Keith Snyder
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Two summer days

July 17, 2010

Tomorrow is the NYC 200K, the only brevet I'll do this year that starts near me. Each brevet or training ride means Kathleen has to be a single parent of two small children for the duration, so this morning after we all rode to the Farmer's Market and got some vegetables we'll throw away next week, she disappeared for her compensatory day off and the boys and I went to Payson, the smallest of the playgrounds in our neighborhood.

Mac has been off his training wheels for weeks now, and I know Butch has wanted to be, but he doesn't really care all that much. Still, he mentions it in passing every once in a while, so I know it's been on his mind.

Today I watched the training wheels while he rode and then called him over and said, "You know what? I've been watching you, and your training wheels are up. You're not really riding on them, you're riding on your wheels."

"I am?"

"Yeah. You're balancing."

"Time to come off!"

A beat.

"You want me to take your training wheels off your bike?"




"Uh—" I actually thought I'd been planting seeds for later. "Well, let me see if I brought the right wrench."

I had.

"OK, let me show you something now."

See, last time he tried, which was the day he saw his brother do it and his daddy get all excited, I got caught up in his rhythm and accidentally left out a step in his instruction. With Mac, I'd shown him, with my own bike, how when you brake and the bike comes to a stop, it doesn't immediately just topple over and slam into the ground. You have a second or two of dead time, kind of a null feeling, before you need to put your foot down. Brake...aaaaaaand foot.

So this time I showed Butch what I'd shown his brother, and then there were a few practice foot-downs with me holding the bike steady and stationary and moving his body the way I wanted it to go, and then at the point where I ran alongside Mac and held the seat until I took my hand away—all of this above-board, no tricking the kid about letting go, because why teach him not only how to ride a bike but also how to distrust his father?—Butchie changed the script.

He did the foot-down stationary bike thing by himself.

Then he did it again and let himself balance for half a second longer.

Then he did it again and rolled an inch.

Then his brother got all excited and was bursting to teach him how to do it, so I let him give one lesson and then ran interference for Butchie's experimentation again. He went a couple of inches this time. Then a foot. Then two feet.

They learn so differently.

Then I said, "I'm going to stand over there. Can you go all the way around that way and come to me?"

He did.

Oh my gosh, the joy and pride. His and mine.

"Butchie!" I called to him as I walked across the playground a few minutes later, holding things up in the air. "Know what these are?"

He stopped and peered. "My training wheels."

We smiled at each other and I pitched them into the trash can.

Within a minute of his first circumnavigation of the jungle gym, he was doing skids. A couple of hours later, at a different playground we went to after stopping at the bike shop and having kickstands fitted ("Kickstands! Kickstands! We're getting kickstands! I'm so excited! ... Daddy, what's a kickstand?"), I saw him do a running dismount on his way into the bathroom.

I'm outclassed already.



July 19, 2010

Yesterday was the NYC 200K. I've been trying to remember the term for when you wilt leafy vegetables in a frying pan. I think it's just "wilt."

95°F and six million percent humidity? That's wiltin' weather.

Controle #4 was at an orchard. When I came out with a quarter watermelon and went and got my little utility saw, I thought I was going to share with the other parboiled randonneurs sagging against the building. But there were no takers. Which was just as well, because after I started sawing it and sucking it down, I'd have killed anyone else who wanted some. The whole thing was gone in about six minutes.

That may be an exaggeration. It may have been seven minutes.

It was definitely not eight.

I was thinking, when I was able to think at all on this ride, about my different boys and the different parts of me they bring out. It's been on my mind anyway, and brevets give your mind all kinds of space for ranging.

Wait—that was in between earworms, as usual. This time it was mostly Sheryl Crow, because Jimi Hazel posted the Prince cover of Every Day is a Winding Road on his Facebook page and I didn't like it, so I went and listened to the original, which I don't love either, but it lodged.

