Feels Like Flying

by bart


When I bought the Schwinn as a junior in college, I thought my dad would be proud because I talked the guy down from $120 to $110. The guy sold it from his garage, along with 50 other bicycles. “Did you steal all of these yourself?” I wanted to ask. He apparently got them from a police auction or something. I keep hearing about these police auctions and I keep never experiencing them, which leads me to keep thinking that “police auctions” just mean “I stole these myself”.

He rolled out a few, and it came down to a beautiful red bike and an ugly old bike, with its grey frame and half-scratched “Schwinn Sprint” label. It was the opposite of pretty — but it looked mechanically sound and it rode smooth. It had a new seat, new tires, and no one would ever steal this thing because you needed a crane to lift it. It was full steel — even the tires and seat were steel and if you sat on it you turned into iron — it weighed about a hundred pounds.

I looked at it severely, and I frowned like you do when you’re bargaining. “Can you do anything for me on the price?”, I asked, like I was buying a house. He thought for a moment, like he was selling a house: “You know, I just put a new seat on there. I can give it to you for $110 if you want the old seat.” I thought he was bluffing because the “new” seat looked like crap. “Yeah, I want it for $110.” I thought he’d say, “Ah, screw it, I don’t want to go through the hassle, just take it!” Instead, he removed the mediocre new seat, and replaced it with a shockingly more haggard original, no doubt from 1983 when the bike was assembled. I’ll buy a better, new one, for less money, online, I thought, like I think about everything that can be bought.

Eight years later, I had new wheels and that same awful seat when someone pulled it out of my garage and rode off. When I came back from a trip and realized it was gone, I looked down the street, half-expecting to find someone lying on the sidewalk after flipping over the handlebars and knocking their front teeth out. I just hope they ride it.

Joe told me to see this guy with the bikes to buy my Schwinn. We rode bikes together all through college and after. I rode with Zach and Henry and Bryan to Founders and around town. I rode with Alex through country roads in Ohio. I rode with my coworkers in Northern Michigan.

I rode around Chicago, up and down the lakefront, and on “hipster highway”, as they call Milwaukee Avenue because of the bicycle traffic. I raced with James on Tuesday nights from Floyd’s to our apartment. I rode home one Friday from the loop in Downtown Chicago when I found myself joining a swarm of thousands, the “Critical Mass” all riding together in celebration of the end of the week. I packed the Schwinn in the Uhaul with the rest of my stuff and drove it from to Boston, I rode from Lexington to Harvard Square, from Magoun to Union, until it was taken a few weeks back.

Yesterday, I bought a bike at Wheelworks. It’s a simple single-speed bike, subtle matte black, with blinding gold rims. “Your name is already in the system. Is this still your phone number?” He rattled off my old house phone. I must have been about eleven years old when my dad said that I could get a bike, but I had to paint the white picket fence in our front yard. The fence didn’t look that long until you started to scrape it and sand it and paint it. Then I realized that I was actually going through what most people refer to as torture. It took me a full calendar year to finish a four foot section, and if I ever wanted to dread the entire rest of my life, I would look down the towards what I imagined must be the end of the infinity fence, and think that I would just have to forget about college because I’d still be here in ten years scraping and sanding and painting. 

I finished a fraction of the work after spending a lot of time on it, and my dad graciously bought me the yellow BMX GT bike with tri-spoke wheels. I thought that even Tommy Wisdom would be jealous of this bike. He had a GT with the front and rear pegs for tricks. (Tommy egged houses and did pull-ups in his room, so he knew what was cool.)

I rode my GT with Bryan and my cousin Danny, and then with Anthony. We’d ride through the conservation land and hit the jumps and skin our knees and do it all again. We’d ride to Hollywood Video in the Heights, rent a movie, watch it, rewind it, watch it again, and bring it back. One time we stole a cigarette from his sister and smoked it. One time we stole a peppermint tea bag and little pipe and we smoked that peppermint tea.

During one of our trips, we left the bikes for about 20 minutes and sure enough someone stole my conspicuous yellow GT. A few weeks later my mom saw a kid riding it on the bike path and called the cops. We got it back and it’s been sitting in our shed ever since.

“My number and address have changed,” I told the guy yesterday. A repeat customer almost 20 years later.

I rode fifteen minutes to the coffee shop where I’m writing this. I was cruising down a big hill on the way here, wind stinging my face in the November chill — I’ll never get tired of that feeling. I felt it when I whipped down the hill from Founders on Cherry street on a warm September night, I felt it when the front fork of my Sprint started shaking, wheels wobbling, untested brakes laughing as I pulled on them, still shooting past cars down the steep and winding Northern Michigan road. I felt it in the woods, when I was pedaling as hard as I could on my GT, my buddies watching me hit the jump in the conservation land. How much air did I get? How high did I go? How fast? The feeling of being on the edge of in control and out. Always feels like flying.