P r olog u e

:

“Where am I?”
This is a game I like to play with myself sometimes. When I find
myself in a remarkable situation or setting, I pretend I just woke up
and have no idea how I got there. Or, I just imagine I’m that guy from
the movie Memento who had no short-term memory and basically
had to tattoo little Post-It notes all over himself. It’s fun—sort of my
little way of savoring the moment. And I’m playing it now.
So where am I?
Well, let’s see: First of all, I’m piloting a strange contraption. It
is, more or less, a bicycle, though there is a great big wooden trough
on the front of it with a clear plastic canopy over it. Okay, I must be
riding a mobile greenhouse. This makes sense. Bike blogging is not
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exactly synonymous with job security, so it was only a matter of time
before I’d have to rent myself out as a door-to-door gardenia peddler.
And there’s only one place in the world where you can get a job as a
bicycle gardener. So . . .
I’m in Portland, Oregon.
But wait, I can’t be in Portland! Last time I was in Portland I
felt like I had to pee all the time—and I mean all the time—because
of all the Stumptown coffee and craft beer. Seriously, I never didn’t
have to go to the bathroom. I happen to be very fond of Portland, but
I also associate certain cities with certain smells, and the smell I
associate with Portland is the way your pee smells after you’ve had
a lot of coffee. So since I don’t feel like I have to go to the bathroom
right now, nor am I actually in the bathroom urinating, then I can’t
be in Portland.
And yeah, this is definitely not Portland, since even though I’m
in a city, and even though it’s very damp out, I don’t see any mountains in the distance or anybody riding a tall bike while juggling.
Still, that doesn’t account for the fact that I’m riding in a city on
a huge bike yet nobody’s beeping at me. Nor does it explain why there
are lots of other people around me on bikes yet none of them are wearing cycling-specific clothing of any kind. It’s also definitely the present day, since like half the other cyclists are on cell phones. It’s not
Critical Mass, or a “Tweed Ride,” or a charity ride, or really any kind
of theme ride whatsoever. There also aren’t any police. This makes
no sense—I’ve never seen this many bikes in one place at the same
time without some kind of police presence.
Unless . . .
I’m not in America at all!
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Well, it’s a good theory, and it would certainly account for the
fact a bunch of people are riding bikes at the same time even though
it’s not a special occasion.
Anyway, it’s at this point that I encounter a little hump in the
street, and as I crest it I realize that I’m crossing over a pretty funkylooking canal dotted with houseboats. I also notice a sign on the side
of a building confirming my suspicion that I’m far from home—it’s a
street name, and the street I’m on is evidently called something like
“Niewenhusenvorbulgraght.” Most telling, though, is that I finally
peer into the canopy on the front of my rolling greenhouse, and I
notice that what I’m transporting isn’t greenery at all. It’s a young
human child who just happens to be my son.
Now I’ve got it—I’m in Amsterdam.
And this is why I’m playing the game—because I want to savor
this experience. Just as countless teens and twentysomethings have
sat in Amsterdam coffee houses, stared at each other through clouds
of marijuana smoke, and coughed out the words, “I can’t beleeeve
we’re smoking weeed in like a baaar,” I can’t believe I’m riding what
amounts to a station wagon on wheels with my wife Sara just up the
street and my son Elliott hanging out in his trough, and I’m being
treated like a human being and not a stray dog who’s wandered out
into the street or an #Occupy[Your City Here] protester about to be
washed away with a fire hose.
This treatment is something I didn’t even realize I wanted until
just a few years ago—mostly because I was almost unable to conceive
of it. I don’t mean the rolling greenhouse specifically (well, actually
it’s a bakfiets, but we’ll come to that) so much as I mean the ability
to take to the streets by bicycle free from harassment, fashion, poli8

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tics, and pretense. See, in America, you ride for fitness, or you ride for
thrills, or you ride to make a statement. But as a lifelong cyclist and
a new father, I’ve increasingly begun to realize the pleasure of riding
a bike for no other reason than simply getting around. I’ve dreamed
of a place where doing that isn’t considered “alternative” and doesn’t
automatically brand you as an outsider, or at least as “different”
somehow. So I packed my family on a plane and we came to Amsterdam, and it turns out that the cycling paradise really does exist.
So now that I know where I am, let’s see how I got here.

Dropped from the Sky

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