It is the last Saturday of summer here in Bloomington, Minnesota and an absolutely beautiful, picture-perfect sunny and breezy day. One might think that because I titled this piece “a beautiful day for a bike ride” that I actually have been on my bike recently. The truth is, my bike is hanging upside down in the garage, it’s alongside my husband’s bike and neither of them have been ridden since moving to Bloomington from St. Paul. That is thirteen years. We purchased them new on the way home from our literal “day in court” back when we lived in St. Paul.
Our house had flooded during a heavy rain the day we moved in. Since our neighbors behind us volunteered to go to court on our behalf, having witnessed the home flood multiple times over the years, despite the previous owners written responses to us denying that flooding had ever occurred. What we had not taken into account is the previous owner had left an appointed position on the St. Paul city council, granted to him when a friend of his moved into a different position. The owner had a recognizable name on the East Side of St. Paul in athletics, his cousin had not yet become the heart-throb catcher for the Twins but he had earned his own fame at that time in college football. He was already off at his new college coaching position when we had signed a purchase agreement with his wife who was coordinating the for sale by owner transaction. In retrospect, even the city of St. Paul inspection felt like a slimy inside job when various “missed items” were pointed out by our insurance company within days of the closing. The letter from the judge denying our claim arrived in the mail less than twelve hours after the proceedings, likely because they had been mailed before we were ever in the courtroom. We left the courthouse that day saying that we knew that we were telling the truth and that we knew that they were not only lying but that their three daughters (who were currently playing at our new neighbor’s home down the block) knew that their home had flooded and as a result knew that their parents were liars. We sensed by his arrogance and her inability to establish eye contact in court that the matter was resolved but we had a peace in knowing we were honest people. It would be over eleven years and three coaching jobs later that his name would arise in a prostitution sting. His poor wife, his poor daughters. Today is the kind of day that is perfect not only for a bike ride but for a football game as well. His gig at the time of his arrest was with a private St. Paul high school which I’m sure did not appreciate their name being pulled into such a news story and let him go immediately. I’m unclear if he is back to coaching, always having had a buddy who helped him out in the past.
On our way home from court that day we stopped and bought bikes for ourselves. We cranked the music in our car and drove home with the helmets on, singing along to the radio at top volume. Even knowing they had “won” the case (if that is what you call taking advantage of honest people) we knew that there was less joy in their car ride home than there was in ours. We used those bikes when our own kids were learning to ride, to go up and down the block with them. On rare occasion we would venture to the nearby paths of the park system. After our move to Bloomington, I was scheduled for an ankle surgery and since that repair and recovery I have simply never opted to get my bike down. Living in the suburbs has meant getting in the car for every activity from grabbing groceries, getting to work or attending activities at the kids schools from elementary through high school.
Growing up in Minneapolis, bike ownership was a key to freedom. It was how you got places, from your athletic commitments to friends homes and around the chain of lakes. Unlike kids with cell phones today, your bicycle was the most valuable asset you had and it was a big responsibility to keep track of it, secure it when you went places and get it in the garage at night. Even forty years ago petty criminals sought out the easy mark of an unattended bike or cut the locks or availed themselves access to ones that had been secured. Few things annoy me more than bike thieves. They strand their victims and somehow think that they should possess what someone else worked to own. I feel fortunate to have never lost a bike to a thief and equate the value system of a person hoping to earn quick money that way to the same sort of values that allow an adult to stand in court and lie for personal gain.
I will share with you briefly the bikes which I have owned over my lifetime. Briefly, because it is too lovely of a day to remain inside at my keyboard. I remember riding up and down Vincent on my red tricycle from about age three on. Danny Shay, Anne Taffe and I would race up and down the block. The Shays had a long black-topped driveway that gave a preschooler the sense of the open road. We were just shy of the Big Wheel craze that kids younger than us enjoyed with low-rider plastic trikes. We were old-school metal trike kids. Shortly after Danny got a bigger red trike my father purchased a red girls bike with training wheels for me. I will admit that I made him adjust the training wheels about one hundred times because I wanted the stability of my trike. Unlike my tricycle that I was able to make a wide U-turn on, with the bike I rode four houses in one direction, got off, manually turned the bike, remounted and rode four houses in the other direction.
I had gotten that new bike in the fall of kindergarten, shortly after turning five, as the tallest girl in my class until sixth grade (at which point I stopped growing) I had outgrown the red starter bike in only a couple of years. My mother “invested” in an old balloon tired bike that had been poorly repainted a pale blue. It was a rummage sale purchase that allowed me about an hours worth of enjoyment before the rear tire went flat. My father was convinced the tire was filled immediately prior to the sale. A few weeks later that June, my father, mother and I took the family station wagon to a bike store in Little Canada where my father explained we would be purchasing some rear-tire air, which I guess was different from what was available at the ’76 gas station around the corner from the house. While waiting for a clerk to assist us, I admired several of the banana-seat bikes with chrome sissy-bars on the back. The plastic tassels hanging from the handle grips that would blow in the breeze as you peddled furiously. Then came the confession, we were not there for “back-tire air” at all, I was getting a new bike as an early birthday gift. I can think of few occasions in life where I was so excited and surprised. The bike I went home with that day was a thing of rare beauty. It was a Rollfast brand, with a deep raspberry pink paint job. It had the most beautiful seat, a glitter filled gel in the same deep pink. The long handlebars were exquisite and I’m certain the white wall tires made it go faster. I could transport items, like my softball mitt in the plastic front-mounted basket, replete with yellow-centered daisies. On a sunny day like today, I would suggest looking at it with sunglasses on, the chrome was that brilliant! This was my bike throughout my preteen years. I still remember putting an ad in the local paper and selling it to a single mother for her seven-year old daughter, years after I had outgrown it. It was hard to part with because it was like selling a great memory, part of your childhood.
For my thirteenth birthday I got a cobalt blue Raleigh Grand Prix ten-speed that took me many places throughout high school and summers during my college years. It was a beautiful bike and was in my folk’s garage a couple of years into my marriage when a family friend inquired as to if I was willing to sell it. I was over twice as old as I was the year I got and I was pleased that someone else could make good use of it.
Those are the bikes I’ve owned. Sure there were others I rode over the years, heavy ones that spent their twilight years in the gravel-floored garage at the cabin. They took me in and out the road to the mailbox over many summers. The funky collection of bikes owned by my best friend’s family, a few of which carried the two of us at the same time to high school in often comical fashion. I have so many great memories of times spent on bikes and simply writing this has been incentive to next spring get that egg-plant colored bike down from the garage ceiling, fill the tires and get back to making some memories on a bike.