My car died. When I say that, I don’t mean she broke down on the side of the road and I had to get her towed to a mechanic’s shop; I mean she died. Gave up the ghost. Went kaput. Keeled over. Kicked the bucket.
This happened two weeks ago. It all started with a grinding sound when I tried to put her in reverse. Then it was a battle to get her in first, then second gear.
I knew the old Subaru’s days were numbered, so I went to the bike shop to pick out the new mode of transportation that would get me around town and strengthen my legs until I get a job.
The wagon croaked on the way home.
I could feel her going into gear for the last time, so I lumbered down Coral Way and Miracle Mile in first, turned onto Segovia, then my street, and I rolled her into the parking spot under the tree, where she has been sitting ever since.
Biking is not so bad. It was at first – the ache in my thighs was like the creaking of a rusty hinge on an old door; the pain of pushing forward tasted like blood in my mouth.
I am not an athletic person. The only sport I did in high school was swimming; I think I chose that one because it didn’t get me sweaty. This lack of desire for physical exertion means that any sweating or hard breathing has to have a point, like getting home from class.
Since I’ve taken up trekking on two wheels everywhere I go, though, I feel like I’ve been given a new city. I see people now. I hear things, too – the sounds of traffic, of birds, of construction and the catcalls of the builders. My only radio is my own thoughts and the repeated song of “Push forward, keep going, you are almost there.”
Two days a week I teach downtown, and much to the disbelief of my friends, I have been following the little path under the Metro, crossing over the highway at Viscaya, riding down the sidewalk on Brickell, and chaining my bike to a street sign outside the SunTrust building. I see it ahead of me tall in the distance and internally calculate how many rises and falls of my calves it will take me to get there.
I feel a new ownership of my body, a new relationship with food and with legs I used to look in the mirror and just see as huge. Now they are my propulsion, my motion, and my own empowerment.
I’m learning to wait: I wait for buses, I wait for the Metro, and I wait for rides. I’d been a driver for almost ten years when things slowed down for me – making me wait for my body to propel me to the next block.
It is good, this new transportation, and it has me thinking about the immediacy and the instant arrival that cars provide. I wonder what our ever more instantaneous travel does for our understanding of the distance of things, the delay of our gratification, and our ability to keep moving when our bodies are weary and our minds impatient to be done.
I appreciate anew the irony and luxury of sitting in front of a computer screen all day using nothing but the muscles in our fingers, and then paying money to go to a place to pick up heavy objects just for the purpose of having sculpted arms.
I am sure that soon these legs that these days push the pedals through intersections and across overpasses will apply brakes and accelerate once again. But for now they will work as they were meant to work and carry me wherever it is I need to go today.
Angie Henderson is a graduate student in the School of International Studies