You know how this goes. I've done this before.
First, it is my son's ninth birthday. It is not the birthday it should be. He hurt his foot during one of his feats of balance and adventure, falling off the fence. "I'm ok, I'm ok," he'd say every morning, and then by afternoon it hurts. He won't stay off it. "I'm crippled," he says, groaning, by evening. We plan to have a party, but when we learn all his favorite friends will be out of town for this very weekend, we decide to postpone his party until a week after his birthday. Instead: Pok Pok.
There is nothing better than Pok Pok, but Everett is restless and hurt and unimpressed with the quantity of dinner guests: his grandparents, his brothers, mama, and dad -- who is late. Who decides he must finish power washing the sidewalk so that grandpa can take the gas-powered Thing back home. We eat shrimp chips with peanut sauce; we eat muu sateh and I order a whole fish even though it is beyond extravagant and probably not local. We look at the eye, giggling. As mother of a birthday boy, this is not how I am, usually -- I do it myself, I pick hot dogs made in my neighborhood and last year, I even made graham crackers with local kamut flour and honey for fair-trade dark chocolate 'smores. I am proud that my children and their friends love my homemade cupcakes, even though I use almost all whole-grain flour and limit the sugar to a half-cup per birthday boy. I am feeling, part grieved, part relieved; some birthdays devolve into near-tears as I rush to finish my baking while my husband points out, again, that I am late and that I am always late and that this is "how I role."
Instead of birthday cake, the boys order dessert from Oregon Ice Works. Truman, holding out for maple bacon ice cream from Fifty Licks, gets an indulgent ride home from grandma and grandpa, who are interested, really, to see this strange treat.
Second, we bike homeward. The rest of us, Monroe and Everett on my bike and Jonathan sprinting ahead, waiting. I'm slow. The safe route, the one with the very least hills that I have carefully cultivated over years pulling children and groceries and bathroom tiles toward home, takes us across Powell at a crosswalk. We walk our bikes or go pedestrian-pace, so it's allowed; if we didn't cross here, we'd have to navigate sharp hills or narrow sidewalks past busy bus stops or even more dangerous fare. This is the best way.
It is also past the drive-through Starbucks there. It was once a Coffee People, and though I love local and want to support such things, Starbucks is an improvement. You think Starbucks coffee is burnt? At least, it is intended as such (Howard Schultz calls it, snooty and assured, "Full City Roast"; I call it "yuck"). Coffee People's lattes were just made badly. When I used to drive and used to eat what my family calls "regular" sugar and when I first was pregnant, I would go through this drive-through for coffee banana milkshakes. It is what Everett is made of.
I treat my children, once in a while; on their birthdays, I treat them more. They love Starbucks, and though we talk about how I'd rather (really) make them treats myself, or have them eat cherries out of the colander and raspberries off our bushes, I let them go to Starbucks once a week for good behavior. There used to be a better choice in our neighborhood, a coffee shop with cookies made by a sweet woman who I would see, at People's, buying flour and oats and chocolate chips, with banana bread, with seasonal hand pies. Now: there is nothing but Starbucks on every side.
At home, I drink coffee that is direct trade, from Stumptown or Trailhead, I push a French press potful each morning, I compost my grounds by dumping them around my highly caffeinated garlic and raspberries and strawberries. We all appreciate this. At Starbucks? I rarely buy anything; I'm here for my kids, whose treats at home never include soda or juice or candy or Doritos. Not if I'm buying.
Ahhh. There's the rub. Have you, my dear reader, ever been a co-parent? Have you ever -- I'm curious now -- have you ever parented a bundle of difficult children, whose loves and angers and unique unusualities bedeviled your calm smug sense of preparedness for this parenting job? Is it possible you're also, reader, a spouse of an Army man, one who (from time to time, or for the first time, just now) goes, then returns, from a very long time away? Used to meals at regular times served by those who are paid for such promptness, flats of diet soda in his bunkplace fridge, unfettered access to vending machines and junk-food-laden marts of military sorts, he may come home willing and able to indulge his children in ways you find abhorrent. Eager to recycle again, he has (sadly) no patience for your intensive but slow DIY meal plan, your compost heap, your habit of feeding leftovers to chickens, your not-very-compromising snack regime.
Third, we stop at Starbucks. It is balmy and early in the evening; for once, we do not have to wait while crossing the driveway for cars coming and going. Everett asks to stop, and his father joyfully says yes! I'll buy you anything! He speeds up to the window, to pay for what we order.
Fourth, we do not order. After initial pleasantries -- we're deciding -- the woman responsible for such things says, "actually..." Actually, they do not serve people on bikes in the drive-through. "It's a hazard."
"I'm curious;" I am. To see what she'll say. "A hazard for whom?"
