Wednesday, May 29, 2019

I'm getting left behind, and I don't care so much

Several years ago, a student gave me the gift of an iPhone 4. It was already obsolete by the time she gave it to me, but it was free and if I could find free wifi I could check my email and messages during my music travels.

I appreciated the gift, and have used it daily since then.

A couple years ago, another friend gifted me with an iPhone 6. It's battery needed replacing, which would cost me money, but it was newer and could run more apps than the 4.

It's sitting on our CD shelf as I type this. I haven't done anything with it yet.
I continue to use the 4, because I'm used to it, it's simpler and has fewer doo-dads for me to have to figure out. And the battery is working fine so far. In fact, it seems more robust than the 6.

The only problem -- the same problem I've had with all my technology -- is that because of its age, I can't download newer apps, or newer versions of already-existing apps.

It's a problem only because people expect me to be like them and have the latest devices so I can do things like call an Uber or Lyft; rent a bikeshare bike when I visit a city; or find my way around using GPS.

I don't have these apps and cannot download them onto my 4. It's too old and older versions of the apps are not supported -- or, in many cases, even available anymore.

And honestly? I don't really care.

I don't feel like I'm missing out on a lot when I can't do all these things, because they mostly don't interest me. I like the fact that when I last owned a car in 1990, I had a perfectly functional 1986 copy of the Thomas Guide under the front passenger's seat. It was all I ever need to find my way around parts of town I didn't know. When not driving, public transit was great, and the printed schedules and map booklets they used to provide back then worked just fine.

Today, even many homeless people have smartphones. I'm not sure how they can afford a monthly plan. I sure can't. That's why I continue to use my decade-old flip-phone. It's pay-as-you-go, and the network isn't everywhere I'd like it to be so I'm sometimes out of range in cities where seemingly everyone else has connectivity. But it's also a hell of a lot cheaper than a smartphone plan, and for someone who doesn't keep their cell phone on day and night it makes sense. It does not make me popular with my more up-to-date friends, since they can only call me on my flip-phone (texting is slow, awkward and very expensive on a pay-as-you-go phone).

At home, when I'm online I use my laptop.

And at home, I'm on my laptop more than I'd like to be. So I make a point of being away from computers for awhile every day, whether it's for bike-riding, yardwork, music or just hanging out.

A curious freedom comes with getting older, especially as a woman. Older women are invisible in so many ways. We have a harder time getting work. We aren't taken seriously by the mostly younger people who seem to be running the world these days. And while that can be pretty harsh, it can also be freeing. If I'm invisible, I don't have to struggle to keep up -- with technology, with fashion or anything else that younger people have had to buy into in order to "get ahead" in our winning-obsessed world.

(In game theory, I'm someone who plays the game simply in order to be in the game. I don't really care that much about winning or losing. This makes me rather ill-suited for capitalism. I do the best I can under the circumstances, and try not to get caught by the winner-take-all gamers.)

Since I don't play to win, I don't really care a whole lot about whether or not I'm keeping up with someone else's version of the game (in which there's winning or losing, rather than just playing.)
And that means I sort of don't really care about spending money I don't have to stay technologically up to date.

So when this 4 finally gives out, I might take the 6 in to the local Mac store and find out what it would cost to upgrade the battery. Or I might further limit my screen time by simply using my laptop, which is sure to last for awhile yet (since I don't fill its memory to capacity, and I don't use it 24/7).

I feel like we could approach a tipping point where people burn out on social media and long-distance friendships in favor of strengthening local connectivity. We'll see.

Meanwhile, I don't plan to go shopping for new tech anytime soon.

In fact, tonight might be a good time for a little bicycle ride.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

transportation and the environment: air travel

In 1990, I did two big things.

First, I sold my car. It was an '81 Ford Escort, the last year they made a 4-speed stick shift in this model. It had been my Dad's, and when he learned it had virtually NO trade-in value he decided to make a present of it to me, for the cost of title transfer. I drove that car for three years and used it mostly to get to my job downtown (where parking was free) and to haul my drum kit to gigs.
Over time I discovered that my night vision was growing worse, and that the car wasn't in such great shape, either.  I sold the car in July 1990, and never looked back.

The next thing I did was to buy a better bicycle. I had a very old five-speed city bike that weighed a ton and looked cool, but was impractical for where I lived and for the kind of riding I aspired to. So I took the money from the sale of the car (a whopping $600) and put some of it towards a new Trek mountain bike.

These were two of the best decisions I'd ever made.

I rode to work in all weather after that, and if someone wanted to hire me for a gig, they had to arrange for transportation for me and my drums. (Since I was a pretty decent drummer, the folks who really needed me were generally happy to provide a ride.)

