TT with HD: Jeff Gaynor
[Ed. note: The WEMU interview to which JG and HD refer in the conversation below took place on 18 June 2008. Following that link leads to a list of interviews (full audio) for WEMU's Issues on the Environment series, hosted by David Fair, dating back to January 2006. As of the publication of JG's Talk there are at least 10 alums of the totter included in the IE series.]
HD: Alright. Shall we mount?
HD: Okay let's do this thing, and hey, the sun's going to come out!
JG: There were a couple of drops on the way over here, ...
HD: ... did you have some rain?
JG: ... nothing that lasted, but. Momentary drop or two.
HD: Well, let me get a quick picture for your standard portrait. [Ed. note: photography ensues, long waits while batteries recharged between flashes. JG fills the time.]
JG: How would you identify yourself, how would you explain yourself, who are you?
HD: You mean, if somebody at a cocktail party said, What is it you do?
JG: What is it you do--that's good!
HD: Well, that's an awful question. Let's take your picture again and see if you forget about the question by the time we're done.
JG: That's fine.
HD: Alright one, two, three.
JG: Yeah, the standard reply is, Hey, I'm the one asking the questions!
HD: It's a fair question.
JG: The thing is, I know what I'm going to say, so it's much more interesting to have the other person ...
HD: ... I'm going to turn the flash off and snap a few that way. There's a big red hand [in the camera display] saying I need to keep this very steady. Well, let me officially welcome you to the teeter totter.
JG: My pleasure to be here!
HD: I think we narrowly escaped the rain. I think we're going to have a window of clear weather, and then were supposed to get some rain later on tonight.
JG: As long as I can get home on my bike without getting splashed.
HD: So typically you don't ride through the wet weather? Based on your WEMU interview, it sounded like you reserve the bike really for dry conditions.
JG: I do. I don't especially like riding in the rain, and I use my road bike with thin tires, so it's not really suited to snow and ice.
HD: So that's the bike you rode over today?
JG: That's the bike I rode over. And it's quite easy to take the bus. I have the dual title of Bike Ambassador and Bus Ambassador.
HD: So you are officially signed up as--I think there's an official program ...
JG: ... very officially! Through getDowntown.org, through the Chamber of Commerce.
HD: So do they actually have a course that you had to take, or an orientation session?
JG: I think you send them an e-mail and say, I'll do this! [laugh]
HD: So they don't sort of say, To be an Ambassador you need to attend a workshop to learn how to ...
JG: ... they didn't ask me. I know a few years ago originally--there are still people with T-shirts that say Mayor Hieftje's Bicycle Ambassadors.
HD: Or I've seen those yellow slickers, those windbreakers.
JG: Right. I don't know if it was more formal then. Nancy Shore from getDowntown took it over.
HD: So you don't have a yellow windbreaker?
JG: I don't have a yellow windbreaker. So I am a second-class ambassador? [laugh]
HD: Do you feel a little bit bad for that? I mean they have these bicycle valet--what do you call it, monitored parking--that's one of the things that the Bicycle Ambassadors do, right? At various events?
JG: Well, I don't know. I know WBWC, the Walking and Biking Coalition, gets involved and sponsors that, and I think anybody can do that. I mean I can do that without an official slicker.
HD: So you don't find yourself wishing that you had one?
JG: I think I'm doing it for the cause, not for the status. I don't know how much status we get with this, so. [laugh] I mean it's not just a good cause, it's a lifestyle that I have adopted. Boy, for convenience and economy and ease, and maybe more than that--maybe a more human level. Instead of being cooped up in a car.
HD: You say that it's a lifestyle that you've adopted, but I mean, ...
JG: ... lifestyle, well, a minor part of a lifestyle. To me, it's not any big thing.
HD: But still, the fact that WEMU invites you in to talk about this lifestyle that you have chosen--not just because of the recent increase in gas prices, but something that you made a decision about back at the age of 18. This is something that we as a social group, we view that as odd, you know, odd enough to invite the guy in to the radio studio to interview this weird specimen, you know?
JG: There goes my status! Which is probably just where I want it.
HD: But I mean it seems to me that at some point the measure of success will partly come from--and when I say success, I mean success in promoting the bicycle as a means of transportation--when it no longer becomes the weird, the odd, the remarkable thing, but rather is just one of the things you do.
JG: If we were in the Netherlands or Germany or a number of other countries--China--this would not be remarkable. This is just what people do. This is how people get around.
HD: You would be one of any number of people who use their bike in this way.
JG: Yeah, you're right. The measure of success is that it's not remarkable. You know, I'm a 57-year-old, not-totally-in-shape teacher who--okay, I can bike around town, it's not that big a deal
HD: Right, you don't need to be an athlete.
JG: You don't need to be an athlete, it doesn't need to be special.
HD: You said that you are a teacher. And I remember back when I was an undergrad, they circulated a question to some of the more accomplished teachers--professors who were acknowledged to be the better teachers. And they asked them to respond in writing to the question, Why do you teach? And to me the most memorable response by anyone was by a professor named Wayne Fields, who basically took issue with the question, to say this is the kind of question that you ask along the same lines as, Why do you skydive? You know, why are you doing this odd thing you're doing, when there are so many other reasonable things to do?
JG: It's interesting--and this is kind of on a different tangent. Let me throw in the tangent and then we can come back to it or not. When I was young and intelligent, and people said, What are you going to do with yourself ...
HD: ... you had the whole world in front of you ...
