Friday, March 22, 2013

The Bike and the Tourist

In about a month, I'm off on vacation to visit the Netherlands and Germany.  While visiting my primary mode of transport will be by bike and rail.  That's right, I'm about to be one of THOSE PEOPLE.  A tourist.

You see, between living in a college town with an extremely popular football team, San Francisco, and Austin I have come to absolutely loathe tourists.  I mean that in the nicest way possible.  I love to travel, to see new things - but sometimes it feels like being a zoo creature.  Here in Austin that was driven home, as last week was South by Southwest.

SXSW means a lot of things to Austinites, but mostly this - for 1 week our city will be crawling with people too cool for school.  They generally treat this city like a giant frat party and trash everything they touch.  And now, a story.

Last Friday I hopped on my bike, and rode to the train station to go downtown.  As I rolled up, I looked around and realized that there were EASILY 3 times the usual number of people at the station - the train was going to be a sardine can.  And I had my bike with me.  Now, normally this isn't a problem - the trains have a couple hooks for bikes and you simply board the train, put your bike where it goes, and then have a seat.  Friday was more like boarding a lifeboat on the Titanic.  Though I'd been on time to the station I missed my train because it was simply too packed.  Nearly an hour's wait later, the the next train came and we shoved on.  Over the half hour south the train only became more and more packed - to an incredibly shove-ey, cramped degree.  People pushed into the train whether there was room or not and I'm quite frankly astonished there weren't any injuries.

Finally and interminably the train arrived downtown to a similarly packed train station and I shoved my way out, arriving at 4th St in downtown Austin - an intersection I have been to literally hundreds of times.  As I rode west the reason I avoid events like this became more and more apparent.  In 6 blocks I saw a girl drunkenly hit a curb with her bike and fall off into the street.  I had a group of skateboarders swoop up from behind me with no warning.  A herd of drunks stumble directly into my line of travel and people walking down the middle of the road.  I felt like my city had been taken over by people who don't love or respect her or her residents.

I finally made it to Auditorium shores for the Flaming Lips show, where I walked up to a completely full bike parking lot.  I chained up to a post nearby and walked off into the crowd of people.

The whole point of telling this story is I've been thinking about the best way to visit places.  I certainly plan on drinking during my trip to Europe and having a good ol' time but I don't want to be the girl fallen over in the middle of the street.  Bikes are a magnificent way to get around when a car is inconvenient and they're also cheap to rent. They let you see, hear, and smell the true character of a place.  But holy god, don't be "THAT" tourist.


  1. Drunk bicycling is quite normal in the Netherlands! You can go see it every thursday and friday night in the university towns like Leiden. Wear a costume, sing a song and you will fit right in. The only thing that will make you stand out as a tourist is wearing a helmet.:)

    Have a great time!!!

  2. Yay! I'll actually be visiting Leiden while I'm there. The tourists here all have this problem where they've never ridden a bike in whatever part of the world they're from, come here, get absolutely hammered then ride in our downtown traffic and expect that to just be okey dokey. I myself have YEARS of practice navigating on a bike while drunk and figure I'll be cool.