My wife insisted that I buy a bicycle. She wanted me to have one just like hers—a used $50 beach cruiser that had been spray-painted electric blue by someone who must have spent the better part of a 90° day drinking rumrunners on the beach. Her bike had a thick metal frame and fat ribbed tires that looked invulnerable to the shards of glass common on Fort Lauderdale Beach, where we live. It had no gears and no hand brakes, but it did have a wire basket and a tinkling bell on the handlebars. On the day she brought her bike home, I was lying by the swimming pool. "Well!" she said breathlessly, hopping off. "What do you think?" She was beaming.
"It's...uh...nice," I lied.
"Oh, I love it! You ought to get one."
"Really," she went on. "We could bike everywhere together."
I gave my head a little shake no.
"It will open up broad new avenues of life for you," she said.
"I don't want to open up broad new avenues of life," I said. What I didn't say was that I felt self-conscious riding a bike. At 44, I was too old to join the legion of bikini-clad beach bunnies and their stringy-haired boyfriends who pedaled up and down the center of the Strip at the beach. And I wasn't fanatic enough to join the helmeted crew of yuppies who, in their shimmering knee-length biker's tights, crouched low over their downcurving handlebars and hurtled past our apartment complex on their 12-speed Fuji racers. And, finally, I was afraid that if I bought a bike it would not be long before I resembled that loose-and-leathery-skinned old man who pedaled his battered beach cruiser past our gym each morning. He had a white beard and a tattered straw hat. A Scottish terrier sat in his handlebar basket. I already had a beard that was turning white, and I did not need a beach cruiser with a Scottish terrier in the basket, pointing up the fact that aging is inevitable.
Perhaps if I had told my wife all of this she would have been more merciful. As it was, she made a point of pedaling everywhere, even refusing to ride with me in the car. The first time that happened, I drove 10 miles per hour and leaned across the passenger seat. "Please, get in!" I urged. She shook her head no and pedaled on. I hissed at her, "You're making a fool of yourself!" She pedaled faster. A cop stopped me. He called her back.
"Is this guy pestering you?" he asked.
"No," she said. "He's my husband."
"I'm sorry," he said, and drove off.
"What the hell did he mean by that?" I shouted. But she had ridden away.
She left her bike outside our front door at night. We live on the first floor of a two-story apartment complex off Bay-view Drive. I assured her it was safe.
"May be I should bring it inside."
I thought she was kidding. "Where inside?" I said, grinning. We have a two-room apartment.
"The living room," she said.
"No way!" I said. "The bike stays out. Who would want it, anyway?" She didn't speak to me for two days.
One night one of the cars in our complex was burglarized. My heart leapt! There was hope! But that afternoon she came home with a lock and chain. She chained her bike to the gazebo by the swimming pool every night. One night I waited until she was asleep. I went outside, unlocked the bike and left it in the parking lot, certain it would be stolen.
At daybreak, I went outside to make sure it was gone. It was still there.
That bike was ruining our marriage! My wife and I were like ships that pass in the night. She pedaled. I drove. One day I stopped at a light. She pedaled through and waved. I watched her, far up ahead, chain her bike to a palm tree on the beach. She disappeared over the sand. The light turned green. I circled the block looking for a parking space. I passed her bike again, and circled. And again. And again. Each time I passed that bike it seemed to get bigger and bigger, and everything else around it seemed to get smaller and smaller until, finally, my patience ran out. I parked in a no-parking zone.
When I returned to my car at twilight, I found a parking ticket stuck under the windshield wiper. I crumpled the ticket just as she pedaled by. She waved.
I got home an hour after she did because of beach traffic. She had already showered and fixed herself a drink.
"What took you so long?" she said.
"All right! All right! You win. But no bell and no basket." The next day she bought me a beach cruiser like hers.
We rode everywhere together. In the morning we went to our gym while the sun rose pinkish-orange over the water. The cool air in our faces was invigorating, and the three-or four-mile ride warmed us up for our morning bout of weightlifting. In the afternoon we rode to the beach and chained our bikes to the palm tree, while on the street car after car circled the block looking for that elusive parking space. At twilight we pedaled along the beach to a bar on the water. We had a drink under a thatched roof and watched the sun set pinkish-purple. We went home before dark, pleasantly tired.
She was right. The joys of owning a beach cruiser in Fort Lauderdale far outweighed the disadvantages. It is an almost perfect city for a bike. I have yet to discover a rise in the road, much less a hill. Pedaling even our one-speed beach cruisers is almost effortless. There is always a cool breeze in our faces, and if I take my shirt off I can get a tan.
It was great exercise, too. We discovered that our legs were in such great shape we could afford to cut down on our workouts. We no longer pedaled in that leisurely, meandering sort of way, but began to go at it with enthusiasm. Every time we approached our apartment complex, we raced the last 100 yards.
Women began to whistle at me as they drove by in their cars. "Nice legs, honey!" they called out. We rarely drove our car anymore, except when it rained. We saved money on gas and on parking tickets, but most of all we saved time. We enjoyed being the envy of tourists as they stared at us from rented Chevettes.
I have owned my beach cruiser for three months now, and I wouldn't part with it for all the mink oil on the beach. I used to chain it to the gazebo next to my wife's bike, until a week ago when we had another burglary in the complex. My wife tried to reassure me.
"Don't worry, dear. It's safe," she said.
"No way," I said.
So every night now, without fail, I bring my beach cruiser into the living room and chain it to the sofa.
Pat Jordan is a novelist and free-lance writer.