Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Perspective in Motion

After decades of driving automobiles, mostly small station wagons, over the same city streets, nearly five years ago your narrator switched to using his then-29-year-old bicycle as his primary ride.What a change.

It had been years since I’d done much riding. It was a decision made in summertime. At first I was shocked at how soft my legs had gotten. I got over that with a lot of pedaling. Then the weather began to change. It had been even more years since I had ridden in the winter. Once my legs were in a little better shape, I was reminded again of what a great deal that bicycle was when I bought it.

That damn bike has outlasted a marriage, three live-in girlfriends and nine motor vehicles.

Perched on the seat of my trusty ten-speed, exposed to the elements and staying alert for signs of physical threats, I began to notice things mostly ignored rattling around town in motorized metal boxes on wheels.

In my travels I came upon an accident involving several vehicles. As I negotiated my way around the debris on Floyd Avenue near the post office the sobbing of a young woman caught my attention. She was seated at the wheel of one of the wrecks. Her hands clutched her face. When I came within a few feet of her mangled late-model whatever, the sound of utter despair pouring out of her caught me off-guard; the sound of her crying pierced my practiced detachment.

Although I didn’t know her, for a few seconds my heart raced as if she was dear to me.

If I’d been in a car I probably wouldn’t have seen or heard her. Pedaling away it dawned on me that it had been a long time since I had been that close to a young woman crying inconsolably.

A few days later riding across a small bridge over the expressway, a car nudged me too close to the railing and I glanced over at the traffic going by under the bridge.


The sense of being up high and uncomfortably close to the drop-off flipped a caution switch in this old goat’s head.

After a deep breath I enjoyed a private laugh at how much I've changed over the years, with regard to heights. Somewhere in my mid-30s, the daredevil boy who had once climbed the WTVR tower for grins was body-snatched; he was replaced by a nervous bozo quite uncomfortable with heights.

Perspective is so important. A high perch can allow us to see more, in a way, but that obscures small details. An automobile expands our range, but it also seals us off. While time can reveal new truths, the process puts a new set of blinders on most of us.

Crossing the bridge the bicycle chain churned smoothly, sounding precisely as it always had, as I wondered if I’ll ever get too scared to ride my bike across such bridges. Maybe I’ll even be afraid to ride at all, one day, I chuckled.

After all, I’ve been too scared to get close enough to a woman to hear her cry for what has become a long time. Now I have to push away from the keyboard to go fix the flat tire on my bike, a chore I’ve already put off too long.
-- 30 --

Photo: SLANT

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