In Tandem

French for "Bicycle Built for TERROR"

French for “Bicycle Built for TERROR”

In a rare, but fortuitous, twist of fate I found myself with no school related obligations today. This was a rare enough occurrence that The Curmudgeonly Lion and I decided to spend some time “out of the house” as a sort of belated Valentines date. We had debated the details for almost an hour last night: did we want to see a movie? If so, what movie? Did we want to go out to breakfast? Did we want to go to the beach? After an hour of chasing options around in circles we failed to make a decision and decided to just play things by ear.

By morning we had managed to come to the decision to go for breakfast at a favorite restaurant called The Griddle. I had hoped that this would mean that we would get an early start on the day and could go out for a few hours, have some pancakes, maybe do some sightseeing, and then come home and relax again. After all, I recently finished producing and editing the first film project for the semester, which means that this is the first weekend that I’ve had to concentrate strictly on directing. But we didn’t get the early start that I expected. On weekends we play this funny miscommunication game that drives me crazy. It goes something like this:

“What time would you like to get up?” Asks the Curmudgeonly Lion.

“Nine am.” I reply. If it is a free day, my answer is always nine am: it is late enough to feel like I’ve slept in, but early enough that I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my morning. Always nine am.

Then the morning will roll around and I will wake up by myself, eventually, and look at the clock to discover that it is ten thirty or eleven fifteen. My back will hurt and I will have been mired in repetitive morning over-sleeping dreams.

“Why didn’t you wake me up at nine am like I asked?” I will ask the Curmudgeonly Lion.

“Well, you were sleeping so well that I thought I’d let you sleep.” He always responds.

Well, we didn’t have this conversation this morning because we decided to get up by seven am to get to The Griddle early so that we wouldn’t have to wait in line forever to get a table. That was the plan. I finally woke up at eight forty-five when my alarm went off. The one that I decided to start setting in order to wake up by nine am on weekends.

So we didn’t get the early start that I thought we had planned, but we headed out the door and went to The Griddle where we waited outside in line for half an hour to get a table. By now that is as much a part of the experience as the pancakes, so I told myself to get over it and just enjoy a day out with my husband.

After breakfast we got back in the car. The Curmudgeonly Lion had brought his new camera with him and was eager to try it out and, at the table, had made some remark to the effect of “OK, we are definitely going to the beach today.” He had been wanting to go to the beach for some time now- since New Years at least. I was anxious to have him get back to his photography so I wanted to encourage him, but the beach hadn’t been on my radar when I’d left the house. I was wearing the new pair of shoes that I wanted to break in in small doses, for example, and long pants. And no sunscreen. And no hat. But it is so rare that we get to spend a day together that I wanted it to be spent doing something that he really wanted to do, so we drove down to Venice beach.

We made it to the beach and took a stroll down to the end of the pier and back, which was pleasant. The Curmudgeonly Lion took some photos and we watched the surfers for a while and generally just enjoyed being near the ocean. Then we walked back to the beach itself.

“So what do you want to do now?”

“I don’t know, what do you want to do now.”

Rinse. Repeat.

Without a bathing suit or towel or sunscreen I was pretty much done with my beach related fun. It was a hazy day so I figured I’d been OK for the little while that we were out on the pier, but I was ready to go home, but the Curmudgeonly Lion wasn’t: he wanted to sit on the beach for a while, maybe rent a tandem bicycle, *shrug* he didn’t know. It seemed like no matter how many times I asked him what he wanted to do he would never give me a straight answer and since all I  wanted to do was go home and take a nap I felt like I was doing nothing but raining on his parade.

This sentiment finally became an argument.

“So what do you want to do now?”

“I don’t know, what do you want to do now?”

“Well I’m ready to go home, unless you want to do something else. Do you want to do something else?”

“I dunno.”

“Then why don’t we go home?”

Sigh. Terse tone. “Well I wanted to spend the whole day out.”

“Well why don’t we go catch a movie or something.”

“Because I want to be OUT out. Not out in a building.”

“Fine, so what do you want to do.”

“I don’t know. Maybe we could rent bicycles. Do you want to rent bicycles?”

“Do you want to rent bicycles?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well you wanted to still be out, should we rent bicycles or sit on the beach or what?”

Finally I decided that we would rent a bicycle. Yes. Definitely that we would rent a bicycle. It would totally be my fault if it was no fun. We were in the car already doing circles towards the exit of the parking lot when this decision was finally made. I resigned myself to two facts: that I was definitely getting a sunburn today and that I was just going to have to put off being the Director until tomorrow.

We re parked the car and went to rent a tandem bicycle. Neither of us had ever ridden such a contraption, but, as accomplished bicyclists, assumed that it would be reasonably self explanatory. This proved to be a major underestimation of the terrifying experience of tandem bicycling on the busy bike paths of Venice Beach while trying to avoid regular bicyclists, skateboarders, moms with strollers stalled out in the middle of the bike lane, hippies, pedestrians on the wrong path going the wrong direction, and tourists on Segways.

For the outward bound leg of our Bicycle Ride Of Terror I was the front rider: in charge of steering and brakes. Every movement, every turn of my head,  threatened to disrupt our delicate equilibrium. Once, I stopped pedaling in order to coast behind a pair of slow moving bikers and we wobbled alarmingly.

“WARN ME when you’re going to stop pedaling!” The Curmudgeonly Lion shouted.


We were yelling now out of terror, not anger.

The Curmudgeonly Lion’s handlebars were attached to my seat, so any time he gripped them too hard or used them as a lever to balance himself it would twist my seat and knock my balance off center. Whenever I stopped pedaling the Curmudgeonly Lion’s pedals came to an abrupt halt making his balance wobble. We passed a pair of tourists on regular bikes and overheard:

“See?! That’s what we should have gotten- a tandem bicycle.”

“DON’T DO IT!!!” We yelled back in unison.

We made the collective decision to stop and, you know, get our heart rates back to normal. We assuaged our jangled nerves with ice cream and sat for a while on the soothingly solid ground and watched the denizens of Venice Beach shuffle past. Once we felt suitable calmed we decided to give tandem biking another try. It got easier as we went along. The key was, unsurprisingly, communication: the thing that we had been struggling with all day. We figured out that it was easier to stay balanced when we spelled out our plans for one another:

“Ok I’m going to stop pedaling now”

“Let’s go ahead and pass this group.”

“Let’s stop at this curve… now.”

I let the Curmudgeonly Lion be in front for the ride back. Riding in the back was just as hard as riding in the front, but differently difficult. Riding in the front meant leaning forward and holding on tight. Riding in the back meant leaning back and letting go (because, remember, the handlebars are attached to the driver’s seat). Riding in the front meant steering. Riding in the back meant trusting that the person in front knew where they were going and not second guessing them by leaning the other way.

By the time we returned the bicycle we weren’t at odds with each other anymore. Mutual peril of death and bodily injury thanks to a bicycle built for two just wiped the impulse to bicker right out of our minds.

Communication. Having trouble with it? Rent a tandem bicycle.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on February 15, 2014.

One Response to “In Tandem”

  1. Never rode a tandem bicycle, but I feel now like I have! You two!!! Wish I’d been there with my camera!

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