The Abyss Will Gaze Back

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

Table of tiny monsters, Clarence Street Art Collective, The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

Oblique Strategy: Question the heroic approach

Yesterday was a long and tiring day (though it was fun) and my head felt like it was full of cotton. I kept forgetting things all day – until late at night when I realized that we had left Candy’s car parked at the train station. I didn’t want to leave it there all night and didn’t want to have to deal with it in the morning. So there was nothing to do but to move my lights over onto my Xootr folding bike and ride to the train station. I made sure I had the right station and that I had Candy’s keys in my bag and set out.

My folding bike, Stock Xootr Swift – I only added the seat bag and bottle cage
(click to enlarge)

I immediately realized that a front had blown through and, although it had been windy all day, the north wind had kicked up a notch, and it was cold. I had not dressed for it. But it is only three miles to the DART train station, so I just soldiered on.

Once I get off my lazy ass and get going, I enjoy riding my bike at night. The traffic is so much less, the trails are mostly empty (of people… there are a surprising number of various critters that come out even in the city) and everything is so quiet and still. I understand that it is dangerous, but my lights are good, I keep my eyes out and my ears open… nothing is safe… nothing worthwhile, at least.

As I rode farther, my efforts warmed me up and I felt better. I fell into the Zen mode of bicycling. If I think of the distance that I have to ride, it feels daunting, like I might never make it to my destination. The key is to only think about the next few feet in front of your handlebars and look around and enjoy every second. The miles drop away.

Before I could really think about it I was at the station. I rode around until I found Candy’s car and popped the trunk. That’s one big advantage of a folding bike – yank a couple of quick releases, pull out the seat, fold the wheels together and the bike goes into the trunk. It’s really handy for going and fetching a car.

I drive a tiny car – a Toyota Matrix. I always liked it because I could fold the rear seats down and get a bike (barely) into the back of the car (never liked exterior bike racks). I ways surprised at how small the Xootr Swift folded down. I was able to fit it easily in the small space behind the rear seat. Now I have a four-passenger car again.

My Xootr Swift folds differently than most. You undo two quick releases and pull the seat post up. Then the bike folds front to back (most fold side to side) until the two wheels are together. If you need more space, the seat can come out completely and another quick release lets the handlebars slide out. It doesn’t fold as compactly as, say a Brompton, but it has the advantage of being strong (a big rider like me needs the strong frame) and it uses standard bike parts – which is a great thing over the long term.

So I drove Candy’s car home and stowed everything away in the garage.

Tomorrow’s another day.

Advertisements

Betty

“It’s better to be hated for who you are, than to be loved for someone you’re not. It’s a sign of your worth sometimes, if you’re hated by the right people.”
― Bette Davis

Betty, the newest streetcar in the McKinney Avenue Trolley system, at the Turntable getting ready to go the other way.

Betty, the newest streetcar in the McKinney Avenue Trolley system, at the Turntable getting ready to go the other way.

I have always had a soft spot for streetcars – especially both the famous New Orleans version and the unknown Dallas version – The McKinney Avenue Trolleys. I’ve written about the trolley line before – and its individual cars – The Green Dragon, Petunia, Rosie, and Matilda.

The trolley line has expanded and has become very popular since the opening of Klyde Warren Park.

Last week, after I finished a tour of the underground tunnels beneath downtown, I walked over to Klyde Warren for a Food Truck lunch then decided to catch the streetcar for a ride to the turntable next to the CityPlace DART station.

I was lucky in that the car that I caught was Betty – a new car that I had never ridden before. Life if made of tiny thrills.

The Conductor driving Betty along McKinney Avenue, Dallas, Texas.

The Conductor driving Betty along McKinney Avenue, Dallas, Texas.

I Try the World’s Saddest Bike Sharing Program

never
even in calmer times
have I ever
dreamed of
bicycling through that
city
wearing a
beret
—-Charles Bukowski, Paris

As Dallas finally fitfully stumbles into the twenty-first century one desperately needed innovation is a useful, healthy, bike-sharing program. Fort Worth has one – it’s pretty cool and it seems to be working. Over here, on the east side of the Metroplex, things are not going so swimmingly.

There seems to be some work going on behind the scenes. The first obstacle to be removed was the City’s helmet law (how can you rent a bike with a helmet?). It was amended to only apply to children.

A bike sharing stand then appeared as if by magic in downtown – but it is a private enterprise; only open to the company’s employees. A very cool idea – but it doesn’t do the general public any good.

Finally, late this year, the city opened two bike sharing… actually, more like bike rental stands in Fair Park. It barely made a notice. The problem is in the size – with only two stations, both on the Fair Park grounds – it isn’t useful for transportation. It isn’t useful for anything, anyway.

The local press jumped on the anti-bandwagon – dubbing the effort the World’s Saddest Bike Sharing Program. And it is.

But that is more than a little unfair. They were careful to insure that these two stands would be compatible with the system that the City eventually installs (they are a B-Cycle system, the same ones used in Forth Worth and many other cities). I prefer to think of this as a tiny baby step – the first toe in the water. When Candy and I were down in Deep Ellum visiting the Kettle Gallery for some art and Cane Rosso for some pizza I spotted a couple of B-Cycle bikes locked up outside a restaurant. Somebody was using the things.

