Marriage Peril
Survive Your Mid-Life Crisis: Get Rid of the Bike

Red Bicycle

by Douglas PageŠ

There are two ways to survive your mid-life crisis: avoid class reunions, and get rid of the bicycle. This is about the bicycle. No one listens to class reunion advice.

You won't miss the bike. You probably don't use it anyway. Unused bikes are dangerous, like old girlfriends. We even call them 'her'.

I have one - a bike, that is - that taunts me from the garage, beckoning me to haul her out, dust off her fenders, oil her chain and ride her off in search of our misplaced youths. It's probably an hallucination experienced once a guy turns 50 but sometimes I swear she swishes her tassels at me.

The bike and I have a lot in common. We've both experienced periods of neglect, but we still have all our parts. Except for her slightly distorted front wheel (caused when you-know-who pinned the car against it) and my slightly protruding belly (which coincides with the mid-life crisis - and may in fact be the cause of it), we're both in remarkably good shape considering what we've been through together.

I keep her around because no one throws a bike away just because it's useless. Besides, the grandkids might like to ride her someday. My own kids, raised in the days of Sting-Rays and banana seats, wouldn't have anything to do with her. Pride prevented my sons from being seen on such a corny old crone, made especially anachronistic by her wire-spoked wheels, wrap-around handle bars with tassels dangling from the grips, chain guard, once-chrome fenders and "that basket thing", as they called it.

So, she just folded her arms and leaned back against the garage wall, collecting beach towels and abandoned jackets, waiting like a memory, winking at me once in a while, teasing me with the notion of getting a little more exercise. She aged well and, like me, only seemed to sag and bulge in one or two places. Every few months I hear her whispering to me, usually after an overdose of Richard Simmons, and I find myself wondering rhetorically why I don't get the bike fixed.

The tv remote control comes in handy here; if you use it properly the temptation to fix the bike will pass harmlessly and you can avoid actually reacting to it. The fear, of course, is that once you have a bike in operating condition you'll have surrendered your principle excuse not to use it. It's not mere laziness. It's worse. It's pride - the same patronage I passed on to my sons. Maverick though I may be in other ways, I'm reluctant to be seen on such a carlin myself in this neighborhood, a beach enclave populated by yuppies and their titanium 36-speed mountain bikes that cost more than a semester at Stanford and which go places you couldn't drive the lunar rover. Plus, consider for a moment what one of those iridescent Spandex bicycle uniforms would look like attempting to span the girth of a grandfather.

Nevertheless, something came over me the other day and the old cruiser was liberated from under her canopy of castoff clothing, wheeled to the shop, renovated, and put into service.

Here's why you should get rid of the bike:

Within minutes of her retrieval from the repair shop I found myself pushing off down the driveway like a 13 year old kid - Icarus in t-shirt and shorts, escaped from the doldrums of middle age, seeking the sun, soaring from the labyrinth of mortality.

The adage is true. You never forget how to ride a bicycle. So is the corollary. You never remember until it's too late Lyndon Johnson was president the last time you were actually on a bicycle.

It's too late at the point where the velocity of the wind feels like a spray of cold water on your face and you awaken to find yourself on the back of an accelerating bike, launched like Evil Knievel down a rampish driveway, which t-bones in 100 feet at the Esplanade, a local euphemism for the Pacific Coast Highway. This is no time to ask how you got there. It is now time to make an immediate and necessary decision: should you turn this into a slalom event and perhaps save your life by taking the sidewalk route, or do you just surrender to the obvious and barrel straight into the road, cashing in all your remaining chances on the hope there are no vehicles in the vicinity?

Taking the sidewalk happens to require the execution of either a blind 90 degree downhill right-turn past the corner of a thigh-high brick wall or a radical uphill left between two menacing cactus gardens. ("THE BODY OF A 55 YEAR OLD REDONDO BEACH MAN WAS FOUND EARLIER TODAY IMPALED ON THE BARBED SPINES OF A LARGE PINCUSHION CACTUS ...") By the time your analytical mind - unprotected by either helmet or common sense - comes to grips with the realities at hand, you have accelerated past that option and it is now too late to turn in either direction.

Besides, you have just discovered a series of facts a more prudent person might have learned before shooting off down the slope like a crazy man:

The bow in the front wheel causes her to wobble like Stevie Wonder, precluding the completion any turn with certainty;

The bike couldn't turn that sharp anyway because the handlebars are too wide, and so are you;

And this just in - there seem to be no brakes.

The next decision is therefore less complicated. Now that your destination has been determined all that remains is to decide whether to scream while you lay the bike  down and leave your leg tissue imbedded in the asphalt, or plunge silently into the street, to become the first man to die of apparent suicide by propelling himself into the side of the mail truck.


Comments? Questions? Assignments? douglaspage@earthlink.net
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