Bike commuting and baseball have ruined me for pop culture. I have no idea what music is on the radio because I so rarely drive. When I do, I want something continuous – like a ballgame or NPR – because I don’t like having to change channels to avoid an annoying song. (One of the most annoying songs of my teenage days plays a prominent role in the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie. It’s all very tongue in cheek but it sucked then and it sucks worse with the passage of time.)
I have friends who “like” celebrities on social media. About a third of the time I catch myself thinking: I thought celebrity means fame. I’ve never heard of or seen this person before. Monica Bellucci? John Krasinski? Leah Dunham? Somehow life goes on without them.
The same thing goes for music. I know who Ed Sheeran and The Weeknd and Taylor Swift and Adele are but I can’t name any of their songs. Garth Brooks sold 100 million records but I would recognize not a single one. (Longtime readers know that I am a diehard Neil Finn fan, but his music is rarely on the radio.)
I am grateful for this. I know baseball. I know that when a fast runner is on first and a left handed batter is up, the runner should not steal. I know the three precepts of good pitching. I know that right field in Fenway Park is a bitch and why left handed pitchers are called southpaws and how this affects the shadows on the field late in the day. When I watch a game, the little things are way more interesting than the score.
I don’t know music because I spend hours everyday on a bike and I think riding (or running or hiking) with headphones is a crime against nature. If you are using these devices you are putting yourself and those around you at risk because you lack situational awareness. More importantly, as far as I am concerned, you miss the ENTIRE POINT of riding or walking or hiking. It’s not about the bike and it’s not about the body. When you are climbing a hill or flying down one or going through a series of turns (point your inside knee toward the turn) or concentrating on pedaling without mashing the pedals , you can only focus on keeping the rubber side down, on keeping your respiration and heart rate from red lining. During the Ocean State Marathon in Newport Rhode Island, a high school track coach used to stand on the side of Ocean Drive with its rolling hills and wind off the water and repeat his mantra to struggling runners: Keep it smooth!
When you keep it smooth, your breathing and heart rate calm. And you go on a sort of autopilot. Then the squirrels in your attic stop their chatter. You recognize random ideas and find that disparate ideas come together in interesting configurations and you gain insights. Some of my best ideas for work come to me during my bike commutes.
How people who drive to work get through the day without completely losing their minds is beyond me. Not only do they not get the benefit of the calming aspects of exercise but they expose themselves to tons of additional stress from traffic and the crap spewing out of the radio.
And they miss the sun shining through the trees or glistening off the river. They don’t hear the birds chattering. They don’t appreciate the smell of the steam coming off the asphalt after a rain or of the fresh mowed grass. They don’t see the goslings and duckings in spring. (Coming soon to my bike commute.)
They don’t see their friends riding past in the other direction (Chris, Shawn, Mike) or in yours (Kathy). Nor do they see the community of early morning trail users: Hoppy Runner, Golf Cart E-biker, Three-step Runner, Running Mom (now without the baby stroller because her son got too big), the Trash Walker, Cal, or the Overgrown Ewok.
I mean you don’t really think Katy Perry is more interesting than an overgrown Ewok, do you?