Friday, August 05, 2011

Perspective Shapes Meaning

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

It was quite a change.

At first I was shocked at how soft my legs had gotten. It had been years since I’d done much riding. It was a decision made in summertime. Then the weather began to change. It had been even more years since I had ridden in the dead of winter. Once my legs were in a little better shape, I was reminded again and again of what a great deal that white Azuki ten-speed was when I bought it in 1973 at Dee‘s Bike Shop.

Perched on the Brooks leather saddle, 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. The perspective I had regained felt good. It was once a view of life I had appreciated quite a bit, so it was like an old friend had come back to town.

As an automobile expands our range, it also seals us off. While time can reveal new truths, in order to see more deeply into selected memories, it seems others must fade away entirely.

After going a full year on the bike I had a confidence in myself that I couldn’t remember having lost, but it was nice to have a measure of it back. Some time after that 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 desperate hands clutched her face.

When I came within a few feet of her mangled small SUV, the sound of utter despair pouring out of her caught me off-guard; her crying pierced my practiced detachment. Although I didn’t know her, for a few seconds my heart raced. 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 woman crying inconsolably. Pedaling harder I pushed the haunts that were surfacing back into their storage place.

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'd changed over the years, with regard to heights. The daredevil boy who had once climbed the WTVR tower for grins had been body-snatched long ago.

Crossing the bridge the bicycle chain churned smoothly, sounding precisely as it always had. 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, for a good while I’d been too scared to get close enough to a woman to hear her cry.

Now that bicycle is gone. It was stolen yesterday, so my perspective on it has changed. It had outlasted a marriage, three live-in girlfriends and nine motor vehicles.

Upon realizing the bike was missing I felt that familiar numbness creep over me -- the feeling I get when I‘m coping with the news of a death. As I walked around the lower Fan District looking through alleys for the stolen bike, of course I dwelled on favorite memories to do with the departed. I’ll share just one of them:

In the mid-70s I went for a ride in a gentle summer rain, which was not an unusual thing for me to do then. There’s a pretty good chance I had smoked some pot before I took off. As I rode east, away from my Fan District home, the rain came down harder. To complete the picture I was wearing a pair of cut-off jeans and a pair of Converse All-Stars.

The complete scene has remained fresh; I can vividly remember riding fast and fearlessly down the hills on East Franklin Street, just past the Richmond Newspapers building. The rain felt great falling onto my bare skin. As it was a Saturday there were no cars on the road. Flying toward Capitol Square I trusted my bike, absolutely.

Yes, I've thought of that afternoon's wild ride a thousand times. Now, like it or not, my perspective on it has been shifted into a new gear.

-- 30 --

-- Words and photos by F.T. Rea

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