Friday, August 13, 2010

Community and Collaboration: "Broken Bike Blues"

Like usual, I started the day by walking by bike up the trail and over the guardrail.  Hopping on I began to ride on the bridge that passes over the highway.  I was immediately alarmed by a large truck that was coming up behind me so I swerved towards the curb to give myself more space.  My bike scraped the side of the curb, but I was able to maintain balance as the truck sped by.  To my surprise I looked down to see the bike’s chain dragging on the pavement.  My knowledge of bikes is intermediate at best, but I could tell the damage was serious.  The metal piece near the rear wheel that holds the chain in place was cracked in half.  Having only about ten bucks left at the time, I faced the devastating fact that I would probably not be able to get it fixed.

This may not seem like a huge deal to most, however, a bike is an extremely valuable possession to someone in this type of living situation, and to me the most.  Being able to get downtown each day is imperative for campers to get food, showers, and other services.  While the site was conveniently located directly next to a bus line, I could not afford to the fair out and back each day.  I realized I would have to walk the three miles to downtown most of the time that takes about an hour.  Campers left without adequate transportation options, especially those with disabilities, often become stranded at camp, which can become depressing.  This is why it is essential that tent cities remain in close proximity to the city rather than common practice of pushing them further away (see any sanctioned tent city for an example).

Pissed off, I chained my bike to the nearest sign and got on an incoming bus since I had a meeting to get to.  I paid the $1.50 and took a seat in the back where I could dwell on my current plight.

After getting some dinner I decided to walk back to camp instead of spending more money on the bus.  I passed my sad looking bike along the way and began to push it back towards the highway ramp.  Walking into the camp someone asked me how my day was and I explained what had happened.  We began to look at the break near the community space, which caught the attention of some others back at camp.  Austin approached us and identified the broken piece as a rear derailleur.  He told us that he used to work on bikes back in the day.  While Austin was usually reserved around me, he became very energized with the chance to provide assistance on a problem he was knowledgeable about.  There was a good amount of old bikes lying around so he suggested we replace my broken one with a derailleur off of one of them.  However, we had to remove my broken one, which took a specific tool that neither of us had.

To solve the problem we walked over to find Ethan, a military veteran staying at the camp with a wide selection of tools.  He brought over a large case and sifted through them to find the right fit.   Handing it to me I was able to easily remove the broken piece, and then start to try to attempt to replace it with a derailleur from one of the old, unused bikes.  We soon found out none of them fit properly and that I was still out of luck.

The next day I met up with Caleb who, upon hearing about my transportation woes, took me to the bus station and helped me get a “Fare Deal” card.  This reduced my bus fare to only $0.75 making it much easier to get around.  I’ll probably still have to walk sometimes but I figure I can panhandle a few quarters easy enough.

While my most important possession was still busted, I felt better about the situation knowing there was a community of friends behind me when I faced a setback.  It also reaffirmed my belief that the horizontal organization of the tent city model promoted collaboration and working together.  This is not only beneficial for the one in the predicament but also for the problem solver, since all of us have a desire to be useful.

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