Me and Mr. Astaire
At age fourteen, I got an English Racer for my junior high school graduation. Seven months later, I came out. The timing was great.
I named my bike Mr. Astaire. Lightweight, nimble, quick, Mr. Astaire was a handsome blue and decidedly debonair. I kept him tuned up and shiny. Saturdays, my father would put him in the backseat of our 1950s Hudson, and drive from Queens out to Locust Valley on Long Island where Grandma and Grandpa Lynch lived. I loved the smell of his thin tire next to my face and held onto his spokes. Instead of hanging around Grandma’s house, so bored I’d read their “Saturday Evening Posts” and “Readers Digests,” I was out of there.
By the next February, Suzy and I found that there was a lot more to explore in life than geography. We’d met midway through seventh grade and become best friends. We lived a long walk or two bus rides away from each other, so we usually got together downtown and went off on our adventures from there. That was before we wanted privacy.
My legs got strong from biking up hills. My arms got strong from lifting Mr. Astaire up the stairs to Suzy’s apartment. In spring, especially, I reveled in the rides back and forth to Suzy’s under the blossoming trees, across carpets of pink petals. In summer the dogwoods blossomed white. I’d whiz down the hill at 147th Street, then turn into the side streets of single family homes. Or I’d ride through corridors of six-story apartment buildings, past church and synagogue, school and blocks of stores.
They weren’t just about young love, these journeys. For so many years I’d escaped from reality through the sedentary joy of books. I loved to run, but could only do that for so long. I loved to walk, but, somehow, telling a hovering mother you were going out for a long walk didn’t pass muster. Going for a bike ride, though – there was no arguing that. It was a time-tested, acceptable activity. It evoked a Norman Rockwell innocence and turned urban danger into bucolic pastime.
I’d meet Suzy at the park and we’d take the less populated paths so we could hold hands or just be together, she walking her Collie, me wheeling Mr. Astaire. Sure, I still explored neighborhoods and stopped to write descriptions of falling leaves or drifted snow. Sometimes, I’d lock up my bike and drink egg creams with Suzy at the soda fountain near her house. Mostly, I didn’t go out to Locust Valley anymore, but stayed in the city so I could be with my lover and learn to be a lesbian.
Suzy’s family tried the West Coast for a year. My parents had forbidden me to see her by then, so I’d bike to a faraway pay phone, having turned my two-dollar allowance into coins, and call her in California. When her family returned, they moved way out to Kew Gardens. The bike ride was long, past Queens College, on busy, pot-holed main roads and over the packed Long Island Expressway. It was scary.
Mr. Astaire went to college with me, Suzy left behind. Eventually he was stolen and replaced with Ganymede. Bicycling wasn’t big back then so I never did have a riding companion. Lovers were usually on campus. Or they were so remote that trains and busses were needed. Later, my little VW bug ferried me to trysts or we’d just move in together. I never had enough stuff to need a U-Haul until I was well into my thirties. Just my bike and many boxes of books, work clothes, favorite mugs, posters and LPs stuffed into the VW.
When Ganymede fell apart I replaced him with a Raleigh Humber that I had for almost 40 years. I’d take off from work just to spend the day wheeling around neighborhoods with Virginia Woolf, the Raleigh’s name. I’d purchased her while living in a lesbian-feminist collective and had long ago shed male heroes.
I hadn’t ridden Virginia Woolf in many years when I left Oregon to join my bride-to-be in Florida. I was looking forward to biking in new territory. The movers, though, misjudged the size of the van and my collection of books and garage sale furnishings. There was no room for my bike. They were towing my car, which they’d filled to the gills with boxes. My sweetheart and I had rented a van to drive cross country, but we had four cats, a dog, supplies for us all and my most fragile belongings stowed in it.
My sweetheart is right here with me, my wife now. Finally, there’s no need to travel across town. There’s no need to escape. It turns out I enjoy exploring more with her than on my own. It was time to let go of my romance with wandering wheels.
Lee Lynch Copyright 2011