JG: ... I didn't dare say, Maybe I want to teach! Because I'm a man, I'm a guy, and I'm smart, why would I settle for teaching? It took me a few extra years to decide, Hey, that is what I want to do. So, yeah, we're living by these norms, you know, societal norms at least for a while, until we ask ourselves, Why?
HD: So in setting up the time for this conversation, one of the constraints was that you're heading off out of town away from here and then you're going to have an exchange student coming to live with you after you get back? Is that how it's going to work?
JG: This is true. We have hosted exchange students for about nine years.
HD: Wow. In a row? So like every year?
JG: Every year.
HD: Holy cow. So do you know where they're coming from?
JG: Yeah, this one we know. Our first three girls, the first three years came from Germany. And this trip is going to be back to Europe, and we are going to visit all three families. They have all come back, their parents have come to visit, that we have gone to visit them once. So they are like daughters, how we keep up with everything and go to visit. Since then we have hosted from a series of countries. With mixed success. So this year we're going back to Germany to pick up a girl.
HD: So one person, or?
JG: One person. One year we got two at once.
HD: And the two that you had at the same time, did they know each other previously?
JG: Oh, no. One was from Estonia. And at the last minute we picked somebody up from Brazil. No, they didn't know each other and in fact I think they had to sign off on it. And it turned out to be okay. They turned out to be much closer to each other than they were to us. They scrambled upstairs and giggled and laughed and then came down and said, Oh, we we've got to have dinner with these guys. [laugh] You never know quite how it will work.
HD: So you will have a chance to visit this young woman and her family at her place before she comes over to live with you?
JG: We're hoping.
HD: For what, a year?
JG: 10 months. From mid-August through the end of June.
HD: So will she be going to your school?
JG: No. She's a high school student. I teach at Clague Middle School. She'll be going to Pioneer, because that's the area of the city that we live in.
HD: Do you have a spare bike for her to ride to school?
JG: Funny you should mention that. We do have many bikes. But about three years ago, Ann Arbor was named a bicycle-friendly city by Bicycling Magazine.
HD: Right. So that was like the Bronze Award, right?
JG: Yeah, I think so. Part of the promotion was they were going to award 50 bikes--these are town bikes, you know, internal seven-speed, upright bikes--to people who maybe wouldn't ride a bike otherwise.
HD: So when you say 'internal' this is an internal hub, so you don't see the multiple gears outside, it's just magic that happens on the inside?
JG: Easy enough to get around town, but not the most comfortable for long touring rides. But just fine for basic rides around town. We had to do a 50-word-or-less essay on why you should get a bike.
HD: So you wrote that essay?
JG: I wrote in saying, you know I've got a bike. I ride all over, I ride to work. We're having an exchange student and it's a way for him or her to get to school, and we'll ride together, and we'll ride as a family. And lo and behold they awarded me one. And that's been used by our exchange students.
HD: So did it feel at all odd to you to have to write an essay? At this point, that's something you usually assign your students to do, I would think.
JG: This was just 50 words. [laugh] Here's what was the problem. I'm trying to write a follow-up to this radio interview, which went all-too quick. I had like 50 things to say and I said four of them in the time I had.
HD: So what was one of the things that you really wish you had had the opportunity to talk about at length? That there was just no time for during the radio interview?
JG: Here's one. I mentioned that people bicycle in Europe as a matter of course. In Marburg, this city a little smaller than Ann Arbor, they were having a problem that too many cars were coming into the downtown area, into the core city area. And they had to deal with it. It was a big problem. What they did was they narrowed the road, they narrowed the access. They took away a lane so that it would be more difficult to come in. They took away parking spaces.
HD: ... really, is that a standard issue? [laugh]
JG: That's one of them--no, there's actually no place to go to dance. There's no place to go for teenagers.
HD: So you don't want to send them off to Studio Four or whatever it is? That's mostly an over-21 issue, right?
JG: Most of the discos, as they would say in Germany, are reserved for over 21. They have probably a more reasonable drinking policy there, so that people aren't excluded and are allowed to drink but don't abuse it as much as we do. But the other issue is that they can go wherever they want, because they can take buses, or trains, or subways, and they can get places during the day or in the evening. Interesting, they say they don't have a curfew. Their parents don't have curfews, because we figured out that they don't need it, because the buses stop running at midnight ...
HD: ... so there's sort of a natural force that gets people back home.
JG: Whereas here--until this last year when we hosted a girl from Argentina--we never had to issue a curfew, because there's just not that much for kids to do in the evening--besides being piled up with homework or a sports activities. But getting around, that freedom and independence, and fortunately here in Ann Arbor there is a bus system, or it's accessible by bike, so it's nowhere near the issue when you're out in many other places.
HD: You were talking about narrowing the roads in Marburg as a response to too many cars. Thinking about that from the perspective a downtown merchant in Marburg, who is keenly interested in having as many people come downtown as possible. He might not necessarily care whether they come by car, or come by bike, or whatever.
JG: One issue they don't have is malls competing with them. Because they have a land-use policy that promotes green space instead of sprawl outside the cities. So they do protect the merchants that way. The other thing they have is almost every town and city has large pedestrian walkways. So here there is a proposal to close Main Street--from William to Huron, let's say--to cars and make it a pedestrian area. It works great, there's more people I see walking in those areas [in Europe] than I ever do anywhere in Ann Arbor. It's a veritable mall of its own.
HD: This Friday actually they're shutting down a certain section for the Rolling Sculpture Show.
