By Polly Brewster
I can’t tell you exactly when I became a Brooklyn biker, the kind of person who always wears a messenger bag and carries bike lights, has blisters from gripping the handlebars and knows how to ride with a Kryptonite bike lock under their belt.
I do know that at the time, I was reeling from a breakup—my ex had literally disappeared. He missed a date then skipped town. I was paralyzed by grief that transformed into laziness.
Before he’d disappeared, I’d been in great shape—I woke up early most mornings to jog and went to yoga three times a week. After he left, I was thinner then I’d ever been mainly because my dinners usually consisted of wine. That’s when my neighbor, who sells bikes, emailed me. “I know you’ve been looking for one,” he said. “And I think I’ve got the perfect match.”
Bebe Bleu, as I call her, is a standard female Raleigh three-speed. Her name is due to the fact that I’ve decided she’s French and a bit lazy. I swear I’ve heard her whisper, “Merde,” as I turn into the bike lane over the Williamsburg Bridge. But her presence got me moving again and almost everyday she gets me the twelve miles back and forth from Brooklyn to my job in midtown. One rainy day, she revolted and refused to brake. I nearly crashed into a delivery van before I aborted and took the L train home, hefting her over my shoulder to get down the subway stairs then walking her to my apartment. So now she stays home if the weather report even hints of cloudy skies.
And I don’t want to blame her for what happened that night; I’d been drinking after all, but I swear she wanted to teach me a lesson. I had an OKCupid date later in the evening, but first I went to a book reading at one of my favorite bars with two old friends. I wore white jeans, a sketchy fashion choice for a biker who is accustomed to getting grease and bike dust on her clothing. I kept one eye on my watch and the other on my half-full beer. When the time came to leave, I rode Bebe Bleu to the next bar.
As I was locking her up, a bearded boy in a checked shirt and beat-up jeans came walking by, pushing his own bike down the street. We locked eyes and he stopped and leaned against the brick wall of the building as if waiting for me. But I had a date.
When I pulled the key out of the lock, I looked up again and the boy was still there. The second look only confirmed what the first had: He was exactly my type. A slight bushy beard, a long thin frame, cutting blue eyes, brown hair that curled out from the bottom of his bike helmet.
I wanted him to say something. Anything, but he just stayed still, leaning and waiting. Like Bebe Bleu, he had made the first move, but he needed me to take the wheel. Unlock him. But I couldn’t. Instead, I took the 21st century route, pulled out my iPhone and pretended to check emails. I saw him give a slight wave then walk off.
My date arrived and I knew right away I wasn’t interested. After two drinks, I made my excuses and headed out the door. I felt a little tipsy as I fumbled with Bebe’s lock, but I was determined to escape as fast as possible. I wanted to get home, get to sleep, dream of that bearded boy and me taking a bike ride on Governor’s Island then wake up early and check Missed Connections on Craigslist.
But Bebe Bleu was not pleased. She’d seen him too, and his bike. As I pulled up to a stoplight, I tried to brake, but she refused, I threw my foot out to stop me, but the alcohol took hold and I went flying toward the ground.
The black tarmac slapped me, hard. I barely had time to catch my breath when I felt two hands reach below my armpits. I was off the ground in seconds, hanging in the air, my feet dangling above the street, staring into the worried eyes of a bouncer from the bar across the street.
“You okay?” he asked.
“I think so,” I said.
He didn’t seem to believe me, because he kept me up in the air, looking me up and down for breaks or cuts or blood, perhaps. But I didn’t feel any pain. I was thinking about strangers—the kindness of some, the callousness of others. How there were so many in New York City, how I came across them all day long and sometimes they gave me a random smile or a How-do-you-do and how some days those small gestures held me up like this stranger was doing right then. My ex had been a stranger when I met him: A blond-haired southern boy in the intermission crowd at Radio City Music Hall. I’d thought he was the right stranger. He wasn’t, but I hadn’t stopped hoping that one day I’d find the right one, the stranger who would hold my hand, hold it forever perhaps.
“Really, I’m fine.”
Two other strangers rushed out to grab my bike, get it off the street, away from the traffic. The bouncer put me down. I walked over to the strangers, a guy and girl who gave me nervous smiles as I took off my bike helmet.
“Drunk biking is pretty risky,” the guy said. “But doing it in white jeans is just crazy.”
I nodded and he tipped Bebe Bleu towards me. I took her by the handlebars. “I’ll walk her home,” I assured him.
I did walk her for the first few blocks, but my apartment was pretty far and she seemed apologetic. Once I knew those concerned strangers couldn’t see me, I climbed back on Bebe Bleu and she guided me home.
Polly Brewster is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor who gave up on high-heels. Her favorite activities, besides biking, are all pretty nerdy and include listening to WNYC, hiking, reading and chasing wolves. You can follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/poorcouture.