Workers on Wheels
Bicycles Aren't Just for Commuting
Free-Wheeling Computer Supportby Andy Thornley
After a long career doing application programming for grim financial enterprises, I cut loose for the freelance game about five years ago. As Thornley Research Systems, I've maintained and created computer systems, built Mac networks, helped folks get on the web and figure out how to use their computers in general.
I've had clients in swanky houses on top of Pacific Heights and Russian Hill, design shops in Oakland and entrepreneurs in the Presidio, insurance companies and furniture makers and youth service agencies and cookbook publishers all over the Bay Area. And I've called upon them all by bike. It's been especially fun to park my pickup-bucketed Raleigh in front of the mansions, among the tradesmen's trucks, the contractors and gardeners and plumbers who buzz over the plush parts of town. My bike is a working vehicle, and I make a point to point it out.
Thanks to the internet, I don't always have to go to the "client site" in person. A lot of the work I do is done remotely, at odd hours, in odd places. My home office is nice for a while, but quite a bit of my billable time is clocked in coffee shops, libraries, and parks, to which I pedal with my laptop and legal pad. Golden Gate Park is one of my biggest branch offices, offering a wide assortment of unbound thinkspaces and the company of ducklings and gardeners (many of whom also pilot bikes, towing tool trailers).
Like other small businesspeople, I make post office runs, shopping trips to re-stock my office, and visits to stationery stores and computer supply shops. If I'm after bigger merchandise than will fit in my two cargo compartments (wicker basket in front, washtub bucket in rear), I bring my bike trailer. (Trailers are also available for members at the SFBC office.) A couple of months ago when my faithful desk chair gave out I did some comparison shopping at the foot of Lone Mountain, ending up purchasing a new perch at Busvan on Clement Street. To the astonishment of the pick-up clerk, the product box popped right in my trusty Bob trailer and I rolled away up the Richmond District's most car-intoxicated street, easy and free.
In that sense, getting around by bike is a bully pulpit - I'm able to address my fellow citizen-consumers easily and with great authority. And my clients are always pleased that I've come by bike - after the first visit they never worry about me finding parking, and some even take a vicarious pride in my righteousness.
There are some interesting parallels between dropping out of the "real job" racket and going car-free - one gets the same reaction from concerned friends: "How are you ever going to get along?" And the same "I wish I could do that" mix of jealousy and self-limitation. Follow me!
Therapy By Bikeby Hunter Gatewood
As a psychiatric social worker in San Francisco's public mental health system, my bicycle has proven an effective tool in delivering mental health services. I work as a clinical case manager, which means I am both psychotherapist and resource coordinator for adult clients. Within the therapeutic relationship, I facilitate clients' medical care, employment, education, housing, and other elements of a satisfying life. This broad spectrum of duties requires the clinician to get out from behind the desk, and that's where my trusty two-wheeled steed comes in handy.
On any workday, I ride from home to the clinic, where the day will hold several opportunities to get on my bike and hit the streets. Some examples:
- A client calls to say he is getting kicked out of his SRO hotel for dubious reasons. After a quick bike ride, I have choice words for the hotel manager, and my client has a place to sleep for at least three more nights.
- A depressed client calls to cancel our appointment, and he sounds pretty bad. I jump on my bike and within 15 minutes I arrive at his apartment to perform an assessment. Once I get there, I don't have to worry about where to park.
- A particularly chaotic client has missed appointments with me and with her psychiatrist. In a half-hour, I can jet down to the Tenderloin, find a safe place to park my bike, look for her in her SRO hotel, and make it back to work.
If you use your bike for commuting or running errands, these examples make perfect sense: I can do more with less hassle. To boot, the fresh air and exercise are benefits for my own mental health. The ability to step out of an intense therapy session (or the county jail), get on my bike, and fly away provides a welcome release. By the time I reach my next destination, I have had a nice bit of exercise.
Many of my clients enjoy the fact that I ride around to see them on a bike. They ask "Did you ride your bicycle over here?" and agree that it is a smart way to travel. My bicycle allows me to practice what I preach: regular exercise; getting out and about; and good, clean fun for cheap. In short, my job makes life easier for my clients, and my bike makes life easier for me.