Friday, January 15, 2010

And you're beyond

Today someone took my bike. I left it on the sidewalk by the trash cans with a sign taped on that said, free. And someone took it.

A dark red bike, a coaster, a straw basket wired on back--I bought it on a sunny Saturday when I lived in Lexington, newly single, unattached. A day for a solitary ride.

That day the bike man hauled his twenty or so reconditioned rides to a grassy median in the neighborhood, set up shop as he did every weekend during the summer, and sold each one for whatever he could get. I saw the bike, walked around it, squeezed the tires, hopped on and took a ride down Walton thinking to make the purchase there and then. The pedals worked; the brakes worked; and the size suited me fine.

I liked many things about my coaster: its rich and tasteful color, its tires with crack-crazed and ageing tea-patina’d walls. Most of all I liked the speed with which I could ease to the left out my short driveway, peddle down Cramer, around the playground, and up Bassett toward Kent and Minda’s house. I could pump up their hill, park by the porch, and settle into the swing for a glass of wine. In a world full of complexities, the bike could ease me to my destination with simplicity and efficiency.

When Ira and I moved to San Francisco the bike came with us. We forced it, wheels akimbo, into the already-overloaded van. It was the first item out as well. Here in the avenues and car-less much of the time, I’ve used it to coast down to the post office at Geary and 21st.; I’ve felt very European hopping off at the Richmond Market, filling my wicker basket with red and yellow peppers, beets, fresh dill.

On bright weekends Ira and I would take his bike and mine to the path that follows Ocean Beach. We'd ride against the wind, with the cracker-box houses of Sunset to our left and the misting and glimmering span of the Pacific to our right. Worries about parking and fueling were lost on those rides. I ignored the failing brakes and disengaging gears. For a mere 50 dollars, I had purchased freedom and brought it West with me.

On my first bike getaway, I rode with the Casparian sibs, Pete and Donna, on the winding, road from Clinton to Columbus, bumping over concrete bridges and swerving by stripped tires and aromatic roadkill. We stood and pumped up hills, and coasted between the lower fields. Dad picked us up at the park and documented our journey in snapshots. He treated us to frozen custards before heaping bikes and friends into the back of the farm truck and delivering us safely home.

On a grownup journey years later, my friend Barbara and I crisscrossed the flat streets of Key West on our rented bikes. We dodged roosters in Little Bahama and eased down Duvall and Southard, rolled through the stop sign on Angela and skidded on gravel as we cut around the sweltering cemetery. I can’t recall where we were going on those days, but I remember how we got there, cooled through time and space by the journey itself.

On a bolder expedition we left Gare St. Lazare in Paris, stepped off our train in Vernon and rented bikes to ride the 4 kilometers to Giverny. Already heady with bike-bought freedom we celebrated with an outdoor lunch of roasted vegetables. By the second glass of wine I was sobbing enthusiastically, caught in a circle of emotions brought on by wine and my all-too-recent divorce. I couldn’t finish my meal, and before getting back on our bikes we asked the waiter to package our leftovers for a later dejuner.

He emerged from the kitchen and in his hand was a small white plastic box containing my mushrooms and couscous. This carrier was, he said, a container detached from his own refrigerator. In French the shaken waiter explained to the still-crying me that he since had no carry out boxes, a part of his refrigerator would simply have to do. So–-still tipsy and now laughing--Barb and I hopped back on our wheels and headed to the gardens of Monet.  We left sorrow at the table. On a bike it’s just that easy–-get on and you’re beyond.

The childhood bikes, the rental bikes, the breezy San Francisco bikes-- they’re all a blur now, each one in a sequence of photo frames that signal, take me, rent me or to give away. An ending? No. Those frames click toward the next ride, the simple spinning wheels, cool air passing, and carefree moving forward once again.
photographs: Barbara Talan