Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Stranger

A little while ago I locked up my bike in a neighbourhood I don't much like and left it there for a couple of hours. When I returned, there were objects arranged on my rear rack: an unfinished cup of coffee and a pair of broken sunglasses. I picked up the paper cup gingerly and threw it in the nearby trash. There was a stain and some crumbs stuck to the cup where someone's mouth had been. The cup was cold, but then the day was also cold; impossible to know how long ago the coffee drinker had left it there. I then looked at just the sunglasses alone on the rack. Reflective and cracked in several places, they reminded me of broken mirrors that could bring bad luck - I found myself not wanting to touch them, and just stood there looking at them for a bit. Finally I removed them from the rack and placed them carefully on the edge of a flower bed. 

So... some idiot left some stuff on my bike. What is the big deal? I don't know. I guess I am prone to seek meaning in things where none exists, and sometimes these random ambiguous types of acts bother me more than something more obviously hostile would. I tried to imagine the stranger who left the cup and sunglasses behind. Was it an absent-minded thing, where the person was on their way to the trash bin and suddenly their mobile phone rang? Or was it intentional, and a coin-toss between that and slashing my bike's tires? Was it a message, however unconscious, or did it mean nothing at all?

It's amazingly easy to leave our mark on somebody else's world, and bicycles - being personal objects that we just leave around, exposed - seem to attract that kind of mark-making. Be it a flower tucked into the handlebars, or garbage left in the basket, the gesture makes us aware of those countless strangers among whom we move and most of whom we will never know.

43 comments:

  1. I think some people just put things down on whatever flat surface is in their line of vision. The sunglasses, though, are unusual.

    I think now of the time I found boxes from Trojans and White Castle burgers, and beer bottles and Tropicana pint cartons in my bike basket. Someone must have had a really strange party in front of my bike!

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  2. That is a testament to the stability of that rack, or at least the appearance thereof. I'd never set something like a cup on there unless there was at least some sort of platform.
    All anyone has ever left on my bike was a "one less car" sticker. Thanks, jerks.

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  3. If you lived around here I would think you had a visit from a friend of mine, a 60 year old semi-homeless pothead who is also a 2 time NORBA National Veteran XC mountain bike Champion. His brain and lungs have reacted differently to the giant mountain of dope he's smoked over the last 45 years. He is still maddeningly capable on the bike and could probably win the Masters Championship if he could talk somebody into hauling him to enough of the races, but he thinks every bicycle on the planet is part of his world.

    Whenever he see's what he considers a serious bike he feels like he has to mess with it, leave a note, decorate it or hang around till the owner comes back to tell them what they need to change on it.

    I've probably walked out of a store or the library a dozen times over the years to find some McDonalds happy meal toy jammed in my spokes of a line of smoldering Roaches poking out of the holes in my B-17 and said to myself, "Shit, Craigs back in town". The world is full of these weird folks that remind me of all those mythical Welsh Fairies, Banshees and river Kelpies, some benign and not without charm and some that just make you shudder and want to go wash your hands.

    Spindizzy

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  4. Someone left me a love note in my pannier a couple of weeks ago. Not my husband but I'll take it!

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  5. I think the cup was left by a Buddhist Monk. The cup represents your life. The fact that it was not empty but only partially filled is a tip of the cycling helmet to the age old question of whether it is half full or half empty. I believe the Monk was asking this questions of you. Also you have to wonder if your life is cold, hot , or just lukewarm. The crumbs were most likely a reference to the hurtful and unhealthy words that so often leave our mouths and cling to the things we should be loving. The mirrored sunglasses, were obviously left by a homeless person who was once a well connected and affluent member of society. They represent the mirrors we all hide behind as we slowly crash through life, leaving us broken and sadly just a crushed image of our former selves. Or it could have just been some idiot.

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  6. I never see that happen to cars. (maybe because of where I live, not a big city) So why would anyone do that to a bike? Disrespectful at the very least.

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  7. I agree with you on being careful touching things that show up in places where they shouldn't be. Who knows what subconscious intention was behind the act and what energy those things had. May be better to isolate your energy from them as best as possible, such as by using gloves or a kleenex.

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  8. This is why I never had a basket on my London bike. As it was I'd find newspapers on the rack all the time.

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  9. My bike used to always acquire those fliers people leave on car windscreens. One under every set of wipers and one in my rat trap.

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  10. Don't let it get to you . I'm sure all the mystery and forbidding of this would be seen in an entirely different light had you actually caught sight of the careless person.

