I rode a bicycle today.
My wife and sons bought me a bicycle for my birthday. It’s a Schwinn. Looks like a tank, rides like a sofa. I haven’t ridden a bicycle in twenty-five years. That is to say, I think I haven’t ridden a bicycle in twenty-five years. Who the hell knows what I’ve been up to for twenty-five years? I sure don’t.
We live on what’s called a city lot. It’s only sixty feet wide, and fronts the street with only twenty feet or so of setback. The street I live on used to be the main road into town from west of here, but they built a highway behind our house, along the river, and our road became the one less traveled by. People still drive way too fast on it. Many of the houses are empty in this town, and people think “rural” and drive like it everywhere here. I don’t let my younger son ride his bike on our road alone.
I mentioned “people” earlier; but for all intents and purposes, there are no people here. Western Maine is emptying out; some collect in the southeast appendix of Maine — Portland — and the rest plain leave. There are few people and no children. Fewer people and no children has been a dream of many in my lifetime. It was never mine. If you saw what it looked like, it might change even the most hardened heart about the concept.
I wanted my son to ride his bicycle. I wanted to ride a bicycle with him. My wish was granted. A wish granted is wonderful thing, truly. I put the bicycle together in the basement a while ago, and waited for the 21-day bout of torrential rain to let up. Today is in the low eighties, and sunny. It’s Sunday. Let’s go, dad.
The entire town of Rumford is on a hill of some sort. Steep ones. The front of my house is two storeys tall, the back is four. It’s daunting to ride most of these hills. We dashed down our street over a couple of humps and valleys, and found a lane that’s tilted like a bockety table instead of a rollercoaster, and pedaled back and forth on it for a pleasant 45 minutes or so. The road is being repaved, so only the scratch pavement is on it, but it’s the smoothest patch of pavement in town. The underground structures wear orange cones for party hats here and there, and make it jolly to dodge around them. The pines have shed their needles for the season on the street, and mix their perfume with the smell of fresh rain and flowers in the air. The road goes from noplace to nowhere, and there are only a half-dozen houses on the whole length of it, and you can ride as you like without risking a flattening.
I’d forgotten the idiot joy of being on a bicycle. I rode a half-length behind and to the left of my little son, and the look on his face reminded me of it immediately. It’s gently, gently uphill one way, and then minutes of long, languid cruise downhill the other way.
Slow down, dad, and let me win!
I’m sorry, but there is no way you can win, son. I’ve won already.
(Many thanks to Kathleen M. for her constant support of this website)