Sunday, March 23, 2008

Day eighty two...Ride on.

I used to watch the Six Million Dollar Man every week when I was a kid.

I remember thinking that if I had robotic parts I'd be oh so much happier. It all looked so glamorous and exciting.

Well, when you're a kid it's easy to skip over the parts of things that don't fit your ideal idea of a good time. And I'd conveniently forget that Steve Austin was in a horrible crash that left him with two useless legs, one mangled arm, and only one eye.

To me he was the luckiest guy in the world.

He was bionic.

These days I go to the gym 4-5 times a week. I eat very healthy foods. I don't smoke anymore, and the drinking and drugs are non-existent.

I also ride my bicycle everywhere.

I've been doing it since the beginning of January when my three week, intensive outpatient program started in Florence. I only asked for a car ride once and that was in the middle of a treacherous snow storm. Other than that it's been a non stop bike-a-thon from town to town and from county to county.

Strangely enough, my legs have only recently started to ache. It's a good kind of ache though. I'll live.

Today I took my longest ride yet. It was an all out marathon of a Saturday.

I started out at the gym where I blasted my shoulders for an hour. After that I slugged down a 42 gram protein supplement and a Gatorade, and began my journey towards the Salvation Army. The only one around is now located in tobacco and asparagus country: Hadley, Massachusetts.

My town, Northampton, has lost a lot of its charm since I moved here 17 years ago. The classic Rockwell appeal of Lizzotte's smoke shop with its pungent fresh cut tobacco aroma; The Baystate Hotel and it’s tacky but heart warmingly homey interior and cantankerous proprietor; Sheehan’s Cafe where I first made a speaker cone vibrate in what would soon become familiar surroundings; The Words and Pictures Museum which I felt lucky to have, but too jaded to frequent; Cha Cha Cha restaurant whose legend of gargantuan proportions I am honored to say I was a part of, and plenty of other businesses have moved on or been renamed and sucked dry of all their charm and magic.

It stinks, but I've gotten used to it. We find substitutions for staple necessities like bars, restaurants, and galleries. But it's not so easy when the only places that carried useful, used household items are six miles away.

So, as the Salvation Army moved out to make room for an office supply store, we lost another useful tool for the modestly heeled. The Goodwill has been gone so long that I can hardly remember it. Now, as I travel around and see one in almost every community, always bursting with customers, I feel sadness with a touch of jealousy. Because the world we live in, and the town of Northampton especially, will always trade up. The failed, for-profit business which is slowly moving out of where the Goodwill stood will most assuredly become an upscale trinket shop or a salon.

These days, once the saints march out of town it's very rare that they come back again.

But, I needed a new answering machine and so I chose the half hour bike ride over the speedy public bus.

It was gorgeous. Just brisk enough and windy enough to keep a lot of people at home or in their cars, but mild enough for those who were feeling adventurous to rejoice with the few folks on the bike path who know how delicious the longer days are starting to taste.

These recently extended days are like rapidly developing adolescents, almost exhibiting an air of cockiness. It's like they're saying, "I just got big enough for you to notice a change in me. I can see you all approve. But, while you're busy gabbing to each other about how great I am and how you can't believe the metamorphosis, I'm going so take so many liberties it'll make your head spin. When the dust finally settles and you can sit on the porch with a lemonade and watch the parade pass by it will be too late. I will be just a memory. You'll forget what I used to be like. I'm going to rebel against nothing in particular and withdraw to my room. You'll soon be longing for the days when you and I could spend all afternoon together without a care in the world of who's watching, laughing about the silly things without embarrassment, and discussing the future and how much fun it'll be when I grow up."

I rode along with my winter hat, gloves, and scarf and made it to my destination.

I had called earlier in the day and they said they couldn't tell me if they had any answering machines. They said something about it being a "thrift store" and not Walmart. The aggravated woman whom the cute sounding check-out girl pawned the phone off to said I’d have to come in and see for myself. She said it was a nice day for a ride anyway.

Volunteers. They can get away with anything.

I walked in, sweaty from the exertion and red faced from the wind. I put down my black bag which had gained a few pounds on account of the Asian products I had procured at the market near the bridge. I walked to the back of the store and there it was. One small, simple, white answering machine; a penny under four dollars and it was mine. I plugged it into the wall socket and heard the robotic voice of the internal message. The cursory and detached nature of the default function made me want to buy the picture frames beside it, packaged and shipped out with shots of uncles, aunts, cousins and doggies already in place. I could name them all and make up funny stories for when I had guests over. That would be some fun.

Then again, maybe not. My friends already think I'm kinda weird as it is.

I mouthed a "thank you" to my mom for the confluence of fortunate events, as I have for the last 14 months, and browsed for a while. I bought a couple of t-shirts in preparation for the future warmth and got on my bike. I pushed off in the direction of home and adjusted my even heavier bag on my sore shoulder.

The journey reversed always seems shorter when you know your work is done.

The sun was going down. It was about six thirty. In a couple of months we'll still have 2 hours of this stuff, but now, in the end of the third week of March, it was a free for all. I felt as if I was in one of those clear boxes on game shows that you get into and try to grab as many dollar bills as you can while they fly haphazardly all around you.

My pockets felt extremely full.

My legs didn't hurt so much anymore. I didn't know if it was the cold or if the muscles were finally adjusting to the new regimen of tear, repair, repeat.

I have a goal for the spring and summer. Right now I'm on a course to reach that goal and then some.

This train of mine is traveling down the same tracks as before but it's using a different kind of fuel. It can see the "W" on the stone markers which signify a pull of the whistle well ahead of time. It's more efficient, it's faster, and hopefully it will remain a viable alternative to the model which once was all the rage; the histrionic adolescent who agreed with no one in particular.

As sad as it sometimes is to see its beautiful retreat, the sunset lasts just a little longer if you watch it wave goodbye.

Thanks for reading.


"Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world's first bionic man. F. Alex Johnson will be that man. Better than he was before. Better ... stronger ... faster."

Pictures by F.A.J. 3/22/08 Norwottuck Rail trail. Northampton-Hadley, MA.

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