Archive for August, 2011
I’ve thought a lot about changing modes of transportation especially as we embark on designing a developing countries handcycle, but the thought is a lot different when it’s personal. Unlike the people we’re trying to help, I don’t have to crawl on the floor or in the dirt. In fact, I rarely encounter anything that I can’t do. Sure climbing the grassy ski hill in my everyday chair for a Wednesday concert at Deer Valley is a challenge. There’s the inevitable flight of stairs and there was the glass bottle of olive oil on the top shelf at the supermarket the other day. I was sure had everything under control as I flipped it up from the bottom and caught it on the way down, but right there in the middle was a moment of worry.
It occurred to me a couple of days ago that the difference between being on the ground and getting around in a handcycle isn’t so much about assisted movement but a different plane of movement—a sense of freedom. As epiphanies often go, it occurred to me in a totally personal way. A good friend asked me to join him and his boys at the pool of the gym—not so much at the pool as the structure behind it. He’d been talking about brachiating on the metal rings since he arrived this summer—and the monkey bars that climbed in a 45-degree angle—and the climbing rope and the fireman’s pole.
The monkey bars were the monkey bars—a lot like doing pull-ups. Climbing the rope tendered a kind of freedom as I quickly left my chair far below. But the rings were transformational. I watched Bob’s kids try the rings, other kids and Bob himself. Their attempts all ended the same, with a bailout into the sand. When my friend Steve and his kids joined us, there was a chance that I could try because the rings were probably ten feet off the ground. With the two of them they could lift me.
I grabbed with both hands and they swung me toward the other ring, when I grabbed it I started pulling hard with my right hand in the opposite direction to maximize my swing toward the next ring, which I grabbed and repeated the process, moving quickly across space. I went four or five before I started to think that there was no eject button for me. Landing in the sand wouldn’t end well for me, so I cut the joy short for the safety of my chair. But in that moment I moved, really moved, moved on an entirely different plane, one that I comprehended kinesthetically, but couldn’t understand in the context of my experience. That was the intoxicating part—an entirely new context.
For a long time I’ve thought that I’d love to have a spiral staircase with handholds underneath so that I could climb that very same staircase with my hands. I haven’t worked out the landing part, which would be important. Maybe I need to check out some Escher drawings. The rings and the spiral staircase show some creativity versus a ramp. A ramp is just an afterthought—a crude accommodation with no sense of aesthetic. A ramp is like putting jeans on Michelangelo’s David. There’s nothing beautiful about a ramp, just something tacked on when necessity trumps aesthetic.
As I went out for my workout today I thought about changing that plane of perspective and movement. I liked moving in a different way and can’t wait to do it again. I’m sure I’ll go the whole length of the rings the next time. I also thought, could I design a house that would allow me to move freely—not a house designed for walking people with after market afterthoughts, but one that used the beautiful space and movement. I think I’d call it anti-gravity, which might not make any sense, but it does in my mind. That’s what I hope for the people we’re trying to help—a vehicle that makes sense in time, space and movement, and escapes that pull of gravity.1 comment