mad in pursuit memoir notebook

DISPATCHED FROM THE intersection of yesterday and forever

Bicycle Mayhem

Whenever I jump on my bicycle I get a thrill of freedom. It’s so simple.

my bikeIt wasn’t always simple for me. I was late to get the hang of it – maybe 8. My brother (3 years younger) got his two-wheeler while I was still content with my oversized tricycle. I was shamed into figuring it out for myself, on his bike, when no one was around to see.

We lived in a quiet residential neighborhood in north St. Louis, where the sidewalks were broad and the blocks were big and square. Riding a bicycle “around the block” was an expedition for a child. I was just getting the knack of handling my brother’s bike when I set off down the street one late afternoon before dinner. As I neared the corner, a women – red hair and business clothes – crossed my path.

guilty angel?I ran right into her. Knocked her down.

The details of the impact are lost – I don’t think I knew even then what really happened, although a crime scene analyst might find fault with both my steering and brake work. All I remember is that suddenly the woman was sprawled on the sidewalk, angry as hell. She screamed at me while she picked herself up and straightened her clothing. I must have mumbled my apologies.

“You’re SORRY??!! I’m sorry! You’re sorry! We’re ALL SORRY!” she screeched as she marched away.

Shaking, I continued with new caution around the big block. There I was, the pretty-near perfect (if athletically challenged) child, now a criminal. Not that I wasn’t regularly capable of thumping my brother or teasing the cousin who lived upstairs, but this was BIG. I faced my parents over dinner with a newfound sense of guilt, opting for the cover-up. Why disillusion them about me?

Maybe slow-won skills bring the most joy. It wasn’t long after the incident that I was given my cousin’s refurbished English racer, a very adult bike with three speeds. I was suddenly more liberated than any of my friends, who either didn’t have bikes or, if they did, still had “child” bikes. I could go farther and faster than anyone. I could explore. This physical joy, this independence from motorized vehicles has colored my lifelong cycling experience much more than the trauma of knocking someone down – maybe part of the joy is in gaining enough mastery to be in control and to know that I could ride 10 miles every day for a decade and never knock another red-haired woman on her ass.

July 23, 2000