No More Business As Usual.

Last Tuesday evening I went to a meeting about lobbying city council to build a 4 km extension of a cycle lane on Bloor Street in Toronto’s west end. 4km of cycleway in 2019 sounds like such a puny demand but it’s also an indication of the level of consciousness that exists in Toronto that, as one of the more progressive city counsellors (who is a daily cycling commuter) put it, is a demand that is most likely to be rejected by council.

By the time I came out of the meeting, I’d been clearly reminded me of why I avoid them; the tactics, calculations, envy, ambition, the coldness, professionalism, manipulation, lack of sensitivity; all the alienation. The feeling that rather than toppling the status quo, you’re being disempowered and only strengthening it. Is it any wonder that most people disengaged long ago?

Now that’s not to say – well let’s not do anything, there’s no point, it all doom and gloom. I’m definitely not saying that. If there is a positive it is being reminded me of why the grassroots matters. To treat each person I meet for who they are – as friends, as neighbours, as authentic integrated individuals – not by how they can serve my interests.

We need to help each other to develop our understanding, to not be afraid of developing our critical faculties. If we’re not willing to wake up each morning with the realisation that today is an opportunity to grow and change as a person, then what’s the point? You’re already dead. Your just walking through the motions, a zombie, a dinosaur, the living dead.

Somehow it seems we’ve become so attached to things – ideas, opinions, beliefs, values. How are we going to listen to each other if we can’t let go of these? And if we’re not listening to each other, we don’t have much of a relationship do we?

So let’s discover the quality of our relationship. Is the need to understand (and necessity of change) a life or death situation for you or not?

Abandoned Bikes Series.

In case you missed it in a previous post, I’ve been taking some pictures of derelict bikes that are locked up all over Toronto. They are such an interesting reflection of urban decay – look out for more in the coming weeks.

Breaking Old Chains

Last Saturday the 6th day of April was the first warm day of spring – a mix of sun and cloud and 14°C.  When I arrived just before 3pm, the shop was busy with all the stands occupied. First things first though, I poured in some water and put the kettle on. Sam and John were busy helping out people at the stands. Brad had just arrived to take over from John. Kathleen was up at the front desk, answering questions about parts and accessories, and cashing people out with their purchases and donations. It had been busy – the racks at the front of the shop had empty spaces and Kathleen said three bikes had been sold since noon.

The coffee was brewed so I poured myself a cup and went up to the front of the shop. Just then someone came in with a bike. Her name was Nora and she’d never been to bikeSauce before. I pointed out the signs hanging down from the roof. “That’s the lowdown.” I explained that bikeSauce is a DIY bike shop, 100% volunteer run and we would do what can to help her, but that she was the mechanic. She was fine with that.

A couple of stands had just come free so we got her bike up onto one of them. She was from out west – west Toronto that is (Yonge Street being the marker of what marks east & west) and had somehow heard of bikeSauce after looking up Bike Pirates, a west end bike collective similar but not identical in scope to bikeSauce. Nora didn’t have a specific issue she needed to address, but wanted to get her bike back in shape after the winter. 

I suggested that she check the wear on her chain. Often I find that people don’t realise the significance of taking care of their bicycle chain, of keeping it clean and lubed and what it means for the good functioning of their bike and the enjoyment of their ride. Replacing the chain when it reaches 75% wear extends the life of the cassette and the chain rings (crankset) of your bike – which is good because those are more expensive to replace than the chain.

I handed her the chain wear tool from the tool board, and the reading she got from the tool was 100% wear – time for an immediate replacement. Nora had a 7 speed system and her new chain – in stock – came in at just under $14. I handed her the chain breaker tool and showed her how to use it. “Keep the old chain so you can measure out the length your new one should be alongside it”, I said.

There was a new visitor to the shop so I went to say hello and see how she was doing. Evelyn had been to bikeSauce and wanted to get some feedback on her brakes and do some general maintenance. We got her bike on the stand, a green 9 speed Norco hybrid bike with disc brakes. Both Sam and Brad came over when they had a chance and checked out her brakes. Avoid touching the rotors, Brad suggested. Apparently the oil from our skin, if transferred to the rotors, can contaminate the brake pads. Otherwise, her braking system got the green light. 

