July 29, 2010

The Curious Case of the Blue Bicycle

Six years ago, I bought a bicycle at a garage sale. I was living with my parents that summer in their townhome on Alfred Hitchcock Street. At least that’s what I call it. It’s actually S 154th St. It forms the terminus of their subdivision, a very normal circa 1990’s development, with all the streets coming down the hill and ending there at 154th. On the opposite side of the street, for four blocks, stretches and endless row of pastel duplex townhomes – all – exactly – the – same. But I wasn’t consulted when they bought it and even had I been, I’d have had no say, so when I needed a place to live the summer before I moved to Lincoln, I couldn’t quibble (much).

I was selling the five-bedroom ranch in Gretna and buying a one-bedroom condo in Lincoln, just a mile south of the University of Nebraska. I was not about to invest in an outrageously expensive parking pass (which really only amounts to a hunting permit), so instead I invested in a five dollar bicycle at a garage sale just up the street from my parents’ home. It was pink, or, more properly, magenta. It was an old cruiser, with only three speeds, a wide, brown leather seat, fenders, and a basket on the back. I’ve never been a pink girl, but for five dollars, I wouldn’t quibble (much). The cute boys at the Monkey Wrench, the bicycle shop in downtown Lincoln, told me it was from Poland, manufactured sometime in the Sixties, and somewhat unique.

I rode that bicycle back and forth to work and endured much guff for it from the tough military folk at the ROTC office where I was secretary. They called it a “Dorothy” bicycle. (Never mind that in the Wizard of Oz, it had not been Dorothy who had a bicycle with a basket on the back.) I crisscrossed campus between classes, dodging pedestrians who never heard my calls of “Left!” thanks to their ubiquitous mp3 players. I took a tumble once, when one of them dodged the wrong direction, sent me off the curb, over a bump, and flat on my back on the concrete.

The untouched young man actually pulled his earbuds out as he stood over me as asked “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” I gritted. “I’m fine.” I was also terribly pissed off and wanted him to go away before I peeled myself off the pavement and did him an injury. He hurried away sticking his fingers back in his ears.

That bicycle was my main mode of transportation for over a year, until one night as I bounced home along the cracked sidewalks of 16th St, the chain bounced right out of the basket. I never found it. Nor did I get around to replacing it as promptly as I should. A week later my magenta bicycle was stolen from where I had parked it outside of Anderson Hall. I reported it to the campus cops, but nothing ever came of it. I trudged around campus for a month, lugging my heavy backpack, and missing the big basket, teasing and all.

When next I was in Omaha, I went garage saling again with my folks (it’s a family hobby). In short order I found another bicycle. Oddly enough, it was the exact same type, only blue and lacking the basket. It made me happy, as I had greatly enjoyed its pink sister. There must have been a dearth of Polish cyclists in the area in the Sixties. I paid twenty dollars this time for the blue three-speed cruiser with the black seat, and another fifty to have the Monkey Wrench boys put a basket on the back, but I still thought it a good deal.

Over the next five years I’d add LED lights on the front and back and a bell on the handlebars. When the basket would come undone, I’d stop into the Monkey Wrench and they’d replace the zip-ties that held it to the frame. Eventually, I secured it more permanently with a bungee cord, now worn and frayed but still doing its duty. Every spring I shelled out for a tune up and was always amazed at how much better it rode. I never fixed a tire (and miss a chance to visit the cute boys at the bicycle shop?) or oiled the chain myself and I always stored it outside in the rain and snow and sun.

Don’t let that cause you to think I didn’t appreciate my bicycle. I did. On all accounts I found it rather perfect. It would spend long hours parked in front of Architecture Hall, and it would always cheer me to find it still there when I emerged in the wee hours of the morning. Even in winter, I rode all but a handful of days. When I was hit by a car on East Campus and the basket and all its contents sent flying out in the middle of busy Holdrege St, the sturdy frame didn’t bear so much as a dent. The bruise on my thigh lingered longer than it took to repair the bent spokes on the rear wheel.

When the time came to move to California, I was rather disappointed to learn a bicycle can cost a hundred dollars to ship, especially if you have to pay someone to disassemble, pack, unpack, and reassemble it for you (and having never learned much about bicycle maintenance it would certainly have been necessary). For a twenty dollar bicycle with a fifty dollar basket and a five dollar bell, I just couldn’t justify the cost. Spring turned into summer and my August departure date grew close. I hadn’t ridden since May, having lost the key straight off my keychain somewhere between Chicago and Denver. The bicycle sat chained and unloved at the rack behind my brick building all summer.

Until last Friday, that is, when my father came to help me move some furniture and brought a pair of bolt cutters with him. He cut the chain and I thought no more about it, having no need of it that weekend. On Monday morning, I walked the four blocks to work much as I had the past two months. But when I came home Tuesday night and noticed it gone, I let out a quiet curse. I had been trying to sell it, true, or just give it away to a friend I thought would appreciate it, and here it had been stolen. Who would have known that this week, of all weeks, the chain had been cut off? It was hardly visible there where the weeds had grown up about the wheels. It made me sad not to see it there anymore, despite my recent neglect.

Today is Thursday, and my coworkers and I (in the three-person Office of Rural Health) walked up to get a burger at the new place on P St, just across from the Monkey Wrench. As we walked back, I was lamenting the loss of my old blue bicycle and the magenta one before that. Two bicycles in six years isn’t so bad, I thought, especially as neither was very expensive. As we reached the corner of Fourteenth, I glanced to my right at the bicycle rack in from of Jake’s Cigars.

“There it is!” I cried, practically on the heels of “I hope whoever got it is making good use of it.”

We walked over and I checked the blue frame for the telltale gold bell and frayed bungee holding the basket on the back. Sure enough, it was my blue bicycle, rusted bits and all. Nor was it chained to the rack. We glanced into Jake’s but saw no patrons and no one staring back at us clustered around this old bike. So I re-stole it.

“We’ll see if anyone comes out after us,” I said.

“I’ll take care of them if they do,” Mike offered with a grin.

We all agreed on the walk back to the office if whoever had ridden it there had believed it was theirs legitimately, perhaps having bought it from the thief unwitting, they surely would have locked it up. I may have stolen it from someone quite innocent, but I can’t bring myself to feel sorry for them. They can’t have paid very much for it, even if their intentions were good. It’s more likely I stole it back from the thief who stole it from me in the first place. And although I don’t need it and shall be looking to give it away soon myself, I didn’t hesitate to dish out a little of their own medicine. I didn’t entertain Tom’s advice to call the police for more than a moment, not for such a petty thief (who might very well be a neighbor). It would only have ended in a he-said-she-said scenario anyway.

So now my blue bicycle, twin sister to my magenta bicycle, is returned to me. When I get home tonight, for the first time ever, it will go up to my apartment rather than being left down at the bike rack. Now that it is returned, I wonder if I should not ship it to California after all, if just for sentimental reasons.

After all, it feels as though I have found it three times now, rather than just one.


bookbird said...

this is a beautiful little story that I just loved!! What an awesome bike. I think you have a real knack for writing as well! I just found your blog... and now I will keep reading it :)

Monica said...

Thank you bookbird!

Update: we decided on a U-Box instead of palettes. For all my boasting about needing less, I still had too much stuff. LOL. But the good news is that we now have space to ship the bike. It will be going to sunny California with me, basket, bell, rusted bits, and all. :-)