    It's like how graffiti often seems like it must have been done by some pschyo... but I'll always remember the time I saw a graffiti artist at work in Central Park in NYC. Rather than a psycho, it was a 10 year old blonde haired lad in a private school blazer and knee pants.

    The world can be such a complicated, ironic and amusing place.

    :0)

    p.s. I see the cover of the new Crate & Barrel CB2 catalogue features Dutch Bikes!
    lol!

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  11. Spindizzy wrote...
    "...that remind me of all those mythical Welsh Fairies, Banshees and river Kelpies, some benign and not without charm and some that just make you shudder and want to go wash your hands."


    Banshees, of course! Thanks for the imagery : )

    jn - Yup, they are Republic bikes.

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  12. Spindizzy: In my best (and that's not very good) Jeff Spiccoli voice: "I know that dude!"

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  13. You should start parking your bike there regularly and see if it happens again. If it does continue to happen, try to find out if it's the same person every time. Might be fun.

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  14. Nice words.
    I liko to see the bicycle as the most exposed part of myself...

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  15. I am lucky enough to park my Pashley inside my work building during the day. One day, as I was getting ready to go home, I found computer speakers in her front basket. I spent the ride home trying to decipher the meaning. Was someone trying to set me up to take the fall for some elaborate computer accessory theft ring at work?! I will never know.

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  16. This was obviously a brilliant piece of intallment art by a huge talent that was obviously aware of its owner's huge impact on the web. The statement is as follows:
    Coffee, sunglasses and cigarettes -the triumvirate of the western world's cafe culture is being overtaken by coffee, sunglasses and the bicycle. It's a dazzling and penetrating piece at many levels.

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  17. I often find trash in the large basket on the front of my bike. I park inside at work and home, but when I am out and about it is one the street. I take is personally as a dig against cycle culture. Overall I am happy with my cycling experience riding in Bklyn and Qns. The worst offense was when someone left a 1L seltzer bottle of pee in my basket right in front of my apartment building. I had to turn my 55lb bike over to dump it in the street. I felt bad littering, but I was not going to touch it.

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  18. Mr. Haramis - I considered that as well and looked for the cigarettes. Alas there were none. I guess the smoking bans have been effective and this aspect of our culture has been relegated to stylised memories in episodes of Madmen.

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  19. This could be the beginning of a new trend. Instead of http://www.stuffonmycat.com/ , it could be stuffonmybike.

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  20. I remember one time Marc from Amsterdamize said he came back to his bike after being parked for a while, and there was a pair of new women's shoes in the crate on the front. Probably someone set them there while unlocking their own bike, and forgot them when they left. Luckily, they were the right size for his girlfriend :D

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  21. Ryan said...
    "...1L seltzer bottle of pee in my basket"


    Oh no : ((

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  22. I guess my one experience with trash left on my bike isn't as bad as some of the ones posted here: I came back to my bike once to find a half-eaten hotdog in the Wald basket. Luckily I had a packet of ketchup with me... No, seriously, luckily I had a napkin on me so I could lift it out and pitch it into a nearby trash can.

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  23. It is no accident that the lenses point upward as to express that the bicycle could be the "universal" solution to the impending apocalyptic doom of our environmnent.
    The artist gives us much hope in this piece.

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  24. "[strangers shoes] ...Luckily, they were the right size for his girlfriend :D"

    EEEEEWWWWWWWW!!!!!! GrossGrossGrossGross... I'd rather find a jar of a stranger's pee in my basket than wear used shoes!

    I find trash in my basket from time to time. Given that most people in my town throw garbage in the street it's actually an improvement over the alternative, I suppose. I try to not let it get to me. A month or so ago I was riding home from the grocery store and realized that there was a big and thick loogie dangling from my basket. Clearly, someone at the grocery was expressing their contempt for my transportation conveyance. Luckily there was snow on the ground, so I was able to push show through the basket for force it out without touching it. Thank God it wasn't a stranger's shoes though, because then I'd have to throw the whole bicycle away.*

    *FEET ARE GROSS!

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  25. @Adam: you missed the part that they were *new* shoes, in the box. :)

    But feet aren't *that* gross :)

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  26. Velouria said...
    "So... some idiot left some stuff on my bike. What is the big deal? I don't know."

    Like it or not doing this is a form of disrespect for cycling and YOU! There is nothing friendly about trashing another persons property. Nothing...........

