If pressed, I’d say a bicycle is my most cherished possession, for reasons both practical and sentimental. As I write this, it stands chained to an Alternate Side Parking sign in the rain, gears rusting, rims warping, a veritable monument to the days before gentrification in my neighborhood – I swear, it even appears on Google Earth. Once upon a time it was a Peugeot, though nearly every single part has been replaced at least a couple of times since I was fourteen, bells and baskets added and removed, two extra seats bolted down, one in the front which still serves to ferry around a nine-year-old to soccer practices, and one in the back that only ever carries groceries anymore, or whatever chunky loads we pick up. Like books – we put a lot of books in that bucket. Even empty, our bike must weigh seventy pounds.
So not built for speed, in other words, but fast enough. To me this is a miracle of engineering unlikely to be equaled in the future of interplanetary transportation. Imagine a passenger (imagine three) traveling five times faster than you can walk, on two wheels the thickness of a banana and never tipping over (okay, once). Now imagine you can sometimes do this with scarcely any effort at all.
On downhill bits anyway, yet there is rarely a minute when I do not feel I am going exactly as fast as I’d wish, darting and gliding between the sights and immediate obstacles in my path. Really, what could be closer to flying? Now think about it: Has there ever been a book that did justice to this least earthbound of earthly conveyance?
Well, there is now. The views in Frank Viva’s Along a Long Road are admittedly a great deal more panoramic than I am used to, but the truth is you can only ever see so much at one time, wherever you are pedaling, and part of Viva’s genius here is for the little things that keep popping up beside the glossy yellow roadway which bends and folds and oscillates like Einstein’s curvature of space.
There’s the coast flying by, but look: there’s a guy on his back in shallows, spouting water like a whale. There are trees and a lighthouse on the horizon, but just as remarkable, a dragonfly hovering overhead. Electric poles gigantically looming, now a snail. Mountains emptying into valleys, now two people playing football in between. A gaping, dramatic tunnel beneath the harbor, a boy with his dad in the bay. Tall buildings, a suspension bridge, one tiny, tilting sailboat far below. A flower truck apparently making its deliveries from a shop we see a couple of pages later, an apple rolling into the street. A Variety Store with eggs, dog bones, a lottery advertised in its windows – does the world ever look so fine and so intricate, so worthy of our attention from a car?
Another lighthouse appears near the end, now with a bat fluttering suggestively in the dusk. Gosh, where did all the time go? There is finally also an amusement park ironically twinkling “around a round bend,” its scenic little roller coaster a reminder of all the stuff we tend to miss when we’re strapped in. Did you see if they were selling ice cream at that Variety Store? What do you say we head back and have a look?