A Kindness, Unpledged

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A week before last Friday, an idea came together about this project. Though I loved my my trip to Quebec City, I regretted not bringing my son on a tandem bicycle as I’d hoped because we couldn’t afford to buy the bicycle in time for the ride. However, that week I was about to be reimbursed for some expenses I’d already paid for out of my pocket and so a little extra money was coming in. There was no time like the present to get a tandem and so Dae and I headed down to Urbane Cyclist on Saturday to take one out on a test drive. They had one model in stock and they got it down for us and let us know that there was a special deal with this one. If we wanted, we could have a bag with the bike. At the time, it sounded like a pannier for carrying gear and I thought, sure, it might come in handy but was far more focused on the bike itself.

We took the bike out for about a kilometre through the city streets, in stop and go traffic and up and down hills. While we had a very heavy and old single-speed tandem that was good for riding around the neighbourhood, riding this was another experience entirely. Going up hills was effortless, and we could build up a good head of steam on flat stretches. This was definitely going to do the trick for us. And so we made our way back to the store to make our purchase.

The person then asked if I wanted the bag as well. She remarked that to use the bag I’d have to take the wheels off but they were quick release. It then clicked for me: She was offering me a free travel bag for the bike so that I could check it as baggage on a bus or plane. I’d figured out a lot of the details about this trip, but to be honest, getting the bike back home was still something of a grey area. The best I could come up with was to find a bike shop and see if they could ship the bike – likely a costly prospect. But now we’ll only need to ship the bag to wherever we plan to land in the city a few days before we leave and then when we’re ready to go we just pack it on the bus with us on the return trip. This made things much simpler. She said that it didn’t actually come with the bike – it wasn’t some promotion from KHS. She then told me that Jack Layton and Olivia Chow had brought it by and told them to give it to someone who needed it when they bought a tandem bike.

For those who aren’t aware, Jack Layton was the leader of the New Democratic Party and official opposition party in the current Canadian government. He married Olivia Chow in 1988 and she went on to also become a member of parliament. They often rode their tandem bicycle, a wedding gift to each other, around the city.

Pride Parade

Though I didn’t know it when initially moved here from the states, it was the values that Jack and Olivia fought for that were the values that attracted us to Canada in the first place. Social justice, environmental consciousness, the rights of the homeless, the safety of cyclists, and the list just goes on and on.

On August 22nd, 2011, two days after we bought the tandem bicycle officially kicking off this project, Jack Layton died of cancer. I have never felt the loss of someone I didn’t know so acutely. And I wasn’t alone. One look at these pictures of memorial messages written in chalk outside Toronto City Hall where he served for many years as a city councillor will tell you that. As you look at those photos, keep in mind also that it rained three times last week, and three times after the rain had washed all of the inscriptions away, they were all put back.

Though I couldn’t make his memorial service last Saturday, I did make it to Critical Mass, a monthly group bike ride, on Friday. As a group we payed tribute to him at his office on the east end of Toronto, outside City Hall, and finally at his home. Thanks to Tino for taking photos of this moving experience.

So thanks, Jack, for the act of kindness you and Olivia performed to help this project out as well as the inspiration you provided me with to do good things for others. And most of all, thanks for all of the things you’ve done to help my community – whether that community is my neighbourhood, city, country or planet.