With that established, I handed Evelyn the chain wear tool and she mentioned that her bike had been serviced in bike shop in the last couple of years. She dropped the tool into her chain and the reading was an immediate replacement too. In a typical bike shop, she could hand her bike to the shop staff, who would check the wear for her, install the replacement and charge for the parts and service. But here at bikeSauce Nora and Evelyn were the mechanics of their own bikes, and we the volunteers, are more like facilitators and guides, giving suggestions for where the visitors to the shop can find tools and parts, or how to go about dealing with an issue on their bike, to other suggestions beyond what we do at bikeSauce ourselves.

This different way of being can feel a little bit strange at first, especially in a society where we are so used to being served and paying for it and not being encouraged to question things beyond just the surface. The only real considerations we might have are whether the service provider is competent, and that they are not ripping us off.

But at bikeSauce there is a certain bravery involved – since you the patron are the one who decides what you are going to donate – if anything – while the volunteers are coming in and giving of their time and life to help you. Why would they do that? Perhaps when we really come face to face with each other, there is the subversive implication that a different world is possible, and each person responds to that uniquely.

It was past four thirty and the shop was still busy, with Brad and Sam continuing to make the rounds. Somebody was trying to pry loose a tight bolt. A courier who had come in with a kickstand issue was looking for degreaser and some rags. A lady had come in with a bike without a front brake, ripped cable housing and frayed cable. A couple of people were in looking to buy a bike. There were other people in doing repairs and I never got to find out what their bicycle issues were.

At some point during the rush Arnault had come in to help. Now it was approaching five and the shop was quieter and more relaxed and he was sitting on a stool by the door. Sam had gone and I was about to follow. I fetched my Raleigh and the sunlight was flooding the inside of the shop. I stood there and faced it.  It felt good to be able to take in the April sunlight with that angle. Though Nora had gone, Evelyn was still cleaning off her drivetrain. I knew she’d be in good hands with Brad and Arnault. She said bye as I made my way to the door. I never got to tell her that she should wipe that new chain with degreaser to get the shipping grease off it, or to keep her new chain clean and lube it regularly. Maybe there’s only so much you can say in a given period of time else it might be overwhelming. 

bikeSauce to me seems more like a process than an event. That becomes apparent when you come back again and again. I think it’s worth it. I hope that by starting up this blog again you’ll feel inspired to come visit and experience it like a process too. There’s something special about growing in community and the great thing is we do that every time we invite each other and maybe even more when we accept.

Mandeep.

 

Abandoned Bicycles in Toronto

The other day I was walking along the north side of Dundas street, heading east towards Ossington Avenue, and I started noticing a whole bunch of locked up but seemingly abandoned bikes, a whole bunch of them. It was a strange sight.

There always seem to be derelict bicycles dotted around the city, but there was a whole cluster of them here, and when I crossed over Ossington there were even more there.

Who knows how long these bikes have been there? They seem pretty conspicuous now that the spring weather is coming in. Pretty soon the council are bound to notice these – maybe somebody will phone in, and the bikes will get notice of impending removal tags and then be gone – who knows where? Perhaps they’ll be donated to Bike Pirates or Bike Chain or another Toronto Bike Collective. Hopefully they are not going to end up in landfill!

Different people locked them up and walked away. Different reasons, different stories, that we can only guess at.

I decided to take some pictures – an art project. What are these telling us? Look out for more of these in the coming weeks.

The Power of Volunteering Commitment

On Thursday night (March 28th) we had the second strategy meeting at bikeSauce. I had a feeling that the turnout was going to be something of a challenge; the novelty of a first meeting had brought together ten of us, but with a second meeting novelty begins to turn into commitment and commitment isn’t perceived to be easy – either too hard or too scary.

As it turned out, there were three of who turned up – Ned, Geoff and I – and that was pretty good as far as I was concerned. It made the meeting go faster – we even finished early – and we touched the core of what the meeting was about; improving communications within and outside bikeSauce, and winning new volunteers for the cause who stay the distance.

