How to find a bike or a career

This is the new shared bike in the GlobalGiving office. Heather and I are moving to Nairobi this week, and getting rid of nearly all of our stuff. So the project team adopted my bike for local runs to the Greek Spot or World Bank offices.

I found it in the back of the St. Vincent de Paul thift shop in State College eight years ago. It had a flat tire, a crooked wheel, and was rusting. I dragged it to the front.
“How much for the bike?”
“That old thing? I don’t know. Five bucks?”

It was well worth it. I fixed it up and painted all the naked silver parts black. I got new white rim tires and installed a pair of panniers (side bags). Now I hear a “Nice bike!” or “sweet ride!” from strangers about once a week as I ride to and from the office in Washington. I even rode it to work on my first day at GlobalGiving. I’m still wearing my bike helmet in the photo accompanying their introductory blog post (Thanks Donna!):

And I used it for a Halloween costume:

Before I stumbled onto this great bike I experimented with many others. Every year Penn State auctions off all the bikes confiscated by campus police. Most of the 300 bikes go for under $20. I went and bought SIX cheap bikes from the stack, mostly forgettable wrecks from Wal*Mart, spending about $150. Back home, I mixed and matched until I had two decent bikes to ride to my research lab. I donated three other workable pieces to the local food bank and junked the last one. This charity venture actually cost me another $120 because the food bank wouldn’t give away the bikes unless I provided helmets.

I rode one of the bikes all over town and never locked it up, ever. “I refuse to pay more for a lock than I paid for the bike,” I argued with others. It took a year before someone finally stole the first bike, and I was hardly sad when it happened. “If someone needed a bike that badly, please take it!” I thought to myself as I fruitlessly searched the rack where I’d left it. Besides, I had a spare bike “on deck” precisely for this eventuality, which was never stolen.

Often the very strangers who compliment me on my bike are riding expensive bikes. With its curvy classic frame and Pee-Wee Herman style decor (red with white pinstripes), nobody knows that it is a 1980s Huffy (makers of cheap “girly” bikes) and not a 1970s Schwinn classic. It looks to be the descendant of the 1950s Huffy Radiobike:

The only people who never notice my bike are thieves.
When we moved to New Orleans I started using a lock. On principle, I was determined to keep the bike lock under $5 at all costs. I sprung for a stretch of the cheapest, thinnest chain I could find at the hardware store along with a padlock smaller than my thumb.

I could eat through that chain, it’s so weak!” One of my new co-workers said.
“Yeah, it’s more like tying a bow on your bike and presenting it to thieves,” another said.
Still, nobody would steal my old bike. A few weeks later I borrowed Heather’s nice Gary Fisher bike and used my typical lock. By 2pm it had been stolen. After that I upgraded to a standard U-lock.

Last month my co-worker Linda had her bike stolen right next to mine in the high-rent part of DC, one block from the White House. So over and over thieves ignore my bike.

This bike is a metaphor for how I’ve approach my careers.

Most people want a high paying job, so they can accrue wealth and retire in comfort.

Instead, I’ve taken on many little mini-careers, like cheap functional bikes, in search of one that will bring in just enough money and decades of excitement. It’s far less risky in the long run. When we invest in one expensive bike and protect it with locks, or just stop parking it on the street altogether, we shut out much of life’s rich bounty and adventure.

There are no career guarantees, just like there are no sure ways to protect our prized possessions, including the wealth we spend our whole lifes amassing. The best we can do is make the most of whatever comes our way and enjoy each day.

3 thoughts on “How to find a bike or a career

  1. Hey Marc,

    wonderful words of wisdom – I especially like the theory on the pros and cons of one career and one source of income – you come up with the best ideas. I think after you and Heather return from Africa, your next career should be in politics!! We SO could use someone like you in the Senate. Have a wonderful, fun, safe trip. I’ll be in touch!

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