Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rock (Me) Hard Place

Last summer, I became a bike commuter. I'm an organizer for the labor union UNITE HERE during the day, and I host a jazz podcast by night. I was covering the Rochester International Jazz Festival last summer. Parking ain't great for the festival, so I decided to do it by bike. That was so much fun that I just kept pedaling through the summer and into the fall, when I was transferred from Rochester to Albany.

Let's take it as read that very, very few people who do what I do for a living do it without a car. For front-line organizers (which I am not these days), that's almost unthinkable, because so much of the work involves visiting people's homes. Except in the most densely packed urban areas, doing that work without a car is just too slow. In fact, cars are so much a part of the job that our union provides them to us. As the organizing director for upstate New York, I was able to bike a fair amount and resorted to the car when necessary.

Now, though, I'm doing a different kind of organizing, mostly focused on strengthening our existing union shops among Albany's hotels, restaurants and cafeterias. Most of my hotels and other shops are packed into a very small downtown area. I live about 2 miles outside downtown. It's eminently bikeable.

But I still have a company car.

When I was transferred here, I was living 40 miles away in Saratoga Springs, and that -- combined with a wider turf to cover -- made the car a necessity. Since then, my area of responsibility has been changed to be almost exclusive to downtown Albany. I can see some of my shops from the house I'm renting, for Pete's sake!

But I still have a company car.

Last week, though, I decided that the company car would be just as wonderful parked in the driveway as it is on the road. I got back on the Xtracycle and did my first day of bike commuting since November 2007. (You can read about it here.) It was a blast! I'm still figuring out how to dress nicely (which I now am required to do) while keeping to the cycling lifestyle. My "commute" is less of a commute than a route or circuit. I travel at various times to different hotels and then return to my home office. So I have to wear my snazzy clothes while biking, because I have nowhere to change when I arrive at my destination. Thus far, it hasn't been much of a problem, and I'm looking forward to the warm weather, when I can combine my bowtie with my bike helmet for that true wanker look.

As it turns, out, I'm not really caught between a rock and a hard place after all. I can do my job effectively and efficiently while not only striking a blow for workers but also for their environment. And, unlike most union organizers, I can probably do it while getting healthier, not fatter and closer to a heart attack.

Is this a bold new chapter in the Labor Cycling movement? Stay tuned!

Jason Crane is a union organizer, jazz broadcaster and action dad. He is the founder of RocBike.com and FortOrangeCycling.com, and also host and producer of The Jazz Session.


A Midnight Rider said...

Good for you and your union work. You make us proud to know you.

I'm also in agreement that biking to work make is much more enjoyable.

Jason said...

Are you still proud to know me even though I'm a traitor to my home state -- a NY Red Bulls supporter?

I bow my head in shame. Plus, my team usually stinks.

Greg said...

Jason, you going to be biking the RIJF again this year?.