JG: Here we thought it was for the Ride Around Town that the WBWC does, but it turns out that we don't have quite the status that the old car group has! [laugh]
HD: But in a way, the irony is just really thick. Just the idea that you shut down the street so that you can display cars--because what cars are about is using the street to drive on, right? So the idea that you're shutting it down to display them. And I have to say that some of those cars are really beautiful. As cars go.
JG: I grew up in Detroit. In fact, we take 200-some sixth graders down to the auto show every year. Yeah, I grew up in Detroit although I still don't like cars for all that they do and represent--there's a different aesthetic involved here.
HD: Back to the bike that you won. Who was the sponsoring organization? Was that Bicycling Magazine, or?
JG: Bicycling Magazine. I think they had several sponsors. Schwinn, and there were some bike shops.
HD: So they just sent you the bike in a box by UPS, or?
JG: No, no, no. There was an awards ceremony at City Hall. This was in conjunction with Curb Your Car Month or Bike to Work Day. So the one Friday of that week there were rides--and in fact I joined up with the ride from Gallup Park that Mayor Hieftje led. So there was a big ceremony, and speeches at City Hall, and they had the bikes there. I picked one out and I rode it to school and walked into everybody's classroom, See, I won a bike! Look, I won a bike!
HD: Wow, that's pretty cool. Is it painted up in any special way so that anybody who saw you riding past would go, Ooooh, that's one of those bikes!
JG: I don't think so. I mean, they were all red. If you had one you might recognize another one. But I haven't seen too many others.
HD: I sort of rummaged around the net looking for information on BikeTown--that was the program, right?
HD: And that led me to the Bicycling Magazine website. And you know, given a recent thread that was started by Phil Farber on the WBWC newsgroup, where he was lamenting the fact of the advertising in the magazine ...
JG: ... of cars ...
HD: ... right, the advertising of cars in Bicyling Magazine. Exactly. So I wound up on the website for Bicycling Magazine and right at the top, a banner ad, a flashing banner ad is for a car--it was for the Nissan Maxima.
JG: You're giving it some free publicity here!
HD: Well, I guess I could redact, though. I just wanted to make sure people understand I'm not making this up. Then on top of that, there was a survey that popped up, you know, Please take the time to complete this brief survey, or you could also opt out of it. I thought, Well, shoot, I'll take this survey, It's a Bicycling Magazine survey, I figured.
JG: I don't watch enough TV. [laugh]
HD: But still, it emphasizes the fact that you go to Bicycling Magazine's website, you not only get an ad for a Nissan Maxima right there at the beginning, they give you a survey that's all about SUV's.
JG: Maybe they figure--the advertisers that is--that if you are reading a bicycle magazine that maybe at some point you'll be ready to move out to a real vehicle! [laugh]
HD: I don't know.
JG: On these threads there are a couple of radio and TV advertisements. The one I heard yesterday on the radio was, If you really want good gas mileage, get a bike! But it was sneering. It was from an auto parts store, it was like ...
HD: ... how backwards and third world of us.
JG: One of the reasons I am in sync with WBWC is that they are talking about bike commuting--just regular people riding around town. I guess 20 or 30 years ago I did some rides with the Ann Arbor Bicycling Touring Society, and they are great. But the last time I tried it, I thought, I don't know if I can keep up with them, but I thought I would try. I went down to Wheeler Park and everybody was in their spiffy spandex. That was number one.
HD: And carbon fiber frames? And clipless pedals?
JG: Right. I went on a bike tour about 12 or 13 years ago, and I actually had bike shoes but I didn't have the clips. And they were like, How could you do this tour without clips?! And I went, I seem to be doing it! I'm not in it for speed or anything. But I forced myself to stay, I thought, I'm not going to run, yet. Two guys were talking about cycling in Nova Scotia--was it better to bicycle clockwise or counterclockwise around the island.
HD: You mean, like aesthetically?
JG: Practically, aesthetically, I don't know. I thought, Well, they're at a level that I'm not at. I think they have moved beyond me. [laugh]
HD: Well, they have a certain constituency I guess.
JG: Well, yeah, but again that's that young, and fit, and upwardly mobile. And those of us who bicycle in part because we are misers at heart, and want a fairly simple lifestyle--a different group. Other things about the interview that I didn't say--can I go there?
JG: One was how great the bus system is in this town. And two things. One, the buses run on time. They are predictable. Because you don't want a bus system that you depend on and it not show up. Or have to wait too long. And the other one is how incredibly nice and civil the bus drivers are. And I mention those two things, because I know many people in Ann Arbor have never been on a bus in their life. Whatever stigma there is about bicyclists, I think there's a bigger one about people who ride the bus. We'll talk to exchange students' host parents, and say, Well, this is how your kids can go around, they can take the bus. And they say, Oh, I don't know if I would put my kid on the bus!
HD: Oh, really?
JG: Because it's the 'lowlifes' who go on the bus. Except that if you went on a bus you would see people like me.
HD: You know, what I have found is that any time I've had a face-to-face interaction with a bus driver here in Ann Arbor, it's typically because I'm riding a bus where it's the first time I've ridden that route, and I'm going to a new destination, and I'm not exactly sure where is the stop. Because you don't want to like pull the cord way too soon, or miss it and then pull the cord right at, or just after the stop. I mean, the drivers in my experience are attentive enough to know if somebody pulls the cord right at the stop they don't say, Well okay, I'm going to just let you off at the next stop. They'll try to make eye contact with you through the rear mirror and sort of give you a look like, Is that the stop you wanted, because I'll shut it down and get you over as quickly as possible. But they are always very helpful about letting you know. So for example, I was going up to see an art exhibit on North campus. I don't even remember the name of the place ...
