Sunday, July 24, 2005


Didn't enjoy that at all.

Early Friday morning I left everyone else asleep in the house, put the bike on the rack, and drove up to Orleans to take a solitary ride on the Rail Trail. Orleans is nine miles up the road, all of it along Pleasant Bay, which is not at all misnamed but may be a case of Yankee understatement. Windows rolled down all the way. The air was delicious, the cleanest it had been all vacation, and that's like saying heaven's been improved upon. Going to be a great ride, I told myself. And it was. I just didn't enjoy it much.

Without warning, I rode into a patch of heavy nostalgia.

Worse than a flat tire or hitting an oil slick or having a pack of Lance Armstrong wannabes come charging up on your tail all hollering, "Passing on your left!" and you having nowhere to go to get out of their way except off the trail and into the sand.

Smacked into the nostalgia almost right at the start---passed by the bread and breakfast the blonde and I tried to get reservations at for our honeymoon. Lucky for us, they were full up and we found a place closer to the beach we loved. But still as I came close to the first place I was suddenly assaulted by memories. My bike and I were thrown backwards in time, landing with a thud in 1988. The whole rest of the ride was a furious slog back to the future. I didn't make it. By the end of the ride I was no closer to now than 1997 or 98.

I still haven't made it back to the 21st century.

I have two problems with nostalgia. The first is the general ennui it causes. When you get lost in nostalgia it can begin to seem that all the good times are in the past, over and done with, your life in the present is dull and sad by comparison, and there's nothing to look forward to that will be as wonderful as the good times you are remembering.

The second problem is a little more idiosyncratic. I am not one of those people who can focus on the good times and forget the bad. With me it's more the other way around. Plus I have an exceptional memory.

The blonde and I have been biking the Rail Trail since our honeymoon. They boys have been riding it since they were babies.

(Here they are at the end of a ride in 2002.)


I figure we've ridden along it at least 30 times, and I think I can recall each and every trip. So Friday, wrapped in nostalgia and weighed down by memory, I rode with the ghosts of 30 bike rides. I hate ghosts. Mainly because I don't believe in them. It's one thing to be haunted. It's something else to be haunted by figments of my own imagination. It's a form of self-torture. Makes being alone with myself a less than pleasant time of it.

Except for what was going on in my head, it was a gorgeous ride. I rode through woods and past salt marsh, from the bay up over the backbone of the Cape out to the ocean. At Coast Guard Beach I met surfers coming in from their morning run and saw a ranger giving a group of dads and their sons a quick lesson in surf casting before leading them down to the beach to wave at striped bass passing by, laughing at them. In the salt marsh I watched two young women in waders, a pair of grad students in biology I think, making their way carefully through the muck of low tide, picking samples of something out of the standing water, studying it under magnifying glasses, and making notes, before moving, even more careful not to step in the wrong place and having their leg sucked down up to the knee in mud, to another spot to repeat the process. I saw flocks of sandpipers on the tidal flats and terns hunting the pond, making their headfirst vertical dives after their breakfasts. I saw the old Coast Guard station turned into a painting by Edward Hopper by a beautiful accident of light and shadow and timing.

And I saw all those past rides, including and most vividly the last time I rode it alone, which was 10 years ago. I left the blonde and the then 2 year old at the beach and set off. The blonde was not taking long bike rides that summer because she had a passenger with her every where she went. So I went off on my own to take notes for a travel piece that never got published because the newspaper that asked me to do it decided at the end they wanted me to give it to them as a gift. I remember coming back to the beach and being greeted by the 2 year old who had just visited the ice cream truck. He came running toward me, his face and chest striped with the juice of a quickly melting cherry popsicle.

"Daddy!" he yelled. "I saved some for you!"

That was 1995.

It could have been yesterday.

I remembered that Friday and felt suddenly very lonely.

When nostalgia starts to take hold, it's a sign the vacation is over. We had two last beautiful beach days, Uncle Merlin came back for the weekend, we ate at one of our favorite lobster shacks last night and Uncle Merlin showed the boys two episodes of Stargate and now it's time to go home.

The car is packed up.

We're out of here.

Same old, same old begins here tomorrow.

Monday, July 18, 2005

My Ward Cleever moment

Took the bikes out on the Cape Cod Rail Trail this morning. Not a long ride. Only about 8 miles, round trip. We went from Orleans Center to Nickerson State Park and back, with a lunch break at our favorite clam shack along the way. The 9 year old rode behind me on a tag-along. He's not fast enough on his own bike to keep up with the big folk. Meant I had to go slow and pretty soon Uncle Merlin, the blonde, and the 12 year old had left us far behind. Which was fine. Gave us a chance to talk.

At one point we met up with a high school kid coming the other way on his bike. Probably 14 or 15. Before we could say hi to him, he flashed a great big smile and called out, "Hello! How you doing? Great day for a ride, huh?"

An American teenager who's not sullen and withdrawn, who's open and friendly with strangers even when he's not being paid to be is not the rarest bird on the Cape. But they are terns to the other sort's gulls, who are much better at making their presence known and felt.

What’s with him? I asked myself. Must have just fallen in love, I guess.

“Nine year old,” I said, “Here’s some excellent fatherly advice. When you’re a teenager, smile and say hello to people.”

I was more or less thinking out loud, not expecting him to pay much attention. Too much else going on around him for another lecture by the old man to hold his interest.

But he said, “Why is that?”

When he asks why, he expects a real answer.

“Because it impresses people,” I said, “It makes them feel good. They’re not expecting it.”


“Because most teenagers don’t smile and say hello.”

“Why don’t they?”

“Because most kids that age don’t feel like smiling a lot of the time.”

“Why not?”

“Well, they have a lot going on in their lives,” I said carefully, thinking that it wasn’t the time or the place to explain the horrors of puberty. “They have to deal with a lot of changes. When you’re like 14, 15, 16, there are lots of new things in your life and new experiences that you don’t always know how to handle.”

“Yes,” he said, “Like going to a new school and making new friends and sometimes they have jobs and girlfriends and boyfriends.”

“Yep,” I said, “So they’ve got a lot on their minds and a lot of times they just get lost in their own thoughts and problems and they forget there are other people in the world. So grown-ups sort of expect teenagers to be sullen and withdrawn and kind of unfriendly.”

The words sullen and withdrawn aren’t in his vocabulary yet, I guess. “I’m not sure what you mean,” he said.

And then, at that moment, we came upon two more teenagers, boys about 14 or 15, leaning on their bikes by the side of the trail as if they’d be planted there by a sitcom writer for the purpose. Both were glowering about them, their mouths hanging open, their eyes cold and inward looking, their expressions...well, sullen and withdrawn.

The 9 year old called out to them, “Hello! How are you today?”

Both kids looked startled. One just frowned, the other said, after a pause, “Lo.”

That cracked the 9 year old up. He laughed and when we were far enough past them he called to me, “Now I see what you mean, Dad.”

The whole rest of the way he made sure he shouted out hello to everyone we passed and he pointed it out to me whenever a teenager didn’t say hello back.

We’ll see how well the lesson took in five years.