Today I passed a guy on another non-motorised form of transport- roller skates. He was quite a sight, sporting long black dreads, a red and green beanie, huge silver headphones and clutching a can of beer in his fist. His behaviour was even more striking; he was not skating on the pavement or even in the cycle lane but weaving wildly in and out of the traffic, holding onto lorries and buses for a tow and generally causing everyone else on the road to fear for his life.
As I pedalled far more sedately a little behind him I couldn't choose between the instinct to yell at him or cheer him on. The look of intense concentration and exhilaration on his face was really attractive, especially amongst the dead eyes of the pedestrians and blank faces of the passengers in the steamy bus window. It was him against the road, and he was going to win. He reminded me of nothing more than those ancient celtic kings who would strip off and run with the deer pack, risking being trampled to win a blessing for his people. Incidentally, my friend James still does this, but he does read a bit too much Nietzsche.
This guy reminded me of our innate need for drama, our desire to feel like our lives mean something. As various theologians and narrative theorists have pointed out, we all want jeopardy, we want to be risking everything for something bigger than ourselves. Ultimately, we want purpose.
This city can be so numbing, the shuttling back and forth of the transport, the rhythm of work and play, the choosing what's for dinner. I often have the sense that the only big stories we are all a part of happen on some banker's blinking balance sheet, or in a far off war. We escalate our individual dramas to fill this gap, imbuing the minor ups and down of our love lives or our career with mystical significance, or fixate on the famous faces on the front of Heat. We may all be suspicious of the grand-naratives of the past, the stock-in-trade of religions and politics, but we can't seem to let go of the desire to make our lives mean something more than just the throbbing of our cells and synapses.
I've realised as I write this blog that things like cycling can easily become a minor meta-narrative for us. On the cycling blogs and twitter feeds, the underlying story is of a battle between good and evil, the triumph of the underdog, the small band of travellers digging deep and pushing on. I love the way we humans make everything into a story, fill even modes of transport with meaning.
I love my bike. I love being a part of this wee story, of attempting to change a city for the better by putting it on two wheels. It is enough for now. But I'd prefer to stake my life on a bigger story than that.......