JG: ... not the Wave Field?
HD: It's something-or-other Commons. But I described where I was going and the driver was like, Oh, it's the such-and-such stop, but I'll stop and make sure that you get off. And she did.
JG: Yeah, we tell our students, stop and talk to the driver. One of the things is, we don't talk to each other. At least, nobody talks to me. [laugh] No, I think people go about and don't stop and talk to people.
HD: So when you ride the bus to you actually talk to people?
JG: I will respect them if they're not interested. But if I have an opening, I sure will.
HD: So what would you consider to be an 'opening'? Like an example?
JG: Oh, well, I'll smile, or I will say something easy and light. And if they respond I will keep it up.
HD: And if not, then it's clear that they are just there for the ride.
JG: I'm not going to invade that space, because one of the other pleasures of a bus is that that's your time. I've read the newspaper, I've read books, I've pulled out my computer and checked--and this will often happen when I'm coming home from school, I will load e-mail but not read it, and then I can read it on the way home on the bus, or just organize files or work on something else.
HD: Do you ever just take a nap?
JG: I would when I was in Detroit and I had a half hour bus ride to high school. In the morning when I had a seat. I don't have that long a ride. But I've done the I-am-just-zoning-out.
HD: So zoned out and like missed your stop?
JG: No, haven't missed my stop.
HD: See, I did that once. I actually fell asleep, I mean I was sleeping. And when I woke up I realized I didn't even know where I was but I knew I needed to get off right now. And it was a good half mile walk back the other way.
JG: One of our exchange students out-did you. He was this artistic kid from China, and he didn't know quite where his head was. But once he called us and he was in Ypsilanti. He missed his stop and then I don't know what he was thinking or what he was doing.
HD: Do you think that he really missed his stop or did he just want to hang out at Deja Vu for a while? [laugh]
JG: I--well, never mind, we won't go there. [laugh] Let's just say he wasn't allowed to use our computer for various infractions of house rules, and leave it at that. [laugh]
HD: So he was a free spirit?
JG: He was a free spirit.
HD: Well, you mentioned riding the bus to high school in Detroit. The most intriguing part of that story from the radio interview was that you had to hitchhike the last couple of miles back home?
JG: Because I went to Cass Tech--I lived in Detroit through my junior year. Then my parents moved out to Southfield, which is a couple miles past Northland Shopping Mall.
HD: So it really took some commitment to continue that last year of high school.
JG: I had an amazing education. Plus I had no investment of being out in the suburbs. I didn't want to move from Detroit. That was my 17-year-old protest. Okay, you can drag me out here but I'm still going to go. I mean, I didn't ask my parents for much.
HD: And this was Cass Tech?
JG: This was Cass Tech in downtown Detroit. And I had a friend who also was going to Cass and drove me in the morning. But our schedules didn't fit in the afternoon.
HD: So you were on your own in the afternoon. And you literally hitchhiked?
JG: Yeah. Are you saying that's another unusual, weird thing? [laugh]
HD: Well, the thing is, you're not that old, so it's within like ...
JG: ... but I am that old.
HD: This would have been like what the early 80's?
JG: Are you kidding? The 60's. I graduated in '68.
HD: Oh, okay.
JG: I actually did a great deal of hitchhiking after high school. You know, routinely between Detroit and Southfield, and Ann Arbor and Lansing. But I also did several cross-country trips.
HD: So you literally just stick your thumb out in the road, or did you have a sign, or?
JG: Signs are great. I definitely recommend having a sign. I had a standard two-sided sign that I used for years.
HD: What did it say?
JG: One side said 'Ann Arbor'--multicolored, I mean, not psychedelic, but just so it would stand out, blue and red highlights--and the other side said 'Lansing'. That gives you a purpose. It gives you a destination, it gives you an identity to those people who are saying, Why is this guy out on the road? He's going somewhere. It also says, Oh, I'm going to Lansing, I'm going to Ann Arbor.
HD: Now when you say you recommend, present tense, it's as if you're a offering this as advice for people now?
JG: That's a tough one. When I was hitchhiking in the early 70's--you know for the same reason that I bicycle and take the bus--it's economical, it's a good use of resources, you can talk to people, amazing stories, why add another vehicle to the road? That's again when I was living on $100 a month. Why add another expense? I mean, 100 reasons. And there were just enough people hitchhiking then--not many-just enough that you could do it. I mean one out of every 300 cars maybe, or 600, or I don't know, depending on where you were.
HD: So in your experience you didn't have to wait an awful long time?
JG: I usually didn't have to wait, sometimes I did. But I could usually predict within a range of a half-hour when I would get somewhere. And there were a couple of places when it took an hour to get a ride, and I thought, Well, this isn't fun. One of the reasons I like not having a car now is all the things that I don't have to fuss about. You don't have to fuss about things when you're hitchhiking. But even then I said, I wish more people would do this, because it would be not only faster and everything, but it would be safer. Because people would see it as usual. And normal people would pick you up.
HD: So would you pick up a hitchhiker yourself? I know that you don't have a car now, but you had a car for 12 years or so?
JG: Amazingly few people are hitchhiking over the last 20-30 years.
HD: So it's not really like you have a lot of opportunity to test whatever theory ...
JG: ... I did pick up hitchhikers. I would use my instincts now, because I overrode my instincts once. And this is really a tough story. I was in the suburbs of Detroit, not Detroit mind you, but in the suburbs. It was actually in my girlfriend's mother's car. We'd borrowed it, because I hitchhiked or biked in, ...
