Friday, February 12, 2010

Dear Jenny

In October I walked into a bicycle and sandwich shop in Provincetown, almost as an afterthought before leaving town. It was a blustery day in the off-season -- which I contend is the only time to see Cape Cod – and our visit to the Edward Gorey House was the priority item on the itinerary for the day. Going into the bike shop made me feel like a little kid again, in that I wanted just about everything there, but could not afford anything at the time.

There were picnic backpacks more practical than baskets, but less aesthetically pleasing. Even on sale, they were more than the $10 I had given myself as a vacation allowance. There were colorful horns in the shape of pig heads. Weeks later, while watching a documentary about one of the entertainment venues in town, I learned that the awards granted to drag queens were these horns, but repainted metallic colors. The store was geared toward tourists, but was not filled with the typical schlock. To me, it seemed intended for the person who was so inspired by the beauty of the Cape as to suddenly need picnic and cycling equipment. Somehow, having gone to Provincetown every autumn for the last five years, I had never stopped into the shop.

I do not remember exactly how it happened. Maybe Interstatement pointed her out to me or maybe I stumbled upon her myself, but it was love at first sight.

I notice color. Her strong, yellow frame radiated amidst rows of boring navy and black frame bikes. Her handlebar grips and saddle were both leather with visible x's of stitching on the grips. This was a bicycle that begged to be ridden proudly about town, along the beach, and through the beech forest. Her name: Schwinn Jenny.

After a bit of swooning, we departed, heading back into the cold, October rainstorm. Try as I might, I could not get her out of my head. I fantasized about riding her around town. These were not general fantasies, but detailed ones that included various outfits and destinations.

Then it occurred to me. What if she's good to take 'round the block a few times, but doesn't have what it takes to go the distance? What if she's all style and no substance? Like any love-struck fool, I stalked conducted some research before making a move. Who else had taken her out? Did she disappoint? Did anyone actually ride her 'til the wheels fell off? Ten pages worth of Google searches showed that nobody out there has been talkin' smack about my Jenny. On to phase two.

I recently adventured out to WilliRico with Interstatement because he wanted to visit Scott's Cyclery, and I gravitate toward old factory towns, especially ones I spent lots of time in during the 90s. This is another place I somehow never stepped foot in, even though I was in Willimantic at least three days a week for four years. I was not even 100% positive where it was on Main Street, and as a result, we schlepped a heavy folding bike from where we parked on the other end of the downtown. While he barraged the owner with questions about things I did not have any vested interested in, I wandered around the store, this time feeling less oppressed by my financial situation; soon, I could spend a little money again.

Among the new bicycles and related equipment were some old-as-dirt bikes, including a Bone Shaker. I quickly found an inexpensive set of fenders for my daily bike. There was a nice range of bicycles that I would actually ride in the shop (i.e. not those crazy racing bikes with curvy handlebars that do absolutely nothing for me aesthetically or physically) and after exhausting the main part of the store, I headed back toward the repair section. It was here where I saw her: my Jenny. She was next to an adult Trike, folding bike, and the BoneShaker.

My heartbeat quickened. I inched the surrounding bikes away from her so that I could marvel at close range. Things blurred. Next thing I knew, a worker was holding my credit card as collateral and I was putting on a helmet so I could ride Jenny around the block. Only days after a snowstorm, the roads were gritty and a little icy. There was no slipping or skidding. She shifted gears without a hiccup as I headed up the hill toward the hospital. If I could have ridden home, I might have just kept going, not because stealing from a local bike shop is cool, but because it ached to return her. I promised the clerk that I would return in a few weeks for her.

When the big day arrived, I called ahead to make sure Jenny was still there. It would have been a long drive followed by a hard letdown had I arrived to see her spot in the shop vacant.

Our first time was not in the middle of a sunny afternoon like I'd imagined, but late at night. Every jolting pot hole was muted by her springy saddle. The return trip home was even later, nearing four in the morning. She softened the blow of being awake at that hour.

Our first real time together, though, when everything jived, was only just today. It was in the mid-30s, bright, and a relaxing end to a chaotic week. She beckoned.

We meandered out of Frog Hollow and arrived at Constitution Plaza downtown. The paved path along the Connecticut River was cleared of snow and ice more than most sidewalks I have seen this week. We passed a handful of people out enjoying Riverside Park. After taking a few victory laps in the parking lot by the Boathouse, we headed down the unpaved path. This was a rougher ride. The Jenny handled better in the snow and on loose rock than I was expecting her to.

We saw animal tracks, a sign warning us of the firing range, and a tree that was mislabeled with a poster that read "bike." She shifted effortlessly on hills. Even with the layer of snow, she put on the brakes faster than my other bicycles are able to in dry conditions. She handled the mud just fine, thankyou. Most importantly, I did not humiliate myself by falling off her during our first daytime ride.

On the way home I spotted the Barrio Style bike and his owner. It was like getting a glimpse at a celebrity while wearing Prada and riding in a limo, for a change. Except in this case, the limo was my Jenny, and she was looking foxier than any car I have seen in this area.


Brendan said...

How is it at dirt jumping?

schleppi longstocking said...

Not sure yet. When the snow melts and there is dirt to be had, I'll let you know. She handled well on the ice, so I'm thinking of hitting the ice races.