My hair is thinning and sort of crinkly looking. This imperfect hair has been one of the great obsessive faults of my life. I look at it and think, “I should get it straightened; that would be much nicer.” And then I think, “But the wave sort of adds body.” What wave? What body? I should shear it off and wear silky short like Judy Dench. Or I could spike it with a little jell. Maybe dye it to hide the gray. It used to be a nice red color, an auburn not strawberry red. But that was a while ago. I started to gray out around 25. Like I was saying, my hair has been a great fault in my life. I get to thinking about improvements and an hour is gone, spent in my mind, no solution found. So I wear it sort of long, you know, to my shirt collar. And kind of crinkly. And looking like I ought to do something about it one of these days. Maybe for my birthday. I’ll be 43 tomorrow.
I tend to move through much of life like this—thinking about the things that need to be done instead of doing them. Maybe someone else can relate. Because by the time I’ve figured out all of the steps I need to take to go from A to B, perhaps getting new carpet installed, it’s time for bed and too late to price carpet. And then I need to work the next morning. And then when I come home the laundry is such a pile, I have to do that. So life goes and I never take the first step about the carpet or the hair or whatever.
I was going to make a great life change for my fortieth birthday. I was going to do a fluff and puff on the house, you know, a light remodel, and sell out in our wonderfully overpriced market. Then I was going to move to a new condo down town where I could bike my errands and get in really good shape. In the long run I would bike Cycle Oregon as a great achievement. I’d do the whole 500 miles in one week.
That wasn’t all. I was going to go for that very short spiky hair look too. That look is great with highlights so I think it would look great with silvery gray hair too. I’d also have to get a whole new wardrobe if I was going to start biking everywhere. I don’t want to look younger, just less bookish. Bookish, it turns out, hasn’t been working for me.
This was to be my gift to myself for my fortieth birthday. I started by getting some books from the library. DIY’s that would inspire, help me make the right changes to sell my home for top dollar. I also worked a lot of over time so I could pay for the work. Of course I was working too much so I didn’t get them read. The simple thing to do then, was just paint and re-floor the place. But. Well. You know.
The worst part about the birthday Gift of Change that I didn’t give myself was the looks I got from my friends. The ones that weren’t surprised when I told them the reasons none of it had been done yet.
The traffic light changed and I paused in my self assessment. If forty was the big year of change that didn’t happen, 43 would have to do. Only three years late on my goal. I suppose, some of my more cold hearted acquaintances would say that three years late was early, for me. They might be right. The three years had brought a massive recession and ruined my hopes of flipping my house. But I could still get a bike.
On the left, one block beyond the grocery store was the bike shop. It was the place I had intended to go to buy the perfect road bike. And all the accessories: safety lights, saddle bags, helmet, whatever. For three years I have been driving to the grocery store (on the right hand of the street) and imagining what fun it would be to get the bike.
Traffic was pretty clear. I passed the grocery store. I pulled into the left lane. One more block, and there it was. Ben’s Bikes. Family owned since 1976. I pulled into a parking spot near the door and took a deep breath. I would have to get a bike rack. I couldn’t get even the perfect road bike in the back of my Taurus.
“Welcome to Ben’s.” The young man at the counter said. He had that hair cut I was thinking of, a little spikier than I imagined, and of course I wouldn’t have side burns. His name tag said “Conner”.
“What can I help you find today?” Conner’s uniform was a t-shirt that said “Be weird, Bike a Mountain,” a pair of rather baggy blue jeans, and a utility belt. He must assemble and tune bikes as well as sell them.
“I need a new bike.” I said looking straight at him.
“Great. What kind of biking do you do?” He walked out from behind the counter and steered me towards the display bikes.
Here was a dilemma: admit I don’t bike and walk out, or make something up. I hesitated.
“We’ve got a great selection of ten speeds for the casual rider.” Conner said. “Or if you are looking to try something new we have a great selection of mountain bikes.”
“I would like to try something new.” I don’t think I said this in response to his offer of mountain bikes. It was really my delayed answer to his first question. But there I was anyway, so I might as well look at mountain bikes.
Conner explained the options for breaks and seats and shocks and tire tread. And while I did understand what he was talking about I found myself so nervous that I picked one based on the color. It was coral with a kind of gunmetal thing going on. Very pretty.
“This bike will do great on trail rides. It should handle steep inclines very well, but I have to say it’s not the best for off trail riding. The shocks are fairly weak.” Conner gave the bike a close inspection, turned the peddles, squeezed the breaks, that kind of thing. ”But I think it’s great for a beginner. Really sound. A good brand. It’s customizable. When you are ready, you can really increase the quality with a better set of shocks. This is a good choice.”
We moved to helmets. He explained replacing them after every fall that affected my head. I picked the helmet that most closely matched the gun metal color. He showed me pads and I selected the set he recommended.
I’m embarrassed to say how much it all added up too. And for a mountain bike. I knew enough from Conner’s short tutorial to understand that I really shouldn’t put a basket on it and ride it to the grocery store. Part of me wanted to turn around and go back home.
We were at the counter already. I imagined a sale would be nice for the shop. They certainly weren’t hopping with business right then. Conner smiled, his blue eyes wide and happy looking. He seemed confident that I wasn’t going to kill myself on this bike.
I gave him my credit card.
“There you go, Robin” he said. I started. He smiled and handed me my credit card back. Of course, the name was right on it. I signed my sales slip.
“Next Saturday I’ll be leading a short trail ride up Powell Butte. It’s a great beginner ride. We’ll meet at the store and caravan to the Butte. I think you would really like it.” He was smiling, so he probably wasn’t making fun of the old lady with the new bike. He handed me a sheet of paper that turned out to be a calendar of bike events for the month.
I thanked him. He bagged my accessories and said something about the bike being ready in an hour and I could come back for it later or wait in the store. Figuring I ought to get my groceries after all, I thanked him again and left.
Change was in the air. At the grocery store I forgot that I was out of milk and spent way too long in the hair care section. I came away with box of “mountain berry” color. It promised to cover grey with a natural look. The idea of “mountain berry” colored hair ever looking natural made me laugh. Maybe mountains were in the air. The picture on the box was promising though, the kind of deep red that says “I dye my hair for fun!” I also picked up some mousse and a new pair of hair sheers.
I did remember to buy a bike rack when I picked up the bike. Conner laughed about it, at himself, for forgetting to make sure I had a way to bring the new bike home.
“Don’t forget Saturday” he said as I left.
I spent my last surge of energy that day in front of the mirror with my new sheers chopping my frizzy, crinkly hair up to my ears and wondering if it looked sporty. Then I threw the last vestiges of caution to the wind and turned my hair “mountain berry” red.
The next morning, I almost didn’t recognize myself. It sounds a cliche, but some things in life are just like that. I woke up the day before a frizzy headed accounts receivable clerk and things were normal. The next morning I was forty-three year old mountain berry with a bike to match. I could leave the bike in the garage while I intended to get around to learning all about riding mountain bikes or I could just go.
Saturday morning I had a date. Me and my bike and a bunch of people who knew what they were doing. I may never get my hair right, but I will ride that bike. No one will see my hair, if I wear a helmet.