Tuesday, October 13, 2009

CMWC Tokyo Part 2

Sunday brought the night of the opening party and a trip with Kijana into the hills near his house. We headed out to a nearby park/river, with Kijana still hugging the sidewalk and me navigating the street, getting directions from him as to where to go. I had everything under control with riding on the opposite side of the road with the exception of making right hand turns. After cutting off a few cars and running a red light we made it to a paved multi-use pathway that ran along the river. The path was pretty similar to the ones I’m used to in Milwaukee with the exception of barriers set up every couple of blocks to prevent either cars from getting to far if they choose to try and get onto the pathway or from people doing time trials. I wanted to get some speed my self and was annoyed at having to slow down repeatedly to navigate between metal barriers, sometimes having to go off-road to pass them. Eventually we made it to the end of the line and locked our bikes up to the guard rail at the base of the hill. We then proceeded to get lost for about an hour wandering the mountain trails and finding a gold course among other oddities. The view was pretty cool and we debated the problems with Japanese and American educational systems while watching a group of school kids play soccer down at the base of the hill.

After the hill excursion and my incredibly sore legs (we ended up running from the Cog Party the night before to the train station to make sure we caught the train we needed…I don’t run and we did about a kilometer) I was ready to get back to Tokyo with my bike and work out the muscles with the kind of use they enjoyed and were used to. After a hearty protein fueled lunch of buffalo burgers I disassembled the bike, wrapped it in a bed sheet and walked to the train back to Shinjuku. Kijana wanted to get stuff done at his house so I was solo, which was fine by me because I was itching to hit the streets of Tokyo. The train ride was long and boring and everyone pretty much ignored me and my odd shaped package. At Shinjuku station I climbed out into the city, unwrapped the bike and began reassembling it on the sidewalk, to curious stares. They have an understandable, but quite annoying policy in Japan while traveling via train with a bike. You have to remove both wheels and turn your bars and cover the entire thing up. Preferably you put your bike in a bag they have designed for this purpose called a rinko bag, but I didn’t feel like spending the $50 minimum for one and went for the bed sheet route. Once the bike was assembled, checked over and the sheet was in my bag I took off, with a vague sense of direction.

I wasn’t able to get out to the street right away and had to slowly navigate the sidewalk for a block or so, dodging the throngs of pedestrians and finally getting forced off of my bike to navigate the busy intersection. Once I was on the actual road I was able to hop back on and take off, in what I felt was the appropriate direction. I used the train line as a guide and headed southward, towards the neighborhood of Shibuya. Soon enough I found myself on the same road we had traveled on Saturday on our way to the registration office, which was perfect, since I would be able to find my way back easily. I was headed there to find out how to get to the club that the party was in and throw down some Goldsprint action. Rolling through the streets of Tokyo I noticed right away how free of blemishes the asphalt was. There was also a substantial lack of debris in the road as well. Being unfamiliar with the area and the large volume of traffic I played it cautious and didn’t gawk too much at my surroundings.

As I neared Shibuya station I got caught at a red light, wanting to take the chance to get everything in, gather my bearings and not tempt fate by trying to weave through the heavy cross traffic I sat at the line and waited. Right before the light turned green I noticed another cyclist out of the corner of my eye weaving through traffic. Said cyclist called out to me and asked if I spoke English, when I said I did he seemed incredibly relieved. He introduced himself as Jerome from Montreal and he followed me to registration. We chatted a little about Tokyo on our way there and he explained that he had come up with the same plan I had on how to get to the party, he just couldn’t remember how to get to registration. Jerome was in town not to race but to network with people, an exhibit of his work at a friend’s studio and mostly to photograph the race and the city. Jerome is an ex-messenger turned professional photographer who lives on his bike. We arrived at the place and there was a good amount of people there hanging out and drinking. Jerome free locked his bike and I told him I’d keep an eye on it. He wanted to run into the building and take care of some things.