HD: ... so your girlfriends mother's car?
JG: My girlfriend's mother's car. And it was the only time that we ever used it. Because my girlfriend had a car, but it was in the shop or something. And we were driving down 12 Mile Road--we are actually going to my parents house for a holiday dinner--and then we were driving back.
HD: Holy crap.
JG: And I looked back and yeah, there was a gun at my head. So am I going to say you should automatically pick up hitchhikers? No. If I would have used some instincts and judgment, I would have said, Okay, these guys look a little shaky. They were on drugs and stuff. We talked them down. They wanted to take the car, that was the worst thing. My girlfriend said, My mom's not rich, this is the only car we have! So they got a few dollars and went off.
HD: So they didn't take the car?
JG: They didn't take the car. Maybe they should have, and then we would've had a big fight, I wouldn't have married her, and eventually divorced this woman. You never know how things will work out. [laugh]
HD: So that wound up being your first wife?
JG: That was my first wife.
HD: Oh, wow.
JG: We did survive that one.
HD: That's a great story.
JG: Oh, I have lots of hitchhiking stories. I could go on for a week. I've got being proposed to by this truck driver, who if he wasn't quite 350 pounds, I would've thought about it ...
HD: ... he was just a little heavy, was that it?
JG: Not my type, as it turns out. But he was okay, he was asking me questions like, Oh, Ann Arbor, I've heard about that! These leading questions, and then he finally propositioned me. That's another story. There was a postscript to that. A couple of years later, I was hitchhiking out in Utah or Nevada maybe, and I figure my job as a hitchhiker is to entertain. I will share stories and talk.
HD: Yeah, you owe them some good conversation at least.
JG: Yeah, whatever I can do. And again, I've gone on long rides where I was quiet and others where I've talked. It depends on what the person wants. So these were three guys maybe in their early 20's, and I thought maybe I'll share this story. We were in a coffee shop at the time.
HD: So you were thinking about sharing the story about the 350-pound truck driver?
JG: Yeah, the truck driver who propositioned me. And I was sorry I did. Because they got enraged. They were shaking mad. Their manhood, their virility, or their something was so thrown just by hearing the story, they were ready to get on the road and find this truck driver and take revenge. Because, How could this guy do this?! And I was like, No, he was okay, he didn't attack me! Actually at the time what I thought about it was, Oh, this is how girls feel all the time, getting hit upon by guys--you're in a vulnerable position maybe.
HD: You know, it's funny just when you were relating that anecdote and you said that they were enraged, it wasn't completely clear to me who they were enraged at. I thought maybe that they were angry at you for telling the story. Or somehow it was the fact that you are telling the story that made them angry.
JG: At that point I wasn't sure, either. At that point I thought these guys are going to do something vicious right now, and I'm the only one here! I settled them down.
HD: So they were ready to like defend your honor?
JG: I think so, yeah. Maybe I shouldn't have said, If he was a good-looking and in good shape--maybe that went too far for them. I don't remember. No, people take their own things way too seriously.
HD: I think that's a fair statement.
JG: That's a whole other thing. Another activity I'm in, is I'm on the board of Michigan PeaceWorks. That came to my mind about what people take seriously, and what they let pass by them. Here's another question about biking. So, most of our exchange students are used to biking, they say, Yeah, I ride my bike. And in the first week or two ...
HD: ... you don't have to teach them how.
JG: Not only do you not have to teach them, they just expect to ride. We have to go to a store that's 3 miles away--should we ride or bike? Well, why wouldn't we bike?! That lasts about three weeks where they will take the bike to Pioneer [High School]. It's about a mile and a half to Pioneer. It's up Stadium [Blvd.], so they have to go on the sidewalk and over the bridge, it's not a real pleasant ride ...
HD: ... that's where that they are coming from?
JG: From around Tappan. But it's quick. Or they can walk 50 feet and take the bus and we pay for it so that's easy so that's fine. But after a while they don't ride the bike.
HD: They don't want to be the weirdo on the bike in addition to being the weirdo from Germany or Europe or wherever.
JG: I'm pretty convinced that's it. Although they don't come out directly and say it.
HD: Maybe Pioneer needs something like a ...
JG: ... Pioneer has three bike hoops, for three bikes, maybe six if you do it on both sides. It's way too many! Kids don't ride bikes there. I remember 10 years ago when I was there, someone was telling me they lived two blocks away, but they drove to school. Why did they drive? They said they drove because they had to get to work. Why do you work? Well, I have pay for my car, to drive to school.
HD: But that's just what you do.
JG: That's what you do, it's part of the culture. On the other hand I was even driving a lot when I was 16 to 18 and I had a girlfriend in Detroit. We didn't go on too many dates on the bus.
HD: And the bike is even more difficult. Although. One of my all-time favorite movie scenes--in fact I would have to say it's my favorite movie scene of all time--the movie Breaking Away you know that one?
HD: That scene where he puts the girl on the bike and then he rides her around on the bike--puts her on the back of the bike--she's on the saddle and he is out of the saddle peddling.
JG: Right. And probably neither of them are wearing helmets!
HD: No, I don't think they are. But I tried that with my wife on one of our early dates. And I'm telling you, that's a lot harder than it looks.
JG: I see kids doing that and it scares me. One of my wishes, one of my envies, about bike riding is people who bike no hands--without putting their hands on the handlebars. They just serenely go, and I can't do it. I don't have the balance for it. Or I'm afraid of falling or something. So I say, That's so unsafe! But it's just envy! [laugh]
HD: So, are you going to be there tomorrow for the Ride Around Town?
