Cycling

In Amsterdam we cruised, sometimes fiercely, in highly structured bike lanes and without helmets. The Dutch didn’t wear them, so why should we?
 
Everything was stolen from us. Promotional seat covers, removable taillights, back wheels and wicker baskets. It rained all the time, and my chub rub would worsen from wet denim on the thigh of my jeans. On the way home from class, we’d stop at the store for a two Euro bottle wine and strap it to the rack on top of the rear tire. When I sold it my last week abroad, I felt naked, stranded, and like it was time to go home.
 
Zack built me a bike, part by part, in Houston. It was a gift for me upon my arrival to the Lonestar State, but I did not like it. It was a road bike, and the frame scared me, and I felt like I was going to fly over the handlebars and into the middle of traffic every time I rode it. We sold it and Craiglisted a black Peugeot cruiser I fell in love with.
 
Houston was not/is not a biking city, but I did not have a choice. Circling the crack corners was a way to kill time, and sometimes after dinner we’d ride to River Oaks and watch the sunset from some rich person’s cul-de-sac. A few weeks before we moved, my Peugeot was snipped and stolen from our backyard. I had to walk to work after that.
 
Zack built me another bike in Philadelphia. A $20 frame which he repainted in the basement of our Graduate Hospital apartment whilst wearing a gas mask. The frame was cream with three stripes: black, gold and yellow. The seat was vintage leather. I rode it to coffee shops and to my part-time job and to the grocery store and to Rittenhouse, biking home slowly with heavy Anthro bags swinging from the handlebars. Grocery bags got caught all the time and the paper would rip through the front tire like a fan. In Queen Village we didn’t have our own outdoor space, and I would sweat carrying my cruiser up a flight and a half of stairs no matter how hot or cold it was outside. It was a year and a half before I realized the bike was too short for my height. I couldn’t bring myself to sell it.
 
Zack bought me new bike for my 25th birthday. It came in a giant cardboard box that took up half our kitchen. It was turquoise, with a bell and a cushy seat and shiny splashguards. It was so nice I was afraid someone would steal it, so I started double locking it. That winter it didn’t snow but the temperatures were frigid. I wore two pairs of gloves and rode back and forth to Fitler Square from South Philly every single day. My mom bought me a fancy biking jacket from Lululemon that was extra long in the back and had a massive hood so you could fit a helmet underneath. I hated taking the bus. I hated being on someone else’s schedule.
 
That spring, we moved to Passyunk Square. Everything was packed, aside from a few random items we couldn’t place. I ended up leaving my old bike frame, the one with the painted stripes, leaning against a street sign in Queen Village. I didn’t want to throw it away. I wanted someone else to have it and keep it and make it their own. Three weeks later, we went on an afternoon bike ride to Fairmount park where Zack asked me to marry him. Every day for the next year, I wheeled my turquoise cruiser into the alley beside our apartment and secured the iron door shut.
 
The summer after, our bikes went into storage and we lived in suburbia, for a little while. Even after we closed on our house in Fishtown and completely unpacked, the fact that our bikes were still in my parents’ garage escaped us. My dad kept asking when we were going to take them back. I felt no rush. We had the El now, and I could be in Center City in 12 minutes if I caught it at the right time. My job paid for my transit pass. The seasons changed. I did not think about my bike, which was now in our basement, next to all the empty kitchen appliance boxes and framed artwork we’ve grown out of. I thought about how scary it would be riding down Spring Garden during rush hour if I did have my bike.
 
I didn’t ride my bike for 452 days.
 
I got a new job, outside of the city. Regional rail is now a thing, affecting my life. I am now more on someone else’s schedule than ever. I brought my bike up from the basement and dug out my U-Lock. I never took the key off my ring.
 
It’s getting darker earlier, and I forgot to check my bike lights before leaving the house the other night. The batteries were completely corroded, and I didn’t want to chance it, so I rode on the sidewalk most of the way home. In Japan, no one jaywalks. That’s one of the first things Zack and I noticed when we were there a month ago. It doesn’t matter if it’s incredibly obvious that a car isn’t coming, the people just don’t budge until the light changes. But they ride their bikes on the sidewalk. Everywhere, all the time. In Philadelphia, it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk if you’re over the age of eight (something I have to remind my mom when she asks worriedly, “You’re riding your bike again? On…the street?). But it’s completely normal for an adult of any age to whiz past you on their cruiser without apology.
 
