Yesterday I fell off my bike.

How? The bolt holding my seat on broke in half and my butt was connected to the seat when it hit the ground.

Are you okay? I took the impact onto my hip. It hurt and I have a fist sized bruise there now. I’m noticing other bruises on my legs where the frame landed. But they’re just bruises. I’m perfectly okay really. I had ridden for two hours and had arrived at Mordialloc. It was when I was hopping back on my bike for the return trip that I fell. I’d only made two or three pedals on a low gear and was going quite slow, luckily. I landed on a flat surface and not in the midst of oncoming traffic! Although a few seconds later the bus parked at the stop I was passing would have been right behind me.

How did you get home? True, you can’t ride a bike without a seat. Knicks are heavily padded but not padded enough for that! Four gentlemen came to my aid when I was lying on the ground in shock – the bus driver, and three bystanders from the cafe in the area. Once they’d collected all of the seat bits off the road they established the cause (the broken bolt) and we realised that more than an alan key was needed to solve this one. I was directed to a nearby bike shop. The bike shop was less than 50 metres from where we were. I hobbled off in the direction I was told to go, reassuring the kind people I was okay and making some sort of joke about the size of my butt (given that I’d just snapped my seat bolt in half).

In the bike shop I met Karlos. Firstly he examined the seat and responded quickly to my repeated joke to compliment my shape and say that my butt size wasn’t the cause of the broken bolt (which was sweet and entirely the right thing to say to a woman whether it were true or not). He told me it was the fourth broken seat bolt he’d had to deal with that day and showed me the marks on the seat that indicated it had been fixed too far back. This put pressure on the bolt – no wonder it snapped. Secondly, he ascertained that it was an aluminium bolt and not very strong.

While he was explaining all this to me in a gentle and caring tone, I started to feel like we all do when someone is sympathetic, a little sore and sorry for myself. I couldn’t help it, a few little tears escaped and ran down my cheeks. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “I just fell off my bike”, I replied. He gave me a hug.

I dug out a tissue and pulled myself together. (I carry a snap lock bag with cash, credit card, bandaids, a tissue, and my garage blip in it.) He was impressed with my organisation. “Where did you learn to do that?” Oh, I’ve been riding road bikes since I was 18 I told him.

He started work on my bike. “Did you feel like you were reaching too far for the handle bars?” he asked. I told him that I had. I’d only had the bike for one year. I bought a carbon fibre bike with Ultegra gears as a package from Melbourne Cycles. It was a lovely bike but I had always harboured doubts about the way they’d set it up for me because I felt as though I had to stretch. On long rides I experienced back pain as never before and I couldn’t comfortably reach the drop position (a position I’d been very comfortable in on my previous bike set up by Ivanhoe Cycles). I’d even asked my bike guy at uni to check the set up. He improved the situation but only slightly.

Karlos’ history was in bike manufacturing. He’d been head-hunted for the job at Mordialloc Bicycle Centre (where I found him) and he’d only been there a few weeks. His sport was downhill mountain bike racing. He was 35 but had the demeanour of a man much younger. He was an adrenalin junkie. Compared to the spills he’d had in his downhill career, my thud onto the bitumen was pretty lame. Apparently he is fairly famous in that circle, known as ‘the jackal’. Despite the thrill seeking, he had a wholesome philosophy about cycling and life. Maybe that’s because he was essentially a country lad.

Apparently my handlebar stem had been put on upside down. By putting it the right way up, Karlos brought my handle bars closer to my reach. Coupling this with the adjustment of the seat position, I felt as though I was on a different bike, one that had been sculpted around my body shape! I was ecstatic. But that’s not all he did.

“You do realise the seat you have on is for males, don’t you?”

“No, it was sold to me as a female seat!”

“Have a look at this. This is a female seat. It has this little gap here. Do you think that would make a difference to your comfort?”

Karlos didn’t realise that he was talking to someone who for a year had been putting up with too much pressure on a very sensitive part of her body, thinking it was just down to getting the angle right, who at the end of every ride regardless of the seat angle felt as though she’d lost a layer of skin from that area and who had gritted through 210 km in Around The Bay last year minus several layers of sensitive skin due to the unnatural pressure and deep bruising around each sit bone.

