“I just found out who you are!” announced my buddy-whose-name-I-don’t-know. “There’s a photo of you on the alumni wall of my lab! You have different hair and a different name, but it’s definitely you!”
This conversation took place in the locker room next to the bike storage room, when my former lab’s new member and I were both getting changed after cycling to work. Coming back to work in the same building where I did my postdoc means that this kind of conversation happens quite often (although it usually takes place in the pub or at other social events that involve old friends from my postdoc days); cycling to work means that all kinds of interesting conversations take place all the time.
I started cycling to work in Glasgow in 1999, and I’ve ridden most days since then. I love the exercise, the fresh air, the head-clearing thinking time, the eco-smugness (any cyclist who claims not to relish the latter is lying to you), and the fact that I usually beat the bus by at least five or ten minutes. But I especially love the bike room communities that exist in every building in which I’ve ever worked.
The regular users of the bike and locker room all know each other by sight, but don’t always know each other’s names. Some are old friends, others are relative strangers, but everyone’s friendly and everyone chats. We don’t usually know the details of what each person works on (I’d talked to the new member of my old lab many times before we discovered the connection), but we do know that we’re a mix of students, postdocs, techs, the occasional prof, and various others. We chat about the weather, close calls with cars and other road users, cycling gear, and commuting times – but also about career issues, current events, what everyone did at the weekend, and (rarely, but most interestingly) juicy gossip about what’s going on in everyone’s departments. I’ve learned lots about what shenanigans occur on the other floors of our 15-storey building, and had tons of fun conversations in what would otherwise be the wasted time between arriving at work and actually reaching my desk.
I’ve also picked up some very interesting and useful pieces of information from the bike room buddy community – especially at my last job, where I was handed a secret email address that saved my immigration application, and got some inside information on the status of my application for my current job.
I love to think about all the other hidden communities that must exist in my building: the users of some pieces of equipment, no doubt; people from different departments who use the lunch room at the same time; frequent visitors to the mailroom, perhaps; and probably dozens of others that I haven’t even considered.
Perhaps my readers will enlighten me in the comments – you must all be members of secret societies in your own buildings!
In the mean time, I will treasure the information I learned on my way out of the bike room at the end of last week: two of my papers are going to be cited in a review article currently being drafted in my old lab! (I <3 citations). Yay, bike room buddy!