From 1990 until 2012, my bicycle was my primary mode of transportation.
In 2012, things began to shift. I left Citybikes and full-time work in the bicycle industry), and began to build a career as a touring Jewish artist- and educator-in-residence. I had to tour because there simply wasn't enough paying Jewish music and teaching work in Portland. There still isn't and for someone like me there probably never will be.

The result of that reality is that I've had to build a nice little career through touring. I've been blessed to travel all over this beautiful country and meet some pretty amazing people. I've even made some pretty lovely friends as a result of my travels. But through it all, I've had a nagging feeling that, while this constituted "right livelihood" as far as my work and talents went, it was a lousy livelihood for the planet.

I have struggled with this ever since I decided to focus on music and teaching in the Jewish world.
My family and friends have tried to reassure me that, with my many years of sustainable travel, I've surely not even begun to burn up all those good effects by a few years of air travel.
I'm not so sure. Because the fact is that air travel is especially horrible for the Earth, and more peoplethan ever are choosing air travel as their first transportation choice when it comes to cross-country -- or cross-region -- trips.

But when I live in Portland, and the high-paying gig that will cover half the mortgage on our crappy-lovely little house is in Florida, what am I supposed to do?
Portland is home. My family is here and my friends are mostly here. The way I live is centered around a place where I can depend on strong public transit and bike-accessible roadways, amenities most cities with large Jewish communities simply do not offer.
I'm an independent freelancer and moving to Florida would not guarantee me ongoing work.
Plus, I can't work full-time anymore anyway. But that's another discussion for later.

The truth is that this career change has serious implications for me, for you, and for the future of the planet. I'm not sure how much longer I can sustain it without feeling like I'm the villain here.

This weekend, a whole lot of my Jewish music colleagues and friends are meeting in the middle of the country at a camp and retreat facility, for one of the most important professional conferences of the year. Some of my friends have attended this event every year for decades, because it's kind of like a little summer camp for them.

Conferences are important for many professions.
They allow people in different parts of the country to network, to share ideas and to forge friendships that are otherwise sustained across the miles all year long. But some conferences continue to offer mostly the same workshops and activities year to year, and past a certain point, one has to wonder how efficient it is to keep going back for the same thing each year. I attended this conference just once, seventeen years ago. It was amazing and eye-opening and I'm glad I went. But it was also clear that this was not something I needed to attend every year, especially considering the financial costs and the fact that the synagogue I was affiliated with would not help with expenses. So at the end of the day, I knew I wouldn't be back.

Since then, I've gone to several conferences. As of this writing I've only returned to one conference, each of the past three years. I had hoped that by returning I might gain a foothold of some kind of recognition and advancement in that conference's universe, and that at some point I might become an instructor for that conference, which happened this year. I'm grateful for the experiences and the warm atmosphere this conference offers. And I'm so glad that my workshops were well-attended and appreciated. But at the end of the day, does it make sense for me to keep going back?
I'm not sure.

Because I keep coming back to the villany of air travel, and what it's doing to the Earth. Some scientists say our planet has only 60 or 70 years left before it's too hot for humans to live here. (At least one famous scientist says that fatal benchmark is coming a whole lot sooner.)

I love what I do.
I love where I live.
And I HATE what some of my choices are doing to the planet.

The good part, if there is one, is that I'm not thinking of eliminating ALL travel forever. Because this dilemma is not entirely on me to begin with.
I know that the US military is the largest consumer of fossil fuels; that travel decreases xenophobia and increases understanding of cultures different than our own; and that the real onus for managing climate change through excessive fossil fuel consumption must fall on governments and industries, not on the individual consumer.

The bad part is that if we want governments and industries to act we are going to have to push them to the wall. And one way to do that is by traveling less. A lot less.

Staying put also gives us time and energy to invest in strengthening the communities where we live. And while the community I've been affiliated with for the last decade-plus has made me consider looking elsewhere for another community to affiliate with, that new community will still be here in Portland. Because I believe in blooming where one is planted. And Portland's big enough that I can find something, someone -- some other folks -- to create community with.

I'm not talking about completely shutting down my life beyond the walls of my house. Nor am I talking about staying in Portland forever. My in-laws are elderly and need our help, and they're a 12-hour drive south of us. I have no hesitation about making that trip anytime, because that's what you do for your parents if you're a loving, responsible adult child. And since my career is still active, I'm making a point of working to find gigs closer to home -- staying on the West Coast when I can, for example -- because if I can take the train or the bus my carbon footprint will be smaller by far.
(I'm 5'7". I fit in the seats on a bus. It's not a problem.)

But I am talking about reevaluating how and why I travel in the coming months and years. Because I really need to, and because I think we all need to.

