Bicycles Built for Two
Doug types too much...
July 7, 2021
When our youngest son was still sleeping in a crib, and even when he transitioned to a small bed, he was sent off to la-la land every night with a music box rendition of When You Wish Upon a Star that played with a twirling painted ceramic Mickey Mouse perched on top of a square painted base. We bought this trinket for probably around $50 at Disneyland on a family trip back in the 1980s. Even after Mickey was no longer needed for nighttime mood-setting, he remained on display as a sentimental touchstone.
We transferred to upstate New York in the fall of 1988 and Mickey got broken in that move. That was a particularly awful move – major items were stolen including my exercise bike and all of Judy’s Rosenthal china from Germany. Due to some shabby packing, lots of knick-knacks got clobbered, but Mickey not being able to turn anymore hit us the hardest.
I took Mickey to an old guy who repaired clocks in his home. He looked at me like I was crazy.
“You could buy another one of these brand new for half of what I’d have to charge you.”
The old man was trying to help me. Our kid would never know the difference and he’d kind of outgrown it anyway. No. I was determined. It wouldn’t be the same in my mind. It was that music box we’d all touched with loving hands and wound up hundreds of times. That was our DNA. For me, replacing it would have been a Pet Cemetery experience. Yeah, I could get one that looked identical, but it wouldn’t be the same.
“I want this one‚” said the man who can’t be moved.
So he fixed it. For twice what it would have cost to buy one brand new. But I got what I wanted. Mickey still sits unmolested on a shelf in our home.
Now that I’ve told you that story, you have your proof that I am capable of falling down the hole where you find all the sentimental fools.
Flash forward to a couple of years before the COVID lockdown.
We had taken our bikes to a high-end Charlottesville bicycle store. You could tell we weren’t their typical clientele. Milling around us were all their “normal” customers – people that take bike riding seriously. Special biking shoes. Little half-helmets. And the clothes – tight-fitting for minimal wind resistance. And yes, some of the men had shaved legs to maximize their aerodynamic super powers. And let’s not forget youth – there was an abundance of that.
We didn’t fit in that store. Especially after they saw what we’d brought in for them to work on.
Two bikes. But not just any bikes – these were dipped in sentimental value on a Mickey music box level. Our bikes are old. Judy’s is older than mine, but mine was purchased as a present in Germany so I know I’ve had it going on 40 years. Both of our bicycles could be considered antiques. Back in the day, they would have been considered very nice bikes, but compared to today’s technology, they are primitive. No do-dads except Judy’s had a light mounted on it. They don’t even have hand brakes. You have to push backwards on the pedals to stop them. There are no gears. Oh, and they’re heavy – did I mention that? Heavy heavy. No one in their right mind would want our bikes unless you were just in the market for one helluva workout on something like a stationary exercise bike, except it’s not stationary. We were the equivalent of folks in the market for a car with pump brakes and no power steering.
The store worker who helped us did not want to. He looked at our mothballed bicycles and wondered why we’d brought them in. We told him. The tires and inner tubes had dry-rot. Spokes needed to be tightened. Plus we both wanted a basket and a hand-dinger mounted.
The store worker went into old clock repair guy mode. “For what that’s going to entail, for another fifty bucks each, I could give both of you brand new bikes with all the bells and whistles.”
What is it with people trying to make sense? I doubled down. “No, we want these bikes.”
There was a reason we wanted those bikes. Those are the bikes we rode on the streets of our little suburb in Massenheim, Germany when we were first married. Those are the bikes we rode in our neighborhood in southern California. Those are the bikes we pedaled in upstate New York. Those were the bikes that traversed the streets of Sumter, South Carolina. Those were the bikes we steered a few times through our housing in Virginia Beach. Get it straight. Those were the bikes.
But since Virginia Beach, our primitive means of transportation had more or less rusted into place, mostly from non-use. We kept them and stored them even though they’d become inoperable. Once we moved to the outskirts of Charlottesville, we didn’t even take them out of the shed. Then we had an inspiration – the kind you only act on if you’ve had one too many glasses of wine. We looked at our forlorn wasting away bikes and decided we would have them refurbished and start bike riding again like we used to. That was the moment we should have backed off. That was the time for careful weighing of the pros and cons and we completely blew past it.
The young guy reluctantly filled out a work ticket and receipted for the bikes. Come back in two weeks.
The bike shop did a pretty half-assed job of affixing a basket to the front of mine – it looked like someone’s first day with an erector set – so they tried to adjust it on the spot. I wasn’t too impressed and management acted like they couldn’t wait for us to remove the bicycles that were tarnishing their sleek cool image. Whatever. We got them home.
Handlebar bell dinger worked. Tried that a few times. We waited a day or two before actually getting on them. That didn’t go well. It was short-lived.
In my defense, the roads in our neighborhood are not good. Far from it. The roads around our house are private and are maintained by a small group of peeps I personally would not hire if they came around looking for work. We’ve lived in our current house for 18 years. Even though our homes are considered resort properties, we’ve seen the road go through several iterations with none of them being satisfactory. Now it’s a mix of old asphalt and dirt complete with more than its share of potholes which the peeps I wouldn’t hire come out to patch occasionally. Just them patching is a half-assed affair – they patch ones they think need it most, then leave other surrounding holes unrepaired. Sometimes it looks like they got to a stretch where they simply ran out of asphalt. Oh, and by the way, the peeps actually OWN an asphalt company.
Okay. So my local road sucks. We’ve established that. Couple bad roads with a ride attempted when you’ve had approximately the same amount of wine as you had the day you thought the bikes should be rescued and you’ve sort of got a cocktail. A Molotov cocktail, but it’s still a potent drink.
