There’s a lot of shuffling going on at home. New nanny is driving Grace’s car. Grace is driving my car. I’m driving…
For just under 7 years, I’ve been driving to San Francisco every day. I’ve just calculated that I spent about $36K on parking during that time, plus gas. We’ve always lived near public transportation, but each time I try it, I find it would be just easier to drive. Now the closest BART/Caltrain station is only about 1.5 miles from home, but by the time I drive, park, pay, get on train, it’s like 20 minutes and I could have been almost to the city by then. For a few years, Grace and I commuted together, so the cost was for both of us, which helped to justify it.
I’ve been joking/talking about getting a Vespa to ride to BART (which conveniently stops just below my building) for a while now. Over the past month or so, Grace has asked me several times if I’m getting said Vespa. To me, that is implicit permission to get a Vespa! When I brought this good fortune up at work, the response was, “why don’t you just get a bike?” Why does everyone have to be so practical?
I started to research my options and found that theft is a major issue for bikes. Thus, I looked into renting a bike locker. I then inquired whether or not I could park a Vespa inside and the answer was no. Before we left on our last trip, I rented a locker, which I thought would help me commit to the bike. My key was waiting for me when we returned.
I had been scouring Craigslist for weeks looking for a beater bike – one I wouldn’t care about being stolen or stripped down. I never found the right one and then I got obsessed with finding the last bike I owned (20 years ago in college). It wasn’t easy. During my search, I realized how many people were posting pictures of their stolen bikes and it made me feel like the secondary market for bikes was a shady one.
I researched some more and then found a bike that had some interesting features. I’m not hipster enough to ride a true fixie, but the idea of an urban road bike appealed to me for my purpose. The bike I chose has a two-speed “kick shift,” which doesn’t have any gear levers. You just pedal backwards a bit to change the gears, which are internal to the rear hub. In addition, it has a Gates Carbon Belt Drive system, which uses a belt instead of a chain. I don’t need to worry about greasing a chain or chain grease on clothes. It’s nothing exotic (steel frame vs. aluminum or carbon fiber), but it gets the job done.
So, a week ago Monday was my first day. I rode at a decent clip, wondering along the way if I could do this daily. I pulled over to my locker, which is under the huge overpass on which I’m trying desperately to avoid by commuting on our side of the train tracks. When I stop, I feel seriously light-headed. I barely get the bike in the locker before I start looking for a place to sit or pass out.
Now, if anyone knows about “the incident” of 2000, which was the last time I exerted myself like this, this whole episode will sound familiar. At that time, I went for “a run” of about 3 blocks, and became so spectacularly debilitated on Lincoln Way in San Francisco that it took me at least 30 minutes to regain my vision. The details are always funny, but I had diagnosed myself with having a vasovagal response and have been recounting it as such ever since – for 13 years.
This time, I laid down on the sidewalk near the Caltrain parking lot. I pretended to text so no one would call 911. I actually texted Grace, letting her know of my condition, and to possibly call 911. After a few minutes, I made my way to the train and by the time I got to work, I was okay.
I researched what happened a bit more and now have made a different self-diagnosis. Aside from being seemingly out of shape (okay, pathetically), it appears that my episode was the result of a number of things:
- Stopping exercise very suddenly, which causes your heart rate to drop
- Low blood pressure – I’ve always had this
- Dehydration – I didn’t drink or eat anything before I left (I never do)
- My legs were doing all the work, requiring additional blood flow in my extremeties
- I got hot, so all my blood vessels were dialated to cool me
And thus, there was little blood going to my brain at that time. I knew to lay myself out. This time, I did not go deaf or blind (like ’00).
So, I felt a little better – like I could mitigate these circustances with some water and conditioning. I’ll admit I shopped for Vespas that day, but decided not to give up and rode the train home and biked, too. Grace even offered to pick me up.
We live on a little hill, so even that one extra gear was helpful, but it’s no joke getting up it each day. Today, I completed day 8 of my new commute. I’ve made it up the hill every day. The train has been the dodgiest part of the experience: strong evidence of urine, crowded with broken AC, breaking down in a tunnel with no lights or AC, etc. I chalk it up to the gritty SF Bay Area I’ve learned to call home.
We’ll see what happens when it’s dark, rainy, or dark and rainy. Something tells me there’s a Vespa in my future. What’s the over under on when???
EDIT: Warren, who was my roommate at the time of “the incident,” corrected me (from Singapore) that it was 2000, not 1999. He said he remembers very well when I came home and told them what happened.