My friend Dave once adviced me to write down every little observation of anything that seemed strange or foreign when in a foreign land. Because of course, when you live anywhere long enough, you acclamate. I had already done this to a large extent my first few trips to Amsterdam. It also got me thinking about the strangeness of Seattle the first time I went there. The overwhelming majesty of the city's natural beautiful surroundings. How all the highway overhangs were covered in vines and flowers. How flowers bloomed and thrived in February. I moved to Seattle when I was 26 and it was my first time living outside of the midwest. There were subtler things that struck me as well and for a while, intimidated me. It was very strange to have to sit in line in your car waiting for a parking space at a grocery store. It was very strange to find myself struggling to take a nice walk up and down the viciously steep hills. It was also strange to notice one day, I no longer struggled. It was strange how expensive everything was. It was strange to live in such a huge state and thrilling to think there was only one state the separated me from California. But there somewhat of a difference between driving from Michigan through Indiana to get to Kentucky and driving from Seattle through Oregon to get to San Francisco. :-).
Like most people, I was stunned by the endless massive tangle of bicycles in Amsterdam. This is well worn territory, but the thing that is just as stunning is how crappy all the dutch bicycles are. Your typical dutch bike could not be given away for free in the US, and yet, these bikes are expensive. I paid 135 euros for Saskia and bought her used. When I first arrived in AMS, I said to my friend Michelle, no way in hell would anyone ever catch me on some crappy dutch bike. What a clueless idiot I was.
When I returned to the US after my three month stay in AMS in the winter of 2006, the first thing I did was go out and buy a bike. I went to that bike shop in the U District right next to Blue Water Tacos...I forget the name of the bike shop (help me out, Seattleites!)). I bought the cheapest bike there. It doesn't have a cross bar in the frame. It is heavy. The saddle is wide and cushiony. It's a grandma bike. It was something like 250 bucks. Not a cool bike at all. Slow and sluggish. I took it out on the Burke Gilman trail with my friend Kristin, who has a very nice bike and also an athlete's ability to ride it. She'd pass me up and zoom off into the distance while I'm chugging along on my big orange Inadequacy.
An "oma" bike is the classic dutch bike. It is black. It has backwards-pedal breaking. Oma is the dutch word for "grandma." An old oma bike passed down from generations is a prized possession. New ones run about 235 euros. Not cheap. My bike, Saskia, is made by Sparta, a dutch manufacturer, and is also a nice typical dutch bike. She tends to fall apart rather easily and I've put at least as much money into her repairs as I have into her purchase. I love this bike.
Yesterday, after my work day was over, I took my bike which was shipped over from the US to a shop to have the tires inflated and to buy an additional lock. This bike is bright orange (patriotic) and is made by Raleigh. People were almost fawning over it. The shop keeper commented on what a nice bike it was and how "lightweight" it was. We got the tires inflated and now, with what seemed like the lightest touch, this bike sailed past just about everyone and everything. I rode over bridges with negative effort. Breaking was achieved with a light grip on the hand breaks. I was stealth. Fast. Sleek. I felt like I was driving a porsche. And for the wrong reasons also. The typical crappy dutch bike is another vehicle, literally and metaphorically, of egalitarianism in Holland. Everyone rides them. Men wearing 1000 dollar suits ride them. When you ride a fancy bike, it gives the impression that you are trying to achieve betterment above everyone else. I was passing people. My butt was totally enjoying the nice saddle and I was loving the speed. However, I no longer belonged. I was an outsider on this bike. There was something just not right about being on this bike. I also got hit about 10 times. In relative surroundings, it had a silent aura to it as if at once I stood out but was also invisible. Twice I almost collided with opening cars doors encroaching on the bike lane. That never happens on Saskia.
I took the bike home and walked it past Saskia who seemed sad and insecure to me. She is parked outside. This bike needs to be kept inside or else it will be stolen. I sensed a sadness in both bikes, actually. The American bike which was clearly uncomfortable with its new status. And Saskia must have felt bettered. The two of them can't be friends, like ally cats and house cats staring at each other through windows, each jealous of what the other has. I will ride the new bike to work until it gets stolen, which I doubt will curb my compulsion to anthropomorphize everything.