Megan Dickerson, Experience DesignerPosted: October 3, 2013
I had the pleasure of meeting Megan several years ago while I was working at a store selling high-end second hand clothing. She would come in, bike helmet in tow, throughout the year, rain or shine. I remember asking her a lot of questions and seeking advice, especially on rainy days. Seeing her riding year round was part of what inspired me to start taking cycling more seriously as a way to get around the city. She is one of the few people I know who can pull off an effortless style while riding a bike almost every day of the year.
When she is not busy being an all-around cycling inspiration, she is Senior Manager of Community Partnerships at Boston Children’s Museum, a position she likes to call experience designer, in which she “joyfully uses museums and whimsical public events as my medium”. But as if that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, she’s played a pivotal role in many community projects, including the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute at 826Boston, Willy Wonka in Smellovision at ArtsUnion, and The Bumpkin Island Art Encampment. Says Megan, “Basically, during my time in Boston, I have worked to create the kinds of events I wanted to go to!”
Soon, Megan will depart Boston for San Diego, where she will take on the role of Manager of Exhibition Development at the New Children’s Museum. Boston will miss her, and San Diego will doubtless benefit from her work. She was kind enough to do a little Q&A, and generous with her time and responses.
When did you first start commuting by bike?
I moved from Southern California to Boston in 2003, landing literally during a snowstorm. I started work at a potpourri of arts and tourism jobs– in addition to teaching kindergarten programs at Boston Children’s Museum, I was doing tours at the Witch House in Salem, leading tea party debates recreations at the Old South Meeting House, and actually ringing a bell outside the Old North Church before greeting and lecturing for busloads of retirees from Kansas. One of my favorite jobs was working as a “concessionaire” (my name for it) at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. That’s where I met Liz Coffey, famed film projectionist and then Broadway bike mechanic.
What were your first impressions?
I was nervous about biking, but I had commuted by bike to school when I lived in Sweden and loved it. There, I lived in an old cathedral city, Lund, and was used to bumbling over cobblestones. Liz became my bike mentor– she assured me that given the right helmet, hand signals and common sense, biking in Boston was safe and the best way to get around. She fixed up a 1973 Humber for me. I have to admit that I started by biking from the North End to the Children’s Museum by using the broad sidewalks on Atlantic Ave– this was still when the expressway on the North End was coming down, and Atlantic Ave seemed terrifying. About two weeks into my sidewalk surfing, I realized that was stupid and I started to use the street.
Boston in 2003 was not the most friendly place and time to ride a bike. What kept you going?
Part of my courage came from Liz. I can’t overestimate the importance of having a “bike mentor” when you start city-biking. I hope I’ve been able to pay that kindness and mentorship forward to other new bikers I know, including my co-worker Tayquan Pomare-Taylor. He and I did a bike safety tour around Newmarket last summer, and I continue to badger him about wearing a helmet. So maybe it’s less mentoring and more squeaky wheel, so to speak. I know that it helps new bikers to see that regular, everyday, non-Lycra, all-year biking is possible and enjoyable in Boston.
For ten years, you’ve remained totally collision-free. That is, until now. What happened?
I had some close calls during my ten years in Boston, but I never got into an accident until recently– just a month before I will move to San Diego! I got hit by a car near Boston Medical Center. It was scary and I was hurt to the point of hospitalization, but passerby and the emergency professionals were extremely kind to me. They even arranged my string of pearls around my C-cuff when I was on the gurney. When the accident happened, I momentarily considered not biking any more, then quickly banished the thought because biking has so enriched my experience in Boston. I can’t imagine Boston without my bike.
With ten years of Boston bike community under your helmet, so to speak, you’ve seen a lot of change. What are your thoughts?
I’ll probably sound like the Boston broken record, but it is amazing how much it has changed! I remember biking the Southwest corridor in 2006 and seeing no other bikers from Ruggles to Stony Brook. Now, on some days, the bike traffic feels like Amsterdam! The number of bikers now means that we have a bit more sway in policy-making. I do think we can increase the number of year-round bikers. Seriously, Boston winter is not that bad when you have a cozy wool balaclava and some great layers! Biking Circuit Drive in February through Franklin Park is so beautiful and clear. The woods are lovely, dark and deep (and the incline is sometimes punishingly steep!), but it has a crystalline beauty that you’ll never see in a car.
How as cycling helped you with your work?
If I had been driving around Boston doing my work, I never would have met so many people. Most days, if we were doing activities at a festival for the Children’s Museum, I would pile all our wacky supplies in my bike basket and then unload it like a clown car at IBA or wherever else we were. People know me as the Museum bike lady. On my morning commute down Elm Hill Street, I see tons of kids waiting for the bus. I ring my bell, and they smile at me. People call me Mary Poppins in my neighborhood. Those little moments of shared sweetness make me feel really good, and they connect me to my community in a way that I never otherwise could. Sometimes, I think that having a bike has some of the same effects of having a dog. The bike, particularly if it’s an interesting one, becomes a social object.
That’s funny. I seem to remember Mary Poppins floating in on an umbrella, but maybe that’s the impression you give children as you are riding by. Tell me about your bike.
Oh, I loooove this bike. I went into Menotomy Bikes planning to pick up a zippy 10-speed, and then I saw this green-gray lady… 45 lbs of bells and whistles! It’s a 1970s Altra and has a built in bike pump, drum brakes, a rear view mirror, and enough capacity for all the stuff I haul around town. It’s a tank. And this is the crazy thing: I don’t know if I can take it with me to San Diego! I’m packing for San Diego like I’m going on an extended camping trip: minimally but with some good creature comforts. I’m originally from Whittier, California, and my folks have a 1968 5-speed, sparkly green Schwinn from my mom’s college days, which happened to be in San Diego. I like the symbolism of using my mom’s bike, so I may part with the beautiful Ms. Altra before I leave Boston.
Tell me about your new job in San Diego.
I’m so excited about my new job. I will be Manager of Exhibition Development at the New Children’s Museum, a place that seeks to innovate a new model of children’s museums by connecting kids with contemporary art and artists. I’ll be working with artists and fabricators to build transformative spaces for San Diego families. One of the clinchers about making the choice was, believe it or not, the fact that my new boss is a bike commuter.
So, I take it you will continue your cycling in San Diego?
I will definitely continue biking in San Diego. In fact, I’ve already mapped out possible commutes to the New Children’s Museum through Balboa Park! Just from my brief time there recently, it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of bikers on the street. Who knows, maybe that will change. But just personally, biking keeps me fit physically and emotionally. After a long day of doing good, challenging stuff, a bike ride home can be the most relaxing thing in the world. When I was a kid, my dad biked from our house to his law office a few miles away. I remember seeing him do it, and it made it clear to me that biking is something you can do as a grown-up. Now that I’m officially a grown-up as well, I hope to continue that legacy. I will be riding around San Diego on my mom’s bike, with my dad’s legacy, and with all the encouragement that my Boston bike mentors have given me.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I can’t even express how much I will miss Boston and my Boston people. But one of my condolences is that San Diego is apparently a place that people like to visit! One of the next steps in the five-year plan: getting a guest bike.
It’s soon, but if anybody wants to come to the going-away party of the century, come to Up Too Late at Boston Children’s Museum this Saturday, October 5! Okay, well, it’s technically the Museum’s 100th birthday party, but I’m riding tandem (so many puns…) as an opportunity to say goodbye to my Boston community. Tickets are $25 with the code “ByeByeMegan” and can be purchased here.
Ride on, Megan!