“WHAT!!!@#*!?!”, I was astonished, cross and relieved at the same time, “Do you think you could sell me a female seat right now?”

“You can have this one for 20 bucks”, he grinned. He  adjusted my handlebars and put a stainless steel bolt in to hold my new seat. I told him to sell my old seat if he could (it was only a year old).

I rode the 50k home and arrived just before it started to rain with a few warning drops falling from the sky. Even though my bruises gave me a bit of pain, I was so much more comfortable on my bike. And all this just a week and two days before this years Around The Bay!



December 20, 2008

I’m writing from my beach house. Its serene. The children are sleeping in. The only sounds are the hum of the fridge (dang that) and a distant wattle bird. I plan to go for a jog along the beach later. Right now I have a cup of rooibos tea to drink and a bowl of porridge to eat. I have such a habit of eating breakfast as soon as I wake that last year in summer, when we were invited to breakfast at a friends beach house, I ate my muesli absent mindedly while getting ready to go. 

I went to a local farm and bought a christmas tree yesterday. It is a cute little one that the farmer has been trimming along with the rest of his slowly dwindling crop since 1997. It’d bushed up nicely. Its the densest christmas tree I’ve ever seen actually. Sally thinks its too fat. “Christmas trees are supposed to be triangles and this is a circle”, she complained. But the kids decorated it anyway. They’re not bad at making do.

I’ve had a busy week. Only three days ago I was at a five star resort in Torquay presenting my work before an intimate crowd of thirty-five. It was a strange time of year to be running a work retreat. On 16th and 17th of December there are so many other things to be doing. I made the most of it though. Prior to the commencement of the symposium with two colleagues I went for a walk along the beach there. After venturing along a track through coastal vegetation and over sand dunes we found a huge expanse of beach stretching as far as you could see in both directions. We turned left and walked with the setting sun warming our backs even though the wind was cool and strong. I strode out, invigorated. My colleagues ambled along at half my pace and I periodically waited for them. Eventually I slowed to their pace and contented myself to participate in the conversation and watch the clouds moving in from the west in interesting patterns even though I longed to run.

After ten minutes of walking they wanted to turn back. Dinner was being served in less than half an hour but the beach beckoned me to run.  I took this opportunity to part with my colleagues.”I’m going to run for five minutes”, I said, “then I’ll turn around and try to catch you”. They laughed at this. “Okay”, they said. “It looks interesting up ahead. There seems to be another track. There are people in the distance”. This they pointed out for my benefit. It was obviously not interesting enough for them to find out for themselves. “Okay, I’ll check it out”, I replied and set off.

I set my watch to zero. I wanted to play the game I’d just set up. Five minutes out and then I’d try to catch them before they got back to our accommodation. I wondered if they’d speed up their pace. Running, I felt free. For that moment I was released and by myself. After three minutes I passed a sign on the beach. I jogged near it so that I could read it. “Nude Beach” it said. 

I jogged past it. I only had two more minutes to go. There was a person by the water’s edge playing in the waves with three dogs and it did occur to me that correct etiquette may have been to remove my clothes before passing the sign. But it was only two more minutes. I decided to jog further away from the waters edge and give the person, who as I approached realised was male and naked, some space. I averted my eyes and ran on past him.

As I completed my run I kept an eye on the time. Out of my peripheral vision, however, I could still see his dogs. They seemed to be just as close to me as the moment I ran by them. I watched the seconds hand on my clock and turned exactly after five minutes to find that the naked man and his three dogs had been running behind me, keeping pace with me and possibly even catching me up. 

I looked squarely at him momentarily whilst turning. In a split second I summed the situation up as completely non threatening. He seemed intent on jogging and continued in his direction even after I turned to retrace my tracks. It was the humour of the situation that struck me more than anything else.

Later at the conference when I shared the story of the incident with colleagues there was much spontaneous laughter, followed by discussions about nude beach etiquette and the sharing of similar experiences, i.e. with streakers in fun runs and such.

Unexpected Detour (Part 2)

September 21, 2008

My taxi driver had engaged with me in animated conversation on the way from Brisbane airport to my hotel. Our conversation flowed easily and had occasioned laughter, even though on balance he did most of the talking. He was naturally talkative and opinionated, but I sensed that my responses surprised him out of possibly habitual monologue, especially when he was challenged to justify or explain his views. I became aware that he had begun to look at me more often as the conversation progressed.  However, I was quite at ease with him until he turned off the main road into a church car park without warning, other than flicking off his meter and saying, “I won’t charge you for this detour”.