JG: I'm going to try to go. I have--another story of this year is that I was diagnosed with bladder cancer.
HD: Oh, man. I'm sorry to hear that.
JG: Well, it turns out that I was told early on that it was eminently treatable, and I've had two sets of treatments, and the last batch it was clear.
HD: Good deal!
JG: Yeah it was. It wasn't fun. It wasn't comfortable. In the class of cancers it was relatively mild and harmless, and I'm not fussing about it. And I didn't have to miss school for the treatments. I missed a day for a couple of biopsies. But I didn't tell my students about it, because I didn't want them to worry about it. And there was nothing to worry about. But I have some follow-up treatments. So if I'm in shape, I'm going to bike to Ypsi in the afternoon and if I can, I'm going to come. [Ed. note: JG did follow through on his intention to do the RAT that week.] Of course, I've said that I'm going to come to one of these Ride Around Town's about eight times and I haven't made one yet. Probably because by the end of the week, I'm totally exhausted from teaching.
HD: The nice thing about these events, I think, is that they happen every month. And if you do miss one, then there's always next month.
JG: I'm still aiming. And then there's the Ride to Market on Saturday morning.
HD: Right. I'm not sure of the details on that one, because I knew I wasn't going to be able to go, so I didn't pay attention.
JG: There are some rides from different places, and I guess we'll get down there around 9:30 and try to have a big presence of bikes at Farmers Market.
HD: Although at Farmers Market they really don't like you to wheel your bike through the market area.
JG: I assume they're going to have, parking, yeah, you shouldn't. It gets too crowded. That's reasonable. We don't like to walk, so if our car parking isn't close enough and have to walk two blocks, we don't freak out, so I don't know if bicyclists have an argument to say ...
HD: ... I have to have my bike with me at all times! Though it's totally reasonable for that cramped a space to have no bikes allowed.
JG: Speaking of that corner, I was by the [People's] Food Co-op, kitty corner to that yesterday afternoon, and there were a dozen bikes or so parked up and down that little corner, that was the first sign I saw that people are biking more.
HD: On Sunday morning when we went over to the People's Food Co-op--and the whole town is pretty much dead on Sunday mornings I have to say--but every bike hoop along that area, there were two bikes at every one of those hoops. And it was weird because, Where are the cyclists to go with these bikes?
JG: The bikes were there, but you didn't see any people?
HD: Yeah, I don't know where they were.
JG: Maybe a little investigative reporting. Are there employees, is the antiques market open at the Farmer's Market on Sunday?
HD: I don't know.
JG: No, that doesn't make sense.
HD: Usually there's commensurate humanity that goes along with the bicycles. Maybe not necessarily those are the people whose bicycles they are, but there's at least people sitting around, out and walking. But there didn't seem to be. But definitely there is increased usage of the hoops around town. Which is good. It would be nice if we can keep the momentum through the fall.
JG: Another thing to mention about bikes and buses is that you can throw your bike on the rack in front of the bus.
HD: Yeah, have you ever tried that?
JG: I have not. Because I can anywhere bike in town that I want to go. Although the other day it was raining and somebody had their bike on the rack, and as they got off the bus, the rain stopped and that was perfect. Certainly I could imagine doing it.
HD: I think Nancy Shore put together a video, or somebody anyway, put together either a video or a series of still pictures demonstrating how to do it.
JG: It's not that complicated, but it's intimidating in advance. Because I know I've looked at those things like eight times. What if I don't know what to do?! I would be so embarrassed!
HD: You'd be embarrassed and you'd be like, I don't want to slow the whole bus down! You'd have a whole bus full of people saying, Who's the idiot bicyclist who doesn't know how to work the rack?
JG: You pull it open, you put it there, the arm goes over, okay, is it the front tire or the back tire, this is horrible!? Probably doesn't matter.
HD: It's one of those things, though, that for one of these events that they do ...
JG: ... oh, they do, like at the Green Fair, ...
HD: So like, you know, hands-on practice for how to do it.
JG: They have done this around town. Have you seen the new Committee Bike?
HD: Oh, the Conference Bike?
JG: The Conference Bike, sorry.
HD: Yeah, I went to the Penny Stamps Art and Design lecture series, where they had Eric Staller--is that his name--the guy who invented it. He was a U of M architecture grad from 1968 or something, and now he's had this long and illustrious career inventing urban moving sculptures. And this Conference Bike was one of them. So he came in, he gave that lecture, and he brought a Conference Bike with him. And there were arrangements made to leave that behind with the guy--I don't remember his name right now--but the guy who actually owns it now. So I guess he actually purchased it from Eric. Yes, I have seen it, I have not ridden it.
JG: We were riding next to it at the Fourth of July parade. One of my former students was riding it, but that's how it goes. So how does this relate to downtown development, urban sprawl, this whole idea? Part of the reason I thought of that is that one of the units I have on world culture and geography class for my six graders is on urban sprawl. So there's an opening. But if we are talking about going car-less, what's associated with that? Certainly living in a town like Ann Arbor that is small enough, which if you invest in living close enough--which you do and I do--it seems like new developments are all predicated on cars, many suburbs. I don't know if denser downtown is going to solve the issue.
HD: Well, take this development, 42 North. Over on ...
JG: ... tell me what's what, I don't have all the titles.
HD: Let's see, it's on Maple and ...
JG: ... is this the one that's designed for university students?
HD: Yeah. So Maple and ...
