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Work/Life: Getting my front tire past NY’s toughest gatekeepers

It’s fitting that my latest experiment relates to the “/” in work/life – the sliver of time spent getting to and from the carpeted cubicle, counter or cockpit.

It’s fitting that my latest experiment relates to the “/” in work/life – the sliver of time spent getting to and from the carpeted cubicle, counter or cockpit.

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lynette chiang bike friday folding tikit in NY

I’ve been conducting a test with the tikit, a new kind of folding bike, one that collapses in 5 seconds and looks like an incognito French Horn when required. If I can weasel it past the glum gatekeepers of NY’s toughest and stuffiest office buildings – including those claiming to be ‘green’ – I can pronounce a folding bike to be a true adjunct/alternative to the mass transit system.

It’s my small effort to be part of the 20% solution to global warming, when 80% of the first world still thinks of it as “bonus beach weather” – admittedly good for property values at chilly altitudes as long as the water isn’t lapping at your Leger like in Venezia.

Some consider the proposed NY congestion pricing program
a well-meaning joke – $8 to bring your car below 86th Street between 6am and 6pm is a lunching lady or hedge fund manager’s Joe for the first minute. And I bet it’s tax deductible. When it’s $100 you’re getting serious, and it’s still tax deductible. I wonder how many times I’ll be side-swiped by yet another black Beemer in retaliation to all this …

One interesting building trial was at the home of FastCompany itself, the 7 World Trade Center. This glassy polyhedron proudly displays a frosted wreath at the entrance that says, “US BUILDING COUNCIL, LEED GOLD 2006”. I showed up for an appointment with FC riding my “daft pink bike” a few months ago. Based on some verbal exchanges, I mistakenly thought I was welcome to bring it up unfolded to the 29th floor. I parked the bike against the building, went in, and politely double checked with the desk. Not only was I treated like Borat wearing his pants around his knees in that hotel reception scene, I was told to “get the bike of the building because it would damage the surface.”

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That was in June 2007, and I had to lock it up in front of Jeff Koons’ giant red teratoma. To be fair, a change of guard led to a change of tune when I checked at the desk after the interview – but that’s hardly a reliable building policy.

Many buildings have a “no bikes” policy, creatively interpreted by the guard at the desk. It’s a bit like immigration procedures – you can stamp and sign on the dotted line all you like, but the airport official perched on that unusually high bar stool – the guy who asks you what relevance your ancient degree in medieval studies has to do with your current position as a operations research manager of a tattoo removal company – gets to direct your immediate future movements.

Now baby strollers are always allowed in buildings, no matter how big or bulky.

“It’s different,” said a guard at the NY Central Library. “A baby can’t ride a bike, and an adult doesn’t ride a stroller.” I’m still trying to figure that one out.

“No one rides a bike to an office!” said another Man in Black as he waved through suited individuals carrying all kinds of strange packages.

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“Lock it up outside, no one steals bikes!” said a third behind the velveteen rope.

So, almost 6 months later, I returned to 7 World Trade Center with my “french horn”. Success! I got waved through, the guard jokingly asked if it was “some kind of weapon.” Note that you are not entitled to make those jokes.

I might as well tell you what I was doing loitering with intent at the offices of FastCompany. I was invited to an Inc.com party called “30 under 30”, a bash for “America’s coolest and youngest entrepreneurs”.

Check out the clip below.

Normally, the tikit gets a lot of attention when it enters a room. Understandably, it barely registered with this crowd – future captains of industry and at an age where a black BMW is de rigeur, not a goofy little bicycle that collapses like an umbrella.

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When some of the young stars asked me about my shtick, I announced I was one of the “30 Over 30’s” and had spent my week trying to break and enter secure buildings with my umbrella bike. Blink, blink.

An executive from VISA gave a short pep talk that diplomatically encouraged all and sundry to “go for it” at whatever age – he was a shade over 30 himself.

I watched a rotating slide show of the young turks, who were ranked according to a formula everyone assumed was based on revenue, but was more ‘organic’, said an organizer.

It was fun deciphering the various oeuvres over the hors d’oeuvres based on their URLs, without thumbing the Crackberry to look it up.

Granola. Parking. Shoes. Selling domain names with a twist. “Hole in the web” markets, if you like, creating a need and fully frontally attacking it with a sharpened URL. It reminded me of the Skymall catalog in the seat pocket in front of you – I once scorned the notion of a bagel slicer until I nearly sliced my finger off while attacking a particularly rubbery bagel with a pathetically blunt knife. I’m still not sure about the dog ramp …

The backdrop to this evening was the 270-degree panorama of the Ground Zero reconstruction zone far below, a ghostly, floodlit well of concrete, scaffolding and debris. Like the arid center of Australia after a storm, I could see little tufts of industry sprouting and stirring in the gloom, and the trunk of a new tower aiming for the sky, just like the careers of these 30 well-under 30’s.

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Enjoy the rest of 2007, and while nurturing that fledgling dot com, don’t forget the planet that makes it all possible. Leave the 4-wheeled Beamer at home, go ride to the office on a bike.

The Galfromdownunder is now headed for California where, despite enlightened attitudes to sustainable transport, people are still being run off the rails. Let’s see if we can’t fix that!

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About the author

"Be social and the networking will follow." Lynette Chiang is an award-winning copywriter, brand evangelist, social media community manager, filmmaker, solo world bicycle adventurer and inventor of useful things. Her work has been featured in Forbes, Harvard University curriculums, the New York Times Book Review, FastCompany and the relationship marketing business press

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