I love those experiences that take me back to an old moment in a heartbeat, erasing decades and all that came with them, like bills, kids, injuries, jobs, ex’s, and cellulite. Songs often do that for me. Play “Urgent” by Foreigner and I am back in Amarillo at the home of Debbie Roth (Prewitt), with the taste of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups still lingering in my mouth. When the radio plays Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World,” I hear my father sing/shout JEREMIAH WAS A BULL FROG and feel the jolts bouncing the smile on my six-year old lips as his right hand pounds the steering wheel of our brown station wagon.
But visceral experiences can transport me back in time as well. A smell, a sensation, something I taste — all can open the doorway to the time machine. Like bicycling in the rain did last Friday.
On Fridays, I volunteer at my kids’ high school during the lunch period. My glamorous job? I sell Quizno’s sandwiches as a fundraiser for the football team. Publicly, I kvetch about the impact on my schedule and writing time. Secretly, I love it.
But today I had a transportation issue to and from this volunteer gig. My husband Eric sold his 2001 Jetta (and he now will drive a 2000 Suburban — this was not an upgrade, bless his heart). For a few days, he had no car. Meanwhile, I had taken a week off from work to write. I needed no wheels, so he drove my car.
And that is how I came to be car-less when it was time to make my way to Bellaire High for my Friday fast food-selling assignment.
“No problem. I’ll ride my bike,” I said.
“Are you sure? I could come home and get you,” Eric said.
“And pick me back up an hour later? That’s crazy. It’s a 15-minute bike ride, if that long.”
“It would really help me not to leave work twice. If you’re sure.”
I was sure.
Mostly because my bicycle rocks. I ride a 2006 57-inch Pink Trek Pilot 5.2 WSD. I look for any excuse to ride it.
On this Friday, I took extra care getting ready: I brushed my hair and changed out of my stretchy exercise clothes, so as not to embarrass the kids. Today I even put on a cute white sleeveless sweater and a seersucker tan-and-white skort. And I applied mascara. I almost needed a nap after all that beautification effort.
I hopped on my pink bike and rode to the school. I made it just in the nick of time, locked the bike in an illegal parking spot, and sprinted into the cafeteria. I schlepped sub sandwiches for an hour. I enjoyed a chat with Liz, who used the occasion to ask for money. I attempted to get Clark to talk to me — or even make eye contact — to no avail. Teenagers.
Right as we finished our sales, a thunderstorm hit. I tried to wait it out, but the storm did not accommodate me. I mounted Ole Pink in thunder, lightning, and street-floodingly-heavy rain.
The rain claimed my hair first.. Oh well, so now it looks normal. Next to go was my mascara. Raccoon eyes. Not a great look, but no biggie. The last casualty, though, was my white top, which, when paired with the hair and mascara, gave me a trailer-park-y look. Maybe no one will recognize me.
I pedaled carefully in my sopping wet flip flops through the inch-high water standing on the edge of Rice Street. I navigated through mid-day-traffic motorists who could not see me, riding a full two-feet into the street to avoid the deeper water in the gutters. On my right hand side was a curb. I’ll admit, I was nervous, trapped in that narrow corridor with bad traction and poor visibility. I felt like I had a red X on my back, as in, “Here I am, run me over, please — it’ll give me an excuse for not finishing my rewrites.”
Riding a road bicycle in the rain is far more dangerous than riding a normal bike in the rain. My dad has “rain plus road bike” to thank for a broken collarbone. My bike also boasts Speedplay pedals, which made a bad situation worse, today. Imagine a lollipop stuck off the side of the pedal’s “crank”. I normally “clip in” to the candy part of the lollipop with my cleated bike shoes. Only I didn’t have on my bike shoes. I was pushing the lollipops with wet flip flops. My feet slid off the lollipops approximately every three rotations of the pedals.
And there were other issues (there are always *other issues* with me, according to my husband). Ole Pink’s tires are “slicks,” the almost tread-less tire preferred for speedy road bicycling. Slicks are not designed for wet roads, AT ALL. The brakes are caliper brakes. They’re almost worthless when they’re wet. And at 57-inches, my bicycle, even though it is a WSD — women specific design — with a slanted “crotch post,” stands on the tall side of just-right. It’s not easy to quickly put my feet on the ground when I have to stop.
I knew I was headed for a crash.
And just as I pondered whether to indulge in a bad attitude about fate putting me on my bicycle in the rain on this road today, a blinding flash of memory sucked me through a vortex back to the age of 14, when my 10-speed Schwinn bicycle represented freedom, the freedom to fly away by myself wherever my wheels could take me.
I adored that bicycle. Suddenly I wasn’t in Houston. I wasn’t 43.5 years of age. I was 13.5, riding in a similar rainstorm on the way home from the Town Club swimming pool in Amarillo, Texas. The same rain landing on my face now had landed on my face 30 years before, and I had turned my face upward then to catch the big drops on my eyelashes and my tongue. I loved riding in the rain!! The tires threw water up over my sandaled feet. I was soaked and delightfully cold even though it was August. Cars had pulled over because of the storm, but not me. I was free.
And that’s when it happened. I hit a mossy spot, the result of water forming a constant run-off stream in the gutter from lawn care zealots, those environmental scofflaws who water three-times a day in the hottest part of the summer. The bicycle’s front wheel slipped out from under me. Down I went, into the water and onto the road debris underneath.
The ground knocked the wind out of me. My right thigh and elbow took the brunt of the insult from the debris, since I had ridden on the wrong side of the road. Gravel dug tracks in my skin, leaving blood, dirt, and small rocks deeply embedded along its path. I wiped my face and the oily residue from the wet road stuck to me. Now I had the foul odor of gas stations in my nose. A horn honked at me. I shot the driver a look. Like I fell on purpose and could move out of the way of your car if I tried, lady! Trust me, I had serious attitude by the age of 14, like my own daughter does now.
I laid there for a few minutes until the pain in my elbow stinger subsided. I hoped some Good Samaritan would pick my bike and me up and give us a ride home, but no such luck. Finally, slowly, I positioned the bike and myself for a fresh start and away we pedaled, more cautiously this time.
Thirty years ago, I swore off riding in the rain. Thirty years later, here I was in the worst of conditions and traffic, riding in the rain again.
But the memory of that long-ago fall didn’t bring me fear. Instead, it brought back my love for that bicycle, and the rain. It transported me to feeling young and alive, 14 and free. I tingled all over and laughed aloud. I turned my face up to the sky and caught water in my lashes and on my tongue. I sang Eddie Rabbit’s “I love a rainy night” at the top of my lungs as I pedaled.
Ole Pink and I made it home upright. And I appreciated my warm shower, for sure.
Even more I appreciated my journey back in time. I smiled the rest of the day, remembering the freedom the 14-year old me had to fly away on her bicycle in the rain and the budding toughness that I would nurture through the years until it bloomed into one of the defining traits of my adult self.
Ah, memory. In truth, I don’t want to be 14 again, although it was nice for 15 minutes.
I’d be happy to restart at 34, however.
I want to ride my bicycle… in the rain….