Today my colleagues arrive at their large conference in the Midwest, flying in from all over the country and a few from outside it. Next week I will be downtown at a Climate Action Event in which young people have taken the lead. Because we trashed their future. I'm willing to own that, and to answer for it. Are you?

(final photo, above: one of our beloved horse rings, hundreds of which can be found all over the oldest parts of Portland. Dating to before the turn of the last century; used to tie up horses while you visited a friend or the market. These little iron rings are protected historic landmarks, and removing one will cost you a lot of money.)

Monday, May 27, 2019

Selling off bikes, and other radical implementations

 1. Stompy is for sale.
The third incarnation of my singlespeed mountain bike is something I can't really enjoy riding anymore, thanks to arthritis and a bad knee. It's also a good excuse to get the stable down to two bikes and leave it there.
So if you're in Portland and looking for an affordable way into singlespeed off-roading -- and you're between 5'3" and 5'7" -- this is the bike for you.
Built up and improved with some decent parts, but nothing so fancy that you'd cry if you had to straighten it with your bare hands after a crash. Asking $70. Message me.

Scaling down the stable is just one in a series of steps I've taken over the last few years. Here are a few more:

2. Working less.

This has its roots in a number of things, which I'll outline as briefly as I can.
-- my health, first a foremost. Between three autoimmune conditions, age and the rolling fatigue that comes with depression, I simply cannot manage a 40-hour week anymore.
-- time. You can make more money -- governments do this all the time to adjust the value of their currencies -- but you cannot make more time. All you can do is take it back from your boss. And I use that time to rest, to cook at home more often, to spend time with my loved ones, to create, to daydream. I would suggest that even if you have s child, you can still work less outside the home, and devote more time to raising your child.
-- things. I'm learning -- over and over and over again, because this has truthfully been the hardest one -- that I do not need as many things to be healthy and happy. I mend clothes rather than shop for new ones. I scavenge free boxes for basics, including unopened dry foods. (I picked up a bag of cat food someone had left behind at Sunday Parkways, and my cat seems to like it, so that's ten bucks I didn't have to spend.)
-- money. If I'm working less and I have more time, I can choose not to use that time to go shopping for stuff I don't really need.


a. I'm privileged. I'm white and educated and already live low enough to the ground that making these changes -- evolutions, really -- has taken awhile. We bought our little house 16 years ago, before the housing market went north, and so today we enjoy a modicum of housing security that those who rent do not.

b. I'm in my later 50s. Which means that the government's expectations of me are lower, and I'm no longer required to seek full-time employment in order to qualify for social services based on my health needs. Being in my later 50s also serves me a little better as I wait for a disability hearing. Because again, I'm working under a cloud of lowered expectations.

c. My self-absolution, for having little to show after working full-time for so long. Guess what? Not everyone can be a financier or a professor. Not everyone will earn a real salary or the benefits that go along with one. I've spent my entire life working for piecemeal pay (by-the-job), or for an hourly wage, and most of that time with NO benefits. That reality is based on choices made by employers and governments and those choices were beyond my control. They still are. So I see no need to beat myself up for having earned so little money over my lifetime.

d. Realigning my values. In my late early thirties I discovered a radical notion: You work only as many hours as you must in order to cover your basic needs. If you want more than that, you can choose to work more. Or, you can learn to be content with what you have. Why would I spend the majority of my waking hours working for someone else who may or may not really value me and my contributions? Very few people working for an hourly wage get to do work they love, for people who truly value them. That's just a fact of life. Don't believe me? Here's an article about people who knew how much they were needed and how little they were valued, and how they dealt with that reality.
What do I do with my time? I rest, I daydream, I create, and I spend time with my loved ones. I still watch TV but I'm mindful of how much and what I watch, and I'm pretty good at disengaging from the tube when I want and need to. There's plenty of other stuff to do and life is far too interesting to spend most of it sitting on the couch staring at commercials, which is what most of television programming is anyway.

e. Eating more simply by having more time to prepare food at home. Because let's face it, eating healthy and cooking your own food at home takes more time. It also can cost more money (because processed foods are manufactured by companies that are subsidized by tax breaks and other government niceties, while whole/organic foods are not). We save money by making things that extend whole ingredients and by growing some of our own vegetables at home. In good years, we'll finish the growing season with jars of tomatoes that we can use over the winter for all sorts of recipes, and sometimes we'll store a basket of potatoes in the crawlspace and eat potatoes well into winter. (Pro tip: If you want to eat more whole foods, eat what's in season. That's another way to save money.) We still eat processed food, because it's unavoidable in the city; but I'm more thoughtful about what I eat than I used to be. It's a work in progress.

f. Going back to the privilege -- we are both creative freelancers, my spouse and I, working from home. We live close enough to everything we need, including family, stores, doctors, our house of worship and some of our friends, that I can take public transit almost everywhere and not need a car. I sold my car in 1990, back when it was a burden rather than a privilege. Now, not owning a car feels like a privilege because I don't depend on a job that's an hour's drive away. It's taken a lifetime to get to this point, and while it's fair to say that my relative privilege allows me to support these choices, I would suggest that everyone who CAN choose these things right now MUST choose them if we are to build a critical mass of people choosing simpler living.

