I Blame Hugh
A little while back my friend Hugh over at Hugh's Bicycle Blog conducted a bold experiment in cycling: he (on purpose) purchased a bicycle from WalMart and took it home.
No, he really did. This seasoned veteran of Old Steel rehabilitation took real dollars out of his pocket and plunked them down for one of those bicycle-shaped objects that they sell at that Hell Hole of Crap and took it home for a little New Steel rehabilitation. Now, trust me when I tell you that I am a loathsome hypocrite. Almost everything I own comes from this Son of Sam. The keyboard I am typing on came from there, and I cuss a little cussing as I have to inexplicably go back every few sentences and re-type the capitol “I's” because this verdammdt piece of crap not only makes me go back and fix something but because it also reminds me that I use a capitol “I” way too much.
But so what? It's my Booger, ain't it? Yeah, man it's all about me! Whee-hoo!
Calm down. I'm in it too, you know. said the Voice.
“And me too!” said the Blonde.
“And me!” barks Toby the Trouble Puppy.
“Daisy, do you want to chime in on this gruesome Greek chorus?”
“Of course not,” she says. “I am far too dignified to demand attention. I rely on my innate Yellow Labrador nobility and statuesque beauty to get my way. Besides, dogs can't talk.”
That's what I was gonna say, said the Voice.
“She's not a full-blood Lab, ya know.” said Toby.
This is what happens when I try to type while listening to morning radio with a hangover.
Wait, There's More
O.K. So let me stop libeling my friend Hugh and gossiping about his descent into Wally World. Instead, let me wallow in my own recent transgressions: I did it also.
WalMart is the single source of bicycle inner tubes in my village. (Except for the pseudo LBS by the Interstate that charges eight dollars for a Sunlite tube and meanwhile I am being pestered by salesmen to look at fake Harley Davidsons and four-wheel-drive bush whackers.) So while out there picking up some tubes, some much-needed underwear and this season's six pairs of socks, I ventured to glance at the over-stuffed two-story racks of new so-called bicycles that I would never consider and can't afford anyway even if I did consider.
And yet, there she was.
Shiny, black, new...and huge. The biggest bicycle I ever saw. This beautiful creature was so large and disproportionate to the other bicycles that she looked somehow royal. This was a two-wheeled Clydesdale, a fitting steed for Cycling Royalty such as myself and I really did need a new Beach Cruiser, didn't i?
Well, it is true that you gave away the old Mongoose, and the recently refurbished Little Miss Dangerous has no business on the sand...but this is a WalMart bicycle! If you buy this bike I'll have to stop talking to you. And if you are cycling royalty, you must mean the Court Jester.
Seals the Deal
That was all I needed to hear. Armed with the knowledge that such a vile transaction would not only get me a cheap-ass beach bunny but might also forever rid me of that nagging Voice, I started planning my evil plans. I did what I always do when planning a Big Ticket purchase: i start figuring out how to get someone else to pay for it and then I dive into the deep end of the Internet. The reviews there were much as I expected: all over the place. It is, after all, the cycling forums. But one note was struck throughout: this cheap piece of crap could indeed be ridden, after proper tuning, some serious remedial application of lithium grease and selective replacement of key components.
That is just exactly what Hugh did with his wally-bike experiment, and he was pleased with the results, and said so. And Hugh is the kind of guy I listen to. He ain't sellin' nothin' or running for office.
One Man's Diet Is Another Man's Bicycle
Having refrained from beer for three weeks in a failed effort to lose fifty pounds, (I lost fifteen then bought a keg) I had a little extra cash. Well, a LOT (for me) of extra cash. Enough to make the purchase. So I did. I bought the second new bicycle I have ever owned.
Memory Lane (Can't Be Helped)
The first (and only, until now) new bicycle I ever owned was a Schwinn five-speed Stingray. One day Ricky Roberts and I were out riding figure-eights in front of my house. We were doing these slow figure-eights and spitting at the junction of the loops in a contest of accuracy and saliva having and flirting with infinity. We both were riding our beat up old sting-rays cobbled together from the huge parts pile behind Ricky's house. My Mom came to the door.
“It wasn't me Mom! Ricky was spitting and I was trying to dry it out by riding my bike over it!”
“Come in here for a minute.” It was only fifty feet to the front door but it was a metric century (lol) of concern and tribulation as I racked my brain for what recent crime I had committed. There were plenty of crimes to consider, but I was primarily thinking about which ones she may have caught wind of. I figured I was relatively clean but judging by her stern tone it was something serious. By the time I reached the front door I was fairly confident that whatever it was I could somehow pass the blame off onto one of my little brothers. I stepped into the living room.
“Tim Joe.” The same threatening tone.
“Yeah, Mom?” My step Dad was there, too. Weird. He had a funny look on his face.
“We saw your report card.” Uh oh.
“I can explain...”
“You got straight 'A's. But you also got a bunch of 'unsatisfactory behavior' marks.”
“So I went down there and met with your teacher and the principal. What a couple of assholes. Go into the kitchen.” This was seriously weirding me out. My step Dad had a really odd look on his face and I was certain that whatever was in the kitchen would be bad. But ever was i brave and thus, into the kitchen I went.
There she was. A brilliant, purple, glistening Schwinn five speed Stingray. The one with the big wheels and the stick shift. The very bike that we boys had almost daily made a pilgrimage to the local bike shop (Old Man Gillis's place) to venerate. All the tags and stickers were still on her. I started yelling.
“IS THIS MINE?! FOR ME? YAHOO! WOW! I CAN”T BELIEVE IT! CAN I TAKE IT OUTSIDE?” The odd look on my Dad's face was him trying to suppress a giant smile of pride. In those days that bicycle represented a big chunk of his take-home pay.
“You take that bicycle anywhere you want, honey. And listen to me, sweetheart. As long as you keep getting those straight 'A's' you don't have to take any shit from anybody. But you are always going to have some asshole trying to tell you what to do. Always. The hard job I want from you is learning to tell them to go to hell in a way that makes them think they won.”
Wise words, Mom. Wise words indeed and a lot of miles and a lot of hardship have passed since you told me that. I have not always got the best marks but I have tried. Sometimes the assholes got the better of me, but not always. Not always.
But Things Don't Always Work Out
I remember riding the bike out the front door and into the street. Ricky Roberts was a block away, drawing or writing something in the dirt. When I pulled up on my new stallion, he didn't even notice.
“I heard you yelling in there,” he said. He looked pretty bad. “Were they hitting you?” Everyone on the street knew that Ricky and his big brother Randy's drunk-ass Dad hit them. It was 1967. Three years later Randy got wasted in cross-fire outside of Khe San. One night ten years on down the road a friend told me that he had been there and had heard about it, and while the story never came out, it was two Long Range Patrols that shot the shit out of each other in the dark and the rain.
I put the kickstand down on my new bike. I have to remove a flip-flop and put it under the kickstand so it doesn't sink into the sand. We don't get spectacular sunsets on the East coast of Florida, but the Sun goes down all the same. This new bike looks pretty damn fine in the waning light of a pretty good day. I turn and look at the Atlantic Ocean. It is big, and Life Its Ownself is big and small, and listen: it is hard to grasp it all. I resolve not to try. As for me, I'll settle for momentary glimpses of life outside of myself; and the realization that i am not alone. We are all interwoven and while a new bicycle can bring much joy there is beauty and grace and a certain splendor in everything. There is beauty and grace and tragedy and hope and all we have to do is look. It is right here in front of us.
Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Filosopy Phactory