As excitement builds for the Tour de France (will Lance Armstrong win for a 6th time? Does he use steroids? Will his girlfriend Sheryl Crow eat French bread while she's there cheering him on, and if so, will she lose those flat abs?) I thought it would be appropriate to mention that I myself come from a town known for a famous bike race. A lot of you probably don't know this, but Bloomington, IN, is home to the Little 500, the OTHER bicycle race, the one immortalized in the film “Breaking Away.”
I believe I have mentioned before that I am not actually in “Breaking Away,” which was filmed in my hometown before being released in 1979. It was too hot the August they filmed it, so I refused to leave the dirt-filled wheelbarrow in which I liked to lay all day long, reading the complete works of Mr. Marvel Comics (we didn't have air conditioning, so this was the coolest place on our property).
However, many people in my family make appearances in the film (my mom is the yellow blob in the background in the courthouse scene. She got $25 for it, but no SAG card, alas) and my next door neighbors can be seen working the fireworks stand. Most of the kids I went to elementary school with can be seen in the big race scene in the stands, cheering for the Cutters. Everyone who showed up in the stadium that day got one dollar. I believe my brothers spent their dollar on Bazooka Joe, Necco wafers, and Marathon bars. I don't know what my parents did with theirs.
Just like in the movie, there was always great excitement in Bloomington when the Little 500 (named after the “Big” Indy 500 car race held every Memorial Day weekend) rolled around. Originally started more than 50 years ago to raise money for working students, the Little 500 is today the “premier intramural collegiate cycling event in the nation.”
Consequently (when I was growing up there, at least) Bloomington was a very bike friendly town. You HAD to have a bike to get around. The only place that wasn't a strictly bikable distance was the mall, but no one ever wanted to go there when Downtown was so cool.
I myself was quite proud of my first bike, a lime green Schwinn with a white banana seat that I named, fittingly, Green Beauty. The bike, not the seat. As most girls do—and maybe boys, too–I pretended Green Beauty was a horse, and we rode together o'er many a moor and plain (although in Bloomington these were mostly sidewalks and the occasional pile of dirt where someone was doing construction) performing deeds of great derring do, etc.
When I got into the second or third grade, I guess to foster excitement in the juvenile community for the Little 500, the university began to sponsor an art contest: any child who drew the most fitting representation of the Little 500 for his or her age category was given a free ten speed bike.
Then, as now, I had no interest in drawing bicycles. Or men. I was, however, pretty good at drawing girls. In particular, girls in cowboy hats. Generally, I drew these girls riding horses.
I could, however, draw tricycles. Fortunately, the night before the Little 500, there used to be something called the Mini 500. And it was made up entirely of sorority girls, who raced one another on…tricycles.
No, I am not making this up. Come on, it was the 70s. Think Love Boat. Happy Days. Bicentennial. If anyone thought it was sexist that the guys got to race on ten speeds and the girls had to race on tricycles, well, they must have done something about it, because NOW there is a women's and a men's race (and the women's race is NOT on tricycles). Maybe there was a women's race on ten speeds back then, too, but if so, I didn't hear about it.
Well. I KNEW I could draw girls on tricycles. There was no actual call for the sorority girls to wear cowboy hats as they raced. However, there was also no rule against it. So in my drawings, they wore cowboy hats.
Was this why my drawing won, not once, but several years in a row? I wonder.
I never liked any of the bikes I won in this contest as much as I liked the Green Beauty. Ten speeds were ten too many speeds for me. I wanted my no speed, pedal brake bike back.
And then, in college, I got it! I remember the exact moment I was walking down Kirkwood (the main drag in town back then, where you were always assured of seeing an exboyfriend or two) when I saw her in all of her glory chained up outside the Bicycle Garage, next door to the Von Lee theater: She was a no speed. She had pedal breaks. She was bright pink.
For $129, she was mine.
Oh, how I loved Pink Beauty (although that name was too stupid even to me. I began calling her Bikey almost immediately, as did everyone else I knew back then. It was always, “I knew you were in class, Meg, because I saw Bikey on the rack outside.” Or, “I know you went to the Runcible Spoon for breakfast, because I saw Bikey parked in front of it.”). Bikey got me to class, to work, to my boyfriend's house, to the dorm, and back again. Bikey and I were inseparable, until I was forced to bid her the saddest of farewells when I moved to New York, suspecting there was no place for a pink beauty like her there.
And I was right. Because, years later, my husband—back when he and I still made an effort to buy one another gifts, something we no longer do due to us both being completely impossible to shop for—had Bikey shipped to me as a birthday surprise.
Bikey was too precious to take out on the street of Manhattan, however. I knew she would be stolen. Or my skull crushed by a passing cab if I attempted to ride her down Bleecker Street. I put Bikey in storage in our apartment building and—it shames me to admit this—I forgot to get her out when we moved.
