There were many great things about growing up in Hell’s Kitchen — the joy of ice skating on a pond in Central Park (pre-Wollman Rink), the magic of Fifth Avenue, the romance of the city at night, and the loving care of devoted parents.
I do remember though, one distinct drawback of a childhood on West 58th Street: I never learned to ride a bicycle. I suppose I could have rented one and taken it to Central Park, but it never seemed that important. I walked most places: library, school, church; eventually I rode a bus or subway and, when necessary, hailed a cab.
Once I left the Big Apple, there were more important things to learn: how to drive; raising a growing family in Farmingdale.
Wishing I knew how to ride a bike faded into a memory until the year the last of the Fabulous Four — our sons — departed to find their own fortunes. About the same time, my husband changed careers, entering the airline industry and traveling extensively.
When I remembered those years, I had to wonder “Where did the yesterdays go?” It’s not the calendar that alerts me, or even my creaking bones, but the need to replace old friends, like my Schwinn Airdyne exercise bike.
This faithful piece of fitness equipment traveled with me two years ago to Michigan from New York and stands strong and faithful in my new apartment. It has kept me relatively mobile, with my cardiologist’s approval, as we interact daily for 45 minutes.
It had seemed invincible since the day it was delivered to Northwest Drive in South Farmingdale more than 40 years ago.
I remember that time well because the bike came to fill a void in my life and my heart. The upstairs room in the white Cape Cod once filled with bunk beds and loud voices was strangely empty and silent. The last of the Fabulous Four had left for college, my husband was out of the country, and both the house and my heart were eerily quiet.
I decided to be proactive, swathe my sadness with activity. I retrieved my car from the garage that lonely winter afternoon and drove to Sunrise Highway in Massapequa where I purchased my Schwinn Airdyne bicycle.
My new bicycle was delivered that very day, and I began to ride it nightly. Together we traveled far, sometimes even back to Central Park. I felt the breeze from the Hudson River embrace me as I closed my eyes and pretended I was traveling along the westside of the Big Apple. The efficiency of an Airdyne became a magic carpet, and I had no need for a passport.
Yet, in July it began to groan. Granted at its age, it is entitled, but soon the groaning was accompanied by a significant tremor. I immediately knew it was in dire peril and quickly searched the internet for anyone who repairs elderly bikes.
Of course I found one, but I also discovered that help no longer arrives wearing a feathered plume on a white steed but instead demands a significant service fee.
Undoubtedly, it is well entitled, I have no doubt. Still it raises the question, “Is it time to let go of this faithful friend?”
I would hate to do that because it is not just a piece of fitness equipment I would be saying adieu to, but the memories that are wrapped around it: an upstairs bedroom I had painted red and the view of Bethpage Park from the front window.
The submerged memories of laughter and nonsense that the paneled walls absorbed and recorded in that dormer bedroom for 20-odd years are tightly connected to this singular piece of equipment.
I also realize it is time in my life to be sensible. The boys who once shared that room have become well-ensconced in middle age while the bike never seemed to age. I know I must step over the next hurdle and say, “I’ll pick out a new one tomorrow.” Then one more milestone on the path of life will have been accomplished.
I do wonder, though, “Is it appropriate to buy a new exercise bike when you are 88?”
Anne Donlon Achenbach,
Traverse City, Michigan
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