My new bike? Red. Red shiny shiny red. Bought by friends. Comes with a bell. Zooms across crunchy fallen leaves under cider-gold sunshine on blue-sky days.
At the bike place, the guy said: “So this is going to be your little red wagon from now on, huh?”
Except he didn’t know that it would also be my spy-mission zoom machine, the dial set to “ultra toast”.
Same thing, really.
At the sidewalk cafe in Lincoln Square over eggs florentine and orange juice, I started asking what-if questions. As in, “Would you still like me if…” questions.
–What if… what if one day I turned crazy? Like, just out of the blue?
–Ha! No, really. What if one day I just turned crazy?
Which, while not the answer I expected, felt comforting.
I’m staring out the big plate glass window of the coffee shop on Clark Street watching the road construction and wind collide: gales of dust blow in curlicues over the street, across the park with its weedy running track, over Carol’s Country Western Bar and the bank with the flashing sign offering pizza when you open a checking account. Cars and bikes navigate the orange cones and yellow caution tape and dust.
When Patrick visited from D.C. last weekend, he couldn’t believe how many streets were being ripped up, how they’re always fixing or unfixing something in Chicago.
In high school I edited the school paper, and in service of the last issue before I graduated, I parked my parents’ car by the side of a two-lane road to shoot a photo of an orange construction sign that said “Road Work Ahead”. We put the photo on the back cover that June, and I thought it was pretty profound. Road work. Y’know, like our personal roads?
This weekend my college friend Adam hosted his annual get-together/Homecoming footballl extravaganza/bar night (which Patrick chronicled). We caught up. People have switched careers, created one-year-olds, bought houses, grown beards, earned degrees. It was an easy sort of catch-up, the kind that only happens with old friends who’ve seen you change so much.
So this morning I’m watching the construction outside and the dust and dead leaves and trash swirl, and the brown puppy tied up outside stares around with worried eyes and sniffs the air.
Right now it seems profound, but really it’s just simple: When I snapped that photo of “Road Work Ahead”, I didn’t know that there is no road. There’s just work, of all kinds — on yourself, your relationships, goals big and small. There’s just work, and there’s just ahead.
Long ago I stumbled on a Wikipedia description of a Swedish series of children’s books about an imaginary family of imaginary beings called The Moomins. They sounded weird and whimsical and philosophical and goofy. I mean, listen:
“They are a family of trolls who are white and roundish, with large snouts that make them resemble hippopotamuses. The carefree and adventurous family live in their house in Moominvalley, in the forests of Finland, though in the past their temporary residences have included a lighthouse and a theatre. They have many adventures along with their various friends.”
But then I pretty much forgot about this resolution to read them, until one day when I passed the Swedish museum on Clark St., and I saw them in the window. THE MOOMINS. Duh. Of course. Hello, Moomins. I began with Moominvalley in November, in honor of the fall. It starts thusly, which is perfect:
“Early one morning in Moominvalley Snufkin woke up in his tent with the feeling that autumn had come and that it was time to break camp.
Breaking camp in this way comes with a hop, skip and a jump! All of a sudden everything is different, and if you’re going to move on you’re careful to make use of every single minute, you pull up your tent pegs and douse the fire quickly before anyone can stop you or start asking questions, you start running, pulling on your rucksack as you go, and finally you’re on your way and suddenly quite calm, like a solitary tree with every single leaf completely still. Your camping-site is an empty rectangle of bleached grass. Later in the morning your friends wake up and say: he’s gone away, autumn’s coming.”
— Tove Jansson
This weekend I rode to Cincinnati via Megabus, a six-hour tour through the Mid- of the Midwest, so Mid- that we passed wind farms and wheat fields and skies devoid of personality. Like, if I were to interview a cloud animal:
–So, Cloud Shaped Sort of Like a Bunny, what do you do in your spare time?
But there are boring ways to do nothing (Megabus) and amazing ways to do nothing — with Amanda, Charlie, Kirsten and Mark.
Like: Pick handfuls of tiny orange tomatoes from the community garden plot, shop for dinner ingredients at the local market; spread out the Sunday New York Times to read at a picnic table, one section after another; walk long loops around an old cemetery until Amanda busts out her GPS to find our way back. Take long naps, sit on the porch with a beer and a book; head back to the same coffee shop for more reading; more talking; more lounging, and then — when it’s time to go — find that your weight of your thoughts has shifted, is lighter, is light itself, maybe — as you board the bus again.
I’ve had an emotional year, mostly in a bad way. But today. Today I’m getting a new bike, thanks to more than 20 people who pitched in to replace my stolen one, for my birthday. Especially thanks to Kevin who decided This Will Not Stand and organized the drive.
So now I’m here, stunned. Most bad things happen in a rush-crash-smash. But sometimes good things happen just that fast, just that furious, with way more force than it takes to cut a Kryptonite lock.
It’s swift magic, this friendship, translated into liquid currency, translated into a bicycle, and I am humbled and fortunate and ready to ride — maybe fist-pumping like Bender at the end of The Breakfast Club; grinning like a total maniac, about this whole lovely thing.
My bike has been stolen. I’m not totally sure what to do. It makes me all swimmy-sick inside. I know there are larger problems afoot. I should be joining a socialist revolution and wearing clothing made from hemp and eating vegan from the garden. But really I just like to bike. I like wind and whirring and the rhythmic crink-crink-crink of the chain, and the way a bike is almost nothing, a slip of metal, so you too are almost nothing but a bit of metal, a bit of wind and whirring and crink-crink-crink. So I am almost thirty and almost stranded, but not stranded at all — I have a car from 1993 and a city of public transport; and it’s not that at all, it’s not that I’m stranded really, it’s just that things seem much closer via two wheels.
Update: Well, in a dizzying display of amazingness, there is a rally underway to defeat the bike thieves by replacing my bike via group solidarity. I am… totally speechless.