I love my bike. I love my bike and I am not five years old; I am sixty this fall. I have ridden a bike since kindergarten and it is still my conveyance of choice.
My first bike was too tall and mint green. It was a gift from my grandfather, who doted on me calling me peach cake. I rode it all over our suburban, Westchester neighborhood; a development called “Poet’s Corner”. I chased boys on Keats, smashed the curbs on Longfellow and lurched into the Lytton woods. My brave unflinching kitten rode with me, and pretended we were pioneers. It was my first taste of freedom.
I eagerly traded those two-wheels for a series of jalopies, and yet I returned to my first love when I moved, in 1972, to Greenwich Village to work in experimental theater. I was poor, really, does that even need to be pointed out. Even today the phrase experimental theater conjures only long hours, dank spaces and minimal remuneration. The bike was a miracle.
I would ride home from LaMama, the renowned home of experimentalism on East Fourth Street, in inky darkness, after endless rehearsals. Time spent in theaters is akin to gambling halls: low light, no clocks and alternating moments of exuberance followed by screams of despair. After such work, the time alone, gliding home for free, without having to descend into the subway or splurge on a cab, seemed like a gift.
And it still does. I love leaving an uptown theater date where my middle-aged friends jostle for cabs, or slog through slush to the subway, while I mount my 1968 green Raleigh and power myself home. There are fantasies aplenty astride my bike. I am young; I am always young on my bike. I am free and full of energy and proud that I am still powering myself through the streets of my much-endeared city.
Isn’t love the ability to find wonder, joy and appreciation in a partner even after decades. Yes I adore my husband, our two children, our old loft and the panoply of kittens parading through our lives. But I also love my bike for all it gives me.
I can only imagine the money saved in 38 years of dedicated riding. I worked for years producing festivals and parades, among them New Years Eve in Central Park and Bicentennial events. I ride my bike everywhere, snow, sun, sleet and black tie. It gives me a calm feeling of separation after fraught meetings. I can peddle on to the next location while others gnash their teeth over slights or mistakes. I rode back and forth to help launch the Big Apple Circus, often feeling that I too, had tiny private acrobatic moments as I peddled from TriBeCa to the Church of Saint John the Divine where we shared start-up space.
I repatriated to LaMama after graduate school, intent on bringing MBA management practices to the wild world I cherished.I was working there when I went into labor with both my children (who, destined to grow into well-behaved theater kids, had the good sense to be born on Saturday nights when the office was closed”). This is not as crazy as it seems. It calmed me and my midwives were supportive, shoring me up with the notion that a woman should, and can do anything to which she is accustomed. And so slowly I plodded homeward on my bike, horrified at the notion of getting into a cab with a stranger in my delicate condition.
I’ve had bad bike moments; the course of true love never does run smooth. Bikes stolen, or missing seats or a wheel. There were accidents, yes. I was clipped by a cab on Sixth Avenue, tipped over by a German Shepard on Varick Street and both times I limped home pushing my broken bike. I got too drunk to ride home from a party at the French Consulate on upper Fifth Avenue and left my trusty steed locked to a pole. The next day I walked the length of Fifth searching, as I had no idea where I had abandoned it. Remarkably it was still there.
My bike sits in the corner now as I write. It is at the ready. It will carry a full rasher of groceries in its capacious metal basket. It has carted children to and from PS 234 and around town to playdates, ice skating and of course theater. For a time I rode both my kids to elementary school; my son in a kid’s seat and my daughter with her bottom in the basket and feet slung over the handlebars facing me. She screamed, “ We are not a circus family!” and begged to be let off a block before school.
They grew, found their own bikes, metro cards, and abilities to both hail and pay for taxis. But one evening, after a show at the Public Theater in the East Village, my daughter and I emerged and decided to have dinner at our loft. I began to ride away and she called after me. “Hey can I ride home with you? Can you still do that?”
I paused, circled back and she hopped on the seat and I stood to peddle. As we headed south I was hollering, “ We are not a circus family.” But I think in some way the bike provided a loving through-line uniting a family forced to juggle, balance and keep riding forward through any conditions. That’s love, isn’t it?