In keeping with this hopeful, positive attitude, I think that it’s important to do something positive, so I decided to go down to Fair Park, rent a bike, and report about it here. The day was coldish, with spitting bits of drizzling rain – so I put on some Gore-Tex and headed out.

I locked my folding bicycle up behind Craft and Growler and walked into Fair Park. I suppose I could have ridden my bike right up to the bike rental stand – but that seemed too odd, so I walked a little bit. There is a bike stand near each of the two Fair Park DART stations – so you could take the train down and grab a bike with ease.

B-Cycle Bike Share stand, Fair Park, Dallas, Texas

B-Cycle Bike Share stand, Fair Park, Dallas, Texas

Getting a bike is easy. Eventually, the system will require a membership, but that doesn’t make sense with only two stations in a tourist destination. All you do is swipe a credit card and take a bike. So that’s what I did.

Bike Share is near all the beautiful Art Deco art and architecture of Fair Park

Bike Share is near all the beautiful Art Deco art and architecture of Fair Park

The bikes are really nice (made by Trek). Of course, they are heavy, but this isn’t racing, it’s transportation. They have step-through frames, which is nice when you are riding in street clothes. I thought they were single-speed, but they have a nice three speed internal geared hub. I wouldn’t want to climb a mountain with one, but it works fine for tooling around the city. The seat is wide and the handlebars upright – the seat adjusts easily, and the bike should fit pretty much everyone.

Three speed internal gear hub.

Three speed internal gear hub.

There is a heavy utilitarian basket on the front. The bike had lights, good brakes, and a bell. It also had a built-in cable lock, but I wasn’t able to figure out how that worked (OK, here it is).

I rode off around Fair Park, looping around looking at the murals, sculptures and Art Deco architecture. I even tooled by the Texas Woofus a couple times for good luck. I rode by the Leonhardt Lagoon and visited the second bike rental stand. In theory, I could have left my bike there – eventually that’s the idea – to ride from stand to stand, leaving the bikes for others while you do what you need to do. I didn’t see anyone else riding a rental bike, but there were three or four empty slots at each stand. I don’t know if that means that the other bikes were out or if they are just empty spots.

The bike share bike next to Leonhardt Lagoon, Fair Park, Dallas, Texas

The bike share bike next to Leonhardt Lagoon, Fair Park, Dallas, Texas

Turning, I mostly retraced my route back around and back to the starting point, winding around when I saw something interesting until I put in about five miles. When finished, all you have to do is push the bike back in the stand and it’s good to go for the next customer.

So, I had fun. True, it was about the same amount of fun that I would have if I rode my own bicycle around Fair Park on a cold, rainy day, but it is another option. Now we need a city-wide system that would reach a critical mass. I can imagine a B-Cycle station at critical DART rail stations, the Arts District, Klyde Warren, Trinity Groves, Main Street Garden…. That is a vision of the future.

Faster, please.

For now, as soon as the weather warms a bit I’d like to organize a writing marathon/photo trip/bike ride around Fair Park with rental bikes along with maybe a few folks on their own rides. That’s the ticket.

Stay tuned.

Dallas Segway Tour

Today was Candy’s birthday and, along with some friends that have done it before, we decided to celebrate with a Segway tour in downtown Dallas.

My first impression of the idea was a little iffy. I would rather have ridden my bike around downtown (as I am wont to do) than stand there lazily on two electric-powered wheels. Plus, I’ve seen these groups of touristy-looking folks, wearing helmets and standing stiffly on the slow-moving vehicles, moving in a line along the downtown sidewalks. It looked rather silly to me.

Well, I thought about it and realized that, as usual, I was full of shit. Let’s face it, everyone wants to at least try out a Segway and see how it is. I remember the crazy hype back in 2001 when the thing (code name “Ginger”) was introduced and, although it could never live up to its promotion, it still made an impression. All in all, it had to be fun.

There are a couple companies that offer Segway tours, and we chose one based on… well, we had a Groupon.

Candy and I had gone to our third Dallas Savor Wine Tour yesterday and then gone to Lee Harvey’s for a Naked Lunch concert last night and stayed out too late. When I crawled out of bed – too early for a Saturday – I didn’t feel too well. I’m getting too old. But I gutted it out and we drove downtown to the Segway place – in a cool old brick building.

We had a few minutes of lessons, a quick pep talk, then off we went.

That might be the most amazing thing about the Segway – how easy it is to learn. After all, this is a completely unique and new transportation form. It has no controls at all – only a platform to stand on and a stick with a handle. There is no seat or restraint – you just stand there. Still, after only a minute of practice, we were off along the streets and sidewalks of a big city. We had to maneuver along narrow twisting paths, through curb cuts, and over precarious routes along concrete dropoffs.

It was a piece of cake. The only difficulty I had was that, at first, I stood too stiffly and my feet and ankles were painful and cramping. After a bit I was able to relax and flex better and it became comfortable.

