You can’t go home to a trailer park and farm in North Carolina again, not after living the simple bicycling lifestyle in Chicago for three years. It’s not that folks from my hometown read my blog and hate me for portraying them as bumpkins, a modern and predictably crappy remake of Thomas Wolfe, simply that my way of seeing the world has changed dramatically in the past few years.
A Vanity Fair article I read years ago aptly described my military hometown as a mix of strip bars and Baptist churches. Growing up, I itched to get out of my city; it was an ill-fitting sweater that took 16 years to wrestle off, catching my limbs, pulling my nose, tangling my hair and finally releasing me as I gulped for fresh air. My yearnings were basically the cliche teenage feeling that there is a big world going on without me – not a world of parties and glamor, but a world of pedestrians and cafes. I had fantasies of sidewalks, which I knew existed from TV and rare visits to family in Massachusetts, and a hazy idea of “culture” that my city lacked.
My hometown is a pod world, where the city functions only as a series of tubes to travel from pod to pod. Pod 1 – house. Pod 2 – friend’s house. Pod 3 – Walmart. Pod 4 – chain restaurant. Each pod may be lovely, filled with laughing family and home-cooked meals and loyal pets, but there is no in-between. No journey, all destination. Walking and bicycling are abnormal, left only to the most desperate populations. Nashville looks like Copenhagen in comparison. If this all sounds a bit too Kafkaesque, then I’ve described it accurately. Unless I’m a pretentious city girl who’s forgotten where she came from, which is possible.
I sometimes idealize my in-laws’ farm as a country sanctuary, and while I sit at my work desk, in my head I loll on a porch swing twisting grass with my toes and talking to earthy great-grandma Lula who lived to 100 years old, but I’m not prepared for what lies outside – a narrow 2-lane country highway with no shoulder leading to truck stops and gas stations. The stark reality is that I would have to create my own culture: cook my own Thai food, bake my own to-die-for Bavarian cream donuts, perform plays masterfully in my own head, be my own yoga teacher, grow my own bouquets and fill my own time. A thrilling fantasy, but a daunting and lonely reality. What makes for a wild, free-range childhood would make for a suffocating adulthood.
Everyone’s different – and I’d love to hear from the country mice out there – but I say: Give me a train outside my window, different languages whirling around my head, throngs of people, bright lights, buses, sidewalk cafes, neighborhood pubs, theaters with Shakespeare and ballet, art museums, and – most of all – bicycles. I belong in the city. I’m home again, simply to a new home.
Grams at age 10 with her new Schwinn bicycle (and cat!)
There was hard work to be done on the Wisconsin farm where my grandmother grew up, but as the baby of the family by nearly 10 years, she was doted on — her sister Dorothy even took Grams along on dates to the drive-in.
Grams did let Dorothy ride her Schwinn once — but the story goes that Dorothy was not a very skilled rider and promptly crashed into the merry-go-round their dad had rigged up out of a plank and a wagon wheel. Grams still remembers the scratch it made on the fender.
Biking with my brother over the Fourth reminded me that our first bike rides ever were taken together. The last time I visited my parents, I dug up some photographic evidence.
These Schwinns were our first bikes ever. We got them for our birthdays (both in April — yes, this is what April looks like in northern Minnesota) in 1985. Charlie was turning 4, and I was turning 5. Training wheels were the way to go back then…
Here I am frowning at the handlebars (this bike stuff was serious business) while Mom adjusts Charlie’s bike and Uncle Bob looks on.
Getting to know you…
Meanwhile, Charlie barely fits on his bike! Moments after Mom let go of the handlebars, he was off…and crashed in the woods since he didn’t know how to brake yet. Oops. I think we may have this on video somewhere.
The holiday weekend found me in Indianapolis visiting my brother. On Sunday, we rode the Monon Trail from his neighborhood to downtown, a roundtrip of somewhere around 14 miles. The trail, built along the path of an old railway was beautiful, the snazzy Bianchi bikes we borrowed from a high school friend were nimble, but the best thing about it was spending some time riding bikes with my brother again.
Charlie and me on our borrowed Bianchis.
This is an old favorite hobby of ours, as you can see.
Charlie and me, with our bikes in 1987.
We’re no longer quite so blond, and I no longer carry a groomable dog toy with me when I ride, but other than that, things were pretty much the same as when we used to ride around our neighborhood in Minnesota, or to the convenience store from our house in Alabama: fun!
One of our most loyal readers is my grandma. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts and – to my surprise – bought a folding bike last week. I decided to take this opportunity to learn more about her history with bikes. Without further ado, I present a Let’s Go Ride a Bike exclusive: very special interview with Gram.
Gram Folding Bike – Jahon
What made you decide to buy a bike?
I hadn’t ridden in a long time but you inspired me to start again.
Warning: this is a total Friday post, with gratuitous cuteness and only a minimal connection to bikes. My next post will be all Batavus, so enjoy the break.
I got to see one of my favorite babies on Sunday night. His mom, Ashley, is one of my best friends and put up with me for three whole years while we were in college, so it’s always a treat to catch up with her and her family. Rowan was looking adorable as always, and I got a kick out of his little outfit — Ash knew I’d appreciate it! Anyone have a guess as to what kind of bike Pooh is riding on Rowan’s onesie?