I am buying a
new car. It is a necessary component in my life, what
with being a suburbanite. The automobile is required
for securing provisions. It is also necessary to my
earning a living. I am obliged to commute fifty miles
roundtrip every day I work. Also, unless I am so
inclined as to lead a retiring life at home and there
take my entertainment from the television or my
bookcase, the car is my only means to the theater, or
to the homes of distant friends. Buses, trolleys, or
trains are few and far between.
I grew up in this community where my friends were all
neighbours. During my childhood here, we could walk
or pedal to each other's homes. Beyond the borders of
Levittown, Pennsylvania the country still persisted
with farms, dairies, and a few stables where you
could hire a horse and explore the rural terrain.
(Not that I did this. I feared horseback.) It could
all be reached with a long walk or a short bike ride.
Three decades later it is gone.
The last time I took a long walk in suburbia, I was
stopped at an overpass across the highway by a sign
forbidding pedestrians. My destination was a
Starbucks, a few hundred yards away. I had never
noticed the sign when driving past. My only
alternative was to walk miles out of my way, adding
hours to what should have been only ten more minutes.
I ignored those signs.
The present neighbourhood remains a different world
from my childhood, when the countryside was closer
and the rural routes nearly deserted. Beyond the safe
streets of the immediate community, the roadways are
now thick with traffic and dangerous to a bicyclist.
Serious bicyclists transport their bicycles on racks
mounted to their cars, taking them to parks where
trails have been laid out for their pleasure. I have
long since given up bicycling.
The new car will be a black Honda Accord EX Coupe
with leather interior, CD player, moonroof, electric
windows and driver seat, ABS brakes, two airbags plus
two more in the sides, and a five-speed manual. It is
hard to find a manual. Most of the public demand
automatics. That is why I must wait for the car to be
manufactured and, having ordered it in February, do
not take delivery before the end of April. It was
while I was negotiating the price
of the car down, that I learned my salesman was a
bicycle enthusiastic, so I offered him mine.
Digging through the mounds of debris that fill our
two car garage, so much detritus that nowhere is the
floor visible, I made my way to my old bicycle. O my,
how it has suffered this disrespectful retirement. I
didn't realize the sad shape to which I had allowed
this poor bike to decay. Shame on me.
Forgotten emotions billowed inside upon seeing this
old friend in such sad shape. Over thirty-five years
ago my father made a gift of this bicycle to me.
Pushing my heavy Schwinn twenty or thirty miles was a
pain, so he treated me to a Raleigh International, a
touring bike. British Racing Green. Reynolds 531
aluminum tubes. Brooks professional racing seat.
Campagnolo components. Knock-off wheels. Bizarre silk
tubeless tires, which, on an afternoon and almost
ninety miles from home, went flat while I was racing
down the side of a mountain near East Stroudsburg .
That bicycle was more than a machine to me. It had
been a companion. There was the impression that all
our trips were accomplished together, a mutual
endeavour that required an almost telepathic
symbiosis. It was alive for me and I loved it. Think
of it as a cowboy and his horse. I felt fretful about
leaving my bike out of sight in strange places. My
bike was always at the ready whenever I tired of
where I was. Seeing it upon my return, ready to
take me away, it was my constant agent of salvation,
rescuing me from wherever I was and carrying me away
to wherever I wanted to go. We went everywhere
Once, I was stopped by a couple of bullies. I'm not
much of a fighter, more of a coward. They had me
pinned, blocking my bike and me. I would not fight
back, try as they might to goad me. I stood there and
took the insults, the slaps and pokes. And then one
of them spit on my bike. With no time for thought, it
was all a flash, I was off the bike, kickstand down,
had bodily lifted the dastard who spit on my bike and
threw him several feet, head first against the brick
wall of the local school. So little concern for
myself, yet so quick and determined was I to protect
I could have seriously hurt the poor fellow, and
maybe I did. He sat there at the foot of the wall,
disoriented and swaying. I went over to help him, but
the other kid stood in my way, yelling something
about being his brother. I had to impress upon him
that my concern now was only for his hurt brother and
I wanted to see if he was okay. They left me alone,
the one helping the injured other to stumble home.
But I tell this story only to explain my attachment
to my bike.
Here it was, many years later, and there was my poor
friend, my bicycle, dilapidated and crippled, lying
on its side on the garage floor. I was almost in
tears. It wasn't entirely my fault. I had lent that
bike to my son. He never loved it or cared for it as
I did. Then it was also loaned to a friend of the
family, whose indifference - well, I shouldn't be
bitter. At any time I might have rescued my bike,
restored my mechanical friend; it is all my fault.
And it broke my heart to see the pitting on the
chrome, places where the paint had worn to the
primer, cobwebs. But the reason I was even looking
for the bicycle is because I found someone to take
it, someone who is willing to restore it and use it.
He was someone who said he would derive pleasure in
the repair and refinishing, someone who loved to
ride. I feel I have found a good home for my old