I'm not out at Ciclavia and I'm a little bummed but I'm ok with it. It's a gorgeous day for it, but it's beyond my strength today to ride over to the train, take the train to L.A., and then ride a much longer route than I'm used to in my daily routine. So I'll cheer it on in spirit as I continue to ponder what makes a real bike advocate, and how we can successfully grow bicycle ridership here in the U.S.
I found this TED talk by Amy Cuddy so fascinating, in part because both riding and dance lessons in childhood and my teens have left me an advocate for excellent posture, but mostly because visually she is not who one would suspect of having low self esteem, of feeling like she didn't deserve to be someplace. I encourage you to watch the video all the way through to learn more about her story, and what she and her research team have discovered about how changing your posture can help you feel very differently about yourself.
Most of us have felt sometime in our lives that we don't deserve to be here, haven't we? I know I have. I still feel regret and shame that I never graduated from college. I knew I had the smarts for it, but I couldn't juggle both school and work, which I needed to do in order to be able to afford it. And in the 1980's what I really wanted to go to school for (either art or creative writing) were subjects which my parents approved of, or thought one could really earn much of a living from. They were fine subjects for leisure time, not to really "make it." Of course my parents were teaching me what they knew - what they did not know was that the personal computer would revolutionize the work world, and turn it on its head.
I had advocates at the time, but I didn't realize it, nor did I understand at that time how to recruit support to my cause. My parents ideals reigned supreme. I was scattered and unfocused, wanting to follow my heart but not having the courage to. I stumbled into the opportunity to go to language school in Florence, living with friends of my family, and when I came home I even took a job with a friend of my Mother's boss. I hate the industry. Hated the hour+ drive each way, but because of my parent's approval, my fear of not finding another good "career" sort of job in a down economy, kept me in that industry for eight years.
It wasn't until I was 37 in 2001, divorced, and suffering almost full time with chronic migraines and fatigue that I decided to hang tough with something I really wanted to do - write. I finally decided I had what I called "The Permission Slip from God" and I was going to keep at it. I had almost no energy, I had a couple media clients, but other than that I was only able to work part time and the only jobs I could find were very low paying, I'd maxed out my credit cards trying one last ditch effort of my own little business, I knew sooner or later I'd have to give up my small but lovely apartment in Santa Monica six blocks from the beach, but I had a computer, I had the internet, and I began to blog and become passionate about social media.
I gave up my car in March of 2007. Riding the bus one day I met a lovely young woman Amanda, who I recognized as working at a small restaurant near the flower shop I worked at. She told me that she liked to ride her bike to work but that she'd been hit by a driver who was angry she was on the road and purposefully hit her, and it had really frightened her. She was involved with a local group of bicycle advocates and she invited me to a "bike to work" day event. I had never heard of bicycle advocacy but I had noticed more and more people riding bikes, and I watched them rather longingly thinking of how much fun it must be. But I was worried that with the fatigue I dealt with it would be too challenging, too hard to get the bike up the two flights of steps into my apartment.
By 2008 I'd met Georgia and John Case. Georgia and I began pondering projects we could work on together to get Long Beach into the broader regional good news press. Long Beach was not the media darling it's now becoming, but Georgia knew the city was gearing up to become bike friendly - she and John had brought Enrique Penalosa to Long Beach while he was visiting Los Angeles and the fire had been lit with City Manager Pat West, and Council Member Suja Lowenthal. She encouraged me to get involved. It fascinated me but I felt a little silly because I was afraid of riding a bike again myself. Then in spring of 2009 the Cases had a party to welcome Charlie Gandy. Charlie and I had met at an event the night before that Brian Ulaszewski held and he offered me a ride to the Cases' house.
I told Charlie that this whole bicycle advocacy idea was really compelling to me, that I would love to help from a media promotional angle in any way that I could but that I'd be a strange sort of advocate as a woman afraid to ride a bike again myself. And that's when Charlie rolled out the welcome mat. He told me that I was exactly the right kind of person to get involved - there were far more women out there like me than women already happily riding bikes. It took another six months for Charlie to convince me to get on a bike again. I made my debut in the Belmont Shore Christmas Parade on a borrowed cruiser from Bernard Serrano and Cyclone Coasters.
The majority of the women I meet and talk to about the idea of taking up bicycle ridership, or who have already taken it up, have no idea what bicycle advocacy is either. They have noticied bikes becoming popular again, and most of them think it looks like fun, but many of them are a little afraid just like I was. Some are afraid of traffic, some are afraid of not having the strength and the stamina. And that's all ok. As far as I'm concerned just noticing bikes again is an excellent first step. I'm doing my best personally and with this website to be that welcoming permission slip for them to ask questions, to learn more, to consider renting a bike for an afternoon's ride along the beach, or to perhaps join us this December 1st when we ride in the 30th Annual Belmont Shore Christmas parade.