    Also there's a message that much worse could have been done to your bike much like stalking.

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  27. I'm with Adam, insofar as I don't like wearing second hand clothing from people I don't know. But it's a personal choice.

    New shoes in the basket? That's pretty unusual!

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  28. Okay, I didn't pick up that they were new. I have no issue with used clothes that can be washed thoroughly, with the exception of clothes that come into direct contact with our nasty bits... LIKE USED SOCKS! ewewewewew...*

    *acknowledging that I may have a foot phobia.

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  29. "Like it or not doing this is a form of disrespect for cycling and YOU! There is nothing friendly about trashing another persons property. Nothing...........

    Also there's a message that much worse could have been done to your bike much like stalking"

    Or possibly the person could have been rummaging through their pockets, or unlocking their bicycle, placed the items on the closest flat surface and it was a perfectly honest and absentminded mistake. Leaving a pair of sunglasses seems like a particularly ineffective expression of disrespect. Loogies, urine jars and used shoes, on the other hand...

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  30. It's not just bikes. Sometime take a look at what passersbys will put in the back of a pickup. I've also found stuff placed on my car. the bike and car, I think somebody put something down and forgot it. The pickups, they look at those as a handy trash can

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  31. Michael: That's not "energy", that's "microbes".

    And what steve said - people see a pickup truck without a canopy or cover as their personal convenient trash bin, which drives (no pun intended) otherwise well-meaning and mild-mannered drivers to spasms of murderous rage.

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  32. Hey Lynne, I'd love to know if it's the same dude. I think his story needs recording(as one great big cautionary tale to the whole of humanity) and am sort of collecting it piecemeal. If you really do know Mr. "Triple A Rearview" and have anything interesting to relate I'd like to hear from you.

    jon.redbarn@gmail.com

    Spindizzy

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  33. I think too many people equate basket with trash can.

    The thing that used to drive me bonkers was passerby ringing by bell. I had a job at a store where I locked my bike up in front of it, and at least once or twice a day someone would ring it. I know it shouldn't be that big of a deal, but a bike is a personal thing.

    And to skeeve Velouria and Adam out, I've worn quite a few pairs of used perfectly good free shoes found on the streets of Portland.

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  34. "And to skeeve Velouria and Adam out, I've worn quite a few pairs of used perfectly good free shoes found on the streets of Portland. "

    And it's extra moist in the Pacific Northwest, so I'm sure the microbes and bacteria are working overtime. ewewewewewew

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  35. I would certainly wear nice shoes left in my basket, albeit after a little inspection and maybe a shot of Lysol. In the right circumstances, who knows, the Hotdog might disappear as well.

    Mr. Absolutely unwilling to identify myself in any way whatsoever

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  36. Did you hear the one about the Priest who saw a man limping down the street with only one shoe?
    He was struck by the fact that the man looked so happy and cheerful and wondered how he maintained such a good attitude , so he goes up to him and asks,(insert Irish, German, Minnesotan or whatever accent you can tolerate in your humour) "My son, how is it that you can be so joyful in the midst of such trouble?"
    "Why Father, what do you mean? What trouble?"the man replies, "Well you're obviously having a bit of a bad day losing a shoe and all" says the Priest,"Why no Father, it's a gloryuos day! I FOUND one!"

    So how nice would a single shoe left in your basket have to be before you would wear it?

    Spindizzy

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  37. I've often found strange objects on my bike... once I found a jacket I still use, and some months ago I found that:

    http://biciene.blogspot.com/2010/12/la-caja-de-mi-bici.html

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  38. Anonymous said...
    "... In the right circumstances, who knows, the Hotdog might disappear as well."


    Mmmmm hotdog pre-chewed by a stranger!

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  39. i wouldn't take it personally. if it was someone else's bike in that spot, they would've gotten some garbage, too. nonetheless, it's really annoying! i have a small basket ziptied to the rear rack and i've yet to find stuff in there (mostly because i usually park sandwiched between other people's bikes). although i am continually surprised to find no one steals my lights when i forget to take them with me. i need to break out of that habit, but it does give me a good feeling that people respectfully don't steal them.

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  40. Mr. Haramis posits the most plausible, if not equally potent, interpretation of heavenward supplicating gleaming lenses.

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  41. Last summer I came out of a restaurant after dinner and found really nice pair of sunglasses on my bike rack. In great condition, too. I wear them almost everyday. Sometimes it does work out.

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