A few days ago, I played Mr. Rogers and got to know some folks from my neighborhood. I got to know Helen. Helen lives in Columbia Heights. She’s a native Washingtonian. I meet so few people who are native Washingtonians. It seems everyone comes to this city to get into politics or somewhere near it. Because the political dominates the professional in this town and the professional dominates the cultural in American life, this place has the stiff look – clean metro, clean suits, cautious conversations in public, I rarely hear people belch out expletives in DC except the kids with their sneakers and their sneakers tongue hanging out over the front of their pink, unlaced, sneakers. They tease and pick at each other in the street and sometimes speak loudly on the bus as if the adults, so well behaved, reading the Washington Post on their blackberries were really some all-too-believable handiwork of Madame Tussaud’s. Anyway Helen was born and raised here. She left, went far, and then found her back to Columbia Heights, the enclave of Latin American immigrants in DC.
What I found most singular about Helen was her bicycle. I have often seen her riding fast uphill on that bike, its front and back ends bursting with flowers. Every time I saw her bike it made me grin.
“I stole the idea from folks in Copenhagen years ago, ” she told me. “It started small and most but then it grew. Flowers make me happy and it’s nice to be more visible.” Because “I look like the benign happy thing on the road,” it’s easier to tell huffy drivers off on the road without causing a big fight. “And, when someone yells ‘I love your flowers’ it reminds me to be nice and others that it’s good to be nice…”
*Copenhagen has become well-known for its love of bikes. You can check out Copenhagen Cycle Chic for an endless stream of people on bikes in all kinds of weather and attire.