basementsongs

In an effort to conserve gas and save money, I’ve been riding my bike to the train station on a regular basis.Beck It reminds me of my sophomore year at BGSU, when I’d zip around the campus on the red one-speed I bought for three bucks from my friend, Brett. With my Toledo Mud Hens hat turned backwards and an obnoxious turquoise backpack over my shoulders, I’d ride to classes or just tool around aimlessly with the strong Bowling Green winds trying to blow me over. Accompanying me on these journeys was my semi-reliable Emerson portable cassette player (made from the finest plastic China had to offer). And blasting through my headphones in October of ’89 were my favorite albums at the time: Edie Brickell & New Bohemians’ Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars and Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop.

Brickell and her band were the flavor of the month, with a hit single and exposure on the radio and MTV. Beck’s record, on the other hand, was released with hardly any airplay and little press (the only review I read appeared in Rolling Stone). What the mainstream missed was their loss, because this is one killer album. Featuring his longtime collaborator Tony Hyams on keyboards and former Missing Persons drummer Terry Bozzio, Guitar Shop is a solid mix of rockers and ballads. Moreover, each instrumental displays a 45- year old Beck on fire, showing up the hair metal rockers half his age who dominated the radio in the late ’80s. In the movie in my head, when I wanted to feel cool and ride around like I was Mel Gibson on a bike, I would cue up “Big Block,” with its funky beat and nasty guitar solo, and just cruise the campus.

Those autumn months in ’89, when the air was crisp and the skies were gray, when the co-eds began dressing in snug jeans and sweatshirts with the school colors — those were carefree days. Sure, there was pressure to succeed and get good grades, but the sense of security the campus provided made me feel invincible. It sometimes surprises me that I was never hit by a car or ran over any pedestrians — although that could have been a good way to meet girls (damn!) — because I was pretty reckless on that bike.

Recently, while riding my 18-speed Crossroad bike, I’ve been acting like I was twenty again: reckless. I’ve got my helmet loosely secured under my chin and a tattered old blue backpack over my shoulders, and I ride the edge of the sidewalk with the strong winds of Santa Clarita trying to blow me over. And wouldn’t you know it, accompanying me on these rides is my reliable iPod blasting the music of Jeff Beck through my headphones.

Two weeks ago I set off for the train station and realized that I’d forgotten my monthly pass. I made a U-turn and rushed back home. Here’s the thing about pedaling as fast as you can in 15th gear: there’s a danger of losing sense of how fast you’re actually going. As I came up our driveway, the bike veered toward the large cypress trees growing alongside the side. For a split second, I thought I could save myself; then the front tire hit the bed of stones at the base of the trees and I lost control. The bike smashed into a cypress and I was thrown five feet from my bike. Landing with a sickening thud, my hip slammed into the concrete and my elbow crunched hard. I sat up with a gasp and nearly threw up.  After a minute of silent cursing, I got to my feet and assessed my injuries. Elbow? It felt like needles were poking in it, but manageable. Hip? A dull throbbing pain shot through my joints and a burning sensation when I walked. Eh, bearable.  As I limped into the house, one thought kept repeating itself in my head: “Dude, you’re going to be 40. You have to be smart. Think of the children. The children! You’re not 20 anymore!” (I also thought: “Dude, you’re a dumbass,” but that’s beside the point.)

I didn’t feel confident enough to ride the bike afterwards, and fell into a two-week funk. This whole business about turning 40 started to become a big deal. As the weeks have wound down to my birthday I’ve been thinking “Why? Why does this age suddenly make a difference?”

Is it that 40 was the first birthday I can recall for either of my parents? It sure seemed to be a big deal when mom and dad turned 40. I was a kid, and frankly, that number seemed so far off in the future it just made my parents seem, well, old.  Of course, they weren’t old. Throughout their forties, and beyond, they accomplished so much.

Thinking about them I was reminded of October, 2007, when my parents came out to California so that my dad could help me paint the house. This turned out to be one of my favorite experiences with my dad, just the two of us, talking while sports radio and the Indians/Yankees divisional series played in the background. He shared many stories about growing up in North Olmsted and working on his father’s chicken farm. At one point he had to take a seat and catch his breath; he was 70, after all. “You okay?” I asked, trying to mask my concern. He chuckled and replied, “I’ll tell ya, I’m not 40 anymore.”

He could have said “I’m not as young as I used to be,” or “I’m not as spry as I was in my thirties.” Well, maybe he wouldn’t have used “spry,” but you get the gist. Dad using 40 as a barometer gave me reassurance that 40 is young. A mature, graying young, but young nonetheless.

This week the air became cooler and the leaves began to fall from the trees; it felt like Ohio in the autumn. It also felt like it was time to turn off the funk and get back to rock and rolling. On Monday, I hopped back on my bike and started off for the train station. With “Big Block” blaring once again, I pedaled through the streets of my neighborhood feeling like I was 20, or at least 32. Screw 40, or 50 or 60. The future is wide open and I’m going to stay atop my bike until I’m 70 — or at least until I run into a cypress tree again.

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