I ended up hanging out at the registration building for a while after I decided I would just wait for Jerome and we would head over to the club together. I got a few beers from the 7-11 next doors and just observed everyone around me. A constant flow of people came back and forth, half foreigners. As the locals came through the tight packed streets and saw all the bikes and curious looking gaijin I wondered what they were thinking by what they were taking in. There was a really good chance that this space didn’t usually see messenger activity, especially not in the volume it was currently witnessing. I have discovered that many spaces in Tokyo tend to change what they do pretty frequently, especially in terms of bars, clubs and restaurants. There seems to be an ever revolving door of establishments everywhere in the metropolis. It was very likely that this space is normally used for events or business not even remotely relating to the throng of bike nuts it was hosting now. Aside from the messenger bases and a few spots throughout the city there appeared to be few permanent messenger hang outs that existed, everyone just kind of flowed through the city like the flow through traffic…like water, going where they needed to and where the road took them at that particular time.

By the time Jerome was ready to roll he had been grabbing as many people, myself included, to do portrait shots of out in the street and in the stairwell of the registration building, it was night time (dusk was around 6pm). I had been hearing rumors that the party was pretty much done, the Goldsprints were finished and the club was filled with a bunch of drunks, regardless we chose to head out there anyways. Jerome wanted to gather a huge group of people to ride to his nearby gallery space after things were said and done with the club. We took off on our own and Jerome pulled out his camera to take shots while we rode there. After pulling down one street, deciding that was the wrong one and continuing on down the road we ended up getting pretty far off course. We pulled down another street and turned back around a few blocks later and decided to stop at a bike shop we passed to get help. At the shop were 3 Americans who were a bit lost as well. The shop was a welcomed aid station for Jerome who was running extremely low pressure on his front wheel. While he pumped it up, other foreigners and I talked as best as we could with the owners of the shop and ogled the rows of frames dangling from the ceiling and the shiny components. The shop was called Sexon Super Peace and the people who ran it were pretty nice, stickers and flyers were exchanged between some of us and one of the other Americans started talking about how he had just ordered a frame from Eighth Inch the previous week and was excited to get it. Score for the ‘sponsor’. People had been commenting bike a fair amount in the few short hours it had been in Tokyo, especially the classic track drop handlebars. The three Americans took off ahead of us on their way to find the club too. They had been there previously and were trying to find it again. Jerome and I took off again and got lost, yet again. We pulled up to a restaurant and stopped, debating about asking them for directions as the club is semi known. I looked in on the crowd of respectable businessmen and faltered. Jerome said he would do it if I was nervous and that settled it, I told him I’d do it and I went in, helmet and all.

I smiled and greeted the first staffer I ran into as the entire establishment stared at me; then again I can’t blame them. You would stare too if you were a suit wearing salaryman enjoying a late evening dinner with some coworkers (it was Sunday though, so what’s with all the suits?) and a large, pierced and tattooed foreigner sporting a hairnet helmet and a large messenger bag with the words ‘Dead Kennedys’ blazoned across it came in off of the street and started asking the waiter directions to an unsavory hip hop club. The waiter quickly had me wait outside while he found a coworker with good English to explain how to get there. I stepped outside and smiled at Jerome and said they politely kicked me out while they got me the directions. As we waited two messengers from Australia showed up too, lost as well, and decided to stick with us as I got some vague directions to the club with the guy discreetly telling me that Love Hotels were near it. With some sense that we had to go back the way we came all four of us took off. We came back to the first street we turned off of and headed back the way we had come, as we rolled down the street we ran into the three guys we had come across at the bike shop, this time they were on foot and they yelled at us to follow them as they had found it. We all hopped off of our bikes and got on the sidewalk. We turned left onto the side street Jerome and I had originally turned on and I said must not have been the right one. We went down the street about 2 or so blocks and saw the club and the Love Hotels across the street from it…yeah it was hard to miss this place once you found it.

The street was flooded with bikes and I went to find a place to lock mine but a Japanese man told me to head further down and lock it at the club. Messengers were spilling out of the parking lot next to the club out onto the street and a large white man was yelling at them to get back into the parking lot. This large white man wan an American expat named Eli who had been living and working as a messenger for around 5 years. He was incredibly drunk and incredibly happy to have all of the people in front of him in his second home. Jerome knew Eli from previously and talked to him about helping inform people about his exhibit and the idea of a group ride to it when things closed down at the club, which was scheduled to happen around 8pm. I introduced myself to Eli as he had given me some electronic assistance with some questions I had earlier. I looked at the piles of bikes and locked mine as best I could then headed into the club.

