Highway 29 runs right past my neighborhood, accessible four different ways in two different directions. Hop on the northbound side for long enough and it will take you through the Virginia foothills near Charlottesville, up into the northeastern fringe of the Blue Ridge Mountains and then back down again right outside our nation’s capital.
That’s where we met up early on Saturday morning, in a parking garage behind the hotel, to honor my dead father with the exchange of a Raleigh Tourist bicycle nearly 50 years old.
Bob bought the Raleigh the same year my sister and I got our first bikes. Mine was a sweet, army-green mini with a metallic silver banana seat; my sister’s bright yellow with vinyl flowers. Bob’s bike was like an old Cadillac: a matte-black steel frame made in England, a thumb-activated gearbox controlling three dependable speeds, two-tone fenders, whitewall tires, a slim, aluminum pump that clipped into the crossbar and a fancy leather seat known as an English Saddle.
He rode that bike all over Long Island in the ensuing years: on the trails of Eisenhower Park, the boardwalks of Long Beach, virtually every paved road and bike path in our hometown. He brought it to North Carolina when he moved here, but he could never handle the hills. Long Island is flat; Greensboro is not. And he was getting old, even then.
So it sat under a tarp in his backyard for approximately five years, its tires flattening and a patina of rust developing on its faded paint job like a scabby rash. Until I strapped it to the back of my car, drove it up against those mountains and then back down again to place in the back of a Volvo belonging to a very old friend.
He dropped it off at the bike shop before he even got back to his house in New York City, dialing up a new gearshift cable, new brake pads, city tires and a touch-up on the chrome. He’ll have it on the streets before the Fourth of July.
Back in New York, Bob’s bike will have a new life rolling through Harlem and upper Manhattan, Central Park, the Rockaways, maybe even make it back to Long Beach if my friend is so inclined to take it there.
I drove back home without it, feeling lighter, up the mountains and then back down.
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