This unprecedented move was alarming. It had been in the context of him explaining the history and significance of the church to Brisbane and to himself personally. However, the car park was not lit well and there were no other people around. Although my outer attitude would not have changed perceivably, I panicked inwardly. My mind began to work at a hundred miles a minute. My senses heightened and my body readied to respond in a reflex of fight or flight. I reasoned to myself that there could be no escape while the vehicle was moving. I thought of my suitcase in the boot of his cab and consciously decided to give it up as lost should the need arise to make a run for it. At the same time, I decided to consciously stay put and take the risk that his intentions were as harmless as his monologue about the church.

He pulled into one of the vacant parking lots but left the motor of the vehicle running. I waited for signs of danger like a coiled spring, acutely aware of the position of the door handle and lock. I sat stiffly like a traitor with my seatbelt already quietly unlocked but held in position. At the first sound of the door lock being activated I was ready to pounce, open it manually and spring out of the car. 

It turned out that the car park he had chosen enabled a view of the church which clearly showed the new wing. He pointed out the difference in the stone colours to me. “Can you see the old stone? It has weathered. And here is where the new stonework begins”. 

“Oh yes”, I replied, but I was too agitated to really take it in. He continued describing aspects of the construction and I continued to reply as of before. But I only relaxed completely when he reversed out of the parking spot and turned back onto the city street. For him there could hardly have been a blip in his consciousness. For my part, I felt as though I had endured a trial and the seeds of this post were sewn. I reflected that I felt as though I had taken a risk. The risk was retrospectively traceable to the moment where I began to engage with him in conversation deeper than chit-chat. Would I take the risk again? Yes, I would, I thought. 

We passed through the city traffic, towards my hotel in Southgate. Along the way he pointed out the random-looking architecture of the council buildings. The windows were all on oblique angles, at artistic odds with the shapes of the tiles on its facade. I tilted my head as he described the view from the inside of the building and remarked how weird it would be to work in that space. “It would be difficult to get a painting straight on the wall!” I joked. We crossed over the Brisbane River again leaving the CBD behind. As we approached the Southgate precinct, he pointed out places of interest like the museum and concert hall, mentioning that these were all walking distance from where I was staying. Finally he said, “And here is your hotel”. I felt relieved but instead of stopping the taxi, he drove straight past it and turned the meter off again!

He took me on a tour of Southgate along the Brisbane River, pointing out good restaurants, places to walk and the site where the craft market would be set up the following day. 

After a slow loop of the Southgate precinct, he pulled up into the circular driveway of Ridges. To onlookers, there would have been nothing unusual. How many times would Ridge’s double glass doors have seen a taxi driver pull up and dispatch a client? He fetched my case. I paid him. He wished me well for my conference. I thanked him for the tour and he departed. The difference was imperceptible. I felt caught between a sense of relief that the journey was over and a reluctant farewell.

Unexpected Detour

September 14, 2008

I arrived at Brisbane airport late in the afternoon. I knew I would be heading straight into peak hour traffic, but it didn’t matter. All I had to do was check in. The conference didn’t begin until the following morning.

I collected my bag and wheeled on out of the airport following signs to the taxi pick-up area. There was a row of taxis and I was swiftly directed into the second waiting car. A tall man in his mid fifties driving an upmarket cab loaded my bag into his boot (that’s ‘trunk’ for anyone not from Australia).

My driver pulled away from the taxi rank and joined a queue of taxis exiting the airport. As the boom gate opened for each of the preceding cars, we inched forwards in the queue. 

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“Rydges on Southbank”, I replied, “Do you know it?”.

“We’ll find it somehow”, was all he said. I couldn’t see his expression and didn’t know quite how to respond. It was likely he was joking. The laconic attitude is common in people of his generation, particularly in the North. My favorite cousin from Brisbane would have said something similar. I decided to let it go and sat uneasily as he pulled up to the boom gate.

I wouldn’t have noticed the gate had we passed through within the expected rhythm of pausing and slow driving. But for us the gate didn’t open. My driver buzzed the control desk.

