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The Common Ground: Suburban Superhero

Don't mind the cape, it's a singlespeed thing.

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I need to set the record straight: I am not a superhero.

I know the cape peeking out of my bike bag may make it seem otherwise, but I’m just a desk jockey masquerading as a part-time word slinger. My days are spent wrangling responsibilities, herding cats, and generally trying to lasso the bits of life that move slow enough for me to catch. Nah, I’m not a superhero. I’m just another cog in the two-wheeled machine.

But try telling that to the kids who live across the street.

“You have so many bikes!” they yell when my garage door clatters open to reveal a make-shift bike shop. Bikes hemorrhage from the garage walls, while others teeter against paint cans and yard tools. There’s more inside cluttering the dining room and muddying the living room, but it’s not my fault cold winter nights are the perfect time to practice rear wheel hops disconcertingly close to the TV.

As the kids across the street look from bike to bike, I explain that the red one with the big knobby tires is for turning trees into blurs, the one with no seat is for pretending that I’m going to be Danny MacAskill when I grow up, and the one with no gears is for when I want an excuse to walk up hills.

But the old, unassuming yellow one in the corner–the one covered in a layer of dust–is the most special of them all. That’s the one that reminds me we all start somewhere.

The kids across the street nod their heads in acknowledgement of the sensible nature of my wheeled inventory. Their dad smiles like I just introduced five cats as my children.

It’s a look familiar to many of us. We see it when we show up to the office with a new bandage peeking out from our sleeve and when someone asks how much we paid for the bike strapped to the back of our 2003 Toyota Camry.

Over the years, my two-wheeled harem of bikes has grown to a level that’s somewhere between eccentricity and sheer awesomeness depending on who you ask. I don’t buy nice clothes and I’d rather ride Taco Bell’s intestinal freight train than eat somewhere with a dress code, but I haven’t met a bike that doesn’t pique my interest and make my quiver quiver for another.


But the old, unassuming yellow one in the corner--the one covered in a layer of dust--is the most special of them all. That’s the one that reminds me we all start somewhere.

The kids across the street never ask me to explain why I have so many bikes. They already know why, because they want that many too.

Instead of a dented Subaru Impreza parked in my driveway with one wheel on the grass, the kids across the street see a Batmobile that can go 0 to 60 in a minute and a half with four bikes on top and two more on the back. They know that when I’m leaving for the race I’ve been training for all season wearing a cape and jorts, I’m doing it for the obvious reason: every superhero needs a uniform.
Plus, even Ms. Frizzle would agree that capes make you fly, flames make you faster, and streamers make you a god.

What the kids across the street don’t know is that when I look in the mirror, I don’t see a superhero looking back. It’s not until they knock on my door with a flat and rubbing brakes or ask if they can ride the janky ramps in my yard that I catch a glimpse at what they see.

In a few years, the kids will realize that superheroes don’t really exist, and even if they did, a caped crusader wouldn’t live in the house across the street with the peeling siding.

But for now, it doesn’t matter that my power of invisibility only works in the dark and my attempts at flight usually end abruptly with me sprawled next to my bike. At this moment, all they see is my cape and a garage full of bikes. If superheroes are a construct of childhood, then who else could be a better judge than the kids across the street?

Photos: Anthony Smith