There’s a security guard at Temple Station. She sits on her perch, which is minuscule, enclosed in bullet proof glass, and would make me claustrophobic without question. I feel good knowing there’s someone on watch. My turquoise cruiser is still in good shape, three years later. The bell is busted and there’s some rust on the frame, but the backpedal brakes still work and I feel like a dream riding through my neighborhood, and on the two-way bike lane on Berks, even if it’s mostly deserted. I like the feeling of cool air whipping against the sweat on my back after class in Old City, and stretching my legs with intent with each push forward. I always wear my helmet.

Working On It

I like to make resolutions for the new year, though I never took them all that seriously, because I never thought I had that many changes to make. Be nicer to my brothers, more considerate to my parents, get straight A’s, go to the gym four times a week, lose ten pounds. These are run-of-the-mill resolutions that I have made and broken year after year. I’m trying to make changes to my life in 2011. Big time changes.

The new year is coming at an appropriate time for me because I’ve been pretty miserable for the past two months, and for no real reason other than I haven’t had a job, and have done nothing during all of my days except convince myself that I am a good for nothing state school grad with a generic major. What I did these past two months, I’m really not sure. A lot of resenting and wallowing and taking things and people for granted. A busy day for Allison Berger would mean going to the gym, making hummus, and trying on (but not purchasing) clothes  at Anthropologie. Just two months of unemployment sent me halfway into a quarter-life crisis.

But enough about the past, let’s talk about the future! 2011 is looking bright. I’ve got a brand spankin’ new job as the Marketing Assistant at the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and a short but powerful list of shit I want to work on for myself.

First, I am going to be less judgemental. I’m really bad about this, and always have been. It’s the “looks” I throw too casually in all directions that hurt people. Caroline Post called it the “Allison Eye Flare” back in high school, Eric Jaffe made note of it senior year of college, and even Zack wonders sometimes- “What is that face?” My body language is too obvious. JUST BECAUSE PEOPLE MAKE DIFFERENT LIFE CHOICES THAN I HAVE DOESN’T MEAN THEY’RE BAD CHOICES OR BAD PEOPLE.

Second, I am going to have a more positive attitude about where my life is headed, my relationships, my writing, and opportunities for the future. I am twenty-three years old and I can make things happen for myself. I was recently on the phone with my grandma, who told me that I sounded “down” and unlike myself. I told her what was up (I do nothing all day, I’m tired of waiting like a puppy dog for Zack to come home from work, I’m running out of money) and she sounded shocked. “If you don’t keep your chin up,” she said, “you are not the granddaughter that I thought you were.” I’m young, I’m in love, I live in a beautiful neighborhood in a fabulous city, I have friends, I have skills, I have a family who cares. I gotta stop complaining. The world is my fucking oyster.

Third, I am going to stop saying things out loud when I drink too much, because I’m tired of feeling anxious the next day for fear I said something too forward or offensive or spilled someone’s secrets. This is a serious concern about something that is absolutely preventable. I’m also going to stop drinking too much. I started on this one about two months ago- when I stopped receiving a paycheck. Going out is expensive, man.

Finally, I want to go to the gym four times a week, and lose ten pounds.

Not everything can change.

At the Chick-Fil-A in Lufkin, TX

On the first leg of our drive from Houston to Philadelphia (October 23): We stop at the Chick-fil-a in Lufkin for lunch after the long haul through the vast and desolate roads of Northeast Texas. I have never been to a Chick-fil-a before, but Zack raves about, well, the chicken, and the superior customer service. We walk into the establishment and look around, shocked by the number of people in the restaurant. Most of the tables are occupied with couples and children; an entire block of two-seaters are taken up by an extended family who are just talking, casually, surrounded by sandwich wrappers and plastic plates as if it were their own dining room. A group of teen moms try to wrangle their children at the table next to us. One girl has ankle tattoos and is wearing a t-shirt that reads “Beauty and Brains.” She is showing off the ring on her middle finger to her friends while sharing an ice cream cone with her toddler daughter, who is barefoot and screaming, “I DON’T WANT TO GO ANYWHERE.” The entire restaurant quiets down and I can’t help but stare out of my peripherals while I finish my salad. I realize suddenly that this Chick-fil-a is a third place for the residents in Lufkin, Texas. The toddler daughter, overweight, lets go of her ice cream cone and grabs the hand of another little boy, who is bruised below his eye, and pulls him into the play room. An older mother passes by the group of young moms and says, “It’s so nice to see y’all here, it’s been awhile!” A high school boy in uniform comes by and asks me if I want a refill on my drink. I look up, startled, realizing that I may or may not have been sipping out of an abandoned soda cup at our table this entire time. “Superior customer service,” Zack nods.

