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Wednesday, August 11,2010

Confessions of a bicycle reporter

When it comes to getting the story in Lansing, our man Larry is always on a roll

by Lawrence Cosentino

Some people will see this story and think to themselves, “Slow news week.” Maybe, but I’ve wanted to say this for a while.


I love being a bicycle reporter in Lansing.


It’s amazing how many great stories I’ve covered by bike in the past year or so.


Jazz festivals, concerts, art shows, downtown miracles like the renovation of the magnificent Ottawa Power Station — I’ve done the vast majority of my reporting on a bike since March of this year.


There are a lot of studies touting Lansing as “cool,” “livable,” “emerging,” or what have you. I know this: Lansing is a roll in dewy clover for a bicycle reporter.


To be a bicycle reporter, you need to live in a city that has a lot of great things going on, but is small enough to bike to all of them.


That’s Lansing in a nutshell.


A great set of trails doesn’t hurt. The River Trail has ferried me from my house north of Old Town to Michigan State University hundreds of times. Do I like watching turtles bask in the Red Cedar River on my way to, say, a cyclotron? Do little black ants like grease?


Every trip is fun from the start. I live a few blocks from one of Lansing’s coolest spots, the Golden Harvest Restaurant.


When I go out on my bike, the owner, Zane, gives a whoop and waves me on.


I like to think that means: “Bruce Wayne’s leaving the Batcave. Something’s up.”


You hear and see things from a bike you’d never catch from a speeding car.


On the way to cover a story this spring, I passed a man and woman.


The man said to the woman, “I’ll never forget seeing that old man pick up a urinal and drink out of it for the first time.”


If nothing else, this story gives me a chance to report those words.


Sometimes, as I set out, I run the reggaeish “bicycle reporter” theme through my head. (It’s really Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives.”) If I’m on my way to reviewing a Lansing Symphony Concert, it’s “Ride of the Valkyries.”


There’s a contrarian kick about being the only person on a bike at a high-profile event. The more high-profile, the better. At the groundbreaking of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum last March — destined to be one of the coolest buildings in the country — most people had to circle around MSU for weeks looking for a parking spot or take a shuttle. I got a disproportionate kick out of riding right up to the tent where Gov. Jennifer Granholm, zillionaire Eli Broad, MSU president Lou Anna Simon, architect Zaha Hadid and other big shots were assembling.


There might have been a time when people would sniff at you for tooling up to a big event or an interview on a bike, but not now, at least not in Lansing. Being a bicycle reporter gets you points — with the right people. When the speeches at the Broad event were over, I walked back to my bike, which was leaning on a Dumpster. There was Hadid, relaxed and glamorous in her leatherette boots and shades, getting into a car. I took a quick, informal photo, making sure my bike was also in the picture. Look at the photo. Would she have given me such a big smile if I weren’t a bicycle reporter? I doubt it.


A few weeks ago, at a press conference in REO Town, I collared Mayor Virg Bernero to talk about a proposal to put in a new power plant in a struggling part of town. Lansing has had a stunning run of development coups in the past couple of years, from the Ottawa Station to the Knapp’s Building. Here was another huge story, from the standpoint of urban development and the environment. All of them were bike stories.


In Chicago or Detroit, the mayor might blow you off if he saw you riding to a press conference on a bike. Not in Lansing. Out of the corner of his eye, Bernero saw me slide up toward the talking suits on my old GT cruiser. When we had our brief oneon-one, he gave me extra time, laying out plans to make the city bike-friendly — stuff I didn’t even ask him about.


I’ve interviewed Bernero before, but he didn’t remember me. To him, I was just a guy on the bike with a camera, and that was better than being recognized. He obviously sees bike riders as a constituency to be wooed. When the mayor courts bike riders like that, you know you’re in some kind of cool city.


On my way to the big stories, I’ve stumbled upon many lesser stories. Come to think of it, each bike trip could produce enough material for its own little newspaper, about three inches square: “Lady runs away from bees”; “Dentist bounces on park playset.”


Recently, a knot of gawkers, myself included, watched as a great blue heron stood over an upended, semi-beached turtle. This drama unfolded just northwest of Mt. Hope Cemetery, near Kalamazoo Street. What would happen to that poor turtle? After five, 10, 20 minutes, none of the principals changed their position at all. Unprofessionally, I went off-duty, leaving the story without an ending. Even bicycle reporters get tired and go home.

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