JG: ... Pauline, over around Pauline?
HD: Yeah, over next to the--is it the Grace Lutheran Bible Church? [Ed. note: It's Grace Bible Church.]
JG: That sounds right.
HD: So for that one, the developer feels that in order to make it a viable economic proposition, that he's got to provide parking spaces in numbers commensurate with his new units. And I think that anyone could agree you want to have 'enough' parking for the people who want to live there. And then the question, What's enough?
JG: But do you, though? Because students who live in dorms don't have cars--maybe they do these days. If there's a decent bus or shuttle, or--but go on with your thought.
HD: Well, there's the 12U that services that location, I think, I'm not positive about that. But when I say there needs to be 'enough', I guess what I mean is, there needs to be an appropriate number of spaces, and then the question becomes, What is an appropriate number? How do you do that math? One way--and you touched on this--is that students who live in dorms now, do they they have cars? What is the car ownership rate as currently measured? How many cars per student ...
JG: ... I'm always struck by the fact that when I came to the U of M and lived in a dorm, we weren't allowed to have cars. To own cars, or to have cars on campus.
HD: When I was an undergrad, having a car was a huge issue. They regulated it by saying you must park your car on campus--there was no place to park it off-campus--and there were a limited number of spaces, and it was by permit only, and they were expensive permits so you'd say, Okay, it's going to cost me a lot to have this car available to do a trip like once every month, maybe. So there was one guy I knew who had a car, and basically, you were just nice to that guy.
JG: Right. [laugh] Which is one of the things that I'm finding now about not having a car is that I will ask people for rides here and there, and I am nice to them. I'll give them a concert ticket, or bring them some food, yeah. That sense of community that gets lost when everybody's in their own 2000 to 4000 pound piece of metal, isolated from the next person.
HD: So to me the question is not just to abstractly say, there's going to be 400 people living there and therefore we need X number of parking spaces. What do students who live in Ann Arbor and are already living in dorms, what's the car ownership rate? How many cars do they in fact bring to campus? That's got to be some kind of a data point relevant to the discussion of how many parking spaces are we going to one allow them to build. And to require them to build. Because zoning is going to require them to provide a certain number, I think.
JG: But it's also driven from the population of students that are moving in and what their expectations are in terms of competitiveness. So in the 1950's, I remember I grew up in the 1950's, I remember people saying that this is a great country--every family pretty much has a car. Now it's every person has a car who is of drivable age. That's a two- or three-fold increase if not more, of just the expectations. As you are saying, do you need a car for a group of four people who are living together, or do you need everybody to have their own? And if the vehicles were on scale for what you needed, which a bicycle is, right? But I don't know what the alternatives are once you have a motor and a metal shell, you're getting into safety issues.
HD: You touched on something here with this notion of every person having their own personal transportation option. You could extend that notion to a whole host of other pieces of equipment that we have. So we have personal computers. And there was a day and age where to utter the phrase 'personal computer' would have been like now, if we said, I have my own personal nuclear weapon. Well, the idea of a personal nuclear weapon, that's ludicrous. In the same way that it used to be ludicrous to have a personal computer. Your personal computer?! Just for you? My God!
JG: My cheeks are entirely red. Because we have far more computers than we have people in my house.
HD: Yeah, well, I have two in the basement. And I have two laptops on the upper floors. And if you said to me, Well, Dave why don't you do share that computer with your neighbor, or even just share it with your wife, I am horrified, you know. I need that to be my computer.
JG: But that's fair, because there is a personal space and information. And usability--as much as we use computers. What about something like your snowblower? Or your lawnmower? Or ladder? I borrow, on those rare occasions ...
HD: ... see, I like to have my own stuff.
JG: You like to have your own stuff?
HD: I'm happy to lend it out to other people, but I don't like to have to ask to borrow other people's stuff. Because I want my personal saws-all, you know? I want my personal table saw.
JG: In the early 70's I lived in houses with lots of people. From 25-26 down to seven or so. And it was great, because when I lived in the house of seven, we finally worked out that if each person could cook a meal once a week ...
HD: ... but didn't suck the day that it was your turn, and you just weren't in the mood to do it?
JG: Well, you know, you worked it out. But you only needed to do it once out of seven days. And usually we could put in a fair amount of energy. And if you had a limited menu, it was still once a week, it wasn't every day.
HD: So you're saying like once a week you had to make the macaroni and cheese?
JG: Well, we tried to do better. And you got some competitive things. Because one person would overdo it and then the next person. Which is the trouble with this cooperative stuff. Whenever you try to one-up somebody.
HD: So if it becomes competitive it becomes a bad scene?
JG: I went through large periods of cooperative stuff. And it falls apart for various reasons.
HD: Back to this idea of personal versions of stuff. I mean we have personal recycling bins. Curbside recycling, you know, it's not enough to have a large-ish bin on every block where you'd have to walk the three blocks to the end of the street. Every house has got to have its own personal recycling bin. Or take bicycles. If you said to me, Dave, you know, you're not riding your bike all the time, wouldn't you be willing to share your bicycle? Or wouldn't you be willing to use sort of a ZipCar version of bikes? You know I've actually seen this, they have it in Paris.
JG: That's right. I was going to say, in Paris, and I have read where about eight other cities are planning versions. Of course, now you need a credit card to access that because the problem is where it has been tried on the streets--we did this up in East Lansing about 35 years ago, and in Holland, too ...
HD: ... people just steal the bikes?
JG: They get repainted and you lose them.
HD: But for me I would not be a good candidate to use one of those ZipBike type systems, let's just say.