I could understand why everyone was standing out in the alley as opposed to being in the club, there wasn’t much to interest many of them in the club once the Goldsprints were finished, the music was loud and the beer was expensive. So instead the majority chose to hangout outside where they could drink cheap beer and network, as that was one important thing many people came to these events for. I stuck around the club for a few minutes before tiring of it as well and wanting to connect with Kevin again, just to touch base with Milwaukee. Kevin was incredibly busy with being the sole Cog representative in Tokyo and I just wanted to let him know that I hadn’t died and was getting around, for what ever that would amount to. I felt better doing that. I asked Eli where the closest convenience store was and headed off in that direction to find another large group of messengers and a slightly smaller locked pile of bikes. Out front of the store I found some of the guys I met the previous night at the Cog party who were from Chicago, including ex-Milwaukeean Drew. I got a beer and a rice ball and chatted a little with the Chicago guys. Pretty soon Jerome showed up and I introduced him to Kevin as he knew the other two members of Cog, I figured it was a nice thing to do.

Soon though, I headed back to the clubs parking lot as things were beginning to wind down. Eli was still yelling happily at everyone to get out of the street and that they would soon be taking off for a group ride to Hibiya Park, which from there they would ride to the camp ground and Jerome’s gallery showing. I climbed over the increased pile of bike to get mine unlocked, not wanting to damage anyone’s ride and pulled it out onto the street. I walked back down to the convenience store, got some more beer and waited for the ride to start. I rode with the American I had run into at Sexon who had purchased the Eighth Inch frame and a small group of us took off to the Park. The guy leading the ride to the park was an American bike polo player who apparently had a great understanding of Tokyo’s streets; he had been there before to ride.

From the club we rode through Shibuya crossing right in the middle of pedestrian insanity. As we weaved in and out of the throng of humanity the guy riding next to me accidentally clocked a woman in the head with the helmet he had strapped to the side of his bag. Not having enough time or safety to check if she was still standing we continued on. I kept shouting out warnings in Japanese and as I weaved between two young women they smiled with delight at my warnings. As soon as we passed through the crowd we noticed it was really only 4 or 5 of us that were continuing on the same and apparently correct path. The rest of the crew had gotten mixed up out of the crossing and we weren’t sure which way they had headed. We rode for about 10 more minutes and turned into the park.

We came to a stop at an area skirting a small pond and since dusk had happened around 6, 8:30 looked more like midnight and felt like it too. Only a half dozen riders had showed up and in the darkness I couldn’t tell who was who. I pulled out the beer I had in my water bottle cage, chided myself for only having this one left and waited for more people to show up. Soon someone brought out a Frisbee and an entertaining game of dark/drunk Frisbee ensued. Jerome and another photographer rode around taking shots and the other guy showed him a crazy technique for shooting while on the bike. He had the camera locked between his neck and shoulder and was shooting from the side, it was crazy but apparently worked really well. As time stretched on I finished my beer and a few moe people showed up, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hang around much longer, even though I really did want to check out Jerome’s gallery showing. I needed to get to Shinjuku and catch the train back to Kijana’s house before it was too late. After a while longer and no one really showing up I decided to take off. I ran into Jerome on my way out and apologized for not being able to make it to the gallery that night and took off.

I was again off on my own in Tokyo, but this time it was the middle of the night and I only had a vague sense of the direction I was headed in. Cars gave me a respectable berth until I arrived in the heart of Shinjuku, which was surprisingly easy to get through even though I had little clue to where I was headed. Pulling into the area around Shinjuku Station was substantially busier but easier to navigate at night due to all of the lights. In a way it was easier to navigate at night than in the day due to the lights being directed towards the street and sidewalk and giving the area more contract that you can find during the day. What I had to adapt to quickly were the patterns of the taxis. Unlike taxis in America, you can truly call the cabbies in Japan professionals. I highly doubt there are any non-Japanese taxi drivers to begin with as even native residents have a hard time getting around the city due to its confusing layout and the unfriendly address system employed in Japan. Only major roads have names and the buildings are numbered by order of construction. You would be hard pressed to find a cabbie from south western Tokyo who could get you to a spot in north eastern Tokyo easily and trouble free.

