On Being Brave / by Joe Baz

The Polar Express now goes non stop to the emergency room What qualities differentiate a person who is "gutsy" from one who is simply stupid? For example, the woman who recently jumped into a polar bear enclosure is arguably gutsy but without a doubt incredibly stupid.  I had occasion to ponder the issue of where exactly I would fall (pun - which you will see soon) on the gutsy/stupid scale as a very nice person from National Public Radio strapped a 'bikerophone' helmet to my head. At least I wouldn't be encountering any Polar bears...

Chances are you, like most people, learned how to ride a bike as a child.  I didn't.  It's understandable that my parents missed the importance of this childhood skill set while escaping communist Russia and trying to survive in a new country.

In part this quest began as a result of peer pressure.  When people found out I didn't know how to ride a bicycle the reaction was always the same, disbelief giving way to the sort of pitying look one would give to a three legged puppy.  I certainly didn't feel deprived.  It had not hindered any of my pursuits.  Biking is one of those skills like learning a foreign language: very easy to pick up during childhood but infinitely more difficult to learn as an adult.  Really, who (except perhaps for the woman who opted to swim with polar bears) doesn't prefer their body in one complete, unbroken and bruiseless piece?

But then it happened.  Someone came up with an argument that I could not ignore: I could be more effective at image consulting if I rode a bike.  You see, at times I've visited up to 30 different stores throughout Boston and Cambridge to find the right pieces for some of my harder to fit clients.  Biking from store to store to pre-screen inventory was simply the quickest transport option.  Darn you logic.

My initial attempts were painful, after getting my balance for the first time  I promptly lost control of the bike, tipped over and ended up face down, bleeding, and partially pinned by the bike.  Undeterred, yet significantly more nervous about getting on the bloodthirsty wheeled beast, I set off to try again.  What followed was a buffet of  falls, swerving wildly into telephone poles, and kissing the pavement.  Not a single square inch of my legs below the knees was not sporting a bruise or a cut.  I hoped to feel like a real badass . . . but really I just felt like a regular ass.

It was a Sunday evening when I finally got it.  Terror turned into exhilaration and I was suddenly actually riding my bike rather than being the soft human cushion that protected it from the hard ground when it fell over.  The following Monday morning I heard that a novice biker was needed for piece WBUR/NPR called "Bike-Friendly Boston". Here's where the gutsy-versus-stupid question arises . . .

Thinking this would be a pleasant opportunity to laugh about my experience while in a comfy sound studio I emailed the producer about my maiden bike voyage. He replied promptly and after chatting on the phone we scheduled an interview for later that week, with one unexpected reality showesque surprise.  Instead of a cozy studio, they would strap something called a bikerophone to me and conduct the interview while riding the city streets  and chat comfortably about what makes a novice biker nervous riding in Boston, during rush hour traffic. I fully bought into the myth that once you get your balance on a bike it's a piece of cake.  As I had been stable and balanced on my last ride, I embraced the challenge.

The morning of the interview feeling the eye of tiger I decided to practice a bit more before we met, that ended with me upside down in my neighbors hedges after sharply swerving to avoid their child.   Hmmm, maybe the myth was not true?  Now the terror set in:  if I could be brought down by a running toddler, what the heck was going to happen to me when an SUV decided to cut me off? Was there any graceful way of getting out of this interview?

I decided to go through with it and it was honestly the scariest thing I've done in a long, long time.  Think about this - layered on top of the normal butterflies that come with being interviewed, I had the bonus of having to stay upright on a bike that clearly wished me dead.  It was my goal to ride gracefully while dodging the entire population of downtown Boston and also to sound witty, remember not to swear, all while wearing the bikerophone (aka oversized helmet with a tendency to slide over my eyes,  obliterating my field of vision).  At one point during our ride I had to make the decision between sacrificing myself or an off-leash poodle. The poodle remained unharmed and I managed to land on my feet although the bike did go flying. (For those keeping score Bike 36, Emmi 1)  Now I can rest comfortably knowing that NPR has audio of me muttering things like "don't hit the people Emmi, don't hit the people." The producer was really great and made sure that I was safe.  Never the less after our ride I was extremely grateful it was over until the thought burst through my brain - did I just completely humiliate myself on National Public Radio? Only hearing the finished piece will answer that question.

The great news though? I can't imagine a more challenging interview with the exception of something Richard Branson would concoct. Any public spot I do from now on is going to be a walk, (and not a bike ride) in the park.