If You Build It. . . They Will Come

Perhaps we’re starting at the wrong end of the horse — or bicycle, in this case. The awareness surfaced as we watched a tall, thin, and articulate man on a Ted stage chronicle his journey from a diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease — that predicted an increasingly debilitating four or five years of ‘life’ — to a vital, engaged, and active life-style a few years later. His story was much more than a personal testimonial to the life-altering, life-saving reacquaintance with a bicycle. He outlined a template for change that we could all heed. The link following will take those interested to the Youtube posting:

As I bumped along one of my favoured egresses, heading out of Stratford into the countryside for a near-daily ride, I had lots of time to reflect on his comments. Figural in Tony Desnick’s talk were very persuasive numbers. Some, of course, catalogued the familiar apocalyptic arc we seem to be describing for ourselves as we consume and sit or passively transport our way to a point where the machine stops — personally and globally. A few other figures stuck — and resonated — as well. He noted that fully half of the trips we take in a car are for journeys of 3 kilometres or less. He pointed out that, even in ‘bike friendly’ cities in the US, something under 5% of the working population will use a bicycle to get to work. And he contrasted this numerically and pictorially with established bicycling countries in Europe — Denmark, the Netherlands, where, in the case of the latter, some 19,000,000 bike trips are taken daily. Finally, he made a compelling argument for a, forgive me, road map that would, could invite such salutary change on this side of the Atlantic.

Implicit in his presentation was the old saw that biking is good for us. And equally, that driving is, if not bad for us, at least more stressful, environmentally unfriendly, expensive, slower, and, in many cases, unnecessary. Hard to argue that the outcomes of embracing built in exercise, cheap transport, even speed of commute are undesirables.

Where the white hats and black start to become a little less distinguishable is safety. Significantly extended life expectancy and disease symptom remission are fine — except when 25 pounds of CCM meets 2000 pounds of F150. Desnick notes that Amsterdam has not always been cycling heaven or haven. Where bikes now outnumber cars in the order of 60:1, the ratio historically was reversed — with all the attendant risks to that solitary cyclist that are sadly representative of urban biking in this country in 2017. The transition required a dedicated initiative to make the city a safer place ride! The other benefits followed.

Seven years ago I started cycling in Europe. First France, then the UK, and now most often in Italy. I was ‘struck’ by the widespread deference paid to bicyclists by motorists. Nearing the bottom of a particularly long and winding descent — of the order of several kilometres — my companion and I became aware of a tour bus, the ‘third man’ in our little train down the mountain side, waiting patiently until it could safely overtake. No horns blaring or angry gestures. Just a friendly salute as he passed.
York cycle map
Equally ‘impactful’, and echoing Amsterdam’s efforts, is the ‘bike friendly’ infrastructure of many of the cities. The little dots and dashes on the above map identify active cycle routes in York, a northern UK city of some 200,000. It constituted the first major centre I would venture into on a cross-England ride in 2012 — and I had some trepidation over same. Narrow, twisting, hopelessly confusing and sometimes cobbled lanes more resemble a labyrinth than a street plan — and so I’d anticipated a painful and frustrating journey from outskirts to my city centre B & B adjacent the Roman walled ‘old town’. Instead I found wide, mostly paved pathways, well-signed and car-less, that led me alongside River Ouse to my destination. Paths clearly marked distinguishing and dividing cyclist ‘lanes’ from pedestrian footways. Twenty minutes and I was in front of St. Peter’s Gate! A trip that would have taken three times as long by car, and featured multiple wrong turns — if I ever did arrive — and elevated blood pressure. (Full screen image: click on media)

Stratford likes to characterize itself as a smart, welcoming, proactive, healthy and active community. Donning my rose-coloured glasses, I, too, see myself as tall, dark, handsome, and youthful. No harm in cultivating a little benign fantasy. The link below is to a ‘beautiful document’: The Stratford Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan Report — I’m sure there’s a good acronym somewhere in that mouthful — available for public viewing and drooling somewhere in early 2014:

https://www.stratfordcanada.ca/en/playhere/resources/Recreational_Programs/Stratford_Bike_and_Pedestrian_Master_Plan_Report_web.pdf

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Concepts are good. Plans are necessary. And where would the world be without its consultants and consultation? In the spirit, however, that sooner or later, to be of value, the rubber needs to hit the road — be it running shoe or bike tire. I’ve taken the liberty of extracting one of the several ‘visions’ of our bicycle friendly city from said report. Together with, as everyone who sat high school English exams will appreciate, a compare and contrast exercise, viz. Google’s portrayal of current reality. A quick squint at the City’s 2014 projection (together with a Captain Midnight decoder ring to fathom all the dots and colours) suggests an interconnected realm of cycling Shangri-la. Google, in its inimitable style of showing ‘what is’, suggests a world slightly less contiguous, a little less replete, decidedly less idyllic —and, oh yeah, less colourful. In short, the orphaned green lines are ‘what is’. (A friend has suggested renaming the black ellipsoids ‘Dan Mathieson Parkway’ — to get a ‘feel for the area’, try bicycling along the respective stretches of Quinlin and O’loane Roads — but don’t forget your pump.)
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To return to Mr. Desnick’s thesis, he cites the importance, the necessity of building an environment that invites cyclists into it. One wherein byways are dedicated and constructed to a useful end. One where cyclists are more than resented interlopers on roads proprietarily defended as the motorists’ domain. One that is safe. He refers to the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis, a ‘bicycle expressway’ that traverses the city as an example of just such a project. It put me in mind of our own ‘midtown greenway’ that too stretches from east to west — and may just be something more than a blue ellipse on a Google map. Hopefully in my lifetime.