“Your bloody gate isn’t working”.

“Its not our gate. You don’t have a tag. Please put two dollars into the chute to exit”.

“Yes I do have a tag. Your gate doesn’t work”.

“Our gate works perfectly. Put in your two dollars. You are holding up the queue”

“My tag has been scanned and now you want me to pay again! I’m not paying double. Open your bloody gate if you want the queue to move.”

In this way my driver and the young man at the control desk argued to and fro. I looked up at the meter and noticed it was continuing to click over. He noticed where my attention had been drawn. “Don’t worry, I’ll turn it off”.

Finally the young man’s voice blasted through the intercom with, “If you’d been less selfish and just put your money in, the other drivers wouldn’t be held up”, before finally opening the gate.

My driver clicked the meter back on and drove through quickly, continuing his argument with me as surrogate other, “Yes, well, I’m not going to pay twice!”. 

As we entered the throngs of peak hour traffic, his mood shifted from argumentative to conversational. He went on to explain the tag system to me.

“I’ve never noticed it before. They may not have it at Melbourne”, I replied, happy to participate in any conversation to pass the journey. He assured me that every air port creamed money from the taxi industry, it was the method only that was different. Some airports charged drivers on entering, and some upon exiting. Taking in that I was from Melbourne he asked why I was in Brisbane and whether it was my first time. I had only been twice. Once as a kid and once over ten years prior. I didn’t know Brisbane well and had come this time to attend a conference. He questioned me about my work and when he established that education was my field mentioned that he had been a teacher before retiring early.

It was as though learning my field of interest gave him a feeling of connection, because he began to speak frankly and openly about his life and work. He believed teaching was an important profession, but his simplistic views on education were vastly different from mine. His retirement was stress-related. He would have been an authoritarian teacher, I thought to myself. I listened and asked the occasional question. But I did not feel like sharing my views.

It was his opinion that taxi drivers should be made to sit an exam before getting their taxi license.

“What? A pen and paper exam?”, I enquired.

A pen and paper exam was exactly what he meant. He believed that the majority of Brisbane’s taxi drivers not only did not know the streets of Brisbane well enough, but that their English was too poor. “They put themselves in danger when they don’t know the language and customs”, he asserted.

I quizzed him to establish his meaning. His main argument centered around situations where the customer could be either drunk or abusive or both. He drew on his personal experience with such customers to illustrate that someone with less local nouse than he, would have ended up in a violent situation. His point was that drunk or aggressive people did not have the patience to cope with drivers with limited language or knowledge of the streets. 

“Couldn’t the driver choose which customers to pick up? You could minimize your personal risk by refusing to stop for people obviously drunk?”, I enquired.

“No. A driver has to have a reason that would stand up in court for refusing to stop. And often its just their word against ours”. 

I hadn’t realised taxi drivers were obligated in such a way. It made more sense to me that they should be able to regulate their own business and make decisions that affected their own safety without having to justify them. But my driver stressed the possibility that persons could be left in unsafe situations by a driver’s refusal to stop. He believed strongly in his obligation to stop.

We drove alongside the Brisbane River and over the Story Bridge. I remarked on the beautiful aspect of the river in the sunset. He spoke at length with pride about the history of their river, and suggested that I take a ride on one of the restaurant boats.

Leaving the river views and turning into a city street, he continued talking as my tour guide, commenting on prominent architecture, points of interest and historical facts. As we neared the city centre and the traffic slowed, he pointed out an Anglican church further along the street. We slowed to a stop behind other cars banked up at a set of lights. Once the traffic was moving again he changed lanes to get a closer view of the church. Its steeples loomed as we approached it slowly, stopping and starting. He explained that the church had remained unfinished for over one hundred years. Appropriately skilled stone masons could not be found in Australia anymore. To finish the church, stone masons had been brought out from Italy. The last wing had been finally completed only recently. He had been christened and married in that church. 

Suddenly, without explanation, he turned out of the traffic into the driveway of the church. It was dark by this stage and the driveway was not well lit. I wondered what he was doing. I was sure this was not the way to my hotel. I shifted in my seat and he must have sensed my uneasiness. As he drove into the deserted church car park, he reached across to the meter and turned it off.

“I won’t charge you for this detour”, he said.

… to be continued.