Radio Days

The bicycle rider moves along the circuitry of the city like a glowing radio dial.

I picture the toaster-sized, countertop radios I grew up with. There was a round knob on the side. Turning it by hand would shuttle a red dial across the AM frequency numbers—55, 60, 70, 80 100, 120, 140 160—and through the static that surrounded them. As a boy, I would spin the dial back and forth, turn it all the way to the end, and then turn it back slowly and listen for the way CHED at 630, CHQT at 880, CFRN at 1260 appeared like islands of sound. It was eerie and thrilling.

Those radio days have aged rapidly. Music is now delivered by keystroke and bluetooth. The new Vampire Weekend I am listening to as I work on this post arrived after I clicked the iTunes icon, entered h-a-r-m-o-n-y space h-a-l-l in the search bar and then clicked on the faux play button.

For me, the experience of shuttling a dial across a radio face has mysteriously deposited itself into practice of riding a bicycle into and through the sounds of the city. Most of those sounds are pre-literate. A brontosaurus-shaped garbage truck heaves out of the alley. Cars on the MacKinnon Ravine bridge roar like a spring creek. Buses sigh as they disgorge their passengers. Squirrels chatter manically as they dash across utility wires. At this time of year, magpies have the sky to themselves for their screechings. Downtown, automobile drivers translate their exasperations into horn-censored obscenities. Hammerfalls emerge from construction sites. Sirens cry.

Traffic sounds, construction sounds

I roll through this soundscape, and the radio dial effect happens to me. This feeling is not just the work of nostalgia or imagination. I believe it stems from the up-down/up-down/up-down/up-down work of the bicycling feet that write a kind of pedal stroke rhythm. Essentially,  bicycle riding is music making.

Here and there, for a few revolutions, I add my voice. I sing making the turn across the pavement markings into the ravine.

And I sing as I wheel toward the downtown towers. Maybe the tightening grip of commerce and bureaucracy summons the banished music makers.

Heading downtown

Yesterday, it was new music from Ezra as downtown came into view.
Anger wants a voice
Voices wanna sing
Singers harmonize until they can't hear anything

The day before I recalled out loud a strand from the Proclaimers:
They pass, they pass, they pass, they pass
The streets of Edinburgh
Hold half the world for me
In scores, in droves, the living and the ghosts
The streets of Edinburgh
Mean most to me 

I especially enjoy singing out loud a few measures of whatever song is in my head as I pedal by the old funeral home and crematorium beside the 102 Ave bike lane. I notice the wispy shapes my exhaled breath makes in the cold air for a second or two.

Red light shines on light pole near where I live, 142 St, Edmonton


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