Tuesday, October 20, 2009

CMWC Tokyo Part 3

Monday I woke up early, ate a big bowl of cereal and took off for Tokyo. The plan was to head to registration and meet up with people who were going for a group ride to a park where there was going to be a bunch of trick riding. One thing that I was confused about with the event schedule in Tokyo was that there wasn’t any official trick event sent up. Japan was full of fixed tricksters, it seemed at times it was the center (in terms of popularity) of tricking, yet there were no official events or competition. So it was cool to find out there was something loosely organized going on. I took the train back into Tokyo, got off at Shinjuku Station and ended up walking half way around it to find my bike. Once I found it I hoped on and took off in what I hoped was the general direction I needed to go. I used the train line as a sort of guide to get back to Shibuya.

About a mile of so on the road I spotted a group of riders, I yelled to them to find out where they were going and they said Open Forum. I figured what the hell, someone there might know where to go to get to the trick event, and this would be an interesting opportunity. Open Forum was where people who cared got together to discuss the past year worth of events in the messenger world. They discussed issues that had developed ways to combat problems and also plans for 2010 and 2011 CMWC. I figured at least if I followed these people I would be somewhere that was remotely related to where I wanted to end up. I also knew at some point I would have to bike across the city to check into the hostel I was staying at as that night was night 1 of 2 that I was supposed to be there. Check in was after 2 so I had time to waste.

It ended up that the group of riders I found were from Chicago. I recognized a few of them from previous events but didn’t really no anyone. I just rode along and enjoyed the ride as one of them, Nico, lead the way. We got lost slightly, but found the spot for the meeting relatively easily. It was hidden in a residential neighborhood just east of Yoyogi Park, which is in between Shinjuku and Shibuya. Nico did a pretty good job of getting us there; even with the messed up Japanese address system. No wonder, as I discovered after returning home, he took first male at NACCC’s in Boston this year, beating all of the native Bostonians in their own town, coming in just behind other Chicagoan Tina, who was also in the group to Open Forum. So here I was unknowingly following the two fastest couriers in America…pretty cool.

We ended up being some of the first people there and the first non-event organizers. The room for the meeting was on the fourth floor and instead of waiting for the ancient elevator to take us there we started up the stairs. Coming out on the correct floor we had to take our shoes off and were directed into a large tatami mat covered room…very cool. Upon entering the room we were each handed a pillow to sit on. I followed Vernon, who I had initially met at the Cog Party two nights previously, and sat up against the back wall. As everyone milled about taking in the building and the view from the balcony more people began to trickle in slowly. At around 10:30 someone came in and told everyone that the meeting would be delayed for a while since some people were still at registration and waiting to ride to the meeting. By this point the room was about half full of couriers from all over the world, including a group of ruckus Australians. I took the opportunity to go in search of some lunch and left the building. I pulled my bike out of the pile of bikes that had accumulated since we first arrived and headed further up the hill that the building was on only to find myself heading back down it.

I pulled out onto a main road but stuck with the sidewalk. I chose one direction at random and rode, running into Nico and another guy on foot that were in search of a convenience store as well. I continued on and decided a mile or so later after not running into anything, which is incredibly odd, to turn back and tell them to head the other way. I cruised back down the sidewalk but didn’t run into them. A few blocks past the road I turned off of to get on the main stretch in the opposite direction I spotted a busy commercial district next to a train station below the bridge I was crossing. At the end of the bridge I hoped off the bike, shouldered it and jogged down the stairs to get to the lower street. I jumped on it and rode half a block before jumping of again when I found a 7-11. Parking the bike in front I went in and grabbed a supersized soba dish and some water. I already had two cans of beer in my bag left over from a 6-pack I had at Kijana’s. As I left the store one of the Chicago guys, known as Dump Truck, came into the store. I packed up my bag, hoped on the bike and headed back to the meeting.

More people had showed up in my absence but the meeting hadn’t started. I sat down and carefully ate my lunch, not wanting to spill any on the tatami. Once noon hit I popped open one of my beers, figured it was safe since it wasn’t morning anymore. The Australians had gotten pretty energetic and one of them had an entertaining conversation with a girl from California about the usage of the word ‘cunt’ and how the Australians use it in a generally friendly manner. I soon discovered the reason for the large group of Chicago messengers as Augie from said town began handing out information in regards to their bid to get the 2011 CMWC’s. In 2008 they had hosted a very successful NACCC’s and were ready to party again. The other towns that were bidding were Warsaw and Amsterdam. The consensus with the Chicago crowd was that if they didn’t get it they would love to see Warsaw get it, because when would anyone actually go there? There thinking was people will go to Amsterdam because it’s Amsterdam, but most people wouldn’t think of vacationing in Warsaw.

