Biking in Our Land
a commuter series on the exploration of immigrant identity, time and biking
PART I: When I Ride
The first time that I rode my bike in the rain, I got doored.
The first time I rode my bike in the snow, I fell hard on my hip.
(the pain was the same way all throughout.)
Down at the intersection of University and Richmond, there’s a magical procession of bikers during rush hour. We feel alive, alive as we rush through traffic.
There is this secret language of bikers that I want to learn.
I had a friend named Max who knew the secret, I’ve watched him do it. It’s a beckoning, a discreet moment in a bustling street full of cars honking and people talking at each other. The language of bikers is a small gesture of grace and kindness,
here is where we turn,
here is where we stop.
One day, I’ll bike so fast that everyone will think a shooting star has touched them as I pedal past them.
PART II: How to Cheat Time While Biking
When I bike, there is a sanctity of time and space at each intersection. The time exists in between the seconds of the streetlights, in between the moment the intersection morphs from yellow to red at all four corners. In these few seconds, I bike through that perfect time-space where no car or pedestrian can move yet. I’m already moving at the speed of light while the rest of the world just about begins to move forward in time. Perhaps us bikers cheat time in this way, perhaps we even grow younger each time we mount our bikes and pedal.
When I was younger I used to measure time by movies. My family and I had recently moved into Canada. In our red brick house, we had no clock to measure the time it would take for my parents to return from their daily trips outside. My parents were poor Mexican immigrants and we lived on the top floor of a large red house coasted on the side of Ossington St. I loved that neighbourhood and I loved the alley that taught me how to bike for the first time. We couldn’t afford nannies, and both of my parents needed to leave the house frequently to look for employment or to file for their refugee status.
Most of the time, my brother and I were left to our own devices on the top floor we called our home. Our parents reminded us to shut the windows and to never open the doors to anyone. Because we didn’t have a clock, I used the three loops of a Disney movie playing in the back of the room we all slept in to measure the time passing by. Before my mom left the house with my dad again, I’d clutch my mom’s arm and ask her, “how many movies today?” She used to pretend to think about it, her head tilting to the left before she answered, “Three Disney movies. I’ll be back before then.”
Sometimes it seemed like I waited forever and ever.
I don’t measure time by movie loops anymore. Now I’m in a different neighbourhood in the same city, measuring time by the stoplights when I ride my bike. I’m flying past everyone now.
I’ve lived on Princess Street for the past twelve years and I’ve never lived like royalty, not even something close to it. I hail from a low-income family. My golden crown is biking through my neighbourhood, where subsidized housing welcomes me at every corner. My silver jewelry is the OSAP grant I use to attend large lecture halls. My ruby earrings are being able to work out three times a week at my local YMCA where my mom gets a cheaper family plan because of their subsidy program. I love my neighbourhood and all of its secret corners. I’ll keep biking my way through our city, I’ll cheat time at every intersection. I’ll fall in love again with Toronto, occupied Anishinaabe land. Sacred sacred sacred land.