Rattrap

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[dropcap]S[/dropcap]o there I am, trying to balance four vintage tennis rackets, as many badminton rackets, the used skates, the amazing rollerblades, AND all the crap that Benji needs for pond hockey.  You’d never believe how many pads they need to strap on — I had to get at least five random people to advise me as I sorted through the heaps of body armour (he’s going to look like the Michelin man) — when what do I see in the corner? Drumroll. BICYCLES. But not like a ton of them; I see three — no, four, and I see at least as many people milling about them like sharks on a misplaced diver. Move it or lose it.

So you know I’m over there so fast and I don’t drop a thing and I’m scanning the remnants. Kid’s bike = too small. Mountain bike = not bad. Oh! — too slow, there it goes. Two down, two to go. And here comes Mrs. Hockey pad advisor number three or four (sorry lady, all is fair in love and thrift shopping), and we make eye contact and we look at the bikes and she reaches for the really really shiny yellow one and so I reach for the other one (my bicycle!!!). Well, I reach for it with a sort of full body lean as my arms are still loaded up with all the other precious stuff I’m protecting — but my position is clear and I’ve claimed the bike.

I glance over at her shiny bike, envious for only a moment, until I hear her partner school her that that bike is like a complete diva of bikes and that it will basically burst into flames if it touches a bit of gravel off-road. It is so fancy, a racing bike for cyclists. Well I am not a cyclist, and plus hubby just told her it’s still two hundred bucks—ha! That’s what she gets for lunging at the shiny one. She’s not taking the yellow one but lingers around and I know she’s just waiting for me to walk away or go to put my stuff down. (Where the hell is Benji?!) Well, no way is that gonna happen. And so I’m trying to lower my treasures to the ground like some cartoon character with a leaning tower of Pisa stack of objects, leaning first one way then the other, and I lower it and myself all to the ground, landing in something resembling a contortionist yoga pose. But now I’ve got my hands on the bike I’ve cornered and I scramble up, not letting go, and that’s when I see it: the price tag: $20. Twenty dollars!! For a BICYCLE! I know!

Feeling almost criminal I hand over only $95 for all my loot; thus the cashier has no problem upselling me with two $5 hotdog for charity specials. For the amount of sports equipment — including my bicycle! — that I fit into my hatchback, there should be a prize. By the time I get it all in I barely know where I’m supposed to put Benji, but with the help of some passers-by and creative use of the camping bungees, we make it home. By the time I get it all unloaded at the other end, and pack up and ship off Benji to Jack’s for the night, all I want is a nice, strong, smoke.

Stepping onto my patio square, having lit a gross herbal cigarette (super gross), I exhale and admire my purchase. Tires, sufficient air; brakes, only one working; chain, not too rusty; seat, hard as hell. I want to take it out for a spin. Do I need to get changed first? Should I not be wearing flips? Fuck it. I’m just going to get on this bicycle and ride it. Stopping only long enough to throw my wallet in my mini-backpack and lock the sliding glass doors behind me, I hop onto a bicycle for the first time in more than twenty years. The handwritten price sticker of $20 is still firmly planted in between the two handlebars and since it makes me smile, it stays.

It turns out that that whole cliché about not forgetting how to ride a bike is true. Except maybe with regards to riding without hands. Feeling no urge at all to try that. And to think I used to be able to turn corners like that! With a few aimless laps around my block it becomes clear to me that the first order of business will be to purchase a bike lock; can’t go anywhere else without one of those. And I should probably get someone to check the bike over, get the left brake cable replaced. Maybe I can ask about a kickstand—and a rattrap!!

Elated, I kick off in the general direction of strip-mall-land. I’m happily engaging my pedaling muscles, clicking through the gears to find the right one, the winds of youth and freedom billowing through my flapping mane. Breathing comes easier riding into the wind, and I think that I haven’t taken a true deep breath in a very long time. Making my way across town, seeing it for the first time, everything seems more real than from the car window. It’s like I am a part of each moment, connected to each aspect of the setting. A cute house here, a yappy dog there, here a punchbuggy, there a yard sale, everywhere a community alive! I swear I know all of two Queen songs but suddenly the lyrics “Biiii-cycle—Biiii-cycle” start playing through my head and my grin grows bigger and the song plays louder. “I want to ride my bii-cycle…”

At a red light I come up next to a car that catches my attention because I’m on the sidewalk and not in the car lane next to her—a totally different perspective. The driver is a woman of roughly as many years as me, dressed in business casual with a Bluetooth cable dangling alongside her hoop earring. She makes eye contact with me, all the while yapping animatedly to whoever is on the other end of her call. As the light turns green, I kick off again as she accelerates, leaving me to inhale the lingering scent of her exhaust before becoming nothing but a speck in the distance. But I am not in a hurry. I have somehow managed to circumvent the rat race, merely by mounting this very bicycle. (Biiii-cycle, biii-cycle.) Every block I become younger, freer, lighter, more present. The smell of the sun on tarmac. The rhythm of skateboards as they travel across the grooves between sidewalk squares. The aroma of onions frying, wafting through an open window. The wind, the blessed wind, filling my nostrils and lungs and hair and soul.

