Back on the Bike

my-bike

I bought these sweet wheels at a tag sale for $50 (with a basket!) in early summer and $30 for a very unflattering helmet.

I wish I could tell you that I regularly made the 5 mile roundtrip to the beach. I did not. It was so hot this summer! And to get to the bike-lane route I have to go up a hill. Such poor excuses. The fact is, I’m inclined to be a slug – what can I say? But the other day the light and temperature were perfect so I took a spin to the beach. Speeding down-hill the wind whistled in my ears and my heart lifted with a forgotten joy. On the way back, I push-push-pushed until breathless, I leapt off to walk.

dragonfly-on-bike
A hitch-hiker I picked up in Kyoto.

Biking gives me a sense of being a participant – not just moving through in the bubble of my car. My body reacts to terrain, blood pumping, breath quickening. I easily stop to watch a bird, follow a slant of light, inhale the scent of a boxwood hedge, the musk of low tide, a gyro joint. I have a sit-upright, tootling-around kind of bike – not a speed-racer that requires dressing up like a lycra-bumble-bee to ride. My bike inspires cruising. I love spinning down a hill but speed doesn’t interest me much. I’m definitely a tootler.

I used to be more of a functional biker – it was how I got places. I didn’t own a car until I was in my late 30s.

My Cincinnati studio with bike.
My Cincinnati studio with bike.

When I graduated from college and became a banquet waitress at a hotel (Yay art degree!) I lived in a dicey part of Cincinnati and rode my bike to work at all hours. Leaving at 4:30 AM for a breakfast shift, I’d speed down the middle of the empty street – a little frightened by the shadows of the odd hour.

From a bridge over the Kamogawa - Kyoto.
From a bridge over the Kamogawa – Kyoto.

When I lived in Japan I rode everywhere. I pedaled to English teaching jobs, to shop for groceries, meet up with friends. More often than I should admit, I made my way home on wobbly-wheels in the wee hours of the morning. Everyone rides bikes – multiple babies will be tucked into attached seats and the very, very old will easily balance the day’s groceries in baskets. It’s a biker’s heaven. One of the things I miss most about Japan is exploring narrow streets, popping into Temples for moments of peace, making my way home along the river running north to south through the city. I can conjure the crunch of gravel beside the Kamo river – perhaps one of my all-time favorite stretches anywhere in the world.

For a time I also had a bike in Zagreb, Croatia. I zipped through the city streets on my mountain bike, hoping the tires were fat enough they would not catch in the treacherous tram tracks. For fun I pedaled through a nearby park, riding along dirt trails and bouncing over rocks. I became pregnant with Molly there and sold my bike.

Being a mother made me into a chicken. From the moment my daughter was a whisper within me, a new sense of vulnerability took over. Navigating through the world became a little more frightening when life became no longer just about me.

In Zagreb, the only helmet I owned was UN issued kevlar for when I traveled to active war zones. I did not wear this biking. Nor did I wear – or ever see one in Kyoto. Do cyclists wear helmets there now? Now, although it hurts my vanity, I wear my dorky helmet. While the city I live in is making an effort to be more bike-friendly, too many people stare at their phones while driving. I choose not to chance my mortality to look a tad cooler.

Maybe it’s because my daughter is 21 and capable and launching off on her own adventures, I’m getting my courage back. I’m ready to risk getting toppled for the pleasure of the wind whistling in my ears. And I need the exercise.

Too Big, Too Much – A Rare Visit to Costco

I live in a very small house and have a very small refrigerator. Thus, Costco, home of oversized items, is not my kind of place. However, I went there the other day to buy a few things for Molly’s graduation party.

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I arrived first thing Friday morning so I’d beat the just-got-the-paycheck crowds. Using all my body weight, I yanked a gigantic carriage out of the cart-corral. The first clue to the fun-house world I was about to enter, was a tiny older (than me) woman completely dwarfed by her carriage, next to a man as wide as his.2013-07-12 10.42.28

Costco is a shopping ‘club’ – you must belong and a card with your photo on it is necessary even to enter. Seriously? You want to spend money – be my guest – right? Flashing R’s card at the gatekeeper at the door, she waved me through with not even a glance at R’s photo.

Once inside, I confess to a bit of excitement at being inside the airplane hangar shopping warehouse.  I began my adventure by wheeling past the movie-theater-sized televisions, down the aisles with fans, air conditioners, flooring, towels, even mattresses were stacked against the cinder block walls. I vaguely recall thinking there was something we could use in one of those street-wide aisles – a good deal – but I was easily distracted and definitely forgot everything once I got to the food.

Twenty whole wheat tortillas landed in my cart, hot dog and sandwich buns – all ridiculously cheap. The mausoleum-style meat freezers were packed with every cut of animal imaginable, fish, chicken. Fruit and vegetables were impressive too, but I was getting overwhelmed. Where would I put everything?  I picked up items that didn’t need refrigeration – tomatoes and 3 cucumbers, a bag of gorgeous rainbow color potatoes.  The cases of water, iced tea and Italian sodas made my monster-cart even less manageable.  And soon the thrill was gone. It felt wrong, all these terrible processed foods: gigantic jars of neon orange cheese balls, mega-sized boxes of cookies and candy, restaurant supply bags of sugar.

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My years overseas in smaller countries with smaller spaces and certainly smaller refrigerators, still informs my food shopping habits.  My fridge in Kyoto was the kind kids use in their college-dorm rooms. Same as in Croatia, Bosnia and Italy. In those places, like in much of the world, one picks up things at the market almost daily. And we knew the butcher, the fish guy, the green grocer in Zagreb and Metkovic and of course, in Italy where we regularly visited the open-air markets. Shopping for the night’s dinner, wicker basket on my arm, I regularly ran into neighbors and chatted – mostly about the weather because of my limited vocabulary.

No, this big stuff, BIG way of doing things in America is not for me. After all, there’s just the three of us here — soon to be two — and we don’t need so much. We once had an American size fridge but things got lost in it, and inevitably, we ended up throwing stuff  out. This still happens even with our smaller fridge.

While I confess I was briefly seduced by Costco’s carnival atmosphere and crazy offering of goods, I’d rather make my daily stops. It’s easier to grab a basket and high-tail it in and out of one of the more manageable (although plenty big) grocery stores on my daily flight path. And now that the party’s over, what the hell am I going to do with all this leftover bread?

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