My idea of a happy bike ride doesn’t so much involve physical fitness, but rather mental fitness as I see what the city’s up to – leaving the Magic Bus behind and exposing my senses to all the stuff of living that’s on my route: sporadic dog barking, the gentle cacophany of vehicle traffic, the crunch of the bike’s wheels over dirt and gravel, leaves overhead applauding my progress and splashing me with blobs of sunshine as I ride beneath them. So after what seemed like 50 years of being away from it, and being graced with no rain at last, this morning I pushed my old bike into the driveway and pedaled off to see what was new in the ‘hood.
I needed the full experience of the wind through my bird’s nest hair, so I took the bold and dangerous step of riding without a helmet — ah, authority-defying bliss! The erratic breeze fingered my scalp like an invisible masseuse. Around the corner I wheeled, past the watermelon pink crepe myrtle blooms and onto the boulevard. The bike’s rock-hard, ancient seat squeaked its own commentary as I glided past the coffee shop that lay in silent wait for its late rising patrons. My wrists took a jolt as I bumped through a pothole — ouch! — and I wobbled down the imperceptible slope of the wide, wide road. Joggers huffed down the center path in all manner of attire, including the shyly smiling older man with stringy shoulder-length hair wearing a pink tutu. The bungalows, with their porches doubling as bibs as they waited to nibble a tender morsel of visitor, slid from front to side vision, each displaying their exterior finery of ripe mulberry, silvered sage, pale blue and sunset gold. There went the simple iron sculpture of the man being held up by a handgun, then the empty doghouse that barked at me as I passed its hidden eye; there was the ordnance being used as yard art in the two-story’s shade garden. Velvety Mexican sage and lime green ginger and periwinkle morning glories extended friendly blossom-hands to me through wrought iron fences. The parking lot of the taco joint where I could get a beer before noon was filling up, but I didn’t stop. Later, maybe. Live oaks stretched a thousand leafy arms across the side streets to form shady arches and pushed their feet up against the sidewalks to create small peaks and valleys to keep walkers on their toes. Condensation frosted the old library’s windows. A single file of casual bikers flowed easily, unhurriedly, in the opposite direction, each bike customized with a low-rider frame or chrome fenders or a sparkly seat, each rider resembling his ride.
The sun was higher now and the shade was heading for its own siesta as I rode out from beneath the oaks. Sweat loosened my sunglasses as I passed the thrift store. I could almost smell the universal second-hand store odor as its door swung, and see the clothes arranged by color and style, rack upon rack. Bargains to be had, assuredly, though not right now. I continued on. Faint strains of “Turkey in the Straw” sifted through the breeze as a nearby ice cream truck trundled along. A parrot squawked. Wind chimes tinkled. Cicadas whirred. A raccoon scuttled into the sewer.
Past Mexican landscapers hanging onto mowers that bucked like fractious mules I coasted, along the familiar grid of streets where no two houses were the same — each one stamped its own footprint and flaunted its favorite color. Lead and stained glass windows glowed, yellow and purple and red doors lounged insolently atop gleaming wooden stoops. I slipped past a church, an auto repair, the se habla espanol lawyer’s office, the vet’s house. It seemed like I would have to ride off the end of the world before finding two alike of anything here. Truly, there’s nothing like riding a bike in the city, this city, where everything changed daily, like the specials on a restaurant menu. I’ll have the unexpected, please, with a side of surprise.
The heat had gathered quickly. Already it was time to wind down the ride, find a glass of water. I should have started earlier; next time I would. The too-short spin had been magical, leaving me with a smile.
I opened my eyes, and the tableau disappeared. The occupying army of identical trees surrounding our ruraburban house closed ranks. The lid of silence slammed down. I got off the bike and went into the brown house to get the water.