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Man vs. Machine

Ride my bicycle
Through these buzzing Tokyo streets
Sweaty guide is me

Yes, I did just begin this entry with a haiku about my bicycle. My street cred has been eviscerated.

Do you hear that obnoxious bell ringing behind you? Well that is me, clamoring up the busy thoroughfares of Tokyo, pushing my way past silly tourists and dazed businessmen. Ladies and gentlemen, I bought a bicycle today.

For 9,999 yen ($85 USD), I am the first-day-new, cooing owner of a three gear, two-wheeled Japanese bicycle. If I was a gloating man, I would mention the friction-powered guiding light or the positively-convenient metal-wire basket in front. But, I’m not a gloating man. So I won’t.

This morning on my first ride, I learned that now there is nothing holding back my breezy, out-of-control throws down Meguro-dori. I have given up my seat on bus 98 for good.

My visions of Tokyo, I found today on my bike ride to school, had been obscured by those bus windows. Today, instead of ‘that blue building,’ I saw a home-improvement planning office. Instead of seeing a tiny, wood-paneled corner restaurant, I saw what patrons were eating inside a tiny, wood-paneled corner restaurant.

Despite my apparent excitement this is a sudden purchase for a man as frugal as I. This I understand. But, last night after I finished another bus pass I recalled, as I have said in this very blog, that life naturally finds habit, but nothing threatens it more. The bus was a challenge and a wonderful experience, but, in a month, I had become accustomed to it. I must rise higher. So, I walked into the door of a local department store and bought me a bike.

What about old bus 98, you might ask. Yes, this is true, I was forced to make a sudden break with an old friend. Casualties are a requirement of a successful travel experience. Let no one tell you differently. Seeing that I am terribly cheap and that I finished my bus pass yesterday, which was another motivation for the abrupt transportation change, I won’t be making any more city bus trips soon. I knew 98 and I would meet again.

You see, the most cost-effective bus pass is the 5,000 yen sort ($42.50 USD), and, after a little math, I realized I would need, at very least, four more passes this semester. The bicycle will save me at least 10,000 yen ($85 USD). With that money-saving advantage and the reality that the bicycle allows a new challenge and a chance at new sights, there was no stopping me from busting the door into that Seiyu and muttering enough Japanese to walk out with a bicycle and its registration.

You might ask, what will you do with the bicycle when you are leaving Japan? It is actually quite sad, I tell you. Though, I have already fallen in a deep passionate form of love for my bicycle, it is not meant to be. Despite my need for a new street bicycle for my return to Philadelphia, I will be forced to resell this bicycle. Shipping costs would be too much. I am a man of pragmatism. I will find my bicycle a proper home.

(Note: I have decided I will need to name this bicycle of mine. Please, I open the floor for suggestions.)

What about the winter, you say. Well, it is my understanding that Japan doesn’t find its real winter groove until January. I am getting off this island in mid-December. We are just going to hope that some gloves, a hat and a sweatshirt can handle the early winters of central Honshu.

The worrying is done. I am nine again. I am Tokyo’s best commuter bicyclist. This, I say after just one day of bicycling. You may call this brash. Must I remind you that all the greats found their calling early? Did anyone question Mozart? Well, they shouldn’t have, and so you shouldn’t question this.

The trip to school this morning was peaceful and looking-in-the-mirror-and-really-liking-what-you-see exciting. My return trip this evening was anything but peaceful.

A night class left me in the dark for the return trip and that was more than welcomed. It would allow me to see the lights of Tokyo at my own pace. Or so I had imagined.

See, I began my deliberate pedaling before I saw my old friend, bus 98. Up until yesterday, before my bicycle purchase, she was my conveyance to school. This was all too poetic. Ars simia naturae, my friends, ars simia naturae. Naturally, I did what any self-respecting young American male would do when seeing an old friend after cutting ties. I tried to beat the living crap out of it.

Bus 98 lurched forward after making a stop and I let loose into a fury of two-wheeled motion. 98 and I were locking horns through the light-dotted streets of Tokyo. I swear to you, this was man-powered speed the likes of which perhaps only John Henry the Steel Driving Man could ever understand.

We were topping the hill near Meguro Station as the light turned yellow. Of course I punched it. I couldn’t help but smile as old 98 followed me through the red-turning street light with a gruff of her gas-powered soul. You don’t give up so easily, do you 98?

The playing was over. I had left 98 and needed to let her understand that I had made the right decision. The Hindus call it moksha, sometimes the Chinese call it ch’i, the competitive and meditative have pursued it for millennia and ancient peoples have known it even longer. Whatever you call that place when you reach perfect balance with the world around you, that is where I was, dear readers. I was changing gears and avoiding pedestrians, on the road, back to the sidewalk, then back to the road again. I am not sure where I went or what happened but I reached a level of speed and control with that bicycle that may have never been reached before and likely never will be in the future.

I dispatched bike messengers with reckless haste, knocked bags out of the hands of elderly women and devoured Japanese sidewalk, with 98 chugging along desperate to not lose face. I swear to you, if even for just a moment, my bicycle tires left the ground and I went high enough to glare at my mass-transit counterpart right in the headlights.

We reached the crest of the hill and before us lay precious momentum and the effective and understood finish line below. There would be no winners or losers in this race, my friends, only the fastest and the forsaken.

I came down that sidewalk and may lightning strike my Alien Registration card if I didn’t near life-threatening speeds. To my right it appeared as if all the cars in Tokyo had pulled over to allow 98 pass. There were lines of Japanese hands passing off cups of water to me as they cheered for all humankind. This wasn’t America against Japan, my friends, this was, truly, man versus machine.

Suddenly I pulled ahead with the deft movement of a ninja, appropriately enough as I was racing in their country of extraction. My only obstacle was a smiley-faced twelve-year-girl who had just pulled in front of me. Sent by bus 98? Perhaps, but I just smiled. My young adversary may have had a ten speed, but more gears couldn’t replace what she didn’t have in experience and will never have in heart.

I went to third gear, easily passing her, and gently shoved her into a passing shrub. There would be no stopping me from crushing bus 98. This may sound cruel, you simply don’t understand, after all I do not take kindly to those that force me to slow my pace. Just as I turned to watch my twelve-year-old would-be assailant shake her tiny fist at me, I ran a just-turned red light, leaving bus 98 the unwelcome position of failure.

And this was just my first day riding.
Jaa ne,

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