The meeting soon started and the house was packed. Only two members of the IFBMA (International Federation of Bike Messenger Associations) had shown up in Tokyo and from their attitude were beaten up. The board members work for one year and are chosen/selected during the 2nd Open Forum, which takes place at the end of CMWC. Apparently there had been some issues with some of the current members and the two who went to Tokyo tried their best to get the anger directed away from them. Once that was over the representatives for the 2010 CMWC’s In Guatemala went over the details they had for that event. While it would be cool, it’s being stretched over a 2 week period and is up in the mountains in a very small town. I don’t want to be away from home that long or have to acclimate to the higher altitude, let alone the idea that the Guatemalan government is provided an armed security detail for the racers…Guatemala is a little unstable. But my safety actually doesn’t bother me; it’s the time away and the altitude…so I will not be going to that one. My hopes were on Chicago getting them for 2011, because that’s soooo much easier to get to.

After Guatemala was gone over the floor was open to bids for 2011, Chicago pled their case followed by Warsaw. Once they were done the call for Amsterdam to make their bid was sent out…and no one answered. Apparently Amsterdam had failed to show up to put in their bid. They decided to take a break for a while and convene with more agenda items like discussing what happened at the Boston NACCC’s. I found out later that the NACCC this year was not sanctioned by the IFBMA (which seems a bit weird for there to be authorization by this semi-governing body with a group of people who are all about individualization) but then again, there needs to be a bit of cohesion involved. I found out when I returned home and talked with Eric from Cog about the event what happened;

Right before the event was to take place the City of Boston reneged on the space they were allowing the organizers to use for the race and pretty much told them to get bent. So faced with no space and a bunch of people on their way to race they decided to make the main race (no qualifying round) a real life simulation event open only to messengers and ex-messengers. Racers had 5 hours to complete as many manifests as they could out in the open roads of Boston. A lot of people felt this was unfair as the locals would have a better chance at winning the event due to their familiarity of the city. That all ended up being wrong when the first two spots were taken by Tina and Nico from Chicago. From what Eric told me and from people who went Boston’s NACCC it was an excellent event that truly simulated the courier’s job.

I decided it was time to strike out and get checked in to the youth hostel. I left the Forum and hoped on my bike, trying best as I could to navigate my way to the eastern area of Tokyo known as Akihabara. I headed out towards what I figured was Shinjuku only to be reaffirmed by that when I found the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building(s). I chose what I figured was the correct general direction of East; it was hard to tell since the sky was overcast, and headed out. After a while I spotted a sign letting me know which neighborhood I was in, it said Nakano. I thought, cool I was headed in the right direction as this was the neighborhood east of Shinjuku. I kept going, enjoying the ride, blowing past traffic as they got stalled at intersections I was able to pull through safely.

I rode on for a got 15 or 20 minutes, keeping my eye on the signs that listed the neighborhood (thankfully I understood the characters for Nakano) when it dawned on me I was thinking of the wrong neighborhood. Nakano was west of Shinjuku, the one I was thinking of was Yotsuya…don’t ask me how I confused the two, the Japanese for both aren’t even related. Nakano literally translated into Middle Field and Yotsuya translates into Fourth…something or other, the character looks like a house and is the same ‘ya’ that’s in Shibuya. So anyways…I stopped, a bit disturbed by my mistake, turned around and headed back the other way down the road I had been flying down for quite a while. Two things made me push it even faster backtracking, the first was the fact that I had already traveled a few miles in the wrong damn direction, the other was the noticeable decline in the road, that I hadn’t quite noticed as I was going the other way and heading steadily higher. This fact continued to confuse me in the texture of the roads in Tokyo and their effect on your wheels. It seemed that they aided significantly when going down any form of decline, but didn’t really affect you when going up an incline…it is bizarre.

At some point in my backtrack I turned off of the road I followed out of Shinjuku, following street signs that point you in the general direction of various sections of the city, mostly ones that are nearby. The problem, which I didn’t discover until later, is that these signs are a bit ambiguous in their direction. So I took the direction that would supposedly lead me to Yotsuya and the neighborhood of Iidabashi which is more easterly of Shinjuku. And I kept biking and biking and enjoying every moment of it. Occasionally I would turn off, following the ambiguous directional signs…never to actually ride through Yotsuya or Iidabashi. After quite some time on the bike, maybe an hour or so, I noticed a sign that had me worried. It said that I was headed towards the neighborhood of Ueno, which is north of my ultimate destination. Not to far from that first sign I stopped next to a subway station and pulled out the best map I had, which detailed the train and subway lines, and tried to get a rough idea of where I was, as the line maps just show general direction…or better yet layout of the line its self, in nice geometrical pathways that don’t conform the actual thing. Luckily the subway map shows then entire subway line so I can get a rough estimation of the location of a specific station. Upon looking at the map I noticed that yes, I had somehow gone north east and had been slowly skirting the northern end of the Tokyo proper…yay.