The cab drivers like most ‘professionals’ in Japan are neat, clean, courteous and disciplined. They all wear white gloves and uniforms and the cabs are impeccable with little white doilies around the headrests. This and the general conservative driving habits on Japan in general leads to taxi’s that don’t go out of their way to try and turn you into their hood ornament. The thing you do need to look out for is a maneuver that resembles salmon going upstream to die/spawn. While street parking is pretty rare in Tokyo, the curb lane is a magnet for idling. So in large groups cabs and other vehicles will simultaneously merge into the curb lane to idle, for hopefully well thought out reasons. This can get a little complicated if your riding in said curb lane and all of a sudden what was once an open route becomes a jumble of cars trying to politely jokey for prime idling positions. They use their blinkers but they also hesitate and you have to guess exactly at which point they will merge over and stop and how close they will pull up to the curb. At points like these I found it was just better to ride the middle of the rode as you wouldn’t be in the way of any merging cars and traffic was usually crawling close to the train station to make it so you could easily outpace them.

Once I located the train station I stopped at a McDonalds to get a quick bite to eat as I hadn’t had anything more than rice balls and beer since lunch. I locked my bike up in front of a pachinko parlor and a middle aged guy eyed me up oddly, probably more for the fact that a foreigner was riding a bike around in Shinjuku more than anything. I went into the restaurant and got my food, which I proceeded to wolf down heartily, not realizing how hungry I was. I decided to walk the bike to park it so I could eat my food. I shoved the soda in my pocket and started eating fries directly from the container. Now in Japan there is a huge social faux pas about eating and drinking while mobile, this seems to also apply to the trains even though you’re not the one moving. So I’m sure me shoving my face into a container of French fries while walking my bike around Shinjuku didn’t help anyone with their uneasiness let alone elevate their opinions on fat Americans. Tough, I figured I’d be better off eating while on the street than on the train, at least if I finished it all before I got on the train I wouldn’t have to carry around the garbage for an hour and a half, if I was lucky enough to find a garbage can anyways. While Tokyo is incredibly clean there is a bizarre and concerning lack of waste receptacles. The best you can usually do is to find a bottle/can bin next to a vending machine, but even that is a crap shoot. Out right garbage cans are about as rare as the sushi.

So I walked and ate then locked my bike to an open spot at the ‘east’ exit and recalled advice I had received from Eli earlier in the evening. He said that 99.99% of the time no one will mess with my bike. That 0.01% would be the cops and he has never had it happen to him. I know that there are usually designated bike parking spots, but I didn’t know where one was nor did I care. The streets are lined with guard rails and they are easy to lock your bike to. On the off chance that someone would get sticky fingers I did take my lights off. Once locked to the rail I took one good last look at it, on the off chance it offended a cop and they decided to cut through my u-lock (which I doubt they would even readily have the tools to do…this isn’t New York after all) and tried my best to remember exactly which exit I was parked near. In all the times I have come through Shinjuku Station I have never really used the same exit/entrance. The place is huge and sprawling making it very difficult to traverse as a tourist. I’m sure it takes a local a few times to get the route down perfectly.

I wandered around the station until I found the some ticket machines and purchased my ticket. I ended up dropping it on the floor and as I bent to pick it up the remainder of my drink emptied its self into my cargo pocket as the cup opened up. With nothing else to do aside from pulling the mostly empty cup out and putting the ice back into it I walked until I found a lone garbage can, which was a bit of a journey resulting in a wet leg/sock/shoe. I through out my trash and tried as best as possible to sop as mush of the drink out of my pocket as I could and wipe my leg down a little bit. I don’t think anyone realized I had half a cup of Hi-C empty it’s self into my pocket then proceed to drip down my leg. There wasn’t much I could do so I coped and found my platform.

The ride back to Kijana’s was boring and uneventful as the IPod I had with me died right away and I chose to stand instead of sitting next to anyone and making them smell me after biking around all day. I arrived unscathed and crashed pretty quickly, readying myself for the next days adventures as I would return to Tokyo and stay for a few days. For now though, it was sleep after a bath and light packing for the next day.

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