By Gregory Clark, illustrated by James Frise, June 9, 1934.
“We’re all hopelessly,” said Jimmie Frise, “overcapitalized.”
“I have no capital,” I demurred.
“No, but you’ve got a car and a house and a lot of furniture and everything,” said Jim. “You’re overcapitalized.”
“It sounds interesting,” I admitted. “I’m overcapitalized.”
“We are all putting on too much dog,” continued James. “The whole world has got to pipe down.”
“But how can we be persuaded to start?” I asked.
“Tens of thousands of us are being persuaded already,” said Jim. “I’ve a good notion to get a couple of bicycles. One bicycle for me, one for the family, and a few pair of roller skates. That’s about my real speed.”
“I remember,” I said, “the bicycle days. Good old days, they were. I can dimly remember meetings of bicycle clubs in High Park, hundreds of bicyclists, men and women, gathered for a hike through the pleasant country roads west and north of Toronto.”
“Those were the good old days,” said Jim; “when a twenty-mile journey was all the far a man or a woman wanted to go away from home. The Gay Nineties! The age when all our ancestors had group photographs taken in their funny derbies, the ladies sitting with a graceful droop and the men standing, legs akimbo, with one hand resting on the back of the chair, as if to say, here we are; will there ever be a generation like us again?”
“And carpets were tacked,” I said.
“And paper under the carpets,” said Jim. “You could hear it crackling.”
“And curtain stretchers,” I said.
“And elderly ladies with tall lace collars held up with little pieces of whalebone,” said Jimmie, “seemed to be the boss of everything. They wore watches pinned to the front of their black pleated dresses. Pearl sunbursts at their throats.”
“Old ladies,” I said, “and every Thursday they baked cookies and put them in big blue starch tins.”
“Let’s get a couple of bicycles some day,” said Jim, “and go for a ride out through the country, and go sailing leisurely along.”
“What kind of costume do you suggest we wear?” I asked. “The bicycle costume I remember in my boyhood were rather cramping for these days.”
“Let’s wear sport shirts and khaki shorts,” said Jim, “and golf socks, and those tennis visors. Just nice airy costumes.”
“And we could carry small haversacks,” I said, “with lunch and cooling beverages.”
“When do we go?” cried Jim, happily.
“Let’s not get excited,” I said. “The first real fine afternoon. And you arrange where we can rent a couple of bikes.”
The two that Jimmie delivered at my house at noon were the same size. We lowered the seat of mine several times, until it rested on the cross bar. But it still felt a little stretchy to me. Jimmie and I set forth for the pleasant highways that lead northwest from the outer edges of Toronto.
The breeze was lovely in our faces. Our speed was easy and natural. Except for a slight stretch at the end of each shove of my legs, there was really no effort to riding, and all the balance and skill of my boyhood returned. Jimmie was a little inclined to get ahead of me, and he wanted to “scorch” on all the small hills, but quite merrily we bowled along until we came to the Centre Rd., leading to Brampton.
And as soon as we touched the asphalt, the tooting began.
I trust I shall never again toot my car horn at a bicycle. Of all the din and snorting and beeping that accompanied us as we pedalled up towards Brampton, it was enough to shatter your nerves. Not a motor car felt free to pass us, although we hugged the edge of the pavement, without a long, deafening blast on the horn.
Road’s Too Much Used
You would think we were a public menace the way drivers shouted brief nothings at us out the windows as they went by.
Jim was leading and he kept up a continual chatter which I could not hear. If I pedalled up alongside him, two cars had to pass, immediately beside us, and while I wobbled back into position in rear, the two cars jammed brakes, tooted and shouted at us.
“Let’s get off the highway,” I called to Jim. “Let’s find some pleasant country lane to travel in.”
So Jimmie turned west off the highway and we went merrily along, side by side.
I heard a car coming and I had just time to run my bike into the grassy ditch when a couple of young girls in a roadster flashed between us with a snort of a double horn and a couple of derisive yells.
“Even the country lanes,” I sighed, remounting.
“How are you coming?” asked Jim.
“A little achy,” I admitted.
The road grew sandy, and at the hills we both dismounted to push the bikes up. But there were farmers to talk to whenever we came to them and places you could slow down and look at cows and chickens. I picked some wild flowers at a dell and stuck them in my visor.
