Story last updated at 11/11/2009 - 11:53 am
In 2009, we have more than enough options when it comes to filling our need for social interaction. Plenty of local venues including libraries, shops and eateries offer interaction with real live people other than our families. But why bother going out? We can "connect" with the world without even leaving our bedrooms on black hole-esque networking Web sites like MySpace and Facebook.
For those brave enough to actually hit the streets, a greater reward is in store. Southeast Alaskans are lucky enough to live in a place where most people aren't afraid to make eye contact or converse with passers by. This is quite opposite from my experience living in Los Angeles prior to my transfer to Juneau. I became accustomed to feeling invisible amongst the masses of folks hustling around doing their business, always in too much of a hurry to even so much as send half a glance in my direction.
But the second I would mount my bicycle, people wouldn't leave me alone. On my daily commute, I was constantly bombarded by honks, whistles and waves. On one particular ride, I was alarmed at the sound of a glass bottle shattering on the ground beside me as a lone SUV passed me. I can only assume that the bottle had been directed at me as I was the only one around.
Why all the hubbub over a two-wheeled vehicle?
The only conclusion I could come to is that bicycles are so uncommon in the Southland that people just don't know what to do when they see one. If you were to suddenly see a herd of buffalo cross Main Street, what would you do? Honk, try to pet one or go home to grab your rifle?
Though I've had my share of negative events while on the road, they are outnumbered by positive and enlightening experiences. Probably some of my most memorable adventures have taken place on the saddle.
I often think back to one Californian instance when I missed the last bus out of Canoga Park on one Friday evening. Between midnight and about 6 a.m. I rode the 40 or so miles back home in time to catch a few hours of sleep before going to work the following day. The city was silent. It was only me and the streets, so when I saw someone else there was a special mutual acknowledgement that often led to conversation.
Any piece of gear seems to make a natural conversation starter, whether it be a foxy bicycle, slick skis or a particularly pointy ice axe. People seem to get stoked on simply seeing someone else using equipment rather than letting it collect dust in their closet. The adrenaline of the activity has a way of rubbing off on bystanders with whom they happen to cross paths.
On a ride out Thane Road this past Sunday, I was greeted by a number of walkers with cheery faces, many of whom submitted some sort of encouraging comment in regard to my cycling. But even those who just said "hello" spoke with a spirit that lead me to believe that they were proud of what I was accomplishing.
"It's tougher on the way back, isn't it?" one fellow suggested.
"Actually, it's different every time," I replied. It's true. The same climbs and coasts seem to change each time I pedal that road, as do the people I encounter. Sure, I could have driven the route just to see the scenery, but I would have missed out on that street networking.
A stroll or roll around the neighborhood is unpredictable and has the potential to be anything but ordinary. The social networking opportunities are endless, and if you are open to it you may come home with a new friend to add to your list. Get out, do something and you may be surprised just what, or who you may find.
Libby Sterling may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.