Most people think of bikeSauce as being a bike shop, and it often flies under the radar that it is as much of a volunteer shop as it is a bike shop. Everyone at bikeSauce is a volunteer and is there because they want to be – it’s a 100 volunteer run organisation. There are some really dedicated people who keep the enterprise running – but the fact is, every organisation needs new people, new ideas, new challenges. It’s a two way street.

Artists, graphic designers, screen printers, writers, computer systems developers, advocates, strategists, people creating the magical experience of communal eating would all be welcomed with open arms. I see so many tremendous opportunities but it amazes me at times how the people who could make a meaningful difference have not connected yet.

But as the saying goes, if it was so easy, everyone would be doing it. Maybe because it’s hard to spot the opportunity is what makes the people who do stand out – after all, it says a lot about a person’s character that they’re going to do something even though they’re not being told and/or paid to do it. Solidarity still exists as does sacrifice. Both of those have mattered tremendously in our leaps in humanity and they matter tremendously now. As much as we may need it, radical change is rarely ever wanted or funded. Stand out now.

Spring Bike Maintenance

Saturday morning started off brisk – minus 7 degrees, plus probably something of a windchill, but the sun was out and the ale was so blue and so beautiful. I set off from home with the two pairs of Jagwire brake pads I bought earlier in the week. The destination: bikeSauce. The mission: replace the break pads, brake cables and housing.

The ride was pleasant. The streets were pretty quiet. A lot of potholes but almost all the ice banks had gone. Still a lot of riders haven’t been tempted to get their bikes on the road – so there was still some of the novelty and acknowledgment of passing other cyclists on the route.

I got into bikeSauce just before 12.30pm. Jessie was there with a couple of people in the shop. The man was cashing out, while the woman – her name was Ashley – had her yellow mountain bike on the stand and a bottom bracket challenge in her hands.

I put the Devinci up on the stand and made a cup of tea. A man and his son turned up – they were looking for a road bike for the teenage son – maybe so he could make a trip and tour around Niagara with some friends. Are you sure you need a road bike? was the general gist. It seemed he was set on that so there was the usual suggestions – try another day, check out Craigslist, consider buying a new bike and here are some suggested bikes and local bike shops.

Then with tea drunk and conversation over, there were a couple of bikes sitting out front with Ready to Test Ride labels taped onto the saddles. Might as well test these out, I said to Jessie. I was heading for the door with the Trek City hybrid and pass Sam on the way in. – Going for a test ride. – Enjoy

The Trek passed and Sam and I came up with a price – $120 – priced to sell. I took the Giant Mountain bike out but the saddle was too low so I came pack within a minute. Not sure about the shifting I said. You take it out. Sam raised the saddle and went out with it for a couple of minutes. It came back a fail – lots of skipping and the chain dropped he said. I filled out the comments in the checklist and Sam took it back down to the basement.

Now it was time to work on my own bike. The rear cables and housing hadn’t been changed for three years and there wasn’t a rush this Saturday afternoon. Someone put on some tunes, Jessie said so I went up to the computer and put on She Bangs The Druns. It sounded very springlike. The Stone Roses, Jessie said, have a question, half a declaration. In either case, he liked it. Then Albert came in at 3pm, “covering for Brad.”

There was a certain point in the afternoon when the sun was coming in and everyone was in the shop, working on some part of the process, not complete but somehow perfect, and I thought, there’s no other place, no other situation I’d rather be in right now than this one. It just seemed so perfect.

Raleigh Bicycles and the Missing Middle: A Strange Social Analogy?

Being Bike Friendly at VIA Rail?

With spring only a week away, I thought it was time to start making plans for a bikepacking trip in May. My trips to and in Québec the last couple of years have been absolute highlights of the year. One of the great benefits I’ve been able to enjoy in 2017 and 2018 was VIA Rail’s checked baggage service for at least one train each day for all stations between Toronto and Montréal. Basically, you could turn up with your bike, pay the luggage agent $25 and they would take your bike and load it onto the luggage car with bike racks and return it to you at your destination. A bike valet like no other.

