It's been two months since I lost my job and l am still unemployed. But I haven't been sitting around my apartment watching soap operas and game shows all day. Last month I bought a bicycle (thank you George Bush and your economic stimulus check!). I had thought about buying one last year because I need a form of exercise and I hate jogging or going to the gym, but alas, I never did. This year, however, I was motivated to get a bike for two reasons: exercise, and transportation (which, come to think of it, are the only two reasons to have a bike in the first place). I bought it for exercise because, in the past year and a half, I've been unemployed twice and had a job in between those bouts of unemployment that made me miserable, all of which resulted in my regaining 30 of the 50 pounds that I had lost in 2006. So technically, I am overweight, again. And I needed transportation because my mother sold her house in another state and bought a house here in Salem. It's about a 5-minute drive from where I live, but since I don't have a car, I walked to her house, which took 30 minutes. So I bought a bike. Now it takes me 15 minutes to get to my mother's house.
The last time I rode a bike, Jimmy Carter was President, gas was less than a dollar a gallon, and the Solid Gold Dancers were entertaining America with their carefully choreographed yet erotically charged disco dance moves. In other words, a long time ago. But you know what they say - you never forget how to ride a bike. And it's true. When I took that baby out for a test ride at the bike shop, it felt really good to be zipping around on a bike again.
I've had it for about a month now. Of course I had to trick it out. I bought a bell (to warn people to get the hell out of my way - nicely, of course); a rear-view mirror, to see if any cars are coming up behind me; and a wicker basket, to take home the occasional cans of Diet Coke or roll of toilet paper that my mom gives me when I visit her (I am unemployed, remember, and sometimes you just run out of the necessities, ya know?). I also have a water bottle-holder, but as yet no water bottle, though a bottle of Dosani or a can of Arizona Diet Green Ginseng tea fits perfectly in it. I decided against handlebar streamers a la Pee Wee Herman. And do you know that when you buy a bike today, the kickstand costs extra? Apparently, kickstands no longer come with the bike, like they did back in the day when I was a kid. You have to pay extra for them! Sure, it was only $8, but it's the principle. Of course people need kickstands, so of course if you charge extra for them, people will buy them. Another thing that's changed since I had my last bike is that bikes now have front and back gears. My three-speed bike actually has seven gears in the back wheel, and three in front. So going up a hill now requires both hands to shift gears. And the right hand brake is for the back wheel only, while the left hand brake is for the front. Bicycles sure are more technologically advanced since my old-school Schwinn, that's for sure.
Anyway, I'm really loving my bike. At first I was really tentative about where I rode it. There's a condo complex down the street from me that forms a U-bend, so I rode my bike around that several times. Last week I got adventurous. I had to go to the bank, which is on the same street where I live. Mind you, I live on a busy street - full of traffic, shopping centers, and schools. But there is a generous bus lane that gives me ample room to ride my bike in. So I bit the bullet and braved the traffic to get to the bank. Once there, I realized there's a residential side street across from my bank that takes me into downtown Salem with little traffic, so I took that route to get to town. I always wanted to ride my bike around Salem Common. It's one of my favorite walking places in Salem, and I always envied the people who rode their bikes around it. So after making it to the Commons and riding around in a circle about ten times, I realized that The Willows, Salem's beach-side boardwalk and amusement center (it's very small) was practically a straight shoot from the Commons. So on I rode, again riding in the bus lane specifically designed for the tour buses that park and let tourists off at the Willows. I relaxed at the Willows, ate a hamburger at the burger joint that used to be an old carousel, and got a wicked sunburn. But I was so proud of myself for making it down to the Willows on my own. There's no public transportation to the Willows, and I always hated the fact that I had to rely on my sister to drive us there in her car. Now I can get there on my own. And I'd better make the most of my summer unemployment time while I still can. With my luck, I'll land a job soon and my free-wheeling days could soon come to an end.