Tillie & Coco

two ladies, two bicycles, two hemispheres

Category: Posts by Tillie

Not just any Tuesday…

by Tillie

Hi Coco (and everyone!),

Today is my last day of leisure before 18 months of graduate school. The sun is out, so I went for a ride around town before stopping for groceries. I found this rather nice tree-lined pavement (a welcome change after cycling down a back street full of bins). I also found a car park I didn’t know about, but who cares.

The Pedestrian Bridge is being repaired at the moment. It obviously has some foundational problems.

One thing about having 8 months off / not being allowed to work, is that I’ve gotten into the nasty habit of shopping every day. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it’s a big waste of time and it makes me a lot less strategic about meals. S and I will need to get back into the habit of weekly grocery shops after today – it’s a great way to save time and money! As we are both well aware, cycling to the grocery shop is a great way to limit what you buy because you can only carry so much, but today I really pushed the boundaries of what my pannier and basket can handle. I need to make some hearty salads to take for lunch for the rest of the week, because I refuse to buy meals on campus (after years of £1.70 jacket potatoes at the Museum, I won’t be able to handle $14 dinners on principle). When my basket is full of fruit and veg, I hang my lock over my handlebars, like people with fixies do!

After I make my hearty salad I plan to spend the rest of my afternoon watching Law & Order. Since January I’ve managed to watch the first six seasons (is that bad?) The episodes from the early 1990s are brilliant – no one has a mobile phone, and the detectives actually look like real policemen, unlike the latest episodes in which they all look like models. I’ll miss you, crime drama!


The Killer Commute

by Tillie

Hi Coco,

This post is for Jen, who sent me this excellent graphic months ago and I have only just properly sat down to craft it into a blog post (sorry Jen!)

Readers, in case you ever wake up thinking “I want to hang out in traffic today!” you may want to bookmark this page to remind you why driving is oh-so-bad for your health. I am especially concerned by the impact of traffic on your mental state illustrated by Jen’s team. I used to drive in Sydney peak-hour traffic, and suffered terrible road rage as a result. Selling my car was the best thing I ever did – so much so that I had a party.

Farewell Car party, 2007

After four years in London I was so in love with public transport and so out of the habit of driving that moving to the States has been quite an adjustment. It’s amazing how just having access to a car shrinks your perception of distance. We used to think nothing of a 15 minute walk to the Tube, but now we’re likely to get in the car to travel the same distance to the shop.

As of next week I’ll be commuting two hours a day (one hour each way) to university (for lack of alternatives) and I am all too aware of how this will affect my health. I’m currently looking into how I can keep my bike to campus so I can redress the balance. Luckily for me, getting stuck in traffic shouldn’t be a problem, but I am certainly concerned about other hazards such as fatigue, snow and wayward deer.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences about the impact of traffic on your health – share your stories in the comments!

The Library

by Tillie

Hi Coco,

Aha! Your mention of Rhonda’s book reminded me that I, too, was overdue for a visit to my local library. According to the online catalogue a book I have been wanting to read for months – Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg – had finally been returned to the shelf, so I pedalled over this afternoon to claim my prize! I know my photos make it look like I am the only person who lives in Corning, but the library is very well patronised. There were many people out and about today enjoying the last days of summer proper, and more than a few were to be found in the library’s air conditioned periodicals section. And what library is complete without a newspaper stand?

A Midsummer Cycle

by Tillie

Dear Coco,

It’s been a while since we posted about a cycling journey. I had a number of errands to do today (not very important ones) which were best done by bike, so thought I’d do you a bit of a photo essay. It is a billion degrees today, so definitely not helmet weather, but I have no qualms about cycling on the pavement considering there are so few pedestrians to contend with, and the roads are so pot-holed they aren’t always the better option anyway! As you see, I’ve finally discovered Instagram. I am totally “gramming” as the cool kids say.

First, I went to the post office, and enjoyed using the drive-thru postboxes. This is the main post office, which is the best one to use because they clear the postboxes at 5.30pm. To catch the postman at the other boxes around town you have to be organised enough to post everything by 9.30, which never happens unless I have the extra incentive of posting a Netflix envelope. I’m pretty sure I am singlehandedly propping up the United States Postal Service.

From the Post Office, I headed back towards the centre of town. I meant to take a photo of this magnolia tree for you back when it was flowering. It was really pretty, but didn’t last long because there was a surprise snowfall that ruined everything, like a cold white unseasonal scrooge. Anyhoo, here it is for you in its leafy summer cloak instead. Soz.

You can see why the pavement is far more appealing than the road! I’m a bit confused by the apparent cycle route on this sign, though. Just around the corner from here is a really nice, wide pavement out the front of the Corning Museum of Glass, which leads straight to the pedestrian bridge and then Market Street. I tell myself that the pavement is deliberately wide to accommodate cyclists, even though it’s possibly illegal (maybe I should find out).

My next errand was to Market Street Coffee & Tea to get some coffee ground. We bought a packet of coffee beans from Four Barrels Coffee in San Francisco thinking that we’d buy a grinder, which of course we didn’t. The good folks at the coffee shop amazingly offer a grinding service for free, but I bought a bag anyway because once I needed to get about 20 quarters in change (Ithaca parking metres) and they were kind enough to do that for me without asking me to buy anything, so I had some karma debt to repay.

