The Old Ones Just Keep Going
On the day the election is called we mount our bikes and climb the hill near what used to be my mother‘s Flatbush apartment. The hill seems endless but today I am also endless. I stand and push, suddenly aware of how much power lives stored in the thickness of my thighs. Power enough to defy gravity, power enough to propel myself through the morass of time. The hill seems to go on forever. My breath is short but longer than it used to be. It has been nearly three weeks since I quit smoking for probably the 75th time in my adulthood. This quitting felt different: I had a birthday, I’m talking about it in therapy, I’ve noticed an overall drop off in self-destructive impulses, my mother died of this very thing. All of these factors make me feel like this quitting is different. But then again I often have the feeling that “this quitting is different.” The last 74 or so times, it has not been.
I am biking around a Brooklyn that is celebrating an election win, or maybe more accurately, they are celebrating an election loss. They are celebrating a vote count suggesting that there are more American voters who don’t want an obviously cruel racist authoritarian in the White House than do. A low bar, but a bar nonetheless. It is nice, the dancing and horn honking and firework setting, the public parties, DJ’s in the streets, spontaneous chants. It is nice the woman bouncing down a Bed-Stuy block alone, smiling wide, cigarette in her mouth, “Can You Feel A Brand New Day” playing from her phone. The song is from The Wiz, a 1978 black all-star take on the Wizard of Oz staring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor, Nipsey Russell with music by Quincy Jones. It was sung after the Wicked Witch had been finally defeated. I know somehow that this woman has been planning on playing this song on this day for the past four years, I know because it’s the kind of thing I would plan, it’s the kind of thing my mother would have planned. Probably even the same song, since watching The Wiz was a family tradition and its songbook a part of our lexicon. Can you feel a brand new day? I don’t know if I ever could, or if any Black American person truly can. Collectively, in our shared history, our generational memory, our epigenetics, we have been experiencing America, experiencing whiteness for hundreds of years. After all this time it is much easier to sing about a brand new day than it is to believe in one.
The bike under me is of the type I have come to favor in the past few years, old racers from the 80’s and 90’s; cheap, heavy, speed tanks with names like Centurion and Bridgestone, wildly dated design motifs like pastels and multi-colored geometrics. Bikes that when I was a kid we just called “ten-speeds.” This, in fact, is a big part of why I like them, they remind me of the teenagers I used to look up to when I was little, when I still felt like looking forward to something better. They would be riding around the neighborhood with fully formed bodies, tight jeans and white shoes, having just recently outgrown big wheels, BMX bikes, and skateboards. For these newly minted big kids, there was no more “riding bikes” as an activity unto itself. They rode bikes because they had Things To Do. They might be going to work at the mall, or coming from a girlfriend’s house; adult tasks that we elementary schoolers could only imagine. The sleek functionality their bikes was evidence of their newly acquired power in the world.
Now some of those same kids are dead and their same sleek bikes are old and unassuming, homely with just a touch of austerity. This is another reason why I like them. Hardly some four figure carbon titanium light-as-a-feather bike that you can never lock up outside of anywhere at anytime, these old bikes look the way I feel. Battle tested, unbreakable, unassumingly fast and discreetly beautiful. Their true value is not visible to just any rando on the street. You have to love them, you have to get close to them in order to realize exactly how resplendent they are.
I love the mechanics, the simple tug of the cable, the satisfying whir of the chain on the cogs. I love how gamely they take my weight and the entirety of my pushing, how they let me ride them hard, hands on the brake hoods, each breath feeling more impossible than the last. I love how they let me ride them soft, relaxed, headphones in, arms in the air, floating down an empty block, Solange or Patrice Rushen, Yaphet Kotto, or M83 filling my head with their intimate storms.
I’ve been biking around aimlessly since I was 8 years old and it’s one of the times I feel most like myself. Untethered, on the move, alone, in love. Tired and sweaty, but with the knowledge that I will not stop, no matter what happens, until I make it home again. I love that when biking around a city there is only one directive. To keep going. To see everything there is to see, to stay alive, and to never stop.
We did not dance to celebrate an election, we did not scream FDT into the streets. I have too much memory of this country to fully do that. But we did feel pretty good. And we did bike among those who drank and partied and yelled. We did allow the sweat to drip down our faces, our thighs to grow fatigued and finished only to gain strength all over again. We did stop for roti and doubles, for reading in the park, for letting the sun bathe us just as precisely and easily as a mother bathes her children. We did keep climbing, battered and scarred, beautiful and powerful until we made it all the way home.