JG: That's because you probably use it--I would think you use it too often.
HD: I don't think that's it really. I think it has to do with the fact that what I like about riding my bike is that it's my bike that I'm riding. I mean it's my bike. It is an extension of me. I don't want anybody else riding my bike, really.
JG: You used examples, computers and bicycles, that you are invested in, that you use a lot that, are yeah, a part of you. But what about items that you use occasionally? That could be shared by a neighborhood.
HD: Like my saws-all?
JG: Your ... ??
HD: A saws-all, it's a reciprocating saw. You don't know what a saws-all is?? You're a homeowner and you don't know what a saws-all is?
JG: I am mechanically inept.
HD: Oh, man, you need a saws-all. You can cause a lot of damage with a saws-all. My psychology is, I'm happy to lend it to somebody who wants to use it, but I don't want to have to borrow it from somebody.
JG: But that's because it's not part of the culture.
HD: I don't know. It could be cultural or it could be something that's hardwired in somehow.
JG: You don't strike me as a person--and I may be wrong, maybe it's your nick name that throws me off--that is entirely possessive and wants high status and the greatest doodads.
HD: Not necessarily. But for certain things ...
JG: ... for certain things you want certain things that work for you, and you want them the way you want them, and you don't want to compromise doing things and that's fine. I don't know.
HD: So, I don't know. I mean there's car people who feel the same way about their car that I feel about my bike. That they don't want to share their car. The idea of having to go to a ZipCar lot to check out a car, that just horrifies them.
JG: I think that's totally a stretch. They're not without their car long enough to even think about it. Again, I wouldn't want a bike [from a ZipBike-type situation], because I'm on my bike just about every day, if not several times. It's like give me my shoes, give me my bike. My car, even before it rusted out, was sitting in my driveway long days at a time. Was I attached to it? No. For most people that's unusual.
HD: Are you okay?
JG: I'm fine.
HD: You're not accumulating any splinters on your backside are you?
JG: I hope not. I guess I would know.
HD: Yeah, well they could be so sharp--you know, if they are sharp enough they go right in and you don't even feel them.
JG: A pleasing thought! Let me ask you something about this street, okay. How long have you lived here, and how many people do you know on the street?
HD: We have been here I think this May was year number 11--10 or 11--so a decade at least. And I can tell you, I think, everybody's name on the street, or at least who they are and what they do, like what their deal is.
JG: Do you see them?
HD: Hmm, some I rarely see ever. There's one guy who lives at the end of the street who I've had maybe three conversations with...
JG: ... yeah, you don't want to say too much because this will be broadcast ...
HD: ... yeah, well, I don't think he would remind my reporting that I've only had three conversations with him. But I mean, I know who he is. That's an example of somebody who I know his name, but I don't know what he does.
JG: I asked this question because it seems to me that we're all kind of closed in. I talk about are being closed in our car, closed in our house, too. And I think some neighborhoods, people are out more. More friendly. People have coffee klatches, or maybe if they're more kids around ...
HD: ... there's actually a certain number of kids in the neighborhood now. I mean, yeah, the houses are oriented towards the street more-so than where you have a backyard ...
JG: ... people aren't in their backyards on the decks?
HD: The the teeter totter back here is a little bit antithetical to the way people treat the street.
JG: But you invite people in, right? I mean, obviously. [laugh]
HD: But part of it is that there are no front yards on the streets.
JG: Are there porches? Porches to sit on?
HD: There are, and people use the porches, I would say. People use the front of the houses, the porches and the street, as a way of interacting with each other.
JG: In which there is not in the urban sprawl. No sidewalk, no porches, just go in. And, in fact, this is what I noticed in Southfield.
HD: They have garages in front?
JG: They have attached garages in front. The garage door opens, and this vehicle pulls out, and at the end of the day, it pulls in and you never see people. I knew that there was a connection to this going car-less and urban sprawl.
HD: The garages here ...
JG: ... here they are sent back.
HD: Here the garages are set back, right.
JG: Which is what the house I grew up in in Detroit was like. Which meant that you are outside. You are dealing with the elements. That's, I think, the other thing about people's perceptions about bikes and cars. In cars you're insulated from the outside. From the cold, from the heat, from the rain.
HD: And then you pull into the garage and you're also again insulated from the elements. You don't have to have ever deal with the weather, really.
JG: You control your environment to this insane level.
HD: I was talking to one of the bicycle-mounted policeman downtown the other day. The interesting fact that he related to me is that it seems like they don't have a bicycle patrol per se. But they have an area that they are assigned, and one of the options for patrolling that area is a bike. So they could choose to walk it, they could choose to drive around in a car. But in a lot of cases they say the bike makes the most sense for the area that they're assigned to cover: I'm assigned to cover this downtown area, I'm going to use the bike.
JG: I would love to stop people who I see riding their bikes around the neighborhood and say, Do you have a minute, and can you tell me about biking? Have you changed your habits? And I don't know if it's related to wanting to ask for things, but it's like, do we talk to each other, do we dare stop anybody, will people stop and talk to us? Are we perceived as selling something, or being weird, or is this simply a way of bringing people closer together? I don't know.
HD: Well, listen, is there anything else you want make sure we covered before we hop off?
JG: I'm sure there will be six things I think of after I go home, but, no, this is good. Don't want to stretch it.
HD: Well, listen, thanks for coming over.
JG: My pleasure. Are you going to--oh, I guess we do this [i.e., dismount] mutually!
HD: Yes, it's built-in teamwork.