As usual I had to improvise a bicycle park, but this bench proved a lot easier than my slightly awkward bin technique.

My next stop was Walgreen’s, to see if they had anything in Sali Hughes’ recent Hero Products under £10 column (one thing). It’s always fun to gawp at all the STUFF in there.

Interesting Factoid: the pointy roof (er, architectural term?) was a sort of compromise to make the building fit in with the surroundings more easily – it takes cues from a nearby church and possibly the Rockwell Museum as well. The obligatory car park is set off slightly by some garden (not pictured), but it’s still ugly. And a heat trap on a day like this.

They do have a bicycle park though, so points for that!

I have omitted a rather painful few minutes in glaring sunlight waiting to cross Denison Parkway on the way to my next errand (groceries). Just imagine a hot concrete desert and lots of cars roaring past. When I finally got back to the quieter part of town I cycled down Market Street (on the shadeless side of the road, aargh!) and snapped (I mean “grammed”) this summery pot of petunias on the way:

Planning Moan: I don’t get this sign. I assume it’s there to warn drivers that pedestrians can cross here, but it’s very confusing. Cars may or may not stop for you (mostly not). Why not just have a real pedestrian crossing? Duh. I don’t understand why you need a PhD to know how to cross the road.

Next stop: Wegmans. Another heat trap car park! I do like cycling through it though. It’s so much easier than the bother of parking a car, and it’s much easier to see where the pedestrians are from a bike. One of my greatest driving fears is backing into someone (or running into a deer, not that I’m likely to do that at Wegmans).

Check it out. “Cilantro”. Haha. (Other words I’ve learned since moving here: garbazno beans (chickpeas), arugula (rocket), pignolia nuts (pine nuts). I still don’t know how much a pound is. America, please get the metric system!)

I get an eye twitch every time I pass this sign. I assume the point is that the pavement is very narrow and runs past a Seniors Centre, but it seems a bit harsh. You’d have to be cycling very fast for it to be remotely hazardous. Maybe it’s there because someone had an accident at some point. That’s the only excuse I’ll accept.

After the mean no cycling signs, there’s a rather nice stretch of path through a shady park. I happened upon two workmen doing something to the road, and one of them said to me “nice day for a cycle!” A tad too nice, perhaps, but not complaining.

(PS. I changed our theme… hope OK! Feel free to change it back if you prefer.)


by Tillie

One of my favourite things about cycling is how it clears the head. A cycle ride isn’t always a journey through space, but also of time. Today the prevailing scent in town has been of cut grass; the prevailing sound of lawnmowers. No dandelion is safe from their toothy rotaries. Cycling through Corning in the warm air of the gloaming (the heat of the day is later here) I came across other scents – a flowering hedge I recall from my childhood in Melbourne, air heavy with laundry soap – that seem to announce the onset of spring proper. Everything is a lot greener now than it was in December, though many trees aren’t fully convinced and are yet to declare their foliage.

I often wonder why grass is so prevalent in cities. When did we decide it was preferable to permaculture? There’s something very urban about freshly mown lawn – a lazy and convincing way to show nature who’s boss. Grass cuttings remind me of primary school, after the oval was mown. We’d build grassy fortresses that the wind turned to sprindrift, and would all go home itchy.

The Pedestrian Bridge

by Tillie

Hi Coco,

After a number of arduous rides, today I remembered to pump up my tyres before going cycling, and what a difference it made! I planned to just go to Wegman’s to pick up an eggplant, but once there I didn’t feel like going straight home, so I went on a detour via Corning’s lovely pedestrian bridge, where I was delighted to discover some more bicycle parking – complete with parked bikes! (I also met a fellow cyclist as I was leaving the supermarket, who had a rather nice fixie. He said “nice day for a ride!” and we had a chat about the fantastic lack of winter.)

The bridge is crumbling a tad, but I like that it’s still available to pedestrians and cyclists.

It also affords nice views across to the other bridge, which I call “The Green Bridge”, which unfortunately doesn’t look very green in this photo:

I also took advantage of this capacious footpath outside the Corning Museum of Glass, which I guess I’m allowed to cycle on? I haven’t figured out the rules with cycling on the pavement yet, but it appears to be acceptable – as it should be! I’ve only found one sign restricting it, which is on a very thin pavement near a retirement home, which seems reasonable.

As much as I enjoy the quiet streets, I also like to cycle on the main road because I like to give cycling some visibility. I’m yet to experience any sort of road rage – cars merely slow down and give me space. It’s lovely! And when I was stopped at an intersection today, a man with a long triangular beard smiled at me.

Another Errand

by Tillie

Hi Coco,

Corning has a second Post Office. It’s not pretty like the main one, but it has BICYCLE PARKING. And not just any bicycle parking:

HARDCORE bicycle parking! Look, it’s bolted into the ground and everything. On the way home from posting a parcel to my sister, a nice old man said hello to me. That never happens if you’re in a car, unless someone wants to road rage at you.

