Biff America: A bike-ride flashback
It happened last week; it felt like 35 years ago.
I was riding my bicycle on a dark road to see a woman. It was the same road that I’ve biked, on and off, for over three decades.
The most recent ride was Labor Day; the lady was my wife.
I had worked an event and had indulged in a shot or two of whisky to loosen the tongue, and because it was free. I left feeling relieved that the night was over and was happy to be heading home.
The hill is a half-mile long, climbing from the town below. There was no traffic, no wind, and the light mist provided a smell like that stuff you spray in your bathroom — only better. I pedaled up the incline slowly. My legs ached from a day of recreating.
I was in no hurry to go inside, but I knew my mate would be waiting up and I was excited see her and tell her about my night. As is often the case I found myself sprinting the last 100 yards.
It might have been fatigue, senility or lactic acid, but I had a moment of clarity and a vivid recollection of a similar night more than 30 years ago. Not just a remembrance of many rides, but of one night in particular. It was a Labor Day weekend in the late ’70s. At that time in my life I would normally work Cape Cod or California in the summer after spending the ski season in Colorado. But at the tail end of the winter I had met a girl. She had a summer job in Colorado and love/lust won out over commerce, so I decided to stay in Colorado and work the summer season.
I went to work that night to wait tables at a restaurant I knew would not be busy. At the time, most of the ski towns had yet to attract much of a summer tourist trade. So a weekend that would have heralded the end of the summer beach season on either coast, with tourists, tip money and parties, was fairly slow in the resort I called home. I snuck into the manager’s office and used the phone to call the bar I usually worked on the Cape; my friends were too busy to talk. Not long after the call I was sent home due to lack of business.
Her name was Dutches, and she lived at the top of a hill. She was an older woman, almost 30. She was also smarter and nicer than me, but she was a terrible judge of character. She wanted to get married; in those days, my idea of commitment was to buy the “family size” pack of toilet paper. It didn’t take her long to realize I wasn’t husband and parent material, and dump me. But during those first few months, I’d sprint up that hill to her house feeling chosen and blessed.
The town was a fraction of its current size. In those days, summer was considered “off-season.” I’d hike or bike all day, work nights at a near-empty bar and sprint home to see my girlfriend. With my propensity for flashbacks it’s easy to recall how I felt on those late-night rides. It was the same combination of excitement, gratitude and fatigue I felt just last week.
While pedaling up that hill only last week, I felt just as I had at age 25. I know I look different now, and I hope I’m a little smarter, but to the best of my knowledge, not much else about me has evolved.
Adulthood has been a bit anticlimactic. All through my youth, adolescence and early adulthood, I assumed there would come a time when I’d grow up and have it all figured out; I’m still waiting.
As I looked down toward the lighted hamlet, it struck me that if anything had metamorphosed drastically it was that mountain town.
What was once only a small cluster of lights has turned into a Milky Way sprawl. The bar where I worked that long-ago winter was bulldozed flat to make room for a high-price resort. Even the small house that my old girlfriend was able to rent on a waitress/ski instructor’s salary was demolished, rebuilt and sold as a third home to some guy from Dallas.
Much money has been spent to improve our now-not-so-little town. Wider roads and sidewalks, Victorian-style street lamps and luxury lodging. We now have symphonies, ice rinks and river parks. We truly have something for everybody, even people who like crowds.
Last week, as I road my bicycle up the hill I was reminded of how much I still love where I live. True, if I could have had my way, the town would be as it was when I had young legs and no wrinkles. But we all have different opinions on what makes a place special. Some say it’s parks, improvements and large buildings. For me, it’s a quiet night, a deserted road and a bicycle ride home to someone I love.
It is tough to improve on perfection.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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