Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Happiness on Wheels

When I was in grade school I had a green Schwinn Stingray bike with a banana seat -- so cool -- it still makes me smile just saying it.  I lived in a cul-de-sac and could ride and ride the court but that was about it.  My neighborhood was hilly and not too bike friendly so I couldn't ride very far, very often.

In the summer, I'm sure out of complete exasperation with our lazy selves, my mom would give me five dollars and tell my brother and I to go play tennis and get some lunch at the local McDonald's.  We willingly went and we'd ride our bikes down to the local community college.  Brian and I would always play a heated match of tennis and more often than not I would beat him -- I am two years older after all.  Disgruntled, Brian would follow me on his bike and bang my bike fender with his racket calling me a cheater all the way to the McDonald's.  As soon as we spied the Golden Arches, the bickering would stop.  Food was involved and we needed to cooperate in order to get the most out of our $5. So, we'd order some large fries to share, a complete delicacy to both of us, cheeseburgers and cokes. All would be mended over the fries and away we would go back home.

That freedom of my bike and my brother and our adventure into maneuvering out in the world has stayed with me.  I will forever love that old green bike, long ago lost, but vivid in my memory.

When I came to UC Davis as a college student, I was thrilled.  Biking was not just a fun idea, it was a big part of college life. Here, the roads were flat, there were wide bike lanes and even special roundabouts built on campus to deal with all of the bike traffic during the hectic rush of changing classes.  I remember the thrill of going around that first roundabout with dozens of bicycles and I remember the joy in bike riding on a daily basis.

Getting around the town by bike, I relished in my freedom.  I loved my up close parking spot, my lack of traffic, and the way I felt after a ten minute ride. I knew that I needed to live this way for the rest of my life.  And, so, after a few years of married life, John and I moved back to Davis dug out our old bikes and immediately got back in the groove.

About four years ago, I got offered a job back on campus supervising student teachers after taking a seven year sabbatical to be a full time mom.  It was a small job with a small paycheck but it was soul satisfying and wonderful to be working alongside earnest, enthusiastic and energetic beginning teachers.  Receiving my first paycheck made me feel like a kid again.  I suddenly had "my" money. It wasn't really enough to have it do something important but I wanted to be careful otherwise I might just fritter it away by putting it into my regular account and paying for the dry cleaning, groceries or hot lunches with it.  I wanted to find something special to do with it.

One fall day, I was walking downtown and noticed a slew of bikes on display for the new students at UC Davis.  They were a colorful line of beach bikes: purple, polka dotted, striped, candy apple red and sunshine yellow.  I couldn't help but smile and think of the many new students experiencing their own joy of the roundabouts, the freedom of bikes and the adventure of college and being on your own for the first time.  In the middle of that inviting line up I saw her: my dream bike.  She was sky blue with daisies.  I knew that was my bike in an instant and I wanted to take out my credit card and take her home.  But, I stopped myself.  This was going to be my special something to remember this special job.  Every month, I would steal a little money away and save it for the big purchase at the end of the year.  Every few weeks or so, I would walk by "my" bike and admire her.  I would stop and notice which ones were gone.  The yellow one with daisies was missing now along with the green polka dotted one.

Winter and the rains came and went but those bikes stayed outside serving as both a reminder and a temptation.  In the spring, Caroline was toddling around and I knew we could both go bike riding.  So, in celebration of my May girl, I took my secret stash of cash and walked down to my favorite bike store.  I walked right in and didn't spend a second looking.  I told them I was ready to buy a bike and showed them my old friend.  The store owner looked at me and said, "All year I've been waiting to see who would buy that bike.  That's our one and only blue daisy bike and they just stopped making it.  You're getting a treasure."  I smiled and agreed, knowing we were meant to be.  They outfitted me with a baby seat, a helmet, and a lock.  I took a practice run while they were totaling up my goodies.  I pulled out my cash and happily paid them for my dear girl.

I rode home like a kid: making swirly patterns, sitting up straight with my upright handlebars, practicing braking by pushing backwards and feeling the rush of riding.  She was "happiness on wheels" and she was mine.

That was four years ago.  I still smile whenever I go for a ride, find her in a crowd of bikes, or talk to Caroline and feel the pat, pat, pat of her hands behind me.  I know my days are numbered with my cherub riding directly behind me.  She's itching for her own bike and her own freedom and who am I to deny it?

I know she will fall in love with the breeze of the ride, the joy of seeing the world at a slower pace, the smell of freshly mowed grass, spring blossoms, chlorine at the pool and a million other details that you only notice on a ride.

It's sunshine-y again and I'm going for a ride...honk if you see me.  Or better yet, ring your bell!


  1. I have the orange version of that bike and have a huge smile on my face every time I ride it! Just this past weekend I pumped up the tired and adjusted the basket just to get ready for a summer of cruising :) hope all is well

  2. Kari! I LOVE that we have a daisy bike connection...we have to go riding together sometime!!! OK, that might be a little hard since you're in Denver but thank you for letting me know. Now, I'm going to smile twice as big the next time I ride and think of you. :) We're all doing well -- just getting ready for summer time and school being out!