As the days grow chillier and the leaves trade their more festive colors for winter browns, I always begin to miss my favorite warm-weather pursuit, riding my step-through Schwinn.
Where some see a girl’s bike, to this old dude with a balky back, my velocipede is a step-through. Surely, back in my childhood days when my main method of transportation was a Schwinn, I would have never considered hopping on a “girl’s bike,” but, with age, comes certain concessions, so a step-through it is. I bought it used from Kent Fultz at Crankers, and it was he that first suggested the term step-through, perhaps, as a means to soften the blow to my manliness but, perhaps, merely to make a sale.
In warm weather, while some of my rides are solo after dinner, the ones I really anticipate are the weekend ones I take either here in Lima or over in Mercer County, the ones with my preferred accomplice, Lady Jane.
When she’s over here, I’m always amused by Jane’s fascination with the houses we pass and this country girl’s continued amazement that we city folks sure do build our houses close together. I always laugh and remind her that’s nothing compared to what we saw on a vacation in San Francisco, those colorful rows of Victorian and Edwardian “painted ladies” off Hayes and Steiner streets in the city’s Fillmore Section, houses that you’d be hard-pressed to slide a piece of paper betwixt.
When solo biking here in Lima, my rides are often so very sentimental, as I find myself inevitably crossing Cable and heading north to the blocks that surround Cornell and Dale, south of Allentown, and then north across Allentown to wend my way around the blocks of the Westgate ranch houses built during my early childhood by Art Shappell’s builders. These houses, I’ll notice, have stood the test of time well.
Once upon my early 1960s, long before I was first tossed a set of keys to anything motorized, these streets and the new houses that lined them were my world. Yes, these were the streets I rode from my own home base in the middle of Latham’s 1500 block. And, of course, these streets I could never have fathomed I’d once again ride almost six decades later.
During these solo rides, I always think of childhood friends Wayne Neu and, especially Jim Fry, the first of my pals who embraced the notion that silliness is best when presented in tandem. Both Wayne and Jim grew up on Cornell in the first block south of Allentown. While I mourned Jim’s passing in 2015, the memories of those childhood bike rides and the games we played growing up in our own version of wonder years will always be with me until my fit is over. Jim will forever be my childhood symbolic someone.
Now, when Jane and I ride in Lima, crossing the busy streets of Elm and Cable makes our cycling a bit of a momentum-breaking activity, but when I tote my bike to Mercer County, pedaling is far more sustained, and the views are a whole lot different off the bike path that snakes its way through groves of trees, past fields of corn and soybeans and along Grand Lake and its canals.
We’ll count the turtles sunning themselves on the partially submerged logs in the channels. It’s an activity prompted by the child within me that I know will never leave, and when we get to Windy Point, of course, I always count the boats on waters that have been so very compromised over time by toxic algae. I’m also pretty amazed during our summer rides when I see people splashing around in the water just off Windy Point’s small beach because I know they had to have walked right past the red warning sign declaring the waters unsafe.
Perhaps what amused both Jane and me the most during our Mercer rides this past summer was the day we were on the stretch of the path about to go through a stand of trees just north of State Route 219. It was here we interrupted what was intended to be a private moment, one co-starring a dog owner and man’s best friend. As we pedaled toward the scene, we saw the man just off the path in some weeds facing away from us, with one hand on his hip and shoulder-length spread feet in the classic pose seen in men’s restrooms throughout the world. During that moment of master relief, his dog at the end of the leash wrapped around the man’s wrist was occupying his time by adding an extra digit to the owner’s Number 1 by executing his own Number 2.
Given how long I laughed about that whole scenario, it validated a long-held belief of mine, which is, as we age, at least in my own case, the same things that would have prompted staccato bursts of youthful laughter aren’t all that different than what makes me laugh today. As Jane frequently points out, I’m not sure I should be too proud of that.
At any rate, I know soon my rides will end for the next three or four months. And, with the shelving of that activity, perhaps I’ll also place a little of the sentimentality and the silliness that seems to be so much a part of my senior Schwinn moments.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.