Article and Photographs by Jonathan Piret – Recycle-A-Bike Instructor & Manager at Hostel Buffalo-Niagara:
“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” – Simone Weil
About 50 years ago, a 12-year-old girl from Williamsville stood at the corner of Utica Street and Elmwood Avenue and it came to her that Buffalo, NY, would be her home forever. Today with an endless array of colorful hats, sunglasses, outfits, bells, horns, yarn, bumper sticker slogans, and found objects, she has become a fixture in the Elmwood Village. A warm, charismatic, and soulful woman who loves astrology, the spiritual world, the uncanny, people, nature, performance art, knitting, Jesus Christ, and her tricycle. This is Madonna.
Her mother was a wonderful homemaker known as the Queen of Williamsville because she was the most stylish woman in the village. Her father was a well-known WNY athlete–a semi-pro baseball player. She came from a large family and was the 5th of 7 children. Madonna moved to Buffalo in 1974 and walked everywhere for decades until chronic headaches, knee and back problems forced her to stop. It was in 2007 she found her remedy by randomly skimming through one of the hundreds of magazines she receives monthly. “It seems like yesterday. It doesn’t feel real. It’s just what I was supposed to do.” She saw a tricycle and ordered it (on her father’s birthday, which was symbolic to her). She has ridden it almost everyday since, claiming it resolved her afflictions. “My knees bother me more when I walk than when I ride my bike.”
A proud owner of a vibrant workman cycle trike named Simone after her favorite religious, spiritual, and philosophical writer, Simone Weil. She retreats daily to many of her favorite spots in the city such as Forest Lawn Cemetery, Delaware Park, and the waterfront. She is a usual sight for locals of Bidwell and the Elmwood Village and definitely a head turner for newbies of the city, which she doesn’t mind. “It’s great, I’m alive and it makes them feel alive.”
Identifying with her sign, the Sagittarius, she compares herself and her trike to that of a centaur–an extension of herself. Last year there were only a handful of days she didn’t ride. With the hard winter this year it has slowed her down a bit although she still feels it’s been easier for her to ride than to walk on the sidewalks. “When the weather’s bad, biking is like having a cane or walker. You can just lean on it.”
She is a mother, and a woman of many talents: performance artist, singer, hat maker (she also knits bicycle seat covers), poet, volunteer, professional baker, comedian of one liners (“Did you hear about the girl who didn’t pay her exorcist? She got repossessed!”), professional clown, nature photographer, collage artist, dancer, and is currently looking to learn magic. Her performances can be anywhere at any time, from the Lexington Food Co-op parking lot to the front of Globe Market to the Albright Knox’s annual Art Alive event. She loves entertaining and connecting with her surroundings and the people around her.
Riding, she says, is an important element in her life–it grounds her. “I want to look at the trees and the sky. I’m lost when I’m not in nature. Like an old aboriginal saying, everything feels like a dream because that’s what it is. When you ride it’s called dreamtime.”