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Bicycles and Books
Like chocolate and peanut butter.
It's been hot, muggy, and rainy, here in beautiful New Jersey. Not as bad as it's been west of here, but still a lot of summer in a short period of time.
But summer means cycling and dining outside, two of my favorite things.
I'm with XTC's Andy Partridge on the warm weather:
Drowning here in Summer's Cauldron
Under mats of flower lava
Please don't pull me out
This is how I would want to go
- Summer’s Cauldron from Skylarking
Summer, bicycling, and reading, are inextricably linked for me. A big part of my summers was riding the bike to the town library for books or local newsstands for comic books.
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The Ridgewood Library was two and a half miles from home if I took the easy route, which skipped a narrow downhill that was too scary for a ten-year-old on a three speed.
To get comics, I had to hike up and down a hill to Phillips Stationer's in Midland Park, then ride to downtown Ridgewood to Drapkin's, another shop with a newsstand.
I remember buying this issue at Phillip's:
It was on the newsstand in June 1974. I can recall staring at this double splash page while pushing my bicycle up the nasty hill on Erie Avenue, so I probably started riding over to Ridgewood a few months later.
I got this one about a month later:
Deathlok is the first book I clearly remember trying to break out of the spandex-clad superhero genre. (It didn't last.)
Around the same time, I borrowed out a ton of The Three Investigators books and the entire Oz series out of the library, too.
This summer heralded the beginnings of my love for science fiction. Deathlok was as close to "hard" science fiction as a mainstream American comic could get back then, with a futuristic cyborg similar to the Six Million Dollar Man that, rather than being a square-jawed heroic astronaut, was a cynical fugitive from an American military gone awry. The scripts were better, too.
It also solidified lifelong associations between cycling, freedom, and reading.
Getting on my bike and taking off meant I could do whatever I wanted. Not that I had anything to escape: as far as childhoods go, mine was pretty good. But the ability to get out of the house and just go somewhere was heady stuff for ten-year-old little Ricky. The few friends I had disappeared to summer camps and European vacations. I needed to entertain myself, and the bicycle and books were how I did it.
The Apollo became a Fuji 10-speed. Then a Motobecane Grand Record I bought with money earned delivering newspapers.
But when I turned 17, a '66 Mustang became my means of transportation. While I was into cars as much as any other kid that got a classic Mustang, they never equaled freedom to me that way bikes did. By then I was working, and the car just meant I could take more shifts and still have time to see my girlfriend. The car was about transportation. (And it was a Mustang.)
Fast forward to 1996. I was back from the Army, married, had a six-year-old son, was living in our first house, and enjoying a career that had just taken off. I bought a bicycle to get some exercise.
Within a few months, I was riding a few miles from home and passed a classic bookstore...and it all came back to me. Bikes and books. My weekly ride became a tour of bookstores.
Last year, during a bike tour of the mountains of New England, I stopped at a bookstore in rural New Hampshire. I bought a cup of coffee and a parked myself at a table outside with my e-reader. Another rider on the tour stopped.
"What are you doing?"
"Reading. Drinking coffee. Catching some rays." I said, thinking of Donald Sutherland and Telly Savalas in Kelly’s Heroes.
"Reading? You brought a Kindle on the trip?!?!"
"Well, yeah. Because I'd be riding my bike."
I still don't know why he was so surprised.