The Long Way Round
by Richard Risemberg (2000)

The main topic of conversation among my coworkers at the photo store seems to be (after whatever they watched on TV last night), quicker routes to work. I've heard them spend an hour discussing whether this or that route might get them around traffic and into the store a little quicker. And it makes me wonder: why does everyone want to be so damned efficient anyhow? Isn't there more to life than simply getting from point A to point B?

When new acquaintances discover that I ride a bicycle to work, the first question they ask has so far always been, Well, how far do you ride? And I answer truthfully: I ride nine miles to work, and four miles home. And nine out of ten of them so far have looked at me with crossed eyes and drooping lip and asked, What? That's impossible! How can you do that? And I answer truthfully: It's simple. I make a detour to the bagel shop in the morning, and I go straight home at night. And they always say, I never thought of that! You know why they say that? Because their commute is no pleasure at all, and they can't imagine making it longer on purpose!

Part two of their question is usually, How long does it take you? And I answer truthfully, About forty-five minutes, including the bagel stop. And their eyes bug out and their tongues quiver in their mouths, and they say back, Why, I live nine miles from work, and it takes me just as long! (Apparently nine miles is a popular commute in Los Angeles.) And if I'm really feeling bold, I tell them, truthfully, Well, why don't you try riding your bike to work one of these days? And they say they couldn't do that, but they can never say why.

I can tell you why: it's because they've been taught by experience that commuting is no pleasure, and they think it's because of the commute, and not because of the car. They want to get to point B as soon as possible and get out of their car.

Well, I don't feel that way on a bike. Before my son's school bus schedule changed (I walk him to the bus stop every morning, for the pleasure of the day and his company), I used to leave a little earlier every Thursday and ride over the Cahuenga Pass and around Griffith Park, making for a twenty-two mile ride to get to my shop four miles from home. Not the least bit efficient, and boy am I glad! I'd miss a lot if I only went straight to work, even on a bike. So I throw in a few extra miles, or take a different route every day (especially if I'm low on bagel money). And I don't even try to beat the traffic--a game we bike commuters like to play. I do admit, though, that when I was newer at this it was one of my pleasures to pass the cars stuck in their self-made jams. Then I realized how egotistical that was, and how distracting from the world, and how car-driver-like. I was becoming a bicycle operator rather than a bicyclist. I learned to slow down, and in slowing down discovered new worlds every day on the once-familiar streets. Familiarity, I've come to believe, results from selectively ignoring the evolution, the constant growth, of that which you believe yourself to be familiar with. Point A's not bad, and point B has its good features-- but they're not the whole world. And the world you knew yesterday is not the one you'll see today--if you dare to look.

So don't be so efficient: slow down, get lost, become a little bit distracted by the wayside scene. Is it worse to be late for work--or late for life?

Richard Risemberg