Wednesday, June 17, 2015

My New Ride

Looks like a 'Harriet' to me.
On a sunny Sunday a month ago, James and I took a different route home through the Village and we passed a big antiques shop that had metal trellises and galvinized tubs and other garden-type stuff out front. And there, chained together near the entrance, was a bunch of rusted bicycles. 

This one caught my eye.

What I liked about it so much was that it kind of reminded me of the bike I had as a kid. (Granted, mine was turquoise and had a 'buck seat' in back instead of a wire basket in front, but nevermind....) And this old rusty one looked like it was missing its little girl....

Well. I was old and rusty and missing my 'little girl', too. We had a lot in common.

I carefully looked her over, inquired inside about her, and asked James for his opinion, too. But I still walked away, wondering if this interest was just a momentary bout of silliness. I swear the bike looked hopeful for a second and then crestfallen! And on the rest of the way home, I kept revisiting memories of my own bicycle and the adventures we had together. It's been 40 years since I last rode a bike, but I can still remember the thrill. Who wouldn't want to revisit that if they could?

The memories were so strong. They kept me awake that night....

So the next morning I walked back to the antiques shop -- this time with some art money -- and I asked again about the bike. It took forever for the ladies there to find the key that would cull her from the rest of the herd, and afterward I tried to perch on her seat and urge her forward (in spite of her flat tires), just to see if I could do so without being frightened. When I saw that both feet could touch the ground easily, I bought her without thinking too much and walked her the rest of the way home.

James filled her tires that evening and dared me to give her a whirl around the block, but I was too self-conscious. What if I fell? Skinned my old knee? Broke my old hip? A friend my age had warned me: she tried out a new bike before purchasing, fell in the parking lot (to her embarrassment), and didn't hurt herself so much as scared herself, and she cautioned me to at least get a helmet before getting back in the saddle. So I used the 'lack of helmet' excuse to keep from riding her in front of James.

But the next morning? Safety gear be damned. I had to see if I could DO this after all these years. 

I was wrong. It's a 'Gladys.'
So I leapt on my new ride (a lie; I very sedately walked it to the curb, perched awkwardly on its seat, and tentatively got it going in a wobbly forward direction without falling off) and pedaled her around the block a few times. No sharp turns, no hard stops. All as easy-peasy as possible. Every passing car gave me a wide margin. And I imagined myself looking like a juggler on a unicycle, comically over-exaggerating my actions to make the audience think that at any moment I'll hit the ground. (That wasn't acting.)

There was much squeaking and jerking and flailing, but after a few near mishaps we sort of hit our stride together and I experienced a quick rush of memory: me as a kid on my Big Bike, the arch of its turquoise frame like the neck of a horse. It was my steed, carrying me to adventure. I'd kick it forward and throw my leg over its back like a trick rider, then gallop down the street no-handed, the wind in my hair....

No lie: that wind in my hair once again was exhilarating.

I rode again the next morning, this time to Postage Stamp Pond and back. Baby steps. Even though I'd lubricated some of her moving parts, we still groaned and squeaked our way through the streets. She didn't try to buck me off or turn me back towards home again like the day before, either! Progress. As we trotted together around the neighborhoods I kept thinking about a name. This bike looked like a 'Harriet' to me, and all the way home again I kept trying it out in my head.

That afternoon my Eldest phoned to ask me about my purchase and to surprise me with a tune-up at the nearby bike shop. A tune-up! Suddenly everything had gotten serious. But, I wondered, when my bike and I showed up for our appointment would the guys there laugh her out of the place? Would they laugh ME out of the place?? There was only one way to find out.

Not wanting to ride her there and risk wiping out spectacularly (or otherwise looking ridiculous), I walked her the few blocks to Jerry's Schwinn and braced myself for the comments. But the young man there who'd written up the order ran a hand over her neck and said, "Ooooh, a classic. She's in really good shape!" He could tell at a glance that some parts would need replacing and he wasn't sure if they were even available anymore, so it would take a few days before I'd know whether or not she could be restored to decent ride-ability. But he promised to take good care of her.

As I returned home, I kept imagining what I would do when it came time to pick her up again, promising myself that I'd get James to drive there with his car so we could just load her up in back and I could try her out again in private. But within a few days I got a call saying she was ready, and to my surprise I immediately hung up the phone and walked there with my claim slip. A different man was behind the counter. "So the Beast is going home!" he laughed, and I cringed a little bit. This would be interesting....

I almost look like I know what I'm doing!
As he led my rusty steed out from the back room he said, "I tried it out and have to say it moves pretty well for an old tank." More cringing. With the subtraction of my tune-up I had just enough dollars in my pocket for a helmet, so I chose a blue one and tried it on for size. The man showed me how to adjust it to fit, and I paid for it without taking it off. "You gonna ride 'er home?" he joked as he held the door for me. I hesitated. Originally I thought I didn't have enough for the safety gear, and that would've again been my Big Excuse. But I was armed now. So I gingerly climbed aboard and took off.

And I didn't stop.


I rode along the river, past my high school poetry teacher's former cottage with its white picket fence, past grand new homes made of brick and stone and money. I struggled up little hills, my thighs burning. I flew down little inclines, my braids flying. 

As I pedaled, I kept thinking about the little girl whose bike mine might have been. Did she go on adventures? Pretend her bike was a horse? Did she take it to the library for some summer vacation reading? Ride it to the corner store for gum or popsicles or comic books?

It's been a glorious month since my bike and I first made eye contact, and during that time we've been everywhere together, or at least everywhere that doesn't involve traffic or other bikes or too many obstacles.... Not comfortable with the name I'd dubbed her, my new ride insisted on being called 'Gladys,' a far better fit. And at first she tried throwing me from potholes and steering me into ponds, but I think that had more to do with my 'bikemanship' skills than any headstrong attitude on her part

Interestingly, James has also fallen for her charms. He's surprised Gladys with a fancy bike lock (as if anyone would steal her) and has tempered her old seat with a new gel-filled cover so that this rider isn't quite so saddle-sore after galloping across summer afternoons of sunshine and butterflies. (He's also checked into getting a similar bike of his own!)

Since my purchase I've seen other 'coaster bikes' for sale at flea markets and novelty shops. Others in far better shape than Gladys. Higher priced than Gladys, too. But she and I are a good match. It makes me happy to think I've rescued her from possibly becoming some woman's garden ornament, and I imagine her gratefulness for this second chance at adventure. Yeah, a new bike might possibly have been cheaper than the repairs I just paid for (not by a long shot, as it turns out). 

But you can't buy good vibes and memories.


  1. Congratulations and wishes for many years of amazing adventures for you and Gladys. Last year I received an adult 3-wheeler, and got it a tune up, new tires, and me a helmet within a couple of days of ownership. I enjoyed a couple of parades and am looking forward to "tarting" it up a bit for the coming season. (And getting the Doctor's okay to ride it.) Enjoy! Nettie<3

    1. Thanks, Nettie! (A comment -- I wasn't sure what to do at first, haha!) Happy future adventuring with your new ride. Does it have a name?