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The Weekender: Lugging is Not Just for Workdays

July 2, 2011

Little by little, item by item, sleepover by sleepover, I’ve amassed an impressive collection of things in the east end. This is handy. It means I don’t need to bring clean underwear on every date, because there are already a few pairs at my gentlemanfriends’s house. It means I don’t need to roll a freshly ironed blouse into a ball, stuff it into a satchel, and ride it across town on my bike the night before, in order to have something suitable to wear to the office the next morning. And, it means I can use my own soap, lotion, shampoo and conditioner, and not smell exactly like my boyfriend. Call me old-fashioned, but I think it’s nice to give each other’s neck a sniff and not come up with “mmmm…just like me!” Man smells for men; lady smells for women.

In early July, however, I’m taking a holiday, and my toiletries and robe and pyjamas will come with me. Between now and then, this means all that stuff needs to travel back home, and this means lugging it across town on my bike. All at once. Which would be fine, except for the part where I accumulated as much other stuff as my bicycle basket could possibly hold, and then some, along the way. My trip from east end to west last Sunday was a bit like the scene in The Jerk, where Steve Martin pitches a sodden tantrum and storms out on his wife, declaring he needs nothing…except this ashtray…and this paddle game…and this remote control…and so on, until he’s carrying so much stuff he has to joggle himself to and fro in order to fit through the door. Well, my trip was a bit like that, minus the tantrum and drunkenness and acrimony. Instead, we french kissed on the lawn and talked about cute things like picnics.

When packing a bicycle basket, particularly a basket you intend to overload, it’s important to establish a sturdy foundation layer. The heavy things, the big, flat things, the things you hope will anchor all the other things in place. Books, toiletry bags, a dozen limes, for instance. Of course, limes are probably something you’re more likely to pick up en route rather than decide you really need to bring home from your boyfriend’s house, but they are small and round and rather handy to drop down into your original foundation as things shift during your ride. Caulking, of the citrus variety, like the foam for squirting into holes to keep the mice from getting in. No one planned for mouse holes when they built that house, but almost everyone finds themselves barring and discouraging mice later on. Likewise, your basket might seem complete, nothing more to be added, nothing to be taken away, no reason to take anything out (like your wallet or sunglasses case), no chance of things shifting mid-ride. But, like the certainty of mice, even though you didn’t pack your basket planning on any of those things, at least one is guaranteed to occur.

It’s also important to leave a bit of room here and there for the load to give and sway. Nothing precarious, but like allowing for flex in a building, to prevent cracking and tumbling with successive freezes and thaws, and withstanding inevitable tremors. Likewise, you can bike slowly, picking your way through pot holes like landmines and hoping for the best, but there will always be one you don’t see in time to deek out, or a car that squishes you tight to the curb and forces you to cross a sunken storm drain at full speed. You might also, for instance, need to peel off some layers when it turns out that jacket was too thick for the sunshine, or remove a bracelet that looked cute on two feet but astride a bicycle does nothing but rattle against your wrist until you can barely feel your hand. So now your basket has possibly been dug around in at least (for that wallet or sunglasses case) and things have been added (like painful adornments and excess coats), and it’s become a little lumpy and off-balance. If your foundation was well planned, this will be just fine.

But then you need to make a major stop. You’ve packed your robe and you’ve packed your toothbrush and you’ve packed your three extra office shirts and your limes. What to do when you realise halfway home that you need to pick up groceries otherwise you’ll be fixing something extremely weird for dinner? Something like broccoli and cake. The best place to shop is the market, and today is Sunday…not just any Sunday, but Pedestrian Sunday…meaning there will be nowhere to lock, lean or rest your bike without backtracking several blocks through a crowd of people eating pupusas and dancing to records played by that guy over there with the turntable set up on milk crates beside his front porch, and a trio playing harp and trumpet and snare, and a pack of kids smeared with ice cream from the newly opened parlour next to the vegetable stand, and loads of people just wandering in the sunshine taking it all in and paying no attention to where they’re going, no attention at all?

First, you pat yourself on the back for having the foresight to purchase a removable basket so you can unsnap it from your bike and carry it, and all your shit, with you through the market. Second, you embrace the fact that everything going on in the market today is eccentric and ad hoc and a bit of a spectacle, and you appreciate that nothing you do will draw more than a glance, so you spread out all your stuff right there beside your bike, and reassemble your basket in sensible strata which take into consideration the changing landscape of what you’re lugging home. Heaviest things on the bottom…

…things with bones and other support structures to keep them from being crushed go in the middle layer…

…steak and greens on top.

Eggs swing from your handlebars in a bag of their own, unless you are prepared for Advanced Basket Packing (which will be covered in a later installment of this series). Because really, why take chances that your beautiful and so-far relatively hard to come by Silkie chicken eggs might arrive home prematurely scrambled?

And then you stop to see your friend who thanks you for feeding his cats while he was on holiday, and you have a glass of wine to toast the approach of your own long-overdue holiday, and find your basket now includes small thank-you items, such as a packet of Cuban coffee and a bottle of prosecco, as well as some chocolate you’ve been snacking on since all that biking has made you hungry but you want to keep moving and not stop to waste money and time dining out. And somehow that fucking toiletry bag has ended up on the floor when you stuffed the prosecco into your basket, so you tether it to the outside of everything with an extra bungee cord and hope for the best. This is a common mistake in basket-packing, one I strongly caution against. A month ago, precisely this sort of carelessness led to a ten-dollar bag of California cherries being driven over in the street. I figured that was karma kicking my ass for being impatient for Ontario fruit and buying overpriced, out of season, wildly irresponsible goods instead of accepting that cherries will be here, at home, very soon.

Remember: taking your time, and a half-dozen limes, and your basket contents will make it home safely every time.

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