My Utterly San Francisco Bike Accident

I’ve been living and biking in San Francisco for long enough now that my chances of getting into minor “bicycle meets blank” altercations have increased, not in my favor. This is certainly not helped by the fact that my catlike fight or flight instincts lean heavily towards flight- (so much so that as I child I once jumped off a horse mid-horsebackriding lesson- I later claimed it threw me, but we all knew what had really happened).

Up until seven weeks ago my primary bike accidents had involved hitting the MUNI tracks at the wrong angle, and an attempted stealing of my bike seat which resulted in me tearing up my knee and chaco-clad foot. So it was to my great chagrin to experience my first bicycle snafu to involve a car at the end of October- though everyone who hears this story has agreed that it probably went as well as any bike-car accident could have gone.

After leaving a particularly emotional therapy session about the impending departure of my best friend and roommate of two years, I was headed across town to a yoga class. I was biking down Oak St towards Divisadero, with a green light and nothing in the bike lane ahead of me. I saw a car at the intersection with their right turn signal on, and the only thought that occurred to me was “they’re probably texting and don’t realize they have a green light.” In the next moment I reached the intersection, just as the car realized they could go and began to turn.

Inexperienced in both physics and what to do when you’re about to crash into a car (I suppose the latter is a good thing), I instinctually braked with both hands as hard as I could. My bike stopped. I, on the other hand, kept moving. I went right over my handlebars and landed chin first, followed by the heels of both hands. (Yes, I was of course wearing a helmet). As people from the sidewalk rushed to help me and my bike up, I slunk over to the sidewalk, half in shock and half in embarrassment.

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Looking mugged

This is where the story gets a little absurd. The woman who had been driving gets out of the car in a rush, saying, “Oh god! That was so scary! Are you okay? Tell me what happened?” After making sure I’m still in once piece she introduces herself as Sky, and proceeds to tell me that she is, in fact, a trauma counselor. “You’re clearly in shock, can we sit down and do some breathing exercises together?” She asks. I’m an emotional wreck at this point, trying to keep it together from therapy and now deal with the fact that I’ve just publicly wrecked my shit (and it was likely my fault for not paying attention) and the pain in my elbow means I’m probably not going to make it to yoga. “Sure,” I tell her, “Let’s do it.”

She talks me through some breathing exercises and then says, “Okay so I practice EFT, do you know what that is?” I shake my head and she continues. “It’s called Emotional Freedom Therapy– and it’s a psychological accupressure technique that helps you short circuit your emotions.” Uh huh… “Is it okay if I tap on you?” At this point I’m up for whatever, unconcerned with the genuinely confused and concerned people passing by on what is a street that gets a lot of foot traffic, especially on a Saturday.

Sky then proceeds to hold my hands in her palms, face up, and tap on my hands, cheekbone and arms, all while having me repeat positive affirmations. Things like, “I’ve just experienced a trauma, but I’m okay. I love myself and I will get through this experience.” Etc. The most bizarre thing happens- it totally works. I calm down completely. The adrenaline surging through my body magically dissipates and I’m steady enough to get back on my (thank god- unharmed) bike (that shit is expensive to fix) and bike the five blocks back to my apartment. This is only after Sky and I have hugged it out (obviously), because this is San Francisco after all.

~ ~ ~ ~

Just as a mini-epilogue for this, I ended up going in for x-rays the next day. I eventually found out that I had a impacted fracture in my right elbow, which healed on it’s own after about six weeks and a week of occupational therapy (also some magically stuff in its own right). This experience has taught me to be more cautious while biking, and given me a new appreciation for having use of both arms at once. To my parents amusement I also discovered what it really means to visit specialists when you know there isn’t anything they can do for you besides tell you your injuries won’t be getting any worse. “So I’m going to pay $50 to have someone tell me I’m fine and everything will heal on its own?” “Yes Eliza. Welcome to adulthood.” Shoutout to Marie A. for being a great friend and rushing home to sit on her apartment stoop with me while I cried over my bruised body and ego, and telling me about her bike accident that occurred while trying to text and bike simultaneously. (Really how on earth do some people manage that?)

My biggest lesson, of course, was that if you’re going to get into a bike accident it should definitely involve a trauma counselor.  *

My Profoundly Simple Burning Man Takeaway

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I had no idea what to expect going into Burning Man, aside from the knowledge that it was the supposed holy grail of festivals, without being an actual festival. A few moments came as more than mildly shocking- but those happened more along the lines of “I am by choice biking at night in a dust storm with 0 visibility while slightly intoxicated at the same time as 80,000 other people… Let’s again put the emphasis on by choice,” and less along the lines of, “oh look, the 100th naked person I’ve seen today. (Hope they’ve been reapplying sunblock).” The group that I went with has attended countless festivals, camping trips and holiday celebrations together, and venturing into the desert together certainly felt right, however much it may have impeded experiencing full participation in the wider Burning Man community. If I go again I’ll certainly push myself more to do some solo exploring, which, thanks to Burning Man I now feel ready to do. Because my profoundly simple takeaway from my five days in Black Rock City was this: being open to meeting strangers is a choice you can actively make (and they usually are 0% as intimidating as you were anticipating). As an extrovert I’ve never had a problem meeting new acquaintances through friends, but I would not often be the person to instigate interactions with strangers, whether they are waiting next to me in the bike lane at a red light or squished next to me on MUNI. What I saw first hand at Burning Man was just how easy it is to actively decide to be open and friendly to everyone you meet, how easy it is to make the choice to be open and not guarded- but also that is is certainly a choice, and one that is made with each human interaction you encounter.

