My memory and I have always been amiable, if fickle, companions, and on a fledgling summer Saturday like this, it is quick to remind me of boyhood adventures that may or may not have actually happened.
I’ve told some of these “Well, when I was your age” stories to my kids so often that they’ve almost become parodies of themselves (the stories, not the kids). But on days like these, when the angle of the sun is just right and the air is tinged with an evanescent whiff of barbecue and lighter fluid, it’s hard not to indulge myself. The wind carries the distant jingle of an ice cream cart like a siren song and, suddenly, inexplicably, I’m a kid again, and nothing feels more important to do right now than get out the door, get on my bike and ride. Anywhere.
I remember that, as a boy, my bicycle always conveyed a sense of freedom, of possibility. If I were a cowboy, that old Schwinn was my trusty horse, unlocking the vast frontier expanses of suburban southeast Denver. Or at least the parts to which I couldn’t convince my mom to drive me.
And like the frontier of the Old West, there were few lines on the map, with plenty of uncharted territory in between. Most places further afield, if I wanted to go, I’d lay the Triple A road map of Denver out on the dining room table, commit a few landmarks to memory, and set out. N.B: My memory does not record me ever folding that map back up and putting it away once I was done with it, so maybe all that frustration with my own kids leaving our tables looking like abandoned archeological digs just genetic karma coming back to bite me.
I remember setting out on a day much like this with an unjustified interest in seeing whether I could make it downtown, to the State Capitol building. I might have had five dollars in my pocket for lunch and a couple of dimes to call home if something went wrong, but I might not have – in retrospect, I seem to have been prone to skipping a lot of the more sensible precautions in the name of spontaneity. And while I had no real idea of how to actually navigate downtown, Denver’s streets had a somewhat logical grid layout, so knowing that it was to the north and west, vaguely near 16th Street seemed good enough.
I am sure that I made it to the Capitol: if nothing else, I recall the distinct image of riding my bike precariously across the curved set of arches of Civic Center Park in the shadow of its golden dome. But nothing else – what I did there and whether I managed to get back home under my own steam – seems to have risen to enough significance for my memory to preserve.
It’s just this sort of little adventure that I think the gradual intrusion of technology has deprived us of. The omnipresent ability to preserve – or at least record – every moment has drawn a sort of veil across our willingness embrace of the moment.* And in these days of turn-by-turn GPS instructions and real-time traffic updates, we’ve forgotten the joy of just setting out without a map. At wondering whether to go left or right at the T-intersection and eyeballing the lay of the land. It’s a joy that tugs at something of the explorer, just a trace of Lewis and Clark puzzling which fork of the river will ebb into a brackish swamp, and which will lead on to the western sea. It awakens senses we’ve let wither, inviting us to gauge the lay of the land, the angle of the sun. In its own little way, it brings us just a little more to life.
On a day like this, I think it must be the invitation to this awakening that makes it impossible not to indulge in a little exploration. If I hurry, I can probably still catch the guy with the ice cream cart…
*(Devon and I recently attended a Train concert at the Shoreline amphitheater. At one point, Patrick Monahan invited a newly-engaged couple in the front row on stage for the band’s signature romantic ballad – Marry Me. The couple slow-danced the whole song with one arm outstretched, taking a “selfie video” of their little interlude. Sigh.)