“Ah, Jim,” I said. “This is the life.”
One of those modern cars had crept up to within ten feet of me, let go its snort and swished by. Both of us fell in the ditch.
“There ought to be a law,” cried Jimmie, “requiring these modern cars to carry sleigh bells.”
“Let’s get off this road,” I said. “It is too much used.”
We turned north on the next road. Within fifty yards we had to take to the ditch for a truck that slammed past in a cloud of dust. Five times before we came to the cart tracks leading back east, we had to leap for our lives. Then we came to two cart tracks, not a road but just a happy track leading to the east, with grass growing between the ruts and in the distance, woods and wide fields.
So Jim took the right hand rut and I took the left, and at last we had perfect cycling. There were birds to see and farms to stop at for drinks out of pumps. Farmers to talk to across snake fences and homecoming country school children with little red lard pails emptied of lunch. A flock of sheep watched us go by with startled interest and lambs raced away at our approach. We came even to a large pig lying in my rut, and I had to get out and go around her, because she just turned up a very nasty little eye, with long Hollywood eyelashes of a dusty color, and dared me.
We came to a woods and sat down for our sandwiches. My legs ached on the insides and they had turned a rich red color.
“You burn,” said Jim. “I just brown.”
We lay in the grass and finished our sandwiches, even the crusts, and the sun blazed down and my ache grew and my burn was stinging and the hide just above my knees began to feel stiff.
Aches and Splinters
“Jim,” I said, “I think we had better get headed back for home.”
“We can take back roads home towards dusk,” said Jim, half asleep in the deep grass. A herd of cows was coming lazily up the road.
“My ache is growing,” I said, “and I feel as if this sunburn is going to stiffen. I forgot when I put on these shorts that so much of my leg would show, sitting on a bicycle.”
“I brown,” said Jim, drowsily.
So while Jim snored gently, I patted my sunburn and massaged the thick muscles on my legs. But I sensed a growing discomfort.
“Come on, Jimmie,” I shook him.
“This is the life,” drowsed Jim.
We mounted the bike and my skin felt as if it would crack above my knees. They were scarlet.
We pedalled easily eastward and came to a steep hill with an old wooden bridge at the bottom.
“Wheeee,” cried Jim, letting her go down, scorching.
I heard him rattle over the bridge. I dipped the front of my bike down and in a moment I had lost the pedals. My legs felt so stiff I couldn’t get a grab at them. I was so busy steering I had no time to waste feeling for pedals.
I felt the front wheel hit the plank bridge, the bike went north and I went south and I had splinters in me. Jim pedalled back down the far hill.
“Where’s the bike?” he asked with interest.
“It went your way,” I said, moving over to a shady spot on the bridge without having to get up.
Jim rested his against the bridge and hunted high and low.
“Maybe it went into the crook,” said he.
It no doubt did. We got long poles and scratched around in the muddy water, but without any luck.
“What on earth will we do?” asked Jimmie, amused yet not amused.
“I go home on your handle bars,” I said.
And since it was easier to ride on the pavement than on the county back roads, we stuck to the pavement. And if it was any of you who saw us as Jim pedalled me carefully along the edge of the pavement, amidst all the rushing evening traffic, and if I made faces instead of smiling when you tooted your horns warningly at us, it was on account of sunburn and discomfort, rather than any indignation with you.
“How about putting on a happy expression?” asked Jim, as he shoved southward towards Cooksville.
“Relax. Lean back. Look like the Gay Nineties!”
But it is difficult to look happy on handle bars, with your legs stiff from sunburn and your shorts kind of pinching and your tennis visor continually slipping down over your nose.
Editor’s Notes: This story is shorter than most, for unknown reasons, but was not that uncommon in the earlier ones.
The 1890s were a period of huge interest in cycling, since early cars were still very expensive, and the “safety bicycle” was invented in the late 1880s.
Paper was placed under carpets as an early carpet liner to help prevent the ingress of dust from gaps between boards. A curtain stretcher was a large wooden frame designed to hold a lace curtain tightly in position in order for it to dry without creases and retain its shape during the drying process. Curtain stretchers were useful when it came to caring from delicate fabrics that could not be ironed.
Jimmie said “crook” to refer to a “creek”, which was not uncommon.