Thursday, February 07, 2008

Have Paddle Will Travel (By Subway If Necessary!)

As long as I'm being all urban - it's FINALLY time for the GP-on-the-subway post!

I have been meaning to do this for AGES.

As people who've been reading this heap of amphibious randomness for a while know, the only forms of transportion (other than shoes) that yours truly has ever actually owned have been a couple of bicycles, and three kayaks.

I kinda love that I can do that. Cars seem like big expensive hassles to own, although they do make awesome raccoon-proof food lockers (hint for any of you lucky bashtahds who are attending Sweetwater). And just think of the petiteness of the carbon footprint (wish my foot footprint was that cute).


Being primarily dependent on public transportation DOES have some interesting effects on one's approach to The Kit.

I do leave a couple of bulky items (PFD, sprayskirt) at my boat, but most stuff I like to bring home as items stored in my boat tend to stay dampish. That basically means that my kit is limited to that which I can carry.

Most of the stuff fits in one bag - a great big duffle in the winter, a good-sized backpack in fall & spring, and a daypack in the summertime.

Boy do I love summer.

The single most awkward item to carry, though, is my Greenland paddle.

My Europaddle breaks down into two pieces, and there are GP's that break down, but I don't happen to have one of those. It's just shy of 7 feet long.

Any longer and it would be impossible. As it is, as long as I try to avoid the height of rush hour, it's inconvenient - but I make it work when I need to.

I mostly only need to in the wintertime. Summer, most of my paddling is done out of the club, so the GP becomes one of the items that lives at the boat. Winter, though - that's when I'm going to pool sessions & those almost always mean that yes, I frequently board the subway carrying a six-foot plus modified plank!

There are a couple of basic rules I try to follow to keep this from being aggravating for myself & my fellow commuters.

1. I always try to wear my meekest expression. The saying does not go "Look truculent and carry a big stick". The big stick in and of itself could be threatening, and in this day of "if you see something, say something", I want my entire unspoken message to be "Although I may be carrying a big stick, I am nevertheless as harmless as a hamster".
2. In crowds, I always carry the paddle vertically, and as close to my body as possible, in front of me. Personal space becomes a bit of a joke on the subway, but getting bumped by a paddle is more than even the patientest commuter can be expected to tolerate. It the paddle is standing up & I'm holding it close to me, it really doesn't take up much room. It's still tricky at rush hour & back when I was teaching for Yonkers more regularly, which meant rushing out at 5, I'd carry my storm paddle, which I jokingly called my public-transit paddle - being shorter than me, it was a LOT easier to deal with.

So if one is aware & pays attention, it is totally possible to carry a GP without causing a whole lot of fuss.

It's still a little bit of a bother, but there are a couple of entertaining factors about it too.

One is when people are moving down a car, don't really look, and mistake the paddle for one of those grab poles you see in the picture above. It registers the instant their hand makes contact with warm textured wood instead of cold smooth metal. There's always that first instant of being startled, their focus gets pulled from wherever they were going to "What the heck did I just grab?" and they almost always laugh when they see what it was. I always laugh & assure them people do that all the time, and I can usually see a lot of other people smiling at the moment. Subways are not known for their spontaneous bursts of mutual levity, but it's fun when it does & my GP has provided a few such moments, and that's cool.

The other entertaining factor is that carrying a Greenland paddle makes some people actually want to talk to you, ask you questions.

You can always see them looking. It's funny because basically, the unwritten rule of the subway is that everyone's trying to pretend that nobody else is there as much as they can. You don't smile, you don't make eye contact, you have your nose in a book or a paper or some little electronic distraction. This may sound rude but like I said, actual personal space is a joke but at least we can give each other psychological space by not forcing people into interaction when they might prefer not to (there used to be a morning paper guy by my subway station who insisted on greeting every passerby personally, cheerily...I was SO glad when he left, that hour of the morning on my way to work, I tend to be in my own little world - gonna have to come out at work but please don't be dragging me out because you want to sell me something!)

But some people see that GP - and you can just see them wanting to ask but not wanting to break the subway rules.

And I almost always smile and say "It's a kayak paddle...". And they grin and say "I wanted to ask!" and since the ice is broken, the rest of the questions come pouring out. How? Where? In the winter? Isn't the water...? Aren't kayaks...? and usually you end up spending the rest of the ride answering all their questions about the sport, the amazing waterways about New York City, and ways they can try it out for themselves.

I don't know if anyone whose ever ended up quizzing me on the subway has actually ended up trying it - but I always enjoy being given the opportunity of playing ambassador for the Sixth Borough (to borrow Tugster Will's term!). They may never end up at the Downtown Boathouse, or Sebago (don't forget Marcus's show on Saturday!), or MKC or AKT - but just having the chance to share information about one of my favorite things about New York City is always great.

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