More About The Weather

When I stepped out of the sliding doors at the Philadelphia airport, I took the greatest sigh of relief. I could breathe! I could breathe soft silky clean air! I could breathe it through my nose, down into the pit of my belly and then out my mouth! It didn’t feel like a “warm hug”, it felt like casually brushing shoulders or a tap on the ass. And when I was sitting in the passenger seat of a smooth rental car with the windows down, passing through downtown Wayne blasting “Solsbury Hill” because it happened to be on the radio, not because I queued up my iPod or anything like I usually would have done, my chest filled with huge gulps of dry early September air. It was my birthday. Zack sang “happy birthday” to me when we got to my house in Devon, because I asked him to. I had realized, that despite receiving so much virtual/physical love that day, no one had sang to me.

When I was little, I lived in Chesterbrook, in the Quarters, one right hand turn before you pass the Genuardi’s (or where Genuardi’s used to be). I remember winding down Chesterbrook Boulevard, passing the middle school and the patch of woods where I have this weird memory of ice skating with a girl named Diana Skelly (it might have been a dream, I really don’t know) and my parents singing just three syllables. “Home again.”

Now, at twenty-three, there are exactly three locations where I can pass and know I’m “home” in Devon. The first is the two stone pillars at the head of my street, which are the most important detail in giving directions to my house. The second is the minuscule “Devon” sign on the right side of 202 South, right before Gateway and the exit to Valley Forge Road. I always find myself looking at T.j. Maxx and wondering if it’s open. Third, and most importantly, the pass from exit 13 on the Blue Route and the drag of Lancaster Ave. Rotating stores have a semi-short shelf life in downtown Wayne, and I can always tell how long I’ve been away from home judging upon how many storefronts have changed since I was last there. On my birthday I noticed that our Blockbuster had been replaced by a seasonal Halloween store.

The Blockbuster went out of business early in the summer, I guess. I’m not sure why the closing of some big name who put all those little video rental stores out of business affected me so much, but I’ll just chalk that one up to “being me.” At this point on the drive home from the airport, Peter Gabriel was still blasting from the radio and goddamn I got all teary-eyed and shit. That Blockbuster, the one Sara and I called at a sleepover and fifth grade when Titanic came out on VHS at midnight and we wanted to know if the store was busy and we thought it was the funniest thing ever. That Blockbuster, the one I spent forever in walking the perimeter of New Releases, arguing over which movie to pick with my brothers. That Blockbuster, where I had a terribly cinematic confrontation with Evan Wattles who as an employee was “helping me find something to watch.” It was a big ugly building, closer than the Paoli location and with a greater selection than Berwyn’s. It still is a big ugly buildling- that’s why it turned into a Halloween Adventure.

This past week in Hilton Head, Hacker asked Zack a question. “So what are you going to miss about Texas?” I answered before Zack could, stating the first image that came into my head. On Westheimer, heading towards downtown. The exact part of the road where to your left you have the shitty Thai place and the sex toy store; on your right is Half-Priced Books and a Spec’s. The curve in the road is just ending and there’s a four-way intersection when you get to the light, which takes fucking forever every time. You can see the sunset there, where the pretty pink clouds meet the dimming blue sky and the Houston skyline sits right below it. The sunsets here are unlike most I’ve seen. That stoplight- that’s when I know I’m “home” in Houston, even if it’s only for four more weeks (!!).

When we got out of the car last night at 2 a.m. after the 17-hour drive from South Carolina, it didn’t feel like much had changed for the split second in which I had yet to to take a breath of fresh air. There were the crackheads, the prostitutes, and the queens, all in a row on the corner. Home sweet Montrose. But then- the air- it felt different. In a mere ten days of vacation, the “warm hug” humidity had turned into a “tap on the ass” slight breeze. There was an sense of newness, freshness and most importantly- dryness. Welcome to October. I would have slept with the windows open, only the windows never stay up and we don’t have screens, anyway.