I entered Ueno, passing by Ueno Park and at least knew I was getting closer to my destination, but I had never gone directly from Ueno to Akihabara any way other than train so was only mildly sure of the direction I needed to head in. I continued on, only partially irritated for being lost but still thoroughly enjoying biking through out Tokyo. After another 15 minutes or so of aimlessly riding in the general direction I got into Akihabara. I skirted the south end of the famed electric district and crossed the river just south of the train station. I knew I was incredibly close to my destination. The night before I had looked at a rough map of the area online and remembered that I had to cross the river and it would be near by. I pressed on, trying to keep my eyes out for anything that might help me locate at least the train station I was looking for from the directions to the hostel. After a while of wandering I saw a sign that talked pointed me towards Ginza, which I knew was taking me too far south, frustrated I pulled over after coming across a subway station. I located the station in my map book and realized that I was south of where I needed to be. I picked the direction I thought I needed to go and took off, now getting irritated. Another 10 minutes or so I came across another subway station only to find I had headed in the wrong direction, I was further south now. I turned around and headed back the way I came and when I neared the last station I turned down a different direction only to wander around for another 10 or 15 minutes before stumbling upon the train station I needed.

In only partial relief I pulled out the walking directions to the hostel leading from the station and biked them. I had to cross a river and from there the 2nd block would lead me to the hostel. What was confusing is that the intersection after the river had more than 2 roads converging so I had to decipher what 2 blocks actually represented. I figured it had to be off of the main road and began to slowly bike down a side street. The thing with Tokyo is that there aren’t really any alleys. Just smaller roads behind the big roads with smaller ones behind them, but there really aren’t alleys. I wandered through a few of the side streets, cutting back and forth, searching for the building. I back tracked to the bridge and did it all over again to suddenly find the building, which was somewhat non-descript if you weren’t looked directly at it, even though it was checkered black and white. A wave of relief flooded over me and I parked the bike and went to check in, having to take my shoes off before entering.

I checked in and told one of the reception girls about my misadventures over the past 2 and a half hours, much to her amazement. I asked her if she knew the best way to get to Ginza, which was a little south of our current location, and she blanked on me, gave me a map as a present and wished me luck. I went to my bunk, stashed most of my baggage and proceeded to leave for Ginza for some shopping and dinner. Even though I had biked countless miles around northern Tokyo I wasn’t hungry, just thirsty. I knew I should eat, but I wasn’t concerned with it. I was leaving the hostel when I ran into a messenger who was also staying at the hostel and we chatted long enough for me to find out he was one of three messengers from Amsterdam. I told him that the people at Open Forum were looking for them and he got concerned when he said that his two friends had gone to it and I told them I didn’t see them. We exchanged a few more words and I took off for Ginza.

I decided that the best course of action would be to head to the nearest train station that dealt with the Yamanote line. From there as long as I followed the train line south I would end up in the heart of Ginza. I pinpointed the nearest one on my map; eye balled the route and took off, with map in pocket. I was more confident that I would get around better with the map. It wasn’t the brightest move to wander around Tokyo without one, but I fared pretty well, especially without asking for help from anyone, and a few times I really contemplated it. But I chose not too because my Japanese skills aren’t that hot and most people can’t or don’t like to speak English, making it difficult at times to get things accomplished that way. I took off with renewed energy, even after riding all those miles. I had to remind myself to take it easy since I didn’t want to burn out before the next days qualifying round.

I easily found the train station I pinpointed and was easily able to follow the trains’ course as a series of small streets ran along it, featuring an array of restaurants, shops and odd vendors. Following these tucked away roads seemed to put me in a Tokyo that you don’t see if you stick to the main paths. Pakistani restaurants next to small pachinko halls and old family run liquor stores, the ‘seedy’ side of Tokyo, life under the tracks. People actually seemed surprised by my presence as I buzzed by, with my solitary goal in mind.

The side roads ended before I hit Ginza, but luckily the terminated just north of Tokyo station. I knew how to get to Ginza from there and no longer had to ‘feel’ my way. This did present a new challenge to me in the form of a large open roadway that didn’t really adhere to any sort of demarked guidelines. I suddenly found myself in the middle of a large roundabout with lots of taxi’s and other cars not really doing anything. I had a red, checked all around to see who had the green, didn’t spot anything, checked again for hidden traffic and decided it was physically, if not legally, safe for me to continue on my marry way. I followed the course past the station and into more open road spaces that were somewhat disorientating, continuously on the watch for errant taxis and buses, but never finding any. By the time I got back to what resembled a main road, traffic had finally caught up to me as apparently the speed limits in this stretch of road were pretty high.

