I was around 11, hanging out in downtown Los Alamos, NM. On my way to Pizza Hut, I spotted a bike in the front window of Strings & Spokes. That bike spoke to me. It sung to me and wooed me. This wasn’t just any bike. It was my bike. I decided I had to have it, in the way a young girl does with fierce determination.
That night, I told my dad about it. “It’s a mini ten-speed! It fits me! It’s blue, but not just any blue!”
As if not understanding the importance of color, my dad asked me what brand this bike was. I didn’t know how to pronounce it, but I knew how to spell it: G-i-t-a-n-e.
Really, in my mind it was: A-L-I-C-E.
“Well, we can go take a look on Saturday,” he said.
I assumed he was just trying to appease me. I knew he had no intention of buying the bike, but he had to! I longed for that bike like a new best friend. I’d never been blessed with a brand-new, out-of-this-world bike that was my size. I felt destined to be on that blue baby.
While waiting for Saturday to arrive, I took three trips downtown (probably hitch-hiked because that was the town and the times we lived in). I said I was going to Pizza Hut but found myself window gazing and daydreaming in front of Strings & Spokes like it was my elementary happy hour.
On the Saturday that stands out, my dad said, “Let’s go see this bike.” He asked the salesman a barrage of engineer, Consumer-Reports, guarantee-type questions while I feigned patience.
My dad said, “Alice, that’s a lot of money.” I knew it! Here we go!
Then, to my surprise, he said, “Tell you what. I’ll pay for half, but you’ll have to earn the other half.”
What a perfect moment. His parental direction aligned with my determination. We cut a deal. With money from my paper routes, I matched my dad, and the blue baby came home with me. I rode her to freedom (my mom’s house, East Park swimming pool, downtown, friends’ houses, and T, G, & Y.).
I haven’t thought about that for decades. How could I forget such a sweet memory? And how did it arise anew in me?
Well, that’s another chapter. I’m now in my mid-50s and my dad’s in his 80s, although still an avid biker. By avid, I mean he and my stepmom road their bikes from Virginia to Portland, spinning those wheels and sitting on those seats every day for three months.
Granted, that’s been many years. Still, his 80th birthday bash included several group rides in Santa Fe and Taos. My parents dedicated an area in their home for bicycles. As they upgraded to the latest technology, they kept their old bikes for visitors. My dad maintained a small workshop for the bikes, where he spent many late nights working on them for family and friends to ride safely.
Recently, my parents made the move from their sprawling home to an apartment. They gave possessions away to people who could use them. Uh, I could use a bike.
They agreed. They’d give me one of my stepmom’s old bikes. Two challenges arose. First, my dad (who I may take after) is a professional procrastinator and perfectionist in areas such as this. He asked which tires I wanted on it—the road or mountain? Did I have a helmet? Did I think my new male friend still wanted to go bike riding with me?
Like when I was a girl, I practiced patience and pressed down my giddiness. My stepmom suggested I keep asking and give my dad a deadline. She feared he’d never get the bicycle to me in Ohio from New Mexico. Ah, shipping, challenge number two.
I had an idea. (I’m getting a bike!)I asked my dad if when they flew to Michigan to visit their first great grandbaby, could they check the bike?
It sounded like a stretch. He wasn’t sure he’d have time to get it ready and then he had to get the right box and he didn’t know the airline regulations…
Who knows how many nights he stayed up beforehand making sure the bike would be in working order for the adoption. I can safely assume he gave up plenty of sleep for me, as is his tendency when it comes to fixing ski bindings or car engines or computers.
He called me on his way to the airport to say he’d gotten the bike apart and in the box. He headed to the airport early, assuming the airline would force him to return it to the car, but he’d try. I faithfully told him it would be fine, like when I told him I’d earn my half of the money.
My bike is on its way! So, on the Michigan family visit, my dad spent much of two days in my nephew’s garage putting the bike together, riding, retesting, and perfecting the gears and safety.
All this—not just giving me the bike but staying up all night to pack it in that box, going to buy a tool he has at home but forgot, putting the parts together, making sure it’s just right, asking me to hang out and talk with him in the garage even though he needed to concentrate—hit me hard.
Gratitude engulfed me. This is one of the best ways my dad shows love. I let that settle into my heart like a favorite meal in my belly. I felt full and nourished.
On Sunday, I got to ride my bike and practice shifting. I need practice.
This is a special bike. My dad researched, bought the Tomac 98 Special Black frame and other high-end parts, and built it with love for my stepmom. It’s the bike she let me ride when I visited. I rode their generosity. And not just me. Dozens of people have ridden the bike which now belongs to me. It carries a legacy of hospitality and shared memories.
Yet, once I got it home, I resisted riding, like joy I refused to unpack. My dog recently died and what I really wanted was to go for a walk in the forest with her. Plus, it rained so often. And, I wanted to ride with my sister, but her bike is at her boyfriend’s.
As Father’s Day neared, I knew I’d call my dad and he’d ask if I enjoyed riding. Someone suggested I lie. Uh, no.
Yesterday, before the rain came, I strapped on the helmet, filled up my water bottle, and wheeled away in search of a trail my neighbor told me about. I couldn’t find it.
I found something better: exhilaration, the thrill of riding a bike down a random road, tires spinning, wind blowing against my body housed in a florescent-yellow shirt with pockets on the back. I rode in circles and down neighborhood streets I never noticed, all with a smile on my face that almost felt foreign. But, it was mine. I recognized it from when I was a girl.
It’s not the same transportation freedom I tasted as a kid, but instead a freeing of something inside that through life got tied a little too tight. I loosened up. I laughed.
My dad (and stepmom) gave me a bike and I rode it home to myself.
7 thoughts on “A Dad, a Daughter, & a Bike.”
I think of your dad with great admiration, Alice, remembering the good conversations we had on religion and his endorsement on the back of my book about the Christian Right. I can see him working long and hard on the bike for his big little girl, and how proud he is of her. He and your stepmom are gifts to you, as you are to them. Thanks for writing a Father’s Day tribute that said all that needed to be said without going all Hallmark on him.
Your stepmom is proud to call you her daughter. Thanks for writing this special piece for your Dad.
We love you.
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Much love! We’re lucky to have shares a special path on this journey.
What a beautiful and touching story, Alice. I can picture you, your Dad and stepmom in every situation you recalled. Thank you for sharing your heart so intimately 🙂
Thanks for reading and commenting, Beth. So nice that you visualize this.
I too was fortunate to have a father that bought me a Gitane at Strings & Spokes. I enjoyed it through summer of ’76, but my dreams of owning a ‘real’ BMX bike wasn’t fulfilled until June 1977, when he took me back to Strings & Spokes so I could pick out the bike of my dreams, a CYC Stormer MXR! At the age of 11, I was on top of the world! I spent countless hours honing my bike handling skills in the Pizza Hut parking lot, on the sidewalks in front of the bowling alley/movie theater, and a couple years later at the BMX track behind Trailmaster Schwinn in WR. Thank you so much for sharing your memories of your father and the bicycle, brought me back to the sounds, sights, smells, and my love of summer in LA.
Lee, thanks for sharing your LA bicycle memories. A Gitane, at Strings & Spokes! And, ah yes, Pizza Hut parking lot and the movie theater… you’ve flooded me with warm memories.