It’s June 26 I’m beyond exhausted at this point and I’m not even on the bike yet! Katherine Dynes is still sewing on CDs, and I’m fussing with our costumes. In fact, just yesterday, I bought a dress that is now at the dry cleaners becoming a tank top, and we ended up at Grateful Head on Dundas Street so Paul Shepherd could style our wigs. My cohort has gone from an all-black military rebel with a balaclava to an anti-war protester, a punk guru of sorts, covered in printed and three-dimensional daisies. Endless sartorial concerns aside, I’m still building props, and it’s plain as day that efficient prop-building is not in the cards for this lifetime: fussy mechanical dexterity is challenging and I really despise epoxy glue!
The big unveiling is an hour away—actually more like three by the time we figure out how to attach the eyeball halves to each other, the orb hiked up its post, all the lights sorted and plugged in, not to mention getting the talent into makeup, wigs, and costumes. Yup, those whimsical and awkwardly painted dames in the mirror are actually us. We both feel like we’re in drag. It’s quite a departure for both of us.
Okay, Katja and I are finally ready to hit the road! I totally forget to smash the bottle of champagne I bought for the express purpose of blessing our vessel and its journeys. Rather unceremoniously, we pounce on our pedals with all our might and barely shift the wheels an inch. Holy shit, this thing is heavy. Without further ado we slowly if not surely slide our berth into the unknown waters of the art-bike experience.
Our plan is to travel across town on College Street and navigate through the strolling Friday-night Pride crowds on Church Street. Sounds straightforward, right? Aside from not getting anywhere fast—eeeek! watch out for the trees and street signs, that eyeball is bloody high and wide—a bike with large training wheels leans on whatever slant the road presents. There is no way to mechanically compensate. Katja hangs off the bow on a forty-five-degree angle while I barely lean ten degrees in the stern. Though my heart is in my throat, I have a weird smile plastered on my face because all this student-driver mayhem is happening before a rapt audience. We are met with nothing less than exuberant cheers from pedestrians and the café-and-ice-cream-parlour crowds in Little Italy, and wild honking and hollering from drivers and their passengers snapping pictures by the hundreds on their cellphones. Neither of us has been on stage much except for compulsory high school theatre productions, so the sensations are quite jarring. Katja goes into hoop-hollering mode, joining the enthusiastic cacophony while I pull inward, breathe through my smile, hoping to gain insights soon.
Regardless of the state of our interiority, the biggest street party of the year in Toronto is well on its way. “Happy Pride! Woo-hoo!” Our white-dove balloons are already a thing of the past and so is the spherical aspect of our eyeball—that street sign on University Avenue really dinged us. No matter, we are swarmed. It will take us four hours to travel north five blocks. By photograph five hundred of probably a few thousand, Katja and I are in a state of stunned euphoria. We have never talked to, rubbed shoulders with, or hugged that many people per hour or have been the centre of so much attention, glee, effusive book-lover talk, complicit railing against the state of the publishing industry and its nefarious impact on writers, and, last but not least, keen interest in sexy librarians(!?). Two women step into our unearthly glow. The more adventurous of the two comes forth with her attempt at pegging our act: “So, who are you? Hmmm? … Sexy librarians?” That’s the cutest one so far. It turns out, they themselves are librarians and love books.
It’s definitely high time to head home. We gather what we have left of our sanity, pedal across Wellesley Street, startle an interlaced couple on a park bench in Queen’s Park Circle—we’re an otherworldly apparition, all lit up but silent, floating through the pitch-darkness of the park—give some teenagers something to be even more high about, and glide down the hill on University Avenue to College Street. I don’t know if it’s the witching hour, the glowing daisies, the trees silhouetted against the urban sky, the mirrored glass of Toronto Hydro, our LED lighting shifting from blue to green to violet to pink, but I feel like I’m either high on acid or literally flying high through the air. I have nothing in my repertoire that comes close to this level of elation, except Burning Man itself, which I attended three times. So, we made it out into the street to talk about our books, and it feels like we’ve entered an alternate reality.