|Mario Sanchez's 1964 painted wood-carving: Colorful Conchtown. Notice the bike is unlocked.|
Long before I set foot in Key West, I heard stories about the place from Ft. Lauderdale neighbors, a hard-drinking shrimper and his equally hard-drinking girlfriend. They described the rough and tumble island of Key West where a sense of community prevailed. For example, a bicycle belonged to whoever wore it between their legs at the moment. If there was a bicycle leaning against a pole, untethered, and a person drunk and tired happened by, that bike had a new owner. At least temporarily. To my own hippie-basted consciousness, that sounded reasonable. Love the one you’re with. I was interested in that kind of freedom. The promise of the endless party caught my attention, too. So, when I got the chance, I took it. I came to Key West, and found the place to be everything—and more—those shrimpers had promised.
|When we owned the streets.|
I married a man with a red bike, and together we biked to the M&M Coffee stand every morning for breakfast, and then on to the beach, or just around and around. It seemed to me then, as I watched his long body leaning languidly into each turn, that on a bike he was no longer a man, but a fish, undulating gracefully through the rippling sunlight, sleek and beautiful as a shark. We spawned, that man and I, and our baby boy loved being our passenger in his little bicycle seat. Often he fell asleep back there, and I reached one hand back to hold his nodding head, steering us home with the other.
|Sabrina and Baby Miguel on the bike she bought for me when mine was stolen.|
My brother-in-law borrowed my husband’s red bike, and lost it under similar circumstances. Who remembers the realities of chains and locks when deep in the thrall of partying in Paradise? The red bike was gone. I was working at the Miami Herald where a freelance writer showed up every day on a red bike very much like the one lost by my brother-in-law. I didn’t expect he would be willing to part with such a treasure, but I offered to buy it. He sold it to me for $25 and a big smile. My husband was thrilled. It was almost exactly the same as his stolen red bike . . .
|I'm not quite ready for the Tricycle. But I like it.|
The woman who once owned the shop “Among the Ruins,” retired now, rides her bicycle though the streets of Key West, garbed in chic clothes and always a jaunty hat. My Nova Scotia neighbor Enid, rides her bike in a Tour de France-inspired outfit, and a helmet. She’s 84 years old and fit as a fiddle.
So no, I won’t succumb to the tricycle just yet. But we don’t ride our bicycles anymore, either. The traffic is too dense. It’s too scary. And riding on a busy sidewalk, yelling ahead to pedestrians to move aside, goes so appallingly against the spirit of the thing. I can’t do it.
|Bicycle with Baggage. Sometimes a whole life story can be told by a bike.|
Today our bicycles sit motionless on the front porch, posing in the tropical sun for tourists’ cameras, tethered securely, mostly retired, waiting and waiting to be taken for a ride around and around the island.