Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I Want to Ride My Bicycle—I Want to Ride My Bike

I Want to Ride My Bicycle—I Want to Ride My Bike
I want to ride my bicycle; I want to ride it where I like. And therein lies the problem. My bicycle doesn’t go anywhere.

I grew up with a bike. I remember learning to ride, wobbly wheeled when my dad let go and I was on my own. But in no time I was riding my bike up and down our lane by myself. I rode for hours. I liked racing along the roadside. I loved the kiss of the wind in my face.

When I was twenty-three I was in a serious automobile wreck that shattered my knee. That was the end of my bike riding.

Three years ago I had knee replacement surgery. Physical therapy required that I ride a stationary bike. A friend loaned me his, lugged it down into my basement and set it up for me. He tried to talk me into putting it in the middle of my living room. I glared at him. He had no sense of aesthetics.

Every day I went faithfully to the basement for a ride. (Liar, Liar, pants on fire.) (Hush, I’m telling this story.) Okay. A few times a week, for a few weeks. I was bored. I tried to listen to music. I tried to read a book. The walls closed in on me.

My stomach clenched at the thought of going downstairs and riding that contraption into the nothingness. In a short time my exercise bicycle became a prop, a base for the card table to lean against, a divider between two bags of puffy stuff I use in my business, a clothes tree and a dryer rack.

Ha! You know just what I mean, don’t you. Yes, you. You also have an idle exercise bike or treadmill or stair-stepper in your bedroom or living room or on the porch, don’t you? I knew it. I have ideas for this seemingly useful but actually useless equipment.

With a quick welding course, a few basic tools and your inherent ingenuity, you can transform your unused exercise equipment into an objet de arte. Set your giant mosquito or pre-historic beast, or an extraterrestrial monster in your front yard. Give it a name. Your creation will generate discussion and admiration throughout your neighborhood. Folks will drive by and take photos of it—might even make the front page of the Havre Daily News.

Or make it pay. Get off the grid. With belts and pulleys and a do-it-yourself book from the library, hook your unused stationary bike or treadmill up to a battery storage pack. Now that you’ve thumbed your nose at the power company, you will be motivated to spend a part of each day riding your bicycle, smugly assured that each calorie burned will generate electricity to run the refrigerator and turn on the light. This, unfortunately, does not remove said device from your living room since you will station it where you have the best view of the television. However, this solution has multiple benefits if you have children. Each child will take a turn, contributing to familial well-being. Need I say more.

If, in your initial enthusiasm for losing weight or building a buff body, you impetuously purchased free weights, these too can be converted to a useful purpose. If you choose to separate your home from the power lines, you probably will install a wood stove in the living room. Before bedtime on those cold winter nights, heat the weights in the coals, wrap them in heavy towels, and tuck them beneath the covers to warm your feet as you drift off into dreamland. They also make marvelous patio pavers.

Or, with a blowtorch, a saw and sledge hammer, you might decide to dismantle your exercise equipment and haul it to the landfill. Tear down is best done in the back yard rather than in the living room.

Now that spring is more than a vague promise on the calendar, go to your local bicycle shop and purchase a real bicycle that you can ride wherever your heart desires. You will also buy a helmet which will make you look like a hard-shelled beetle, a spandex body suit which will emphasize every tuck and roll, and a water bottle with a hose to your mouth. I recommend draining the water and filling the reservoir with a more palatable drink. All this will set you back a few thousand dollars. Your new purchases will not take up any more space in the living room than the old equipment did.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
April 5, 2012

Are You Listening, Uncle Sam?

Are You Listening, Uncle Sam?
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” In my formative years, that level of service was what the post office meant. Ah, sweet memories of a by-gone era.

Uncle Sam, in his dubious wisdom, is locking the doors of many of our rural and small town post offices. The thought of such misfortune strikes terror in my heart. While Harlem is not on the immediate closure list, ours is a very small town. We never know when the ax will fall.

Our post offices here in rural north-central Montana are the life-blood of our communities, our neighborhood centers.

Why, one day when I was in the post office, I met Renee and Dorothy in the lobby. We exchanged greetings, talked about our garden club and shared news about a mutual friend who is in the hospital.

At that point our mayor came through the door from the counter. He held a sheet of stamps with red hearts, leftovers from February. (I like stamps with roses, myself.)

“Hi, Bill,” said Renee. “We were just discussing it. Don’t you agree?”

Mayor Bill is quick on his feet, “Mmmm, yes, I do agree. And then again, I don’t. I just came in to buy stamps for my wife, so I don’t know if I should agree or not. What are we agreeing to?”

“It. We were just discussing ‘it’,” repeated Renee. Dorothy and I grinned.

“Oh, ‘it’. Yes, in that case, I do agree. I am definitely for ‘it’.” Bill nodded and joined our laughter.

Caught up in our brilliant conversation, we realized we were blocking the doorway. With farewell smiles and hugs we dispersed to carry on with our busy days.

Another time this same week I met Mary John coming out of the post office. We discussed health, relatives, and the upcoming Prom for which Mary was prepping a grandson. I had been thinking about calling Mary to have lunch, but I had not picked up the phone. Here at our community center/post office I invited her, face to face, to join me at Deb’s for a burger.

This morning while I was struggling with three boxes, a bag and my regular mail, a woman, a stranger to me, hurried over and offered to help. Gratefully, I accepted. Together we lugged my heavy boxes to my van. I opened the back door and we muscled them inside. I thanked her and we continued talking. She mentioned she planned to drive to Billings that afternoon. We searched the clouds for snow. Together we considered the wisdom of her trip. It is a long, long dangerous road when it snows. All weekend I will be thinking about her, hoping she is safe. I wish I had asked her name.

My Grandmother always told me that if I could, I would cut off my nose to spite my face. I like to think I have outgrown that characteristic, but our postal service seems bent on similar self destruction. If I had to drive twenty miles to Chinook or, worse, forty-two miles to Havre to find a post office, my visits would be few and far between. As it is I spend money at my post office every day, sometimes twice a day. It adds up to quite a bit of money. I would be forced to find other ways to ship packages and mail letters. I am not a financial wizard, but this makes no sense to me. How can the postal service make more money by cutting service?

But I digress. Let’s get back to the community center aspect. Everybody goes to the post office. I like to go to the post office. How else can I keep my social life active? Sometimes I get out of there in ten minutes; sometimes it takes an hour. The post office is a place where neighbor greets neighbor, friend meets friend, where business is conducted, lunches arranged, plans discussed and mail picked up. Where else is there a bulletin board on which we can tack up announcements of community events and dispense vital information that everybody is likely to see? Where else can we buy stamps with hearts and flowers?

So maybe our post offices out here on the edge of the world do not make a lot of money. But hear this, Uncle Sam, close them and you rip the heart out of our towns.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out our back door
March 29, 2012