And it's hard.

It's hard to avoid the bleating TV or computer screen that shouts advertisements at us all day long, the multinationals that use every resources available to entice us to buy more things and to believe that this will make us feel and live better. It's hqrd to be the one who doesn't drive everywhere when your friends can't live without their cars. And it's not perfect. But I believe that even my imperfect life looks better now than it would have if I'd continued to buy into capitalism's message of constant acquisition, constant work, and constant stress. I have placed myself as far from that maze as I can and still draw breath comfortably. I have no regrets.

I would like to believe that if enough of us make smarter choices about how we send our finite time in this life, and we talk about living lower on the economic ladder without shame, then that will open the door to make it easier for others to choose similarly. And if it doesn't, well, I've picked a course that works for me. And if it looks like a big middle finger to the American Nightmare, so be it.

Monday, May 20, 2019

southeast sunday parkways 2019

Last year, my Sunday Parkways experience was, let's say, Less Than Optimal.
On two different routes, I had angry car drivers who threatened to mow me down because the most direct route to their workplace was blocked off as part of the Parkways route. One actually used his car as a threatened weapon when he actually tried to drive it forward directly into me and a couple other volunteers.

So this year, I decided to be proactive.

First, I informed PBOT that I would be happy to return as a Mobile Mechanic for my 12th season of Parkways. Then, I told them that I would NOT function as a traffic cop because that was not part of my job description; AND I would wear something that clearly identified me as a mobile bike mechanic.
To their credit, they understood, and welcomed me back.

And the vest worked. Bright yellow and clearly marked front and back with the words "Mobile Bicycle Mechanic," it was suddenly obvious to folks riding along thay fi they had a mechanical, I was there to help out. As a result, Several people actually asked me for help, taking their cue from my vest. And this time, I rode with a clear purpose and enjoyed myself a whole lot more.

Portland Peeps! Sunday Parkways has room for more volunteers in many capacities throughout Parkways season. CLICK HERE to learn more.

Along the way, I had a fun time running into friends and enjoying the mellow vibe riding one of the three oldest Parkways routes.

Next up: Sunday Parkways North is Sunday, June 30. I'll see you there!

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoor

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoor

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, stripes and outdoor

Image may contain: 1 person, riding a bicycle, bicycle and outdoor

Friday, May 10, 2019


Hey, so I know I've been living the bummer life lately.
And while I get that this may turn off some of my readers, I'm not sorry.
One of the beautiful things about getting older is when you reach the point that you stop worrying about what other folks thingk, and you simply live your truest life as your truest Self.
I'm in that time now. Fur sure, I pay a price for this, but it still feels good. Grounding. Worth the cost.
Gonna ride my bike today, and maybe hit some high points along the way.

Cheers, and happy riding!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019


I'm at a coffee shop, and it's staring me right in the face.
And what makes me furious, what makes me incredibly sad, is that all the bike rides and refillable cups and home gardens in the world won't change this.
In the history of the world, species have come and gone forever. It's just never felt like it was happening so fast before.
And I know -- I have to admit -- that the conscious choices I and a million other individuals make won't make a dent.
In a world of billions, a million decisions are a drop in the bucket.
The wealthiest few on the planet make decisions every day with the capitalist machinery they own. Each of their decisions impacts billions of human beings, and permanently alters the biology of our planet.
I'm going to a little boy's birthday party tonight. And I cannot help but wonder how many birthdays he'll celebrate before we industrialize ourselves into extinction.
I am sitting with this moment and will see what else it has to tell me. Stay tuned.

 No photo description available.

Friday, May 3, 2019

That's MISTER grumpypants to you, buddy

Yeah, I know. I'm a really grumpy, old fart bicycle rider who's lived in Portland
too long and has seen too many things come, become cool, and then become trendy.
Well, here's another precious trend about to hatch.
Once a grassroots celebration of alternative transportation makes it into the pages of a
it's over. I'm gonna watch as the grassroots fade away while the kids who are running the show now look for corporate sponsorship to keep their festival going.

Meanwhile, I think I'll just ride my bike.