Every day, I bike to work--rain or shine. I neatly fold my professional attire in my backpack and hop on my bike to head to UCLA immediately after sunrise. The air is fresh and I usually have the road to myself. This is a highly unusual occurrence in Los Angeles! This is my time. Standing up on my pedals, I can stretch my legs and feel tall and free. I feel my surroundings so poignantly. I know every pothole, every homeless person's favorite place to lay his or her head, and the timing of all the traffic lights. Towards the end of my ride, I pass through the V.A. cemetery. The neat rows of tombstones make me feel blessed to be alive today.
Riding my bike to work has several advantages. I am able to exercise, enjoy the outdoors, and save money on fuel and car-related expenses, and I never have to worry about parking. As people are paying $5 to fight over scarce parking spaces, I roll to the hospital's elevator and park my bike next to the desk in my office. Having my bike within view has a calming effect on me. It serves as a reminder that the day will end, that I will soon be able to go outside and breath real air instead of the recycled oxygen pumped through the hospital.
The ride home is an entirely different experience from the ride to work. I usually leave the hospital at 5:30. Rush hour in L.A. is not an event one wants to be exposed to regularly! The V.A. cemetery is closed after 5pm so it is necessary for me to bike on Wilshire Boulevard. I must contend with tired and frustrated people pent up in their metal boxes, anxious to go home and prepare their dinners, have their after-work cocktails, or pick up their children at day-care. Sometimes I feel like a vulnerable piece of meat asking to be rubbed into the concrete. My eyes are wide, my grip is tight (though I know it is supposed to be loose), and my legs are spinning as fast as they can. At a traffic standstill, drivers intentionally move to the right side of the road to block my way and make it difficult for me to pass them. Not one to be defeated, I easily pass them on their left. Biking is faster than driving at rush hour. I like that. I attain a great deal of satisfaction from being more expedient than a car. One cannot describe the sensation of passing row after row of stuck cars. I feel like a queen or an important diplomat being escorted to my destination ahead of everyone else. I realize I must deal with car exhaust and angry motorists, but I believe that it is worth it. Biking to work makes me feel alive and more connected to my surroundings.
Jennifer Mann, Phd., is a research psychologist at UCLA