Night riding

two dogs playing
Equal status.

Yesterday I did the first night ride of the year on my bike. I battled my fear almost the whole time. Every time I heard a car coming up behind me I would briefly turn my head back, hoping that would help them notice me. I would hope the driver was the type of person who considered hitting me enough of a mistake or sin or inconvenience that they’d pass carefully by.

Faith had come over in the morning so Otto could play with Izzy. We watched the two dogs wrestle and I fed Django treats so she wouldn’t keep going over and breaking them up, which was amusing to me but not desirable when you’re trying to help your dog (Otto) recover from the loss of his pack leader so you set up play dates with dogs who actually play (Izzy, who’d been dropped off by Kismet on her way to work). Faith told me she  rides her bike everywhere from Spring through Fall. She gave me advice on good bike streets – Damen, Wilson, Leland – and said night riding is her favorite. “Especially in the Fall, when the streets are quiet and the leaves above you are turning color…” It sounds poetic, but then there are the cars.

It’s not that I think the car wants to hurt me, it’s just that it can. It’s about status. A bike object is low status because it can be so easily hurt by a car object . But I can’t think like that. I have to remember that both are controlled by humans, who are equal status. So I rode my bike to the first rehearsal for Boy Small. The director, Emmi Hilger, let me stow my bike on her inside back porch so I didn’t even need to use my lock.

At rehearsal, Emmi had the actors read the script once, then she led a discussion of it. She has an uncanny sense for knowing what to ask and when to say nothing and how to gently guide people into speaking freely. Then she had them read the script again, with all they’d learned or confirmed or discovered. It was humbling. Because I’m already working with Emmi and one of the actors (the amazing Chris Popio) on the WTA piece, I was comfortable speaking just as myself, not trying to be what I think a playwright is supposed to be (silent and enigmatic). By telling what I am seeing in my head, I can learn how much is on the page. And I can learn what else is there that I haven’t even seen, which helps me go forward. I feel like I’ve lucked out in both these pieces, to have actors who are both powerful and nuanced performers and so insightful and articulate about character and all the little moments that connect into a play.

Faith has given me a worksheet she uses in developing a play. It forces you to state things like conflict and premise. Things I often avoid or resent because I want to work in the dark. I don’t want to commit to definites because I’m afraid either I won’t fulfill them or in fulfilling them I’ll miss an opportunity for something better. But the questions stay with me. What is the question the play is asking? How does the central character change? If I can be clear on these they will free me to ride. My power is that if this play fails I can just write another one. Try again, fail again, fail better, as Beckett said.

After rehearsal I rode home. Ainslie is another good street at night. Lots of speed bumps but not many cars. I rode over the bridge at Lawrence behind a guy on his bike, carrying a grocery bag. The only time I actually felt scared was when I realized that I’d just spent the last few moments enjoying the quiet dark and cool air so much that I’d forgotten to worry about speed bumps and cars and ambushes. I tried to make up for it by worrying harder in the moments ahead.

Mrs. Libman disposes

bug climbing
Always giving you a little something extra.

No story today, but there’s this: Yesterday I got on my bike and rode out to the highway, not sure where I was headed. I rode up M-22 a mile or two, terrified the few times a car passed. There’s a good shoulder but I was still convinced I was invisible. I saw a sign for a road that Ruby had said goes around a pretty lake, so I turned off.

Even though there’s no shoulder there’s almost no traffic. I was about the same level of terrified every time a car went by, but it only happened twice. The rest of the time, solitude. A few houses. Great views of the lake. Lots of long, winding downhill slopes and only two uphill ones of any difficulty. I had to get off and walk but I could feel that at some point I might be able to ride them. Later I ran into Rebecca at Molly’s cocktail party and she said she and Rich had also ridden around that lake today. And for the first time since they’ve been coming here she rode both uphill slopes all the way to the top. I asked how she did it. “Are you stronger this year? Have you been training?”

