01 August 2017

A Ride Back

I will tell you more about my Great Italian Adventure, and post more photos of it, soon.  I promise!  

In this post, however, I want to talk about something that happened to me today.

The sky was mostly clear, the day warmer and humidity a bit higher than it's been since I got home, even if neither the heat nor moisture was oppressive.  So, of course, I went for a ride:  my first long(ish) trek since coming back.  At least, that's what I'd planned.

A familiar route down to the Rockaways and along the South Shore of Queens and Long Island took me to a familiar destination:  Point Lookout.  Since it's a flat ride and the wind blew lightly, I took out Tosca, my Mercian fixed gear.  

Even if the ride couldn't thrill me as much as pedaling up and down the Roman hills, it sure was nice to ride one of my own bikes again.  Of course, a fixie is going to be more responsive than an internal-geared hub, and a Mercian is going to feel more lively than a heavy utilitarian rental bike.  Still, the difference in "feel" was even greater than I anticipated.  

The ride was pleasant and completely uneventful; I felt good and nothing complicated that.  After I crossed the Veterans Memorial Bridge from Rockaway Beach back to the Queens "mainland", I stopped at a deli for something cold to drink.  While sipping on some combination of slush with cherry Jolly Rancher flavoring (I wanted a bit of a sugar rush), a man and woman pedaled in.  

He pointed to me.  "Where do I know you from?"

Turns out, we rode--occasionally the two of us, but usually with a group of other riders--in Prospect and Central Parks, and on some longer rides, back in the day.  He also worked in a couple of bike shops I frequented in those days.  We recalled those shops, some of the guys (yes, they were men) who rode with us, a few of whom also worked in those shops at one time or another.

He introduced the woman who accompanied him.  They married seven years ago, he said.  That wasn't the only surprise of our encounter.

For another, he was smiling.  I never, ever saw that in all of the time we rode "back in the day".  In fact, a few of us half-jokingly called him "El Exigente", whom he resembled in his facial hair and other physical features--including the seemingly-permanent scowl.   We all respected him as a rider; his forays into racing were certainly more successful than mine! 

In those days, we didn't actually talk much.  Some time ago--possibly in those days--I read a book by an anthropologist or some other researcher that said, among other things, that women form relationships by talking but men bond by doing things together.  Perhaps one could see that in our rides.  It also could be a reason why I always had the sense that he disapproved of me somewhat:   Someone once described me as an "extroverted introvert", meaning that even though I am more comfortable within myself than without, I am not averse to talking.  

Or, perhaps, I just insecure that I wasn't, and probably never would be, as strong or fast a rider as he was--or is.  

He certainly didn't care about that today, as I rode with him and his wife.  Their route home paralleled mine part of the way, but they invited me to follow them to their home, in Brooklyn, if I wanted to.  "Well, there's nowhere I have to be", I said.  Really, the only reason I had to get back to my place tonight was to feed my cats.

So my ride was a bit longer than I'd planned:  I reckon about 140 kilometers instead of 120. But I felt more nimble, more supple, as we wove through the building rush-hour traffic in the streets of East New York, Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant and their Flatbush neighborhood.

We all shook hands as we parted.  If he was surprised to see my red nail polish, he didn't show it.  She didn't register any surprise, as she didn't know me when I was Nick.

He knew me then.  But he took to my new and current name with no trouble.  We all promised to stay in touch and get together for another ride.

My ride home involved climbing a couple of long but gradual hills to Crown Heights and the east side of Prospect Park, past the Brooklyn Public Library toward the Navy Yard.  From there, I rode through Williamsburg and Greenpoint, easily passing riders who could have been my children and grandchildren, as if I were one of them.

Back when I was riding with him, I was.

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