(Tips courtesy of Bicycling magazine issue 1, 2019)

Well it turns out, no longer. I came across the change while looking into dates online and so, to get an insight on what was going on, I cycled down to Union Station and spoke to a lady at the VIA rail service desks. Apparently there have been cutbacks – not enough people were using the checked baggage service – and an absolute gem of a service has been reduced.

After listening to my query and feeling my disappointment, the lady playing the role of a ticket agent suggested I write to the company president to express my views and any request. So that’s something I feel I have to do, lest they cut the service altogether, as apparently happened to the Toronto to Ottawa service. With 6000 km of what’s considered the world’s greatest cycling network at stake, there’s no way that communication is not going to be soon rolling its way to Vélo Québec of which I am a member, and to Yves the Via Rail president If you’re in Toronto, I say use it man, use it, don’t lose it!

Update: 15/03/2019 – What they didn’t mention at Union Station was that VIA have ordered new bicycle friendly trains for the Windsor to Québec City corridor – though these aren’t scheduled to start arriving til 2022!)

Raleigh and the Missing Middle?

In other bike related stuff, I made a pit stop visit to a local bike shop in order to pick up a waterproof saddle cover on clearout, as well as the chance to maybe shoot the breeze and the conversation swung round towards Raleigh Bicycles, which this particular shop had been carrying for a number of years. I had actually come oh so close to buying the Raleigh Furley in 2015 and the Raleigh Roper in 2016, two bikes which Raleigh don’t make any more, much to the shop’s chagrin.

(The now discontinued Raleigh Furley & Raleigh Roper of 2016/2017 above).

Those were two unique bikes that offered something really different from the market norm – good chromoly steel frames and forks, the flexibility to set up as Single Speed, 1X or 2X, wide 35mm+ tyres and coming in around the $1000 CAD mark. In an age when practically every decent bike on offer sub $1000 is aluminium (often with carbon fork) – these Raleighs were something different alright and the Roper just the bike I’d take home today.

Well, the view from the LBS is that apparently Raleigh North America were not making satisfactory numbers for their parent company Accell plc in Europe – which meant new management being parachuted into North American operations, some kind of business unit separation/restructuring and them squeezing out the middle class of the bicycle range for the high end Tamlands and Willards and the low end department store type bikes. It’s something of a bizarre analogy/reflection of society’s hollowing out of the middle. So yeah man, they axed the middle, and this shop is all about the middle. They made the choice for us and we could be seeing Raleigh as a brand disappearing from North America, a hundred year brand. It’s no fun watching them twiddling their thumbs while Rome burns.

I paid a visit to the Raleigh USA and Raleigh Canada website with the question – where’s the innovation? And it’s looking pretty austere – so there’s another letter to be written and sent.

Does anyone know how to realise that they have something precious and it needs to be tended because those are the things that are worth fighting for regardless of the result? What’s the Strategy?

Mandeep.

The Proof is in The Now

I haven’t spoken with Greg since I met him a couple of weeks ago at The Sanctuary. I’ve been reflecting on our conversation and I’d like to offer something more concrete in our next exchange. I read through The Creative Destruction of New York Citybook. The contents weren’t particularly surprising, but it did connect how many of the pieces fit together and reinforce each other. Certain visions of the city have it easy, it says, while others don’t really stand a chance. But there was also a reminder in the book that the elite city is a policy choice, not some inevitable God given mandate. 

So when I do respond to Greg, I’d like to help, I’d like to make progress. There are so many people working so hard and achieving so little. I’ve already made the choice that homelessness and unaffordable housing in Toronto (Montreal, London, Manchester, Paris….) in 2019 is a disgrace. What appeal is there to accept disgrace?

You wonder – how are we even in this situation anyway? Surely because we as a collective are choosing it, in our vain attempts to fulfil our self-deceptions. After all, we know who have the abilities to solve it if were devoted to solving it. Again, it’s an utter disgrace that we’re at this point. 

There are causes and there are solutions and there’s a lot of confusion. It’s not that we are just confused about the symptoms of homelessness or unaffordable housing; too many people are confused about what’s at the root; confused about greed, confused about what it means to be human, confused about the goal of being human (to be unconditional lovers?). As much as we claim that we are sophisticated and civilised as a species, doesn’t it seem that actually were (still? more?) primitive and barbarous? The saying is that man’s glory is that he can rise above the animal but that man’s tragedy is that he can fall below the animal. Do you really want to be on earth for 80 years and at the end of it, show that you used that time to fall below the animal?

