I heard somebody say at a TEDx talk, “Find something you’re passionate about, and go straight for it.” I thought about this in the early weeks of September, when I realized that my resume was dry of ‘extra-curriculars’. I tried to fix this by contributing a new club to the already colourful plethora of clubs at Marc Garneau, but after a long campaign of begging my teacher advisor, advertising, and arranging meetings with the principal, my dreams were shattered. This is the story.
This summer, cycling became my new favourite hobby. I loved the sport. I could go on off-road adventures where a car couldn’t take me, or I could let the bike route take me on an impromptu journey. As cliché as it sounds, the open road was truly the only thing in front of me. Life’s difficulties and stresses diffused into the air as I pedaled in precise sinusoidal repetition. As well, it was a fun way to get from place to place without having to bug my parents for car rides or stare awkwardly past the gaze of a stranger for the duration of a bus ride. It also helped me burn off some winter hibernation fat. As a witty sign in my bike store reads, “Driving burns gas and makes you fat. Biking burns fat and saves you money”
On one of our rides, my friend Christian suggested starting a cycling interest club at school. I thought it’d be fun but I was not optimistic about student interest and the legitimacy of the club’s meetings. Predictably, this is the part of the story where the tide turns, and the protagonist gets inspired by a mystical entity.
It came in the form of a mouthful of gravel. Rushing home from an enjoyable protest, I crashed my new bike going down a dirt path I’ve never been on. As I lay there paralyzed with shock, I was more concerned about my bike than my own health. I was fifty feet below street level, alone, and bleeding. And all I could think of was my bike. When I finally limped over to it, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the saddle had absorbed most of the shock: it was the only part slightly off of its default position. When I started riding, however, I realized that the front brakes were caught in the wheel and the shifting was erratic. I disengaged the brakes and rode home straddling the side of my saddle. I must have looked terrible because a woman in an SUV rolled down her window and asked if I needed a ride to the hospital.
As I fixed my bike the next day I had a sudden thought― what if I rode a cheap department store bicycle and didn’t spend so many hours maintaining my own bike? Would I have taken the effort to restore the damaged parts or would I have thrown the entire thing in the shed and let it gather dust? Then what would happen to it? This was more or less my eureka moment – my call to adventure.
I had it all planned out within the hour. I would start a humanitarian bicycle repair club when school started. To promote cycling we would collect junk bikes from the community, repair or salvage them in the tech lab, and donate them to needy members of the community. We could also prepare rides and have an education program. Old bicycles would be given a second chance, underprivileged community members would be able to enjoy the wonderful sport like I did, and bicycle junkies on the team would have a great time. I was so excited that I started watching bike repair tutorials on my free time.
When school finally started, I began advocating the soon-to-be club by asking people what they thought of the idea. The responses were mixed. Most people were optimistic. They gave me many great suggestions, from ways to convince people to bring in their junk bikes to ideas for the club name. Finally, I was going to do something worthwhile with my life!
Oh wait. Shit. I forgot I went to a school where there wasn’t even enough room for all the students. Several gym classes take place simultaneously in the double gym and portables spew out onto the playing field. Where would all those junk bikes go?
I had just assumed there was a back room somewhere. Old dysfunctional neglected bikes don’t exactly need five star accommodations. But that wasn’t the view of Mr. Gang, my technology and design teacher who had enthusiastically agreed to be my teacher adviser the week before. He withdrew his offer on the grounds of “lack of space” and “security issues.” I had also forgotten that the school didn’t own a bank style high security vault. How silly of me.
I learned my next move from my uncle: One time we were at the airport and had two pieces of extra luggage, one of which was over-sized and twenty pounds over the weight limit. He asked to speak to the airline supervisor and, in the end, managed to get everything on the plane without paying an extra cent. I scheduled a meeting with Ms. Goldenberg, the principal. I told her about the club by paraphrasing what I wrote on the club application form (which still required a teacher signature). She thought it was a unique idea, but she was not overly enthralled by it; she was skeptical of our “mechanical expertise.” She happened to have a broken bike in her office and asked if I would be able to fix it. This small mountain-style bike had an orange strip of metal that remotely resembled a chain and its rear brakes and shifters were ripped clean off the handlebar along with their cables. Otherwise, it seemed to be in good condition. I explained that extra parts would be required to restore this bicycle and that the club, when started, would get these parts by removing them from other junk bikes. Then I told her about the storage issue.
“Oh,” she said apologetically, “You know the issue we have at this school. If you find a space to store your bikes, I just might put a classroom there.”
Then Mr. Sharp, one of the vice principals walked in. After Mrs. Goldenberg filled him in, he suggested using the fenced off area by the dumpsters. I looked to the principal with hopeful eyes and she gave me the go ahead. A minute later, I bounced out of the main office like a criminal on parole. I flew over to the tech lab, only to find the door locked and the teachers gone. It was going to be a long night.
Bike club frenzy got to my head the next day in tech class and I shot my mouth off. Basically, I told Mr. Gang that he was obliged to let the club run, because the principal said we could store the bikes outside the lab. Understandably, he was not happy with this. It was like the OPP telling the Toronto Fire Department how to put out fires. When I realized I’d screwed up, I found Ms. Goldenberg, but she didn’t really have time to deal with my extremely stupid move.
A few days later, I bumped into Ms. Goldenberg and maturely asked for help. She told me she would speak to Mr. Gang and the head of the technology department. I smiled and thanked her, but I knew she wouldn’t change anything.
After two more desperate weeks of harassing the principal, begging the head of technology, and apologizing to Mr. Gang, I gave up. It was a good run,and I’m not just saying that to comfort myself. Even though I couldn’t start the club, I learned a couple of lessons: First and foremost, don’t use extortion against people from whom you want support. More seriously, I learned that Garneau isn’t the ghetto school I had once considered it to be, but an institution well-run despite its overcrowding problem. The teachers do their best to accommodate everybody, and administration strives to enrich student life in addition to performing the demanding tasks outlined in their job descriptions.
Here is how the story ends. Following the Stratford meeting in the cafeteria, I found Ms. Goldenberg in the back of the room handing out free yoghurts. I’d already been having a bad day, so I had nothing to lose by hearing the verdict. I asked her what was happening with my club.
“Nothing,” she said. Seeing I was deeply upset, she added, “Think of something else, my dear. Great minds don’t just have one great idea.”