Up until two weeks ago or so, I have been driving an old, early 1980s Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon. This is one of those 3-rows-of-seats monsters that people bought to haul more than 3 kids around before SUVs had securely ensconced themselves into the consciousness and landscape of modern america. It also predates fuel economy, and simply, if i may take liberty to verb a noun, 'hulks'. It is a mighty boat, it is, in the parlance of one time or another, the bomb.
But recently my cousin and her husband let me know they needed it back, and that's OK with me -- their generosity in loaning it thus far has been wonderful. And I have a bicycle. I've used it around Ojai, which is just the right kind of town to be using a bicycle in, small with centrally located services, pleasant to ride through in the open air. And when I recently wanted to go farther away, I used the bike in concert with public buses and Amtrak to get up the coast to meet my sister, mother, and some friends at a beach house.
After spending three days (two nights) there, i was left alone there. This made my mother nervous: no car? no place to stay? no one I really knew? Of course, as I pointed out to her, she was simply leaving me here under the same power I'd used to come here, and I had in fact arranged to stay at a local hostel. But in fact, I was nervous, just a bit. I had brought along a barely manageable amount of stuff for a bicycle, and the more I thought about it, if anything went wrong with the bike, it would be difficult to manage carryinng it all for any appreciable distance, not to mention moving the bike itself. Even with the bike working as well as can be expected given its advancing age of 11 years, my own body isn't the most powerful and tireless engine; up a moderately steep slope, I'd give myself a mile or two at best. I didn't know the local transportation system well, and it was easy to imagine accidentally stranding myself because of an oversight in details of the bus schedule. I've done it before. Of course I could always just call a cab, and of course these things are rarely ever true crises, but I'm also unemployed right now, and extra expenses ad to that anxiety.
It happened today. I'd checked out of the hostel, and was carrying everything with me. I'd spent two hours this morning fixing a flat that had happened last night (and otherwise readying my somewhat dodgy bicycle), with the kind and generous help of hostel staffmember Ralph. I'd stopped at an employment agency to register. I came out, and the tire was flat again, and not just 'low' but actually flat, nearly two-dimensional under the load of my bags on the rack. I had bought a hand pump that morning at Rite-aid, and pumped for a minute or two before I realized it was totally useless: the air was simply flowing right out of tire, possibly faster than I was putting it in.
I began to try walking the bike down the road. The flaccid, floppy tire impeded the rolling action of the bike. After dealing with this for a block, I took the heavy bag off the rack I'd fastened to, and carried it on my shoulder. As I'd hoped, this made the bicycle roll better, but the weight on my shoulder became tedious after one block, distinctly unpleasant after two. I decided to put again fasten the bag to the back of the bike. The wind was strong enough to blow my helmet directly into the traffic on highway 1 while i was doing this. After waiting for traffic to clear, I retrieved the helmet, and made my way to a service station, where I looked up a bike shop. Relief. It was close, not more than a few more blocks away. Tension: it was 4:30 -- did they close at 5? Or earlier? Both seemed possible in this small town.
I made my way there as quickly as possible, and found it open. I removed my tire, and showed it to a knowledgeable store staff member, and he quickly found the hole in the sideway of the tire. I bought a new tire, new tube, and put them on, put everything back on the bike. It rode well.
It's such a small thing, managing a flat tire, in the middle of a place I'm not part of, and you'd think that a 30 year old wouldn't think anything of this. But for some reason, I do.