I think we need to be clear about what the goal is – end homelessness now, end unaffordable housing now, end greed now  – and do we need to be clearer about why we need to do that? Evidently it’s still not clear enough for most people. You’d have thought with 80,000 years of human experience behind us, we’d have figured out that death is inevitable and that greed by its nature is addictive and insatiable and a sickness – so why are we still letting greed set the rules? Obviously there’s a lot of opposition to changing that regime, but I don’t know if there’s anyway around that; do you? It seems like it’s a fight that needs to be fought.  So maybe the fight – and the reason it’s being fought – needs to be made clearer to everyone?

Mandeep.

Unconditional Lovers

It’s been over a week since I met Greg at The Sanctuary. I said I was going to email him a response to our conversation, but I haven’t yet. I’ve tried to write one. I’ve started a couple of times but it didn’t seem like the considered response I want to send. I guess I’ve still been processing what we spoke about.

I know that I want to listen rather than tell. So maybe that’s what’s been happening – I’ve been listening on the ether. It seems challenging to consider an issue from a strategy perspective – asking what’s at the root of it all? Especially when you know the pressures a person is under just dealing with the day to day – the actions, not the theories that might work, but never seem to.

I came across this quote on Monday;

The challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers.

Can you imagine waking up each day and looking in the mirror and saying to yourself? – The challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers. Going to work and saying it to your colleagues, or to your classmates at school, or when you’re looking to buy a house or rent a room or tax your billionaire citizens 99% of their income or introducing a unity income – or maybe we could call it a diversity income (basic income is such a terrible moniker) – and saying The challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers. Not parroting it, not saying it like the automated way we say Hey how are you? – but saying it with real meaning, with our whole heart.

Civilisation took a leap with that reminder that the challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers.

We’re introducing a liveable unity income because the challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers. We ended homelessness because the challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers.

We were born to meet the challenge and we did it!

Remember the challenge?

Mandeep.

Hiding In Plain Sight

Last Friday, February the 15th, I had just bought a coffee at the St Lawrence Market, found a free table, and there was a copy of Now Magazine on it face up. I haven’t read Now Magazine for months – although people do say it is an alternative voice. If it had been one of those 10 Best Tacos in TO – or some similar inane headline, I would have folded it up and set it aside – or maybe used it as a makeshift tablecloth. But the headline was: Crisis? What Crisis? Toronto Abandons Its Homeless People.

I sat down and opened up the paper which randomly happened to be page 9 and the headline Hiding In Plain Sight and then I saw By Greg Cook – and I was like – Greg! I’ve known Greg for 8 years – we run into each other from time to time – I just saw him in Kensington Market in January after – what – 18 months? So I read the article twice, and the accompanying ones on the subject of homelessness in Toronto by other writers. I had to pause to reflect.

On Tuesday, I went to see Greg at The Sanctuary Mission on Charles Street. When I saw him in January he’d said stop by, so Tuesday was the day, around noon, just before the lunch sitting. I told him the story I’ve just shared with you – that it was as if I was supposed to read his story. And I suppose I also wanted to make some sense of it. To ask him – what should we do? It’s not like it’s a new story of course, but when you read something from somebody you’ve known for years – it touches you in a way that maybe an article by someone you don’t know doesn’t.

In particular, I wanted to ask him about the closing paragraph: “Toronto needs a housing plan that ensures the building of thousands of units for people who need them the most.” “Anything less will mean more needless suffering and death.” So, I wondered. Toronto doesn’t have a Housing plan?

Greg explained about how housing plans had waned – first on the federal level in the 1980s, then provincially in the 1990s, leaving the city to deal with non-market type housing – which it apparently doesn’t have the finances and tax raising capability to do.

