A sentence in here ends, “lonely for something I did not know.” That was how this got written, too. This was the start of something for me, some kind of accounting I cannot quantify, and that is still going on, and which is going someplace I cannot imagine or anticipate.
I worked all summer as a laborer for a bricklayer and instead of putting the money toward college I bought a bike. It was a used bike but it was light and looked fast and pretty. It was $500. The guy I bought it from told me I couldn’t ride it in sneakers so I went to a bunch of bike shops until I found one that had shoes with wooden soles like he’d told me to get. The guy at the bike shop told me I couldn’t ride in my t-shirt and gym shorts but I didn’t have any more money. I rode in my t-shirt and gym shorts and jeans until I saved up some money and rode to a bike shop 40 miles away in the next county that I heard sold the kind of shorts I was supposed to use, with a pad inside them.
The guy I rode with was going to Ball State University and he was my friend so I figured I might as well go there, too. I took my bike and my shoes and my shorts. There were all kinds of people at that school who had the right kinds of shirts and hats and gloves and pumps that fit in the frames of their bikes and different sets of wheels and gears depending on what kind of ride we were supposed to do. I bought all I could afford, a cap, a Suntour. The guy at the campus bike shop said I needed a newer better bike and he let me ride one around the block and I did need it. But I couldn’t afford it so I bought used better wheels by trading in mine.
I bought some gloves. I bought one of the pumps. My shoes fell apart and I had to buy another set. I rode with the racers but I didn’t race, then I just rode to class and around town then I bought a Mustang for $400 and didn’t ride my $500 bike unless it was night and I was drunk and lonely for something I did not know. I didn’t have enough money to pay for my last quarter of school, so to get through I sold my bike and it wasn’t until I had the money in my hand that I realized I missed riding and had been missing it for a long time and should have sold the car.
I got a job in another city. I bought another used bike. It was too big for me but it had old Italian parts on it that I really wanted without knowing why. I bought a new kind of pedal that you had to have a new type of shoe to use, so I bought those, too. I bought some tools to work on my bike. My car was dying so I rode to work then I gave my car away and rode everywhere. I still didn’t race but I rode more than I ever had. I still didn’t have a jersey. I hung around a bike shop and they told me I needed a new bike, so I sold the one with Italian parts and bought a new aluminum one that fit me and had new Italian parts.
I bought a jersey. I was dating a girl I’d met in school and who’d moved to the city with me, and she wanted to start riding, too, so we saved up for months and went downtown to a bike shop on the river and she bought a really cheap new bike but it was Italian and we started training to do some bike ride together, a century, I think. Doesn’t matter. We broke up. Neither of us did the ride. I got a job in another state, and I went to the girl’s house and we watched Greg LeMond win the Tour de France on the weekend coverage.
We moved to the new state together. I had to buy a rack to put on the trunk of her car to get both our bikes out here. The people I started riding with were really fast, and I got left behind on just about every ride. I got another jersey, and some winter gloves, and my girlfriend and I got married and she bought another bike that was lighter and better. I bought a new saddle. I bought some more jerseys and shorts and so did she, then I bought some bibs and I never bought another pair of shorts. We bought a house, and when we did we’d already turned down several because there was no good space for our bikes. I took my bike to France and rode around Europe and came back and told my wife about it, and she wanted to go. I went back, for work, and I met a guy running a cycling team and we started talking and sat down at a café and he ordered an Italian coffee and asked me if I wanted one and I said that I did even though I didn’t know what he meant. He could tell I didn’t know what he meant so he told me. We put a lot of sugar in those tiny cups, and when I tasted it, it was like when I wore bib shorts for the first time.
I came home. I couldn’t find anything like that Italian coffee I’d had. We bought some more bikes, mountain bikes, and a cross bike, then we didn’t buy any cycling stuff for awhile, besides tires and tubes and socks to replace the ones that had worn out, because we wanted to buy a better house, on a quieter road and with some land. I went back to Europe and found out Italian coffee was called espresso. There were all kinds of ways to make it, I found out, but to get the kind that tasted like the first one I had, you needed a really expensive machine. We bought the house instead of the espresso machine. There was a whole separate, heated one-car garage that became the bike shop. I went to Europe with my wife and we rode together there, and it was like when I drank espresso for the first time.
I have been married 19 years. I have been riding for 30 years. I have climbed mythic mountains and covered legendary routes, and even finally raced against some real racers, and I have an old, $3 SunTour cap hanging on my wall, and a $789 Pavoni Espresso Machine on my countertop, and I am glad that bike was light and looked fast and pretty.
Originally published in The Selection, December 21, 2010