Leaving 6

We’re closing in on a relationship of some thirty years. In those three decades, Rick has touched just about every aspect of my life — personal and professional. Our relationship has seen us both weather the trials of institutional employment, skating painfully close to the downsizing blade — remembered cryptically as ‘the day they called a Code Fuchsia’. In the days of doubt and disorganization that followed, Rick Graff and Associates was hatched — at the time numbering Rick Graff and one associate — me.

Obviously things have changed greatly since 1991. Tenants, residential and professional have come and gone — or stayed, as some of the faces in the room bear witness. Five years in saw the need to expand three offices to six. And ultimately, making the leap across the driveway — and some very stubborn, concrete barrier blocks — to add 157 to the ‘association’.

But the constant has been Rick. His therapeutic interests and style, unconventional by those of Ontario’s somewhat rigid and mechanistic psychological community, have remained steadfast — and served to inform and shape my own approach for the last three decades. The opportunity to explore Gestalt, men’s psychology, Human Potential, meditation, and body work, largely thru’ the unpredictable and fluid paths of extended residential retreats — legacies from Rick’s time in California and Florida — became figural, annual rites that have served to balance and ground ever since. This stodgy, Ontario-educated behaviourist was gently invited ‘out of his head’ and into the lower centres of heart and belly, moving from content to process. His mentor became mine — and I’m all the better for it.

Road trips to the psychological edge, geographically and experientially, were chances to share and explore — the most unusual of ‘business meetings’ and a far cry from the dry routine of the institutional practices where we’d met. South Beach, the mountains above Mendocino, Big Sur, and regular pilgrimages to the ‘heart land’ of Kansas, improbable venues for ‘the education of David’, supplemented and, truth be told, supplanted the stuffy tedium of ‘team meetings’ on W2S; personal growth in place of CQI — ‘continuous quality improvement’.

Our shared teacher and go-to guru, John Heider, would invite us to ‘speak our truth — or as much of it as we could comfortably share’ — and then open the group floor. Co-participants could be counted on to be an eclectic mix of seasoned ‘vets’ from hippy dentists to postal clerks; ‘newbies’ with the terrified, deer-in-the-headlights look that I’m sure described me in those early days; and all stripes in between. Many of whom would become lifelong friends — all on a shared journey. John’s ‘Church of the Seven C’s’ and his Sunday morning ‘homily’ would indelibly connect Taoist wisdom to that of it’s much younger cousin. Beyond all was the privilege of watching Rick ‘do his work’, as he stepped out of the professional self and willingly enter the ambiguous world of his own struggles — a model that more than once has set me back on a path from which I’d wandered.

Testament to the substance that must have formed the core of RGA is it’s 25 year presence. In a profession that sees practices and practitioners come and go, the psychological equivalent of ‘two guys pumping gas’ has endured, attracting, absent any initiative or agenda, a broad-based, loyal, and sizeable cast — without a hint of hubris, the ‘bar to be at’ for private practice treatment in Stratford.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, in ‘A Late Quartet’, refers to the subtle relationship between first and second violin — exploring the dynamics and dialogue that flow, unheard, behind and below the music itself. First chair typically plays the defining melody, the uppermost ‘line’ in the score; and is the last musician to take the stage before a performance. Second violin adds colour, texture, transitions — supporting harmonically and rhythmically. Without both — there’s no quartet.

Such is the relationship that has defined and sustained this partnership, this friendship of a quarter century. It’s been quite the trip!

Running with David

‘You eliminate one person, and the whole world changes’
Fred Ballinger, Youth

David J. Barenberg, in memoriam.

We met first on a track — thirty-six years ago. Both driven, David revisiting his miler days from university and I fresh from minor surgery and suffering the effects of being too long sidelined from running. We’d eyed each other carefully as we pounded out the 120 laps of this tiny, suspended surface above the Y’s gymnasium. Walkers and joggers came and went, were passed again and again, finally leaving just the two of us. Two points in opposition, neither gaining ground on the other, taking care not to lag. Competition and obsession: the key ingredients of a relationship that would bind us for many years to come — and defining our respective personalities. 10 Km. logged, we allowed a greeting, mutually cautious, mutually respectful.

It’s a rare event when one encounters a catalyst, mentor even, in early mid-life. By then, we are well into the entrenched, ‘old dog, no new tricks’ mode. Rarer still to be able to track the unfolding of a relationship and be blessed with the recognition of how it has shaped decisions, validated enthusiasms, pushed limits, and fostered achievements that might otherwise have been passed by, barely noticed, allowed to lapse. I was, by most accounts at 34, a ‘running vet’, modestly accomplished in a time when runners were seen as a peculiar lot. But stuck in a routine that had stagnated, ‘mailed in’ but stale. This was about to change on many fronts.

6:30 a.m., September 11, 1981. I parked in front of David’s house on Parklane at the agreed upon time, not a little uncertain about where this new relationship might lead. In that time, runners were solitary souls, meeting at races, but otherwise preferring their own company. David, as was his want, had ‘his route’, measured with precision (as much as the technology of the 1980’s would allow) and careful to include a mix of terrain. We toed the invisible ‘start / finish line’, started watches, and stopped talking. This was a training run — not a social event. We snaked our way thru’ Stratford, up the hills available to us, checking ‘splits’ — both encouraged that the novel idea of a running partner, even in these formative days, was working. 39:12. Finishing side by side. And close enough to a 10 Km. ‘personal best’ to confirm the hope.

The first of hundreds of such runs, that would see us ground and anchor each other thru’ all weather, injury — and the vagaries of personal and professional lives that would weave together and sustain us. That would discipline and push us mutually to individual goals. Always purposeful, never casual. Bad runs tolerated; good ones, target and intention met, logged with quiet satisfaction, never celebration. This was about improvement, not attainment. Commitment to a personal standard. The way David lived his life.

Thank you David

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