Yes! I abandoned Bikey! I felt awful when I realized it, but by then it was too late…I knew she had been auctioned off by my building's super. I hope she found a better home, perhaps with a food delivery person. She would have made an excellent delivery bike.
Since Bikey, I have been bikeless. What bike could replace such a fabulous creature as Bikey? None.
But now that we live in Key West, it has become apparent that, just like in Bloomington, you HAVE to have a bike here. Our realtor rode his bike to bring us the very contracts we signed to buy the house I am currently sitting in! I knew we needed bikes right away, so the third or fourth day we got here, we made the rounds to all of the island bike shops.
I knew what I was attempting was foolhardy. My husband told me it couldn't be done. But I was convinced I could find another Bikey. Yes! Another day-glo pink, pedal-break, no speed bike for $129.
I looked and looked. When I failed to find a bike like Bikey in the island shops, I went online. I searched the paper for used bikes. I saw no bike like Bikey. Worse, I saw no bike that even came CLOSE….
Except for one. A purple bike, whose proportions and wide, comfy seat reminded me of Bikey. However, this bike—which had also been prettied-up with a wicker basked, a bell, and lights for night-biking—was in the SOLD section of Island Bikes, waiting for her owner to come pick her up. I asked if they could order me a bike just like her, but they said: “She's last season. They don't make bikes like her any more.”
It was like a dagger to my heart! Worse, I began to notice little things about the purple bike…that, for instance, carved into her spacious seat were actual grooved purple flames.
SHUT UP! I KNOW HOW COOL THAT IS! YOU DON'T HAVE TO TELL ME!!!
To make matters worse, someone had painted light purple flames on the fenders (yes, there were fenders) and frame.
YES. MORE FLAMES.
I wanted that bike. But I was told REPEATEDLY I could no
t have that bike.
It was all I could think about. I didn't want ANY OTHER BIKE. Even when we found a day-glo pink bike—WITH FLOWERS ON IT—I couldn't get excited about it. Flowers aren't flames. And pink isn't purple. It wasn't MY bike. I wanted MY bike.
Finally, we went back to Island Bikes, checking to see if anything new had come in. Nothing had (or, more accurately, nothing I wanted).
“If only,” I said to the salesguy, “I could buy that purple bike with the flames on it.”
“Why, you can,” came the words that made life worth living again. “The lady who bought it, she took it out and got in a wreck the first day and brought it back and said she wanted a ten speed instead. We'll sell it to you used if you want it.”
YES!!!! I GOT MY BIKE!!!! WITH MONEY OFF FOR THE DENT IN THE FENDER FROM THE LADY'S ACCIDENT!!!!
I can't tell you how much I love Purple Heat (yes, that is what I named her. Because you have to name your bike. It is the law here). She is the coolest bike on the island. I know this because when I ride her up and down the streets of Key West (did you know you can go from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico by bike in less than twenty minutes here? It is true), people stare. Not just stare, but many, many a teenaged boy has shouted threateningly at me as I ride by, “Hey! Gimme that bike!”
Once one gave chase. But I merely laughed at him as Purple Heat carried me far from his reach.
“I'll trade you bikes!” one of them shouted to me today. As if I would take his lowly Cannondale for my fine, fine whateverbrand Purple Heat is, which I don't even know. Or care.
I have had teenaged boys caution, as I passed, “You better not leave that bike unlocked, lady! If you do, I'm taking it!”
As if! I not only would NEVER leave Purple Heat unlocked, but I also keep her inside my foyer, resting comfortably on my hall carpet, right next to the burglar alarm, which I arm every night before I go to bed. No one is getting their hands on my new bike.
It's lovely to have a bike again. Not only do bikes provide convenient and cheap transportation and are completely environmentally friendly, but when you ride one, you are also burning approximately 650 calories an hour…if you pedal enough. That is a huge amount of calories! I couldn't believe it when I read it Shape magazine, because I was like, “You're RIDING on something.”
But you are using muscles to make it go, and that in turn gets your heart going…it's the perfect exercise! Because you actually GO somewhere…like to the beach, which is where I like to take Purple Heat daily. Not to swim, but just to look at the water. We ride all the way out to the airport and back, and it is QUITE a workout, let me tell you.
I will admit that sometimes, as I ride, I think of Green Beauty and Bikey. But not with sadness. I think of them with great pleasure and pride. Because a good bike, while gone, is never forgotten.
And sometimes, just like back in my Bloomington days, I pretend Purple Heat is a stallion, and we go riding o'er hill and plain, and everything is just GREAT, like it was when I was 6. Seriously.
That's it for now. More later.