I was surprised at how far the tour went. We started out on the edge of the West End area (near the bus station) and headed out to the famous bronze steer sculpture and City Hall, then north clear through the heart of downtown. We visited the Arts District and then on to Klyde Warren where we took a break. Finally we rode west to visit Dealey Plaza before heading back.

That’s a complete tour of downtown.

The Segway is a great way to tour an area. You cover a lot more distance than you can walking, of course. You see so much more than in a bus or car tour. I’ll give it a nod even over a bicycle because you are able to keep your head up and look around while you ride.

The last leg of the tour was a blast. By then I was very comfortable on the machine and was able to enjoy myself – doing a bit of slalom between landscape trees along a stretch of sidewalk, swinging around in close spaces, or simply picking up the speed (a little bit). It’s an odd experience – the key to comfortably riding a Segway is to forget you are on one and let your instincts take over. I really can’t tell you how to go forward or backward, how to stop or turn – you just do.

Most of the people in the tour were not from Dallas and I asked them if they thought the Segway Tour was a good way to see a new city and they all were enthusiastic.

So, the next time you visit someplace or even revisit the place where you live – check out and see if a Segway Tour is available. Do it if you can. It doesn’t look as silly when you are in the bowels of the thing than it does from outside looking in.

Candy getting her Segway Lesson.

Candy getting her Segway Lesson.

The tour stops at the Dallas Eye.

The tour stops at the Dallas Eye.

Segways lined up at Dealey Plaza. The Texas School Book Depository in the background.

Segways lined up at Dealey Plaza. The Texas School Book Depository in the background.

Riding around at the Old Red Courthouse.

Riding around at the Old Red Courthouse.

Riding up to the JFK Memorial.

Riding up to the JFK Memorial.

Inside the JFK Cenotaph.

Inside the JFK Cenotaph.

JFK Memorial

Rolling down the sidewalk and across the street.

Rolling down the sidewalk and across the street.

Bicycle Route on the Viaduct

Trying to integrate bicycling into daily life – using a bike as transportation rather than a child’s toy – here in Dallas, the worst city in the country for cycling, I have become very sensitive to the barriers that cross potential cycling routes. Barriers… that leave chokepoints. All the trails in the world are merely outside exercise paths if they don’t have a way through the barriers. Barriers like highways, or railroads, or worst of all, rivers.

The Trinity River, as rivers go, isn’t much to write home about. In dry weather it’s not much more than a muddy green strip of particularly wet swamp. However, as a barrier, it’s more than river enough. Until recently, there has been no safe way to get across this riverbottom no-man’s land.

The City constructed a trail over an old railroad trestle (next to a failed attempt at a whitewater canoe feature) but they neglected to connect it to anything and it is useless for transportation. There are grand plans for the future, but I’ll believe those when I see it.

But now, there is something… something pretty good. There has always been twin roads over the Trinity, connecting downtown with Oak Cliff – the Houston and Jefferson viaducts. Built at different times, with different designs, they have been twinned, with one going in and the other going out.

Money has been found and now, the Houston Viaduct has been closed for construction of a Streetcar Line that will run from the Convention Center in Downtown across the river and over to the edge of the Bishop Arts District. In the meantime, both in and out traffic has been routed over the Jefferson Viaduct.

And, wonder of wonders, one lane has been blocked off and marked out for bicycle traffic, one lane going each way. There is now a safe and reliable route from Oak Cliff into downtown on a bicycle.

Bicycle Lanes on the Jefferson Viaduct from Oak Cliff into downtown, Dallas.

Bicycle Lanes on the Jefferson Viaduct from Oak Cliff into downtown, Dallas.

It’s been there for a few weeks now, but I haven’t had a chance to ride it until Sunday. I took the DART train down to the Convention Center with my commuter bike hanging from a hook in the middle car. A little girl in a stroller stared at me, sitting there holding my bike’s rear tire to keep it from swaying with the train’s motion, wearing a helmet and sunglasses, the entire way. Meanwhile, a con man with a little shell game monte played with tiny red plastic cups on a newspaper folded across his knees relieved her mother and a friend of a quick ten bucks.

I left the train in the parking garage under the Convention Center and wound my way up into the daylight by the new Omni Hotel, then looping around to the viaduct. I rode across, visited a little gateway park, then came back, pausing to take a few photographs here and there.

The bike route was nice – the bridge had a bit of a hill to it, but nothing too difficult. The views in all directions are pretty spectacular – you never notice how impressive when you are in a car.

The only downside is that the approaches to the bike lanes are very awkward on both ends. Since this is a converted one-way bridge, with both bike lanes on one side – there is no good way to get cars and bikes on and off without a lot of confusing and difficult signage and odd routing.

One odd thing is that there is an old deserted parking garage in the middle of the span. It had been built to service long-gone Reunion Arena and it now sits abandoned – acres of bare concrete and sweeping ramps. Surely something useful (maybe a rooftop park?) could be done with this monstrosity.

I didn’t spend too much time – I was meeting Candy for lunch at Lee Harvey’s in Southside and then I had about twenty five miles to get home. That’s a long way on the heavy, inefficient commuter bike… but the day was nice and I was in no hurry.