Friday, May 18, 2012

the bike, the bus, and the broken car

I just love the way that things come together and the way that they fall apart. I want to tell this story for very little other reason than that it's funny to me. It's long as hell, so if you skip this one, I'll understand. ^_^

So first, let me refresh you on our cast of characters. First, The Bike:

China Downtown. Nowadays she is a little more rust-spotted, and the front basket is all bent because this one time we had a typhoon which sent her crashing to the ground.  Her story is here.
I had thought about biking to school before, especially when the weather was nice. I see high schoolers doing it all the time, which speaks to me that it isn't really all that hard, and come on Lem, you are certainly fit enough to do it if they are, aren't you? I mean, aren't you? I even did bike up to Ichi a time or two, for afternoon events where parking would be hard to come by. But there was always a reason not to do it, that reason mostly being time. It takes longer to bike than it does to bus, and I have a hard enough time catching the bus some mornings.. the idea of leaving early enough to make it to work on time by bike was daunting, and always ultimately overthrown.

But on nice mornings, as I watched high schoolers biking by from the bus window, I would sigh and think, if only I could get my shit together. Alas.

As you already know, I have a weakness for charity bike rides, as best evidenced by my twice-yearly leading of the PEPY Ride Himeji since the spring of my first year. So of course I was interested in the Oita Ride, which sounded cooler and cooler the more I read about it (and also more and more insane for someone like me who cannot really call herself a cyclist). There are a lot of issues with this, mostly being the ride is in OITA and though it is on a weekend, the logistics of getting to and from Oita in the time available is a bit daunting (and expensive). But ticket prices be damned, if Japan has anything, we have speedy trains!

So I signed up (shut up brain). And some of the emails were like, you should do some training, bike some more, try to spend some time biking, and I knew that biking to work would be a good way to get that time in... because it would serve so many purposes at once and would even be kind of good for me; still I could not get my crap together and budget that extra 40 minutes.

Unrelatedly, I had to go to the BOE a couple of times to ask about visa things and return plane ticket request forms. At the end of my second visit, my BOE contact added, something to the effect of, oh, one more thing, don't drive to school, only bus. And I was too surprised to say anything but yes.

(Cast member the car: Robin Red:)

My tiny and oh-so-recognizably red vehicle.
But later, that 'reminder' began to stew for all its implications.

First of all, I get that taking the bus is better for me and the environment in a lot of ways. The bus gives me time to chill out, read, look out the window mindlessly, sometimes even nap awkwardly. It gives me a good excuse to leave earlier than other people (I don't make the schedule! I just gotta follow it... ^_____^ heh, bye guys!) at work, and removes the carbon footprint I'd leave k-car-ing up to Ichi and back every day. It's true.

But there are times and places in which it just makes more sense for me to drive. One is when I plan to spend the whole day in Ichi (when I have adult class from 7:30 to 9, as there are no buses after 9, I have to drive myself-- but if I am going to be driving there and back once anyway, why waste the time of busing back home and driving back up there between school and the evening class?). Another is when I go to small elementary: rather than either rush a connection (making bus connections at all  ;_;) or wait half an hour for the connection (which gets me there late anyway..!), it's way less stressful to just handle it and bring myself to school at whatever time I think is necessary or important based on what I am doing and what materials I need time to arrange.

Other less legit reasons include having stuff I need to do, like wanting to hit the bank or post office or grocery store for lunch in the middle of the day. Or having stuff to do on the way home. Or suspecting that we might get out early and wanting to be able to just go when the VP gives the word. Perhaps less legit, but they have been reasons all the same.

But mostly, the 'reminder' was upsetting because it implied more than a lack of sense. It meant, we know you've been driving, and we take enough note of it to say something about it.

See, in Japan, they have this handy way of dealing with stuff. There is the official line, and then there is what actually happens. Back home, this line is a bit blurred most of the time. Everyone knows there is the Way It's Supposed to Be, and then the Way It Is, with the Supposed to Be actually being a sort of ideal that is hardly ever achieved. In Japan, Supposed-to-Be is more like a set of rules that may or may not make sense, and then the Way It Is is just the thing that happens while the higher ups cheerfully look the other way. Which has been the way this whole driving thing has been handled by everyone here for a long time.

I know that other JETs have also been driving daily when "not supposed to," and that no one ever said anything to them. My own teachers and staff have sometimes joked with me about how "it's a secret" that I drove that day. It's not a secret; everyone knows, we just don't talk about it and pretend I take the bus every day-- I drive rarely enough that it's not predictable anyway!

The other irksome thing is this. I'm a grown-ass woman. I do my job and I don't make trouble. Most people around here like me, and those who don't at least don't have it out for me. After three years, trust me to handle this. Because really, I got this. I do need help in some things, but in a lot of others, I think I can be allowed to make the call, because I'm not a little kid anymore.

The other paranoia-inducing part is, this must mean someone sold me out. Because I highly doubt that the BOE people are concerned enough about it to ride by my house and note when my car is missing during a weekday. So this leads a person to stare shiftily around the staff room wondering which of these two-faced jerks is perfectly nice to my face but in the evening sells me out to the higher-ups, and for what?

