Friday, January 18, 2013

Freedom is Coming and She's a Bike

Freedom is Coming and She’s a Bike

No, the old lady on a bike did not bike off into the eternal sunset.  She is still alive and pedaling even if, to be honest, often these days perched warm and dry on her indoor exercise bike looking out the window at roof tops and hillsides battered and drenched by Mother Nature. 
But the weather wasn’t what kept me from blogging last year.  It was the struggle to keep alive a business called Whistle Stop Co-op CafĂ© and Bike Shop.  It was a fun, but calamitous adventure that blew a gaping hole in our retirement piggy bank.
 One of the worst mishaps was the obliteration of 2/3 of Whistle Stop’s beautiful mural meant to enhance the neighborhood ad infinitum. Unfortunately  the colorful image of a biking lady in African dress, surrounded by verdant meadows and sweet charming friends, has been messily obscured with institutional green paint.  The reason is that we have rented the building to a nice gentleman who has deftly transformed it into an East African coffee shop.  I guess the poor guy didn’t realize that destroying other people’s art is a bit of a blunder in American culture.  But he has promised to replace the lady on the bike with a beautiful mural of an African savannah with a woman carrying a pot of water on her head.
“But the lady on the bike was even wearing an African dress!” I protested to the guy when I first saw green paint dribbling off the wall in her place. 
“Yes, but people kept coming in and asking me to fix their bikes,” he whined.  “I don’t know how to fix bikes!”
I guess I loved the young African lady on a bike so much because she was a woman-power salute painted on the busiest corner in southeast Seattle.
 Once in India I saw two women biking in saris and gave them the salute.  It brought to mind a Susan B. Anthony quote: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling.  I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.  It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.  I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel  . . . the picture of free untrammeled womanhood.”
Maybe it’s too much to ask that African immigrant women to be thus emancipated so early in history.  Once I saw a little girl about eight years old in African dress out biking on the Chief Sealth Trail.  But I have never seen a grown woman  wearing a burka “ride by on a wheel."
To the contrary, the other day another East African gentleman told me that in their culture a woman walking in the street is suspected to be a “loose woman.”  I hope the man was exaggerating/spinning a yarn.  Next to riding my bike, my favorite activity is taking a walk.  I take one almost every day.  To be culturally and socially inhibited from walking down the street would be tantamount to prison.  Imagine being under house arrest for your entire life!
When I think back to the early days of the women’s movement, I wonder if it ever occurred to Betty Friedan and friends how lucky they were.  Maybe they were imprisoned within suburban homes with refrigerators and washing machines, but at least they could get out and take a walk a bike ride.