My dad had a Jeep when I was very young. Riding in it was one of my earliest memories. I don’t remember the model or the color (it could have been brown) or if there was a lift on it. I only remember that it didn’t have a top and that the wind would blow in my face as he drove. The sky was over my head, the clouds directly above me. I knew that I liked the feeling of having nothing blocking my senses. Light poured in. The breeze slapped us silly. We could see everything above and around us.
A short time later, I began to learn to ride my bike without training wheels. I was able to pedal at faster speeds down Waverly Drive. I felt that open feeling again. I could turn my head and see my neighbors’ houses as I rode down the street. I could hear sounds that I could never hear in the entombment of an automobile, all air conditioning and static.
I was never a cyclist. I never wore a helmet or spandex. I never rode to get in shape; I rode because there was something about being exposed to the elements and being able to see, hear, and smell the things around me.
Eight years ago, I bought a bike. It was a hybrid—a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. I rode it everywhere. I rode it to Humboldt. I rode it downtown from my apartment in north Jackson. I rode it to the gym. It was cathartic.
Eventually, the bike wore down, and I never had it repaired. Today it still sits in my garage with two flat tires and severed brake cords.
A few months ago, I was leaving Grubb’s Grocery and noticed a rack of four bicycles just south of The Blacksmith. I wandered over and noticed the name Zagster printed up the neck of each bike and a basket with the LIFT’s logo attached to each. They were all electronically locked into ports. I was intrigued.
After a Google search, I found an article from The Jackson Sun about what Zagster actually was. At its essence, Zaster is a community bike share/rental program that operates from an app that can be downloaded to any smartphone. Once downloaded, you can choose what payment plan best fits you, so I chose the twenty dollar annual membership plan.
Essentially, every time I rent a bike from a Zagster port, my first three hours of riding are free, then it’s a dollar per hour thereafter. My longest ride since June was an hour and a half, and forty-five of those minutes were spent at the Downtown Tavern, so the three-hour limit seems beyond reasonable for your average Jacksonian.
The first time I rented from Zagster, it was a little tricky. It seemed easy enough to open the app and key in the code that matched the bike I wanted to rent. When I did, I could see the Bluetooth working and then heard a click. It took me a few seconds to figure out the next step, which was to pull out the lock from the bike. It shouldn’t have been as difficult as it was; let’s chalk it up to a user error.
I headed first toward the farmers’ market. It was dusk in late June. I turned right in the direction of Airways and took a left on Riverside. I thought Riverside Cemetery would be a nice place to visit—examine the dates on the markers, watch the sunset in the west. The ride was effortless, and I was the only one there. It wasn’t simply quiet; it was cemetery quiet. I spent twenty minutes following the cracked path that snaked through the stones.
Next, I found myself heading downtown. No traffic. The only thing resembling a human was the wooden cutout on the bench in front of the courthouse. The sun was almost gone, and the streetlights were humming. I guided my bike to the Tavern and secured it to a post. I had a bourbon with a friend, and when I left the bar, night had fallen.
My ride back to the rental port reminded me of when I had bought my own Jeep when I was a young adult—the top down on cool nights in early spring, feeling the dew starting to settle in the air. Parking the bike proved to be easier than initially unlocking it, and I headed home feeling refreshed and eager to ride again.
The Zagster bikes aren’t anything fancy. In fact, I feel a little bit like the Wicked Witch of the East every time I ride. The shape of the bike doesn’t lend itself to racing or looking anything like Lance Armstrong. They are cruisers outfitted with a basket and a bell (which is my favorite thing about them, of course).
These bikes are made for strolling on two wheels. They’re made for enjoying a ride downtown or maybe even bar cruising. (Mental note made.) They’re made for the community to enjoy the city in a way that is more personal than a drive in a car or a jog through the neighborhood.
After a few rides, I sat down with Kyle Spurgeon, president of the Chamber of Commerce, who knew a lot more about Zagster than I did. He told me that there are actually four Zagster bicycle ports in Jackson: downtown Jackson, Union University, Lane College, and the Jackson-Madison County General Hospital. Each port is sponsored by a local business with the simple goal of encouraging citizens to be more active and to experience Jackson in a different way. The ports can be moved at any time if a certain location isn’t getting enough use or could be better utilized in another area of town.
Jackson has a long way to go before it even begins to approach being bicycle-friendly, but Zagster is a step in the right direction. These rental bikes offer a chance for us to experience our city in a childlike way and to exercise at a low cost. Most importantly, though, it is one more evidence of progress in a city that has struggled with finding that identity.
Projects like Zagster seem to be popping up more and more often, but they cannot survive without support from the community. Let’s take advantage of these new ideas and make Jackson something more than what it is today.
To learn more about Zagster and to sign up, visit their website, and be on the lookout for a fun mural coming to the downtown port later this fall.
Gabe Hart is an English and Language Arts teacher at Northeast Middle School. He was born and raised in Jackson, graduating from Jackson Central-Merry in 1997 and Union University in 2001. Gabe enjoys spending time and traveling with his daughter, Jordan, who is eight years old. His hobbies include reading, writing, and playing sports . . . even though he’s getting too old for the last one. Gabe lives in Midtown Jackson and has a desire to see all of Jackson grow together.
Photography by Gabe Hart.