Basically it made me really, irrationally mad. And was also the little push of rage I needed to start biking to school! Don't drive, you say? Only BUS, you say? What about my bike, jerks?! I'll show you!!

..yeah. I'm not really showing anyone. But I did start biking to school, because I finally got over being embarrassed about being seen doing it (the one time I had brought my bike to school after going to fall festival, the kids completely missed the part where they were supposed to be impressed with my strength and power and were more making fun of my bike for being a 'mamachari' -- which I now know actually includes the word mama, which is just what it sounds like, and it means instead of gaining cool points, I lost them for not having a sporty bike, wtf) the day I put "please donate money to Oita Bike Ride" flyers on all the desks and a colorful donation box on my own. Now, it might all make sense. Emily bikes to school not because she is insane, or stupid, or irrationally mad and trying to stick it to the man, but because she is training for her upcoming event!

On the day I went to small elementary, it was raining, so I took the two buses I am supposed to take. As I dolefully prepared to go home, the principal of that school asked me, "Are you going to drive home now?" to which I replied with a sad sigh, "No. I'm taking the little bus."

"Oh," he said, "I think it's better." 

Aha. Of course. The guy who is always like "Are you driving home now?" and then "Be careful." What are you worried about? That the road is too narrow, this road I've taken six dozen times? That I can't drive well? Why, because I'm a woman? Because I'm a foreigner? Because I learned on the right? Because I left that "beginner" sticker in my window out of laziness and because people are generally kinder to you when you have it, even though I've been driving for almost a decade? Do you think it's others I will hurt with my car, or me? Why don't you believe in me?!

The irrational anger was back with a rage-spiced vengeance for this poor guy who is only trying to look out for me by telling the BOE to tell me not to drive to school, as I now believe happened. Nonetheless, the discovery did help me feel more at ease about my upcoming days -- days on which I wanted to drive because I wanted to skip out early, mostly (all errands or departure for Oita, actually).

One of those days was Thursday. Because of inconveniently timed rain, my poor bike remained in the large-elementary parking lot (more like parking pit, kinda) Wednesday night as well. I drove to large-elem Thursday, but on the way noticed that something about Robin Red didn't feel quite right. Usually, I notice a smell or a sound first, but this time it was a feel. She had been acting a little weird when idling, sometimes running high in RPMs for no reason, but I had never driven her farther than to kempo or Jusco, both approximately six minutes away, and I hadn't called the car people about it yet. I studied the dash for a moment. Shit. The temperature gauge was high, not quite in the red zone, but way higher than normal and way higher than okay.

I was almost to school, so I figured I'd just try to make it there and turn her off so she could cool down. She died right in the road when I stopped, waiting to turn in to the school driveway. I managed to coax her to restart while all of Thursday morning traffic waiting, and nudged her down into the gravel parking pit, where she came to rest right next to China, shuddered, and died parked at a funny angle.

I hopped out and looked around. Shit shit shit. Not supposed to even drive to school, having done so for shady reasons, needing a car that afternoon to "go and come back" running errands-- but this time all the way to Himeji, goodness. I thought about procrastinating the phone call to the car people, because they might not be open yet, it's before 8am, and there might be a Scene, and the school will have to openly acknoweldge that I drove, and...

Sucked it up, called them anyway. The car people are kind of personal friends of ours these days, so I told them as best I could what had happened, and about how I needed to use the car later that day to.. do some stuff... "We'll give you a loaner," she explained, "but the only one we have right now is a bigger car than yours. Like one that six people can ride in. Is that okay?" Blink. A real car. No, more than that, a van. They're giving me a van! Question of how I think I'll get China home when I planned to drive both Thursday and Friday? answered.

After school, I walked down to the parking pit and was pretty much flabbergasted to see the van neatly parked between China Downtown and the edge of the gravel area by the wall where Robin had expired at a funny angle. Someone has maneuvering powers. I was delighted; I rarely get to drive a real car here in Japan these days.

I climbed aboard this beast and was instantly rewarded with songs of flight and power. It achieved so effortlessly the speeds which Robin shrieks and whines to attain. China Downtown fit into the back without so much as touching the front seats. And I felt like I had just gained like 600 more badass points, not to mention I was now driving incognito! No one who has seen Robin Red will expect to find me piloting this beast, this boat, this whale of a car, which for the time I have it, I will be calling Diesel (because that, my friends, is the type of fuel it requires). And if anyone is like, "why wasn't Robin parked at your house the other day?" I can be like, "Because she is in the shop!" I only wish I had some kind of party to take all my friends to, because when I drive Diesel, I feel like I'm driving a bus. And I kind of am.

This car is twice the size of Robin. TWICE.

So IS any one part of this a blessing, or a curse? I can't really tell. It's complicated and silly. The icing on this long and nearly pointless tale is, I have developed a sore throat and I might not be able to go to Oita this afternoon after all. And I'm not saying that the sore throat is a result of any particular thing, but in my experience, I only get sick when I get stressed out/unhappy. So, there's that. I would call it irony, but I think irony is more like layering, and this story is more like interlocking pieces. It may be that I can't actually afford to go to Oita (timewise? money?) and am stubborn enough not to care, so the universe is forcing me to reconsider. Still, the event sounds awesome and I if I miss it, I will be very very sad.

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