06 January 2007

Why I didn't commute everyday

The short version is, I am embarrassed to commute!

Some history first. When I started to commute in the mid 1990's I was a farmer turned "hacker" that ran an Internet service. It was such a new thing that people tolerated me to go to work in shorts and sandals. I began by driving an old landrover to work. Then I bought a second hand mountain bike and rode most days. That saved me $100 per month. Wow. I became a commuter and got in shape. Then I started riding long rides on weekends just to ride and got in good shape and the commute no longer was exercise as it dropped to only 15-20 minutes riding time.

Dynamics at work slowly changed as the ISP exploded into a company employing 40 people. Clients evolved from predominantly aid and church workers to "suit" organizations. Clients started wearing suits. As staff grew from a two to 40 they became uncomfortable with their general manager (me) showing up to work in any of the following:
  • old open landrover
  • bicycle
  • shorts
  • tyre sandals
  • T shirts.

I distinctly remember going to a client with an accountant friend to convince about switching to computerized accounts. The accountant was wearing a suit and tie and I was wearing a T-shirt, tyre sandals, and jeans. I remember him looking me up and down, accessing my attire.

I became uncomfortable with visitors in the office who were wearing suits and I was more casually dressed. And so my dress slowly changed over time.

First I started changing into long pants or starting from home in long pants when I drove. Then I started wearing button down shirts, then dress pants, then dress shoes. I got used to wearing dress clothes. Now when I walk into our complex in shorts and sandals I feel odd. Our complex now houses the UN Tribunal for Rwanda, the East African Community Headquarters and the like.

Then we bought a second hand Nissan sedan/saloon. The old landrover was too unreliable. Now driving was cheaper , no police stopped me, non descript, non embarrassing. It was a car that gave a different image. The Landrover was more embarrassing than the bicycle, but the Nissan was status. Work changed a bit. I need to take equipment, or go to clients as a group, or clothing was an issue. Commuting fell off. About 2002 I would commute only 20% of the time. I would feel embarrassed riding in and I would dash into office and change clothes. Frequently I would ride home in dark, no lights. Sometimes I put bicycle in a taxi. During the same time I would ride 200-300 km a week on the road and through the bush.

In 2006 I figured out lights for the bicycle (another story), and kept them in my bag. This meant I didn't have to rush home before 6:45 pm. But the biggest change was my wife Bernice gave me two pairs of pants with removable bottoms. Previously I looked down my nose at the idea. They were rarely worn.

One day I wore the shorts and put the legs in the backpack, and zipped the legs on in the parking lot. KABAM! I was no longer a guy coming to work in shorts on a bicycle but a guy coming to work in casual pants. Now I ride to work in a button down shirt and shorts with removable legs and try to not sweat on the way. I carry a backpack, either on the bike or my back with lights, leg bottoms, and sometimes extra clothes. In the parking lot I quickly zip up the legs, stuff helmet in backpack, smooth my hair and walk in to work. I do ride in with tyre sandals. They work as there is frequently mud, and it is easier to wash them and my bare feet than shoes. At work I keep other pairs of dress pants, shoes , and other shirts.

So since November 2006 my days commuting have gone up.

I live in a culture where riding a bike for transport is what lower income people do. When I am riding a bike people assume it is EXERCISE and say so. If I say it is for transport, they think I am joking , because:
-all white people are rich.
-first thing you do when you get rich is build a house, and then buy a car.
-really poor people walk, poor men ride a bike, middle class and upper class own a car.
-rich people ride bikes for exercise
-you are crazy to ride a bike in the traffic of Arusha
-bikes are a nuisance to car drivers

When I commute by bike I draw attention to myself. I am basically a shy person, so that is hard to take.

What has changed? I think the pants is one of the big things. Then the bike light. Maybe I just care less what people think.

Yesterday there were two times I had to check on a crew putting up cable, maybe 1 km from my office, middle of town area. The first time I had loaned my bike to another techie to go home for lunch, so I walked there and back. Second time I took the bike and locked it to trees as they moved down the road. That was very handy.

No comments:

Post a Comment