And all I had to do for this realization was almost die in a dust storm? Totally worth it.

What’s in a culture?

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I read somewhere recently that the best company culture is still a work in progress. What I’ve come to believe is that company culture, on a fundamental level, is simply about relationships. The relationships that employees have to their jobs and to the mission of the company. Relationships that exist within the organizational structure, between managers and associates, between members of the leadership team. And of course, the bonds and friendships that exist between coworkers. Without those relationships there is only work from 8:30AM to 6PM, Monday through Friday, 261 days a year (give or a take a few evenings and weekends thrown in).

Like any other relationship then, the relationships which make up company culture require continual investment and maintenance. A good (married) friend of mine once told me that the thing about marriage is that every day you wake up and you choose to be in your marriage. Every day you wake up and you choose the person you married to be your partner and your friend. In the same vein, I believe that growing a great company culture means choosing to be the culture you wish to see, so to speak, every day. Fostering community and happiness, trust and positivity, I believe culture is the key to a successful company.

With the requisite amount of Kombucha and yogurt jokes, of course.

Creating and Finding Joy in Unexpected Places

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I recently designed a really colorful backpack at the TImbuk2 store in Hayes Valley. It’s exceptionally badass if I do say so myself. I got a voicemail when it was ready to be picked up, and when I went in the girl working there told me if I hadn’t shown she would have kept it for herself. But that’s beside the point. Because my colorful backpack isn’t really about having a cool thing, it’s about seizing on an opportunity to inject joy into my life.

Yeah, I know how that sounds, but I’m serious. This is a philosophy that I’ve learned to run with over the years. I’m all about finding little ways to make myself happy. For me, that often involves integrating more color into my life. (I had to stop watching Game of Thrones because there was too much grey and I just got bored of it). I don’t shy away from dressing in somewhat ridiculous color schemes that one might find at Gymboree. (I often find myself envious of children’s outfits. Seriously, we had it right in ’95). And I usually receive the most compliments from strangers when I do so. I have a cotton dress from Nooworks that looks like it would fit right in on the Magical Mystery Tour album cover. It never fails to bring smiles (and sometimes bewilderment) to those around me. I love that. Another gem that never fails to make me happy is this water bottle.

It’s all about finding joy in the details.

Death Cab, Cutie, and Me

Ben Gibbard at Union Chapel

Ben Gibbard at Union Chapel

The first time I listened to Death Cab for Cutie I was 12. The O.C. Mix 1 began my musical education with the kind of indie bands that spoke ever so lovingly to the isolating feelings of entering teenagerhood. I took my pink iPod mini with me everywhere the summer I turned 13, and for the first time gave my life a soundtrack. This was only the beginning.

It was around 16 when I first saw a Coachella lineup. Death Cab was listed, along with most of the other bands I was listening to at the time. I didn’t know much about California beyond the wonders of Sea World, but I knew they were getting something right if something existed where you could see all the music you loved in one place. And I wanted to be there. My live music experience in Upstate New York was limited to a few outdoor amphitheater Dave Matthews shows, and one 18+ John Browns Body show for which I strategically convinced a stranger to vouch as my mother so I could get in. I knew I couldn’t stay somewhere with such limited access to music.

I was 21 when I first saw Ben Gibbard play live. He played an all-acoustic set in a beautiful church venue called Union Chapel in Islington. None of my friends had been excited by the idea, so for the first time I went to a show alone. I got there early and sat in the second row, listening to an episode of This American Life about what happened to military Dogs after WWII (or was it WWI?) until the show started. I started weeping with joy as soon as he started playing, and I knew the words to every song he played. It was magical.

I went on to see The Postal Service play that April at Coachella. I sat behind the Greek in Berkeley with friends to listen to them play for free a few months later. When Death Cab came to town last August, Lina and I saw them play at The Independent. We saw them again the following day at Outside Lands. We’re flying down to see them play their new album at the Hollywood Bowl this July. Ben Gibbard really never gets old.

I might say that Death Cab is to me what the Beatles were to my dad, but the Beatles are arguably the other greatest musical influence in my life. Death Cab has been there for me in my most formative years, and grown with me on my journey towards adulthood. This NPR article hits the nail on the head describing the impact Death Cab has had on a generation, and I encourage you to read it.

I suggest taking a listen to their new album. You never know what might strike a chord with you, wherever in your journey you may be.

7AM Saturday, In Transit

This may be a drug reference...

I’ve been finding a lot more art now that I’m walking to and from work.

When I remember to see the good in myself, it helps me to see the good in other people, and to appreciate the beauty of my surroundings. I get excited about the little things- like street art, or designing an extremely colorful backpack. I remember that that is how I want to live my life, seeing the beauty in each moment, feeling almost recklessly silly, loving the people around me and experiencing the kind of giggling that bubbles up from deep inside my soul. Some would probably call that joy. I call it my optimal state of existence.

I’ve spoken to a few friends recently who said they read one post or another of my blog that resonated with them so much they made an active change to their daily routine. Hearing that made me feel so good. I like to think one of the most valuable thing we can do with our experiences is share them, and learn from each other- whether that means learning from others’ mistakes, or simply feeling less alone. The power of writing, and the power of words, continues to astound me- and I hope I never lose that.