A few blocks along I see that same lady in her car, still squawking away, and she is stuck at another red light. But this time I don’t wait, I don’t have to. There are no cars coming so I just keep on riding, and the impatient grimace on her face as she taps her steering wheel is imprinted on my mind’s eye, and I know how she feels. Because every other day, I am her. It’s my board meeting, my 5am conference call. My son whom I wish I could hug one more time because I was such a bitch on the way to school. I am in a hurry. I am stuck in traffic. I am late, so late. I have to be somewhere, dress some way, multi-task. Time always seems to be running away from me, leaving me to chase, but never catch it. But here on my bicycle, time has slowed down; I am in time, and time is in me. And we are not late. The lady in her car has gained on me again, yet I am convinced that we have not spent the same ten minutes at all.

Totally emancipated, I pull up at the local bike shop, except it’s not really a “local bike shop” as I’d hoped, but instead a big-box bike superstore. Spotting a rack marked “Bicycle Parking,” I dismount my sexy beast and take a few tentative steps on two legs again, casting a worried glance back at the bike rack before entering the store. Surely no one will steal a $20 beater in this company.

“Hello, can I help you today?” The voice seems disembodied at first as I am so overwhelmed by the shininess and rubber-ness and fanciness of this bike store.

“Yes,” I reply, my big smile and goals returning to me. “I’d like someone to take a quick look at my bike to make sure it’s safe, and I also think I need a new brake cable if they have time for that. Oh! — and I need a bike lock.”

“Did you want to make an appointment for a full service bicycle tune-up?” he asks. “If you leave your bicycle here today, it would be ready for pick up by next Thursday.”

I don’t like this guy, something artificial about him. I think he blow-dries his bangs. “Umm, no,” I say. “I don’t think I need anything that fancy. I’d just like someone to take a quick look at my bicycle. It’s parked outside. I can’t leave it here because well, I need it to ride home.”

He looks perplexed, like what I’ve asked of him cannot be answered on the flip chart that he’s had to memorize in order to work here. “Our bicycle technicians are all busy right now. You will have to leave your bike here if you need it serviced.”

I feel my frustration growing, and the stress level of the lady in the car and mine are surely approaching each other. “I can hold off on the cable,” I say, attempting to speak slowly and clearly enough for him to comprehend the simplicity of my request, “but I just want to make sure everything seems attached where it should be!” I finish with a forced laugh, trying to break down this guy’s artificial glazed expression. “Perhaps,” I add, “you could take a quick look for me?”

Pride in his expertise and discomfort in breaking protocol are vying for victory over his features, but in the end he nods and we exit the cool shop back into the blazing sun. I point to my bicycle lovingly, as his expression switches to something less appreciative.

“How long have you had this bicycle?” he asks me, distaste curling the far edges of his lips.

“About four hours,” I reply, grinning, but in less pure form than before. Defense is worming its way into my posture as well. “Figured for twenty dollars I couldn’t go wrong.”

His beady black eyes tracing my poor bicycle’s features—“And you rode this here?”

“Well of course I rode it,” I snap, losing patience fast. An inexperienced zitty kid I can tolerate, but not a pompous asshole prick.

“Well, you’re lucky you made it here in one piece,” he continues, pressing on the tire seams. “Both of these tires need to be replaced, and probably the wheel rims as well. Your left brake is shot, the right one is close behind, and it looks to me like the gear cables are loose. Would you like me to show you the selection of discounted new bicycles we have in stock?”

Dis-counted? Does he think I can’t afford a new bicycle? Who does this little shit think he is?

“No,” I say, with forced calmness, as my blood pressure begins to elevate and I start to feel all tingly. “I do not want to look at new bikes. I just want to fix up the bare minimum on this one to make it ridable—that is all.” I crack my knuckles and tuck my windblown hair behind my ears, trying to retain my composure. “And I need a bike lock,” I add curtly.