“No,” she said, “This year I just didn’t give up.”

Me and David Hasslehoff

bikes
Objects in mind are farther than they appear.

I can handle hard work. I can handle tough choices. But when it’s hassle-y, when it comes to fitting two bikes in the car, taking them out and putting them in again in a slightly different way, I want to rip my scalp off. I resent the time it takes to even complain about it.

And the locks. The U-locks with the cables attached, and the keys, and Dave suggesting that I get both the front and rear wheels into the cable, which I know, I know, but the cable doesn’t stretch. On a folding bike, the smallness of the wheels makes their rims too far apart so just forget it, no one would steal a bike here anyway, would they?

“No. No one would steal a bike here, but if just one person did, it would suck to lose a new bike, and it would really suck to learn that someone would steal a bike here.” So by the time we unlock the bikes from the porch and get them and our helmets and our various possible biking clothes (none of which I learn later are good for biking) and grocery bags and other tools into the car after breakfast, I am fuming. We’re only heading into town to get apples and cocktail fixings, but the Betsie trail goes right through town and we might feel like riding, so why not bring the bikes? It sounds so carefree but the reality is, you take one of my bike lock keys and I’ll take one of yours but I don’t have a little key ring, should we add that to the grocery list, and do we need a patch kit or should we buy extra inner tubes somewhere, and what do we need to replace inner tubes, are there special tools we should buy, and what if our air pump doesn’t work?

“I don’t know why I hate this so much,” I say when we are finally after a million years on the road to town.

Instead of pointing out that he did all of the “this,” from unlocking the bikes on the porch to loading them and everything else in the car, Dave says something much more provoking. “Because you’re just like your mom.”

That is an unacceptable reason. My mom would never put her bike in the car and take it to town. My mom would never submit to wearing a helmet or buying an expensive and complicated lock. “I’m not going through all that,” she’d say. “If God wants me to crack my head, so be it.” I remember her going on bike rides with my dad and Auntie Marie and Uncle Vince and Norma and Bill. Was biking safer then? They didn’t go on bike paths. They rode down busy streets, a leisurely parade of six, into north Oak Park and River Forest.

I’m just like my mom is not acceptable, though it might be true. I don’t want to commit to an activity that might be too involved, might take too much time and effort, might keep me from the beach, which is how I define vacation here. Going into town is a guilty consumer pleasure that keeps me from the real magic of this place, which is the stunning miles of beach and bluff and blue, blue water.

Maybe commitment was what Mom hated too. Maybe it’s why she wouldn’t go to Europe when Dad asked or join a bowling league or take an exercise class. Okay. I commit to the ride.

We park near the library and take out our bikes and get all situated and pack the basket, which was purchased for my bike but which Dave loads onto his without a complaint (I don’t want the extra weight). It ends up being a full day, riding this sweet trail that goes past the tiny town of Elberta and past occasional houses and even past the lake sometimes, and over long wooden bridges over marshes and rivers, shaded by trees most of the way. I think it’s about four or five miles.

When we get to the next town, Beulah, we buy padded shorts and inner tubes. An old man with two big bags of cans sits at the railroad station, which has been converted to a very nice set of rest rooms and an area for picnic tables. He says what a nice day it is and we agree. The guy at the bike shop gives us a full demonstration of how to replace an inner tube and it’s suddenly very interesting. We wander through town a little and get ice cream cones, and I feel sorry for Dave that they didn’t have any padded shorts for him. When we stop at the railway station to fill up our water bottles, the old man is gone. We pass him later, limping along the road near the bike path, without his bags.

The ride back is even better than the ride out. When we get to Frankfort, Dave checks the trail map and learns it was almost 10 miles each way, not five. I am so glad I didn’t know this beforehand, because although I want to work on this commitment thing there’s no way I would have committed to a 19-mile bike ride when I could have been at the beach, which I ended up not missing at all.