Though the Federal government have announced new initiatives, these haven’t come down the pipeline yet – and meanwhile, publically owned land close to TTC stations – the best opportunity for social and affordable housing – are being eyed up for more private development. How is that even possible? I enquired. How could City Planners be involved in such a thing when its so obvious that we have a homeless crisis, a housing crisis? – and not just for the lower classes, but increasingly, as Greg pointed out to me, the middle classes, and millennials.

What is good, Phaedrus,

And what is not good – 

Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?

We spoke about the situation for a few minutes. But the so called rich people – they’re suffering too, I said. They’ve lost their hearts, their humanity. Greg pointed out that though that was the case, the suffering – or the price being paid for it – was falling disproportionately on the poorest and most vulnerable. I told him I’d think it over and email him a response. 

Greg suggested I check out a book he’d recently read from the Toronto Public Library – The Creative Destruction of New York City: Engineering the City For The Elite. And there’s the thing – right there in the title –  the suggestion that it’s not an inevitable result of invisible or unforeseen forces – but an engineering. 

I cycled down to the City Hall branch where a copy was available. I didn’t notice the birds but Nathan Phillips Square was looking pretty desolate. A city worker was throwing salt on the vast swathes of concrete. I noticed my bike really needs a wash as I parked it on solid ice by the bike racks – a far cry from the clean bike on all those summer mornings parking at the same spot. As I was looking for The Creative Destruction I saw another book in the same section; Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live In The New Urban America. I checked them both out. 

(Here’s an extract from The Creative Destruction: “Local government, the real estate industry, large corporations and banking giants; in the game they call “production of the city”, what else is the city if not a giant machine for making money?

The consensus is so powerful that it invalidates “any alternative vision of the purpose of local government or the meaning of community.”

We are becoming nothing but consumers of an urban experience that has been entirely designed and packaged by these powerful players.”) – Sound familiar?

I’ve seen Greg out on the streets over the years – as part of his outreach work – checking in on people living out on the streets, asking them how they’re doing – if they need any help – and what’s available to them if they do. This is like survival territory – that they’re going to be okay for the next 24 to 48 hours – not a long term solution – not the breakthrough solution that’s going to radically change their circumstances for the better. That they’re going to live out the next couple of days! But can you imagine what it means – just to have that human experience of someone on the lookout for you, caring about you, and recognising you as a human being when most people just seem to have abandoned you?

What’s my responsibility now?

Mandeep.

Devotion

Dear Reader,

When you’re a child it’s easy. Choose honesty. But you can’t stay a child forever. I used to feel so hurt to see people choosing dishonesty, with their masks, their deceptions, and their parroting voices. How could they? How could they betray their own heart?

Dishonesty is a foreign land. It’s not my home, it never can be. The language there lacks soul and depth. Everything is reduced to numbers, measures, money, the known. Mystery and the unknowable are not tolerated. If you look into the eyes of the people there they look haunted, defeated; they’ll look away. They won’t let their mask slip.

I learn the language so I can navigate through – it is a perilous route not a place to build a home in. I meet people on the journey – some trying to find freedom, and others who wish to remain ensnared. Both can be very persuasive.

We all have to make this journey. If we didn’t go through with being so dishonest, how would we experience the suffering of it, its utter futility and so be motivated to transcend it? Commit then to your true calling and don’t settle for less than what you deserve; kindness, respect, love, and all the support you need.

Recognise the qualities of a true friend. Don’t forget who you really are. Awareness is your guide to honesty. Don’t lose your guide. Love your guide, be devoted and faithful to your guide Awareness. Study his or her skilful means. Spurn desensitivity – desensitising will make you a stranger to your own heart. Awareness, even when painful, will keep you moving.

With Awareness then, strive for home. Your longing for human connection, of taking care of the world within and around you, of being seen for who you really are, what your heart truly desires in and for the world, what you truly need. When setbacks come, don’t be despondent. Trust that as you follow what you know to be true, with integrity and self-inquiry, you will be supported.

Awareness reveals the truth, and the truth is worth revealing. One day when you’ll awaken to joy, to the experience that nothing is greater in life than being the real you, the inner conflict has come to an end. You are shining brightly in the world. You have won freedom, the greatest victory there is. You are a living example how;

When we suddenly flower, and bare the full fruit of what a human being really is, then we go out to another completely.

Mandeep.