“Well like I said, I wouldn’t ride that bicycle if I were you, but I can certainly show you our selection of bicycle locks. Right this way…” He leads us back into the store, with its superbikes—pricetags of over a thousand on some of them—and over to the locks section. “Were you looking for a D-Bolt or something with a combination?”

My eyes scan the selection and either I’m seeing double or they all cost upwards of forty dollars. “Where are the simple chain locks?” I ask innocently.

He lets out a little laugh and says: “Chain locks? Oh, we don’t carry those.” In answer to my raised eyebrows he adds: “Thieves cut right through those.”

“I see. Well I think I’ll just hold off for now. I can’t see myself spending more on a lock than I did for the bike,” I say, attempting to return to good humor but he doesn’t seem to get the joke.

“I noticed you’re not carrying a helmet,” he says. “Would you like me to show you our most popular models?” he asks, determined to make a sale yet.

“No thanks,” I reply easily. “There’s no way I’m wearing one of those. Although I haven’t figured out yet how I’m supposed to justify that to my kid who absolutely has to wear one, even in the driveway.” Another joke over his head. Does this guy have a personality at all? “It’s my generation,” I continue. “We didn’t wear helmets skiing either. I mean, what’s the point if I can’t feel the wind through my hair, you know?” No, obviously, he doesn’t.

“Well you better hope you make it home without a fine,” he says, clearly with judgment.

“A fine?”

“Yes, it’s mandatory to wear a helmet.”

“Mandatory? What? Since when?” I can’t help but to show my genuine surprise.

“Since ’96, mandatory for everyone riding a bicycle on roads and bikeways.” He sounds like he’s spouting right from the book of bylaws.

“Well that’s okay,” I say. “I don’t plan to ride on roads or bikeways, I’m a sidewalk kind of girl.”

“You do know that bicycles are not allowed on the sidewalk, right?” he asks.

And I really don’t have an answer for this. No, I didn’t know that. But for all I’ve just learned, I somehow feel like I know even less now, than I did ever before. I don’t need to compare myself to a kid whose puppy just got kicked, because I am now that girl who just got told that her bicycle is basically a death trap, which if it doesn’t throw me into the street will probably get me thrown into jail. Which I think is pretty much not in need of further metaphor.

Biiii-cycle? Sniff.

I mumble something to the effect of I’ll just keep browsing, and duck out of the store before the marbles in my throat become too painful to disguise. By the time the tears well up in my eyes I’m already riding and it could just be the wind. I ride slowly, so slowly, afraid that my bike will implode into a dozen pieces. I stay off the main roads, so that if it does, I’ll just crash and not fall into oncoming traffic. By the time I reach my driveway I am so heavy, my shoulders so dejected. Consumerism and bureaucracy have found me even here, on my bicycle.

I stop here, straddling the seat in my driveway, reluctant to park it just yet. Then an idea lands: The Dollar Store. Maybe they will have a regular bike lock. I decide it is worth checking. No matter what that clerk jerk said, I still think a shitty lock will at least detract from the easy steal. I ride over to the local dollar store, low-traffic back roads all the way, and quickly duck into the shop, with my bike leaning on the storefront window. There for two dollars is a bike lock with two keys, a chain link covered in blue plastic tubing. Two dollars. I buy the lock and an awesome retro silver bell for another two dollars. Brring-brring!! Take that, zitface.

Needing an excuse to try out the lock, I figure I’ll grab a couple dinner items from Coopers. Maybe some lunch materials for Monday. I’m locking up my bike with great care at the rack as a familial caravan pulls up on their bikes, resplendent with two parents and the full set of them in matching aerodynamic head cages. A niggling reminder that when I dropped Benji at his dad’s earlier, he warned that I need a helmet so I don’t fall and hit my head. My sweet child. I hope that he can feel the wind in his core, even with all the restrictions I place on him. Perhaps I will need to purchase a helmet for me, and be a little freer with him.

Nutella for Benji…bread. The refrigerated aisles already feel like Monday’s sealed vault of office cubes. What shall I have—spreadsheets and salad? Profit margins and macaroni? I charge the groceries on my Gold card, wondering if we have almost enough travel points for our next trip to Florida. When I return to my bike, a hint of stubborn pride returns to me as I unlock it. But what to do with the groceries? Must still invest in a rattrap—make that two. Two matching rattraps to remind us not to fall into one. I take the long way home, stopping to pick blackberries into my shopping bags for over an hour. I realize they’ve escaped the GDP, and they don’t even have a single carbon footprint. Unaccounted for, wild and so sweet. I pick two bulging bags full, which dangle one from each of the handlebars, staining my knees with dripping blackberry juice all the way home.