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Bright Ride

The sun was so strong I went outside to look at it and sneezed three times. The warmth was uncanny, the sky high and cloudless like summer. When the sun comes out in Seattle January, you take advantage.

Sun to the right and rear

Sun to the right and rear

The bike came from the divorce. It was hers but she never rode it, its only activity every month or so when it was both clement enough to ride and I had to be somewhere after work. Single riders are permitted in the carpool lanes and the time savings are worth the harrowing gauntlet of freeway riding. But the bike sat for long periods, aging quietly at the front of the garage. When I moved out the battery was too dead to take a jump; in storage it sat in the fusty dark–why buy a battery to start it that will just go dead while I’m in Hawaii? So it sat like an Egyptian artifact waiting for men in pith hats to break through miles of stone.

After moving in I attempted to charge the old battery over several weeks, but the voltage dropped with amazing speed as soon as I took the charger off. I did research and found a sealed gel battery promising wild performance and easy maintenance. I gave up on cheapness and bought it online, buying not only a promise but little kid Christmas morning expectation. No mistaking the box when it showed up: heavy. Opening it revealed a plastic cube in bright Crayola yellow. A few millimeters taller than the identical replacement, removing some padding let it slide in.

Rust and scale and other debris of entropy must be all through the poor thing–I could feel it in there, hundreds of dollars and/or hours of repairs, babying, futzing. Bikes are always so troublesome, finicky and temperamental like exotic animals: the danger and expense are implicit and mandatory. It will always be trouble and just barely worth it, just over the break-even edge. It is too much to sign up for, but here it is.

Bolting the leads is easier than before; turning the key illuminates the lights. Pull the choke out, hold the clutch in, press the red button. I grit my teeth. It turns over with abrupt vigor and starts on the third spin. Ignition was so powerful and complete I almost jumped. Yellow must be the magic battery color.

That late October day was bright, neither warm nor cool, and I hastened my jacket and boots on and took it for a brief spin. It ran like a top down Airport Way, around the airport, back up the freeway. It ran as if it had only been sleeping and was now bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to go. It did go, sized for a girl but running like a boy, the muffler with its distinctive burned-through chirp but the power smooth.

Better get a trickle charger. When the box showed up I hooked right up. It buzzes louder than it should but works and it’s not worth the hassle of returning. Plugging in once a week or so has its little light go from red, flashing green, to green in a handful of minutes. It is always ready to go.

I haven’t fretted about riding it, since it is kept in a dry, warm garage and was run long enough to matter; I filled the gas to keep the killer water out. The biggest hassle is moving the car to wheel it out, and donning all the gear to be visible, warm and safe enough. When the sun comes in January and I can take a twenty minute walk without a coat, you take advantage.

Yesterday I bought a light fixture to hang over the dining room table: only fifty bucks to complete the last big missing thing. Installing it gives the same handy pleasure as putting together Ikea furniture, though the missing nut to hold the shade on taunts: the last step denied. The nice lady on the other end of the phone apologizes for whatever quality control slave over in the Chinese gulag has forgotten, says she’s happy to mail one. The sun has been out solid for an hour now, brilliant and endorphin-inducing. It’s okay, I tell her, I need to get out.

That is the picture above: the bike idling, me hulking more ungainly than an astronaut for the picture. Going up the steep drive is the biggest challenge. The steep curve down under the freeway reminds me to lean.

I have only jeans over my legs, but even at 40mph it’s not cold. The sun has a liquid presence, warmth pushing through the fabric and collecting there. The bike pushes through the air with no more effort than a gull, thumpathumpa down broad streets. I remember the right mirror needs tightening to stay correctly positioned, pushing it back in place as the wind dislodges it. At lights the smooth idle carries life and Saturday energy.

The lady in the lighting store is unfazed by my quasi-spaceman getup, apologizes for the missing part and shows two alternatives; it’s not clear if she’s offering both so I take both and she says nothing. Sorry for making you come out again, she says. It’s all right–it gave me an excuse to ride the bike.

A Barnes and Noble in the same strip, and I get some calendars from our nation’s last surviving chain bookstore, then realize calendars are too big to stow anywhere on the bike. I stuff them against my chest and thumpathumpa back home. Sun is setting now, and the air bites. Even in the city, cold wind is cold.

Suburban motor dusk

Suburban motor dusk

We–the bike and me–wind up MLK Drive, paralleling the light rail tracks. This is the bad part of town where it veers off and lifts above the freeway to the airport, but things are turning around with new private-public developments, a revamped Rainier Beach high school, a community center that when done will feature a green roof and immense indoor pools. Maybe this summer we will roll down there, impressing all the kids in their ass-hitched pants. Nice, they will say, or its updated and ethnically appropriate equivalent.

Back at home opening the door is a struggle. Windstopper gloves aren’t strong enough for 40mph and close to freezing. The bike comes inside, ticking quietly, occasional metal reports as things cool. Upstairs it is still bright and the heat is on, the cat intent on something outside. I get the ring from the motorcycle jacket pocket, blow on my fingers, and screw the glass shade on.

Its light is warmed by the glass shade, bright beneath on the table. It is not like the sun, which is direct and all power, but has a held quality: it is close and human-sized. It is the kind of light that you see through windows when it is dark and cold, but you have somewhere to go. It does not mock you, where you have been or where you are going: we all have a home, it says. You can ride in the brilliance for as long as you need to, and then you can come home. I will be on for you.


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