I didn’t take a photo of my outfit today because I’ve been wearing pretty much the same thing every time I cycle. This coat is brilliant! I bought in in Chester just before we left the UK, which I thought was appropriate as Chester is famous for it’s ‘black and white’ architecture. And my Topshop gloves from the Tweed Run are still going strong. When will they bring out a range of bicycle gloves? I wish someone would!

When I got home I realised I’d forgotten to bring the other half of my postal errand: the Netflix envelope. I was obviously more excited about the journey than the destination.

“Winter” Cycling in Corning

by Tillie

Hi Coco,

The shipping container arrived last week and I’m back on the bike! The only casualty of the move was the cheap retro light I purchased back in London, which fell off on my first Corning cycle ride. Great. I’ll have to get a better bracket sorted when the local bike shop opens again in March.

To my surprise, winter in Corning has (so far) been remarkably mild. There has been no snow for over a week, and temperatures well above zero, so I have been cycling a few times now on short errands around town. It’s still ear freeze weather, but all in all it’s perfect for short trips. I’m trying to be less shy about posting cycling outfits, so here is my latest attempt at looking visible and staying warm. So far drivers have been very considerate – giving me a wide berth and slowing down, though some have been shy to overtake me. Yesterday three trucks waited for me to do a left turn! How kind. I hope they weren’t spluttering “stupid cyclist” under their breath or something.

Cycling parking in Corning is a bit lacking, but so far I’ve managed to lock my bike to a bin (outside the coffee shop) and a handrail (outside the post office). The local supermarket, Wegman’s, has a parking lot the size of a football field, which contrasts strongly with the pair of bike stands that aren’t attached to the ground in any way, but at least they make bike stealing all the more inconvenient. I’m thinking about getting a lighter lock and some sort of chain, because lugging my Kryptonite around is probably a bit overkill.

Happily, I’m not the only cyclist in Corning – every time I go outside I see someone on a bike. It’s very heartening. There is also a mountain bike leaning on a tree outside my flat, which has yet to be stolen, which I take as a good sign.

Parking at the flat. Those stairs are deceptively steep!

Sunlight much? That's our car in the background, which we are forced to own due to total lack of public transport.

A perfect day for cycling, no? That white tower is a Corning landmark called the Tube Draw Tower, built in 1912. It was used to make thermometers! The picture on the side is a glassblower.

Creative parking at the Post Office

Corning's Post Office. It's fantastic inside! I almost want to rent a post office box just to hang out there more often.

Boris Biking

by Tillie

Dear Coco,

I am writing to you from my new home, Corning NY, where I am resident in a local hotel for another week. It is cold, but not so cold that the recent rain has turned to ice, and it hasn’t snowed for over a week. I’m sure this is a temporary respite, as winter has only just started according to the recent solstice. Corning is a small city on the Chemung River in upstate New York, and with the calm traffic and wide roads, it will be an excellent place to cycle I’m sure – the only thing it appears to be lacking so far is proper bicycle parking. There are no proper cycle lanes on roads, but at least there’s space.

However, that is a blog post I am yet to write, as Blackie is currently on route to America on a ship. Here she is being packed by the world’s most efficient relocation packers (I only arrived in time to see her being sealed up!) The packing man took off one of the pedals and broke a spanner in the process, so I have some bicycle surgery to attend to when she arrives.

On our last day in London, we rented some Boris Bikes and cycled through Hyde Park ostensibly to see the Christmas markets, but mainly to fill in time. It was Boxing Day, and we were living in a hotel in Bayswater. The tube drivers were mostly on strike. We didn’t want to go far, especially with the sales on, so Boris Biking was the perfect last day activity.

The system isn’t as user-friendly as I expected as it takes a few different stages for a first-time user to actually release a bike. The docks have buttons numbered 1, 2, 3, and the idea is to pay the 24-hour rental fee (a very reasonable £2 for two bikes) and then get a four-digit code to release the bikes (for example, “1223”) which is good for 10 minutes before you have to get a new code. This is a nice idea, except that the buttons have been so badly vandalised on each and every dock that you have to use a coin to press the digits in (of course, if you have paid the annual subscription fee and got yourself a release key, you don’t have this problem).

There were many people cycling around the park on Boris Bikes on this particular day, so obviously many people found releasing the bikes less difficult than I did. The bikes are quite large and even as an average sized person I wasn’t completely comfortable, but perhaps I’m just used to the Pashley posture. The bikes are still very sturdy and surprisingly light to ride despite their weight. It was an excellent way to spend our last day in London.

I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to cycling again with all this driving I am forced to do. America’s love affair with the car is very much alive and well!

Love Tillie

An Open Letter to the Person at Work Who Locked Their Bike to Mine

by Tillie

Dear Person,

I’m not sure how you managed it, but this morning you locked your bike chain around my bike seat as well as your bike and the bike park. Top marks for knots  and inconvenience! The only thing that prevented me leaving you a passive-aggressive post-it was that I just so happened to have my shifting spanner with me to install my rear light, which I collected from the shop yesterday, so I was able to remove my bike seat to free my bike from said entanglement.

Next time there will be  post-it!