I made a point of noting the earworms this time, in order:

  1. Every Day is a Winding Road
  2. Lewis Taylor, for a few bars, until I made him go away. Sadly necessary for my sanity, but indefensible musically because next up was:
  3. Every Day is a Winding Road
  4. And then this after passing Rockford Drive
  5. And then Every Day is a Winding Road until I had to sing (out loud):
  6. Ten Mississippi because I was counting how far behind Nigel I'd fallen (14 Mississippis).
  7. This was all interspersed with a random series of hummed tonics, octaves, and fifths in time with the pedals, which partly reminds me of humming magically when I was little and partly reminds me of how the arpeggiator on my Juno-6 sounded during a Cosmic Debris gig when Richard Bugg fed it control voltage it wasn't set up to accept.


Mac is like me. Tell him something clearly, coherently, and accurately, once. If he doesn't get it, he'll ask exactly the question he needs answered. If he does get it, he wonders why you keep talking after that part.

Butchie doesn't prefer his instruction verbal. Verbal is for memorizing songs and stories, which you'll next hear when he stands up in a pizza place and performs First Grade, First Grade without warning for the patrons. (You probably think it's New York, New York, but you weren't at his kindergarten moving-up ceremony.)

Mac loves to know how things work, and he actually remembers it all and integrates it into his thinking later. He can name all the parts of his bicycle drive train, tell you which part turns which other part, and take a pretty good stab at the source of the energy behind the whole chain, all the way back to the Big Bang. He knows about gravity (well—he knows about it as well as anyone knows about it—namely that it exists, that it pulls things toward each other, that it's why rain falls and he doesn't fly into space), and he loves to watch Nova Science Now with me. He knows that if he wants to stay up late, all he has to do is ask me a science question, and I put my bike clothes aside yesterday when I got home from the 200K so I could show him the salt deposits because he knows all about electrolytes.


Wit over physical humor, collaboration over competition. I've never been your basic guy.

Butchie loves anything physical. When he was a baby, he adored being thrown up in the air and tossed on the bed, and now he loves trying to beat me in strength contests. He can't, and he knows it, but he loves the struggle—and he loves our running comment:

One day you're going to be bigger and stronger than me...

That's when he starts getting the sparkle in his eyes. (And it's true. He'll probably be 6'6".)

But not today!

And then I pin him down or flip him over.

I don't know who'll be laughing harder when "today" comes. Probably me.


And then those moments. The ones you'd never get if you weren't around all the time. Like my best night ever, which was when I dithered about whether to wake Mac up and show him a meteor shower at one in the morning. Potential for disaster cascading into the next day: incalculable. But I eventually did it. Woke him up, bundled him up, took blanket and Thermos, and we walked up into Inwood Hill Park.

Where there are no street lamps.

Just footpath, black. Trees, black. Sky, nearly black. Footfall sounds, leaves under shoes, some weak wind.

I expected the wolf fear.

But he wasn't scared at all. He was with his Daddy, and he had his flashlight, and he was awed at what had been bestowed upon him.

"Are you going to bring Butchie next?" he kept asking.

"No, just you."

We couldn't find the chalk marks the astronomy buffs said they would leave on the path. And eventually, we met some guys who couldn't find them either. And then we all figured it out.

We were there on the wrong night.

So we all trooped back down to Payson Ave, and the guys went off uptown, and my child and I sat on what will probably be my favorite bench until I die and drank the hot chocolate from the Thermos and talked about how quiet it is at night, when there are no cars, and we listened, intently, to leaves falling and sporadic tires on pavement way off on Broadway, and eventually we got up in the quiet and went home and told each other I love you and he went to sleep.

I thought I'd have to tell him not to make Butchie feel bad. Because he's inherited my meaner impulses, too. But I think he knew you don't demean something that special for as base a reason as sibling rivalry.


Just like Butchie doesn't lord it over him, either, about when we crossed the George Washington Bridge on our bikes. All the way over, and up to Palisades Park. With adults entering the bridge on the Jersey side while we were exiting, most of them summer bike riders who thought they were doing something physically substantial, crossing over to New York.

And here's this four-year-old on training wheels coming off the bike lane, going Hi! Hi! The broad smiles and yells of encouragement we got that day? Oh my. Nearly as sunny as the boy himself.


And the pedals go round and round, and every day is a winding road.


Boys and bikes, songs and science, and Daddy, what's a kickstand?

For their happiness?

Oh yes. Name the price.


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