My love affair with the bicycle goes back to my paper boy days in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. I was ten years old and I went to my dad and asked him for a bicycle. My dad had nine children and he was a blue-collar worker, so asking for anything made me feel guilty and ungrateful. This was different, I told him that I had applied for a paper route and I needed a bike to deliver newspapers in South Brooklyn. My dad had a very surprised look on his face; wondering if I could rise before the sun and handle the elements. Looking back I realize just how much faith he had in me.
I got a shiny new red bike with a big basket in the front for my papers and I started earning my own allowance. I held onto that bike for a few years, but clearly it was worse for the ware and by the time I was a teenager, it was time for a new bicycle. My sister Debbie and I ended up at a bingo hall one Saturday night. I can’t tell you how we were allowed to gamble at ages 14 and 15, but we were and we did. I managed to win the big jackpot of the evening: a whopping $75 and with my winnings, I bought my sister and I used bikes. Mine was a yellow Schwinn with a white seat and my sisters; well I don’t recall. That Schwinn took me to Coney Island, our neighborhood bowling ally, the community pool, and on really hot days, for a bag lunch under the Verrazzano Bridge — that had to be the coolest spot in all of Brooklyn.
That bike was stolen a couple of years later and I was so angry about the theft I refused to purchase another bike. I guess I realized that this personal protest was not hurting anyone but myself, so I decided to upgrade to a really nice blue ten speed. I don’t recall much about this bike except that my tire got caught in a trolley track and I went down hard. In fact, looking back I have had three or four bad bicycle accidents throughout my life. Still, bicycles have been a means for me to do great things and see so many interesting places.
I did the Boston to New York AIDS Ride three years in a row and was able to help a great cause and meet new friends. I did a week-long bike ride through Provence I will never forget. Biking through Tuscany was fantastic and the list of places goes in. Despite the aforementioned serious accidents, I am committed to riding for as long as I possibly can. In order to stay healthy in the Algarve and reduce my carbon footprint, I have decided not to get a car and to do more cycling and walking. Buying a used bicycle has not been easy in Faro. I ended up buying a mountain bike last week, only to hear from the owner of a bicycle I really wanted the next day. A bike rental shop in Tavira was selling 10 gently used bikes and the style and price were exactly what I wanted. I decided to buy one of these used bikes and sell the one I had just purchased. I must have had good karma last week because the owner of the bike agreed to deliver the bike to my apartment and when he arrived he said, “I brought you a new one.” Honestly, brand spankin’ new, right out of the box, and I got myself quite a deal (see photo below).
I’ve learned my lesson, albeit the hard way, and I have purchased a good helmet. I’m excited to see Faro and the Algarve by bicycle. I’ve already mapped out a route to the beach and the cinema, and I’m certain I’ll be using it for trips to the mercado.
Not having a vehicle is sometimes frustrating: waiting for trains, complicated transfers, the loss of spontaneity, the freedom of mobility and the joy of a stick shift. If I’m going to be honest with myself, I love having a car and I love driving a car. However, this is a time in my life where being practical and smart, takes precedence over convenience. Truthfully, I can and will survive without a car. Waiting for the train will teach me patience; I can plan trips to IKEA and the mall; walking and riding has far greater health benefits; and the money I save on gas, insurance, and maintenance will help take me to places far more exotic than the grocery store — a short walk or ride from my apartment.
Riding in a foreign country is a bit scary, but fear can get in the way of true adventure and I won’t allow this to happen.