Wanting to maintain my course I pulled into the left drive lane, the one furthest from the curb, and forced traffic to cope with my reduced speed and pulled under a freeway to find myself right in the heart of Ginza train line to my right and the first truly recognizable section of town I had been in all day. With glee from my amazing luck I pulled out into the incredibly busy street that cuts through Ginza heading from the Imperial Palace all the way to the bay and turned again down a small street just west of the train lines. I was on a mission to find the first restaurant I had ever eaten at in Japan that was located under the tracks, an Italian bistro named Bravo and to my mild surprise I found it was still there 10 years after the last time I had eaten there. I happily locked my bike up to a pole across the street from it, with a few pedestrians looking at me strangely and started to head into the establishment…then I realized how I was dressed.

I was sweaty; I had been biking around Tokyo all day. I stunk, see previous sentence. I wasn’t really in the best condition to step foot in a white table cloth restaurant in the most expensive shopping district in Tokyo, if not the world. I hesitated, looked inside the restaurant and decided against revisiting the past when I saw the place packed with sensibly dressed women. I would pass on offending them with my presence and appearance. Instead I turned into the restaurant next door to it, which I have eaten at before and sat down for a meal of conveyor belt sushi. Once I had my fill of shrimp, tea and rice I left the restaurant and decided to hit up a large toy store I knew about in Ginza. I took off down the main drag, headed east; pondering which of the streets I needed to turn down to get to the store.

A few blocks away I hit Ginza’s large pedestrian intersection, right as the pedestrian only light turned green. I chanced it and power through as quickly as I could; trying to get through before the runners/speed walkers impeded my path. I made it out mostly unscathed, having to only swerve around a few people. The next red light I hit a few blocks later I ran into 2 young Japanese kids with fixed gears. I greeted them and they started speaking English to me. They asked were I was headed and when I told them they told me they thought the store I was looking for was down the street we were stopped at. I thanked him for the help and turned left down that street before traffic got the green light. As I did I realized that the street was swamped with foot traffic. There were tables set up in the middle of the road and the police had cordoned off the street from cars. People wandered everywhere talking, shopping, grazing and photographing. I traveled a few blocks south and found the end of the cordoned off area and the toy store. Just as I stopped and was going to take some photos of the street to show the crowds the police started to take down the southern barrier and warn people that traffic would once more be flowing through the road. I parked my bike, bought a juice and headed into the toy store to find gifts.

After leaving with a package the size of my bag I loaded it up and headed back for the youth hostel. Retracing the roads I had taken to get there I easily got back into the hostels neighborhood. On the way I ran into 3 messengers headed south. I shouted out to them to see what they were doing, always on the look out for an alley cat and was disappointed to find they were headed back to their own hostel. I carried on only finding that when I got to the river near mine I couldn’t find the hostel. In frustration I retraced and retraced my steps from the river, remembered in the police box next to it and everything, only to come up empty. After a few times doing this I decided to stop and ask for help at the police station. Through my broken Japanese, their broken English and both our maps I realized I was at the wrong street to begin with. I found my way to the correct bridge and correct police box and easily found the youth hostel. I parked my bike around the back of the hostel which was actually to a guard rail running along a larger road.

The Dutch messenger I met earlier was out front with one of the other Dutch messengers and we chatted for a minute. I dropped my stuff in my room and went back outside to relax and drink. I biked down the street to a convenience store, bought a few cans of Chu-hi and went back and sat down next to the Dutch messengers and began chatting more. They left after a bit to get supper and I sat, nursing my beverages. At one point a man wandered around the corner and headed to the nearby vending machine. Let’s just say the man was obviously Yakuza (Japanese mafia) and if I would have been thinking I would have taken a photo of me, but I was too tired and to relaxed to want to risk dealing with pissing off one of the local gangsters. Eventually, maybe an hour of sitting and doing nothing all 2 ditch messengers arrived and we all started to drink, heavily. As the night progresses we moved into the basement of the hostel to continue drinking, with one of us running to the convenience store nearby to buy yet another 4 pack, as we chatted about anything and everything in the hostels renovated chill space. I ended up turning in to bed about 1:30 in the morning after having consumed an unknown number of beer cans and a few Chu-hi to the thoughts that I drank too damn much the night before qualifying…then again it wouldn’t be a true messenger event with out the detrimental effects of alcohol.

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