On the kindness of strangers

bici

Last Thursday night around 8 p.m. I navigated my way through crazy Madrid evening traffic towards Cibeles and the monthly gathering of bicycle-minded people called Bici Crítica. On the Castellana just north of Colón, my chain started doing funky things and I pulled onto the sidewalk to investigate. As I’m a rather inexperienced cyclist, I had no real idea of how to remedy the problem and so grabbed the chain and tried to put it in its place. But lo and behold I heard someone shouting instructions to me (in Spanish) from the neighboring lanes of traffic: “Just pedal and the gear will catch!” I turned to see who was advising me; it was none other than a municipal bus driver leaning out the window of his big red bus. I pedaled with my hand and, of course, the gear caught.

The ride, when we got started, was great. K and I commented on how liberating it is to ride on streets overtaken by bicycles. And so silent! Some drivers were pretty aggravated (the taxistas are specialists in this), but there were plenty of well wishers along our two-hour route all the way up Calle Alcalá to García Noblejas, where the Madrid government is building bike lanes on the sidewalk, to the dismay of many pedestrians. Towards the end of the ride I had a brief conversation with two women standing out on their 8th-floor balcony and cheering for us:

Me: Mejor que coches, no? (Better than cars, right?)

Them: Mucho mejor! (Much better!)

And at the end of the night, after a picnic on the other side of town, K and I started to make our way, somewhat uncertainly, back to our barrio. We came across another cyclist at a traffic light at Avenida de América and asked if he knew the best way to go. He asked if we’d been with the Bici Crítica and said that though he’s been riding to work daily for a year, he’s never been able to make the monthly event. And then, though it wasn’t on his way, he led us to a street that would take us basically straight home and avoid the worst of the traffic. In 15 minutes we were home.

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2 Responses to “On the kindness of strangers”


  1. 1 Mallory Thursday, 23 July, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Hello Katie,

    Diving on internet I arrived to your blog and I have to say that was really incredible. You have teach me things about my own country that I didn´t know.
    I have suscribed to your site, cause I think it´s really interesting. Hope you don´t mind.

    A lot of hughes from a madrileña!

    Mallory

  2. 2 Tim Friday, 18 September, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    Hi Katie – Don’t stop writing! I just moved to Madrid for a few months, and had found your blog and really enjoyed it. Was looking forward to reading it while I was here :)

    Tim


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