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Volume 37 Issue 17 • August 16 - 22, 2007
now in our 37th season

The Bicycle Thief

by Robert P. Barsanti

My bike was stolen.  After a short dinner in town, I came back to the bike rack and found empty space from where the bike once was.  I stared into that space.  I tried to get my mind to believe what my eyes were seeing.  I checked under the other bikes, looked around the corner, looked at what all of the suspects were cycling past me on.  No bike. 

And it was August.  The ice cream line went around the Sunken Ship and snarled with the line into the Rose and Crown.  Twenty men checked their e-mail and portfolios on the steps to the Atheneum.  The cars stuttered up from the boat, the air hung with mildew, exhaust and ketchup, and everyone was a bike thief. 

Had the same theft happened in September, my heart may have been a touch more generous.  Friends have borrowed my car from a parking spot, only to return it an hour later with a cold beverage in a cup holder.  Had it been January, I might have charitably believed that someone was late for work and needed it more than I did.  Even in July, I could have wrung out a few nice thoughts. 

I am all out of nice thoughts in August.  Too many nights of overly expensive beer and cheap sheets, too many days spent lined up for bills and donuts.  My generosity of spirit is licking the bottom of the canteen just around the same time that Race Week and the Pops have arrived and the Sox lead in the American League East has faded to a nightmare. 

The wise men with their real estate listings and blueprints tell me that it is only two weeks.  They say it as if I could hold my breath and watch hours of weather channel footage behind pulled shades, it will all be over. Those two weeks may be crowded and crazy, they wink and nod, but it will all be over soon.  And we can have the island back. 

Once, not so long ago, we didn’t think about two weeks.  We thought about the summer.  Families would come down after school got out and settle into a summer routine of sand, sail, and Sankaty.   Then, summers shortened to a month.  Families rented houses for July or August.  The last weekend of either month became turnover terrors.  Then, the month became two weeks and the two weeks became a long weekend.  Soon, like hunting season, we will be on the lookout for Suicide Saturday when everyone who hasn’t been to the beach this year runs headlong into the surf. 

As summers have pared down into weekends, vacation has whittled itself into peak experiences.  Two months of lucky shots and shanks on an old farm are distilled into 18 hole round on perfect Bermuda grass.  A series of leisurely dinners out becomes the once-a-summer fine dining experience.  A month on the beaches becomes an afternoon at the Conde Nast favorite.  Once, a long summer of band concerts on South Wharf would finally conclude before Labor Day.  Now, we have one perfect sunset evening of the Boston Pops over $250,000 tables.  With only two weeks, the summer gets edited.  The sunset stays while we edit out the mildew, the sunburn, and the lost sunglasses of the past.  It’s not summer; it’s summer’s greatest hits.

So, our visitors are under pressure to race from one peak experience to the next.  They had to go from the best breakfast they ever had to the best tennis game they ever played (and the best camp for the kids) to the best beach for the afternoon and the finest dinner ever.  And they only get one chance.  Their parents and their grand parents could have the whole summer in a scrapbook; they only get a page.  And the page better be good. 

I was sympathetic to their pressures and their racing; but they were still bike thieves.  The next morning, I lined up with them for a twenty dollar breakfast in town.  The heat had already built, the parking places were gone, and the bike was just around the corner in some sneak-thief’s hands.  I got the one stool left at the counter, opened the paper, and submerged myself in the court report. 

Counters are counters, even when you are reading.  One thing leads to another and the next thing you know, you are deep in conversation with an orthodontist from Hanover who was down for the weekend.  In spite of the fact that he was wearing bicycle shorts, we got along.  I recommended several out of the way places for him to ride or kayak to and he regaled me with tales of Kilimanjaro and New Hampshire. 

He had come down from New Hampshire in 95 degree heat and humidity.  He left Home Depot, McDonald’s, and the flavor of a New England horse farm.  After forty five minutes at the tolls in New Hampshire, he had another forty five minutes waiting to fly over the Cape Cod Canal.  Nantucket in August beats just about anywhere else. 

After he left and pedaled back to Madaket (on his own bike), I kept him in the back of the mind.  For a change, I left the paved roads, then bounced, splashed, and jostled out to the ocean on Barrett Farm Road.  Out there, Nantucket was the island of scrapbooks and calendars.  The Queen Anne’s Lace and the Black Eyed Susan’s lined the dirt road.  Sea grass and beach plums reached up to the stands of scrubby pines and the pines touched the open oceanic blue sky.  At the ocean, the waves rolled in playfully.  I rolled out my towel, opened an intensely dull novel, and slept for an hour. 

I would have rather been on the bike.  Or known where it was locked up.  But for an hour on a hot afternoon, free from cars, ice cream, and bike thieves, the Nantucket was the greatest hit it needed to be. 
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