When I say the ride was short-lived, that’s an understatement.
If you’ve never confronted a possum, it can be an interesting experience. When encountered, they may opt to offer some aggression, but for the most part, they just roll over and play dead. I’ve come across a few in my time and only got a hissing shriek from one – the others all fell over like Sonny Liston in 1965. We had one in our backyard years ago that I happened on. He saw me coming, froze, and fell over sideways onto the ground. I went over to him and by all outward signs, that possum was not alive. I went up to the house and watched from our back bathroom window. That little guy didn’t MOVE for 45 minutes. Then he stood up and waddled off as if nothing had happened.
My short-lived ride was a possum experience. I didn’t even make it past our corner mailbox. In addition to having a crummy road, it is quite hilly. Not particularly good for bike riding unless you want a super workout. You would get a super workout anyway even with the lighter than a feather titanium framed things all those aerodynamic diehards use, but add a heavy clunky old Schwinn set of wheels and you’re setting yourself up for the possum experience.
Right past the front of our house, a hill goes by our corner mailboxes. I tried to do it, pushing with all my might. I didn’t have enough forward trajectory. I didn’t have enough power in my legs to force the pedals forward. Everything stopped with me perched on the bike. Frozen. Balancing. And then the possum part where you hover in suspended animation for a second or two followed by plopping over sideways onto the ground, entangled in a heavy bike you can’t seem to detach yourself from. If I hadn’t had a few glasses of vino, I probably would have broken bones. But as it was, once I freed myself from my entanglement, I was able to jump up and laugh it off. Judy, who had gone on without playing possum had circled back to laugh a little herself.
We didn’t think about bike riding for probably another year. By that time, our new tires had lost enough air that I needed to go purchase an old school pump. I did that. Pumped up the tires. Then I just looked at the bikes, not wanting a possum repeat. Judy finally came up with the idea of circumventing over into an adjoining housing development where the road was less impaired and was flat for the most part.
Initially, that sounded safe enough. Sure. Let’s try that. And we did. And it went well. We had a nice little ride and decided to do it again sometime. We did it a couple more times without incident. I was feeling pretty good about myself. This past Father’s Day weekend, Judy and I concocted a plan to ride over to the flat neighborhood, but to get there, you have to traverse a short piece of state road with actual traffic. The state road is narrow enough that if cars are trying to get by you, a bicyclist might have to hug the grassy shoulder a bit, so we always stop and pause before pedaling onto that road – we listen for cars, but if they’re coming fast, you might not get over to the flat road housing entrance in time. You might get surprised.
We were fine on the way over. But coming back was a little problematic. Judy cycled ahead of me, so she’d already safely made it back into the entrance for our crummy road resort area. I was about to navigate the turn off of the state road when an approaching car coming in the opposite direction turned into the same spot I was turning.
Ever walk down a hallway or a sidewalk when someone’s coming the other way and you both correct the wrong way and stop, facing each other down in a standoff? Well, that’s what happened with me and the woman driving the car. She was kind enough to stop, but she was sitting mid-intersection, so I remained stationary and waved her through. Nope. She wasn’t having any of that. She tried to wave me through instead. We remained in our face-off stance, each egging the other one on. Finally, I could see she was determined to let me go first. Okay. When I pushed off on my heavy metal beast, the front wheel immediately went into a hole covered by tall grass. The bike stopped, I hung in suspended animation for a second or two, and then the woman in the car got to see Doug’s possum act. She was horrified. Put her passenger window down.
“Are you alright?”
Yeah, of course I was. I’d fallen in tall grass, so the impact was muted. I jumped back up, lifted my heavy bike, and mounted it. I waved her on. I was fine. She remained in face-off mode, continuing to wave me on ahead of her. Okay. If you insist. I went to pedal forward away from the small ditch I’d fallen into and because of the slant I was at, I couldn’t get traction, lost my balance, and possum’d again.
That second one hurt a little. Fell flat on my hip shelf. Now the woman in the car was totally freaked out. Instead of taking advantage of a bad situation and threatening to contact my attorney to sue for damages, I hopped up a second time. Laughing. Partly because I hadn’t yet received the full import of my second fall – that discomfort was still in the process of registering. And then partly because I wanted her to move on. Still she hesitated with the back end of her SUV hanging out in the intersection. I was actually afraid she’d get whacked because of me.
I waved her on again. Nope. She waved me on again. I wasn’t super confident of trying to get on the bike again, but I did, and I’ll be damned. Yes. Three times possum’d. For a moment, I debated getting back up. Maybe if I just really played possum, she might give up and drive on. Or maybe at this point, she was getting off appreciating the free entertainment factor.
I gave up on the possum thing and mounted the bike AGAIN. Okay, I should have just walked it the short half-block home – that would have been the sensible option, but no. I’m Doug Bari. Now it’s just the principle of the thing.
She still waited. By this time, I was laughing even more, getting off on my own comedic theater. As I wobbled the bike away – and I was indeed pretty damned wobbly at that stage of the show – the woman slowly passed me and waved.
I spent the next couple of days with some of my best friends in my older years – heat, ice packs, and Epsom salt baths. Oh, and some Advil candy.
I went to see my chiropractor early the next week and she more or less put me back together.
It was a beautiful day yesterday. I thought about going riding. Thought about it.
When I left for work last Friday morning, I walked by Mickey and figuratively tipped my hat.
I thought of the song.
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true
Hey. Judy and I and the dog are all still here. Living the dream I’d wanted to come true. It’s been quite a journey.
Broken but fixed.