years old, were congregating at the nearby bus stop, trying their luck with a range of ladies that struck their fancy. Most of these “women” were proximate to their own age. Of course that is to be expected. Boys will always be boys, right? But as I waited for the green light, stuck in thoughtful reverie, it suddenly became apparent that these kids actually had the audacity to notice old, sweaty me.

And let’s just say that their use of suggestive language was not the stuff of which a nun might approve. I did my best to tune them out, really I did. Initially, I felt rather flattered (Oh come on boys! Me?). However, as their overtures became increasingly crass, I felt my old Italian temper start to flare up.

And then it happened…

Before I could stop the words from coming out of my mouth, there they were: “Shut up you little assholes! I am old enough to be your mother!”

No. She. Didn’t.

Yes. She. Did.

With two sentences, Becky Boop lowered herself from potentially hot cougar to old, ill-humored and crabby. But the worst crime of all, I say the worst, is that I resorted to the most stereotypical of language, the vernacular of the Mrs. Ropers of the world. While it may in fact be true that I was old enough to be the boys’ mother (had I given birth at 18), why did my cool points betray me by loudly declaring so?

Suddenly the young men didn’t find me so sexy anymore. Blissfully, the light finally turned green and I pedaled away with burning cheeks, the former catcalls having now turned snide laughter.

Moral of the story? The red lights of city streets are clearly way too long.