"For the cars," she says, voice full of head shakes and eye rolls. "Who will run OVER you."
I say something about this: once, there was a local company who changed their policy because I complained. "It's not my rule," she replied. "I hope you DO complain to corporate."
Fifth, we did not buy anything. I would have played along -- rode my bike around (ostentatiously, maybe), parked in the awkward space between where cars go, and where people may safely, curbed, walk up, sit, enjoy caffeinated or highly-sweetened (or both at the very same time) beverages. Jonathan, he has no patience for such things and was already banning this place. As if the corporation to which the drive-through operators answer -- really? -- cares.
They want to know why I care; why I bring my children through drive-throughs, endangering them with those reckless feckless motor vehicle operators; why I subject them to exhaust and the unpersoning facelessness of speaking "into a box" rather than to a person whose face is, instead, right in front of you (why this is much worse than ordering pizza over the phone or books online or any of the dozen other ways you could also not speak directly to someone's face in order to conduct the ordering portion of a transaction? I do not know); why indeed I am buying anything from this place anyhow, with my previously professed love of things local.
We are part of this world, though more and more I am tempted to erect more grape vine pergolas in the front of my house and put up a wall of brambles the likes of which only the most whole-blooded prince or princess could navigate. Retreat into a place into which I can be safe from the need to conform to, or stand out from, society in a predetermined and acceptable manner that is acceptable to everyone and unfailingly consistent.
I am not, I do not, I will not. Be consistent, conforming, pursue the causes others deem appropriately important for the investment of my time. This is my time and my issue.
Sixth, let me tell you why this angers me, why it has me tweeting and writing when truly I should be picking raspberries, baking pie. It is because I do not believe that putting one's child on a bike is hazardous. I believe that businesses should not make this decision for me -- that bicycles may not go where cars can, that I am a hazard to them or that I am the problem because they might run over me. There are counter-arguments that could have me tweeting 'til midnight. Drive-throughs are perhaps the safest place for cars and bicycles to co-habitate. In order to get to the walkup window, one must cross the path of cars coming and going, where they habitually go much faster than they do while waiting to order or receive coffee. In order to simply get past the Starbucks, I must face far more dangers than those that I could possibly face in the drive-through. Who would I hold liable were I to be run over, as they say (a difficult prospect; my bike is quite large, it would take much speed and force and not a little blindness, deafness to my shrieking) on the sidewalk over which drive-through customers must pass to return to the street? Starbucks, or the driver? And what about this: could you please point out, for me, the survey or police report data or statistical evidence that there is an epidemic of car-on-bicycle accidents in drive-throughs?
Yes, mixing cars and bicycles is hazardous. Mixing cars and passengers and pedestrians is also dangerous. We would be better served to simply separate people entirely from cars. Use robo-drivers on roads separate completely from humanity, tunnels maybe, high roads on stilts that blocked out our sun. Is this the fault of the pedestrians? The bicyclists? The businesses that serve them? I rather think that the danger lies in three things: the drivers of the vehicles, the speed of the vehicles, and the vehicles themselves, huge and hulking and not designed to screech to a halt upon contact with as much as a human finger.
Starbucks has recently launched an enormous initiative to market itself as sustainable. Do you know, Starbucks? Sustainable companies would not, in my opinion, mold company policy to (as it were) blame the victim of the phantom collision. Sustainable companies would not, in my opinion, create a culture in which bicyclists are not just unwelcome but tending to ride off shaking their fists (that was my husband; I, as you have probably guessed, complained to Twitter).
Bicyclists might agree, together, to avoid Starbucks; my children love the place, and it's the only coffee shop to which I can walk or bike in less than 10 minutes. I can't promise such a ban; for my daily coffee, I'll continue to choose local, perfectly-roasted, direct-trade beans delivered by bike to my hippie-dippie-groupie buying club, where I will ride up on a bike and be welcomed. With smiles and coos and requests for equipment recommendations.
But here's the thing: why I care. Why I fight. I do not wish for the choice of transporting oneself via bicycle to be thought insane or crazy or hazardous or even terribly limiting (but of the speed and distance one travels, naturally). I believe strongly that the world cannot possibly survive a future in which each and every family travels in its own car or collection of cars at (or even close to) the rate we have today. Were I to dream audaciously without limit, I would ask cities to close down many roads for bicycles and pedestrians alone; I would ask the U.S. to reduce all speed limits to 25 miles in cities and towns and 50 on highways. Allowing bicycles in drive-throughs is not enormous or major. But it's one thing on the list of a hundred things and it's something (most importantly) that you can change. That I can change. That Starbucks could, quite easily and in a regular conference call with its partners, change. If it does not? The company will survive. But, either way, it's a symbol, and as I do not see much in the way of concrete, sweeping, global actions: I will take symbols and hold on to them for all I have.