by Eldred “Bob” Bird
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my writing life, it’s that everything has a story. Every object within my sphere came from somewhere. It had a beginning and will eventually have an end. Along the way it may pass through many hands and touch countless lives before being swallowed up by the sands of time.
Part of being a writer is being able to extract that story. Proper research is one way to accomplish the task, but sometimes the object itself will speak to you if you’re willing to listen. I’d like to tell you how one of those objects spoke to me.
Besides writing, one of my other passions is cycling. For the most part I keep the two separate, but sometimes my worlds collide. A few years back the writing and riding came together in an unexpected way.
I have a birthday tradition. On my special day I mount my bicycle and ride one mile for every year of my life. This was a nice challenge at first and served me well for many years. However, as my fitness level increased, the difficulty of the task diminished, making the annual outing feel like any other day in the saddle. One thing became evident—I needed to find a way to put the magic back into the ride.
I decided that magic should come in the form of a new bike . . . well, a new-to-me bike. I began looking for a bicycle made the same year I was born—a kindred spirit of sorts.
After months of searching, my quest ended with an online auction for a 1959 Schwinn Traveler three-speed in less-than-stellar condition. The bike was scratched, rusty, and needed completely worked over. It was perfect for my purpose.
The next step involved the frame. My original goal was to make it shine like new, but while contemplating touching up the paint something stopped me.
I sat studying all the scratches and chips on its surface, inspecting each one carefully. For some reason I couldn’t bring myself to paint over the flaws. Then it dawned on me—they were telling me a story.
I ran my fingers over the cool steel tubes, feeling every imperfection like a blind person reading a page of Braille. The history of this bike was written in the scratches and wear marks peeking through the fading black paint. These were scars left by half a century of use, much like the scars adorning my own body.
I inspected the circular marks rubbed into the top tube. Is this where the cable and lock that protected it from thieves hung? And wear bands on the seat stays, likely from a book rack—perhaps this bike transported someone to a higher education, or maybe propelled a young entrepreneur along his paper route.
How many miles had it seen? What roads had it traveled? How many lives had it touched? My imagination ran wild with the narrative spelled out by this road-weary traveler. I had to ask myself a question—how could I just erase that life with a little pigment and a brush?
I couldn’t do it.
After a great deal of contemplation, I opted to go for preservation, rather than restoration. I carefully finished cleaning the frame without editing the story laid out before me and sealed it up with a coat of wax before reassembling the bike.
Now, when I climb aboard this rolling piece of history every summer for my birthday trek, I do my best to respect its past and guarantee its future. The bike gets cleaned, adjusted, and lubricated with great care, but I don’t panic when I put a scratch or two in the paint. I simply look at it as adding my own chapter to the book of this amazing machine’s life.
I plan on spinning a series of tales inspired by the scars on this incredible machine.
Beginning with the first owner, each section will tell the story of how this particular bike came into their possession and how it changed their life before moving on to the next person, finally ending up under my care.
Now that I’ve shared the story of my special object, here’s an exercise to help you do the same. Look around you and pick out an item. It can be something you just acquired, or a family heirloom passed down from generation to generation. The more unusual the object, the better.
Got your item? Good.
Now pick it up, feel the weight, run your fingers over the surface, and study every detail. Think about all the other hands that have touched it. Who made it? How did it come into your possession? What will happen to it when you’re gone? Could it be at the center of a mystery? Maybe it’s the “Maltese Falcon” in your next tale of intrigue and adventure.
Let your imagination run wild and jot down everything you can think of. Got it? Now write the story!
What object did you choose? What ideas did it inspire? Tell us about it in the comments!
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Eldred Bird writes contemporary fiction, short stories, and personal essays. He has spent a great deal of time exploring the deserts, forests, and deep canyons inside his home state of Arizona. His James McCarthy adventures, Killing Karma, Catching Karma, and Cold Karma, reflect this love of the Grand Canyon State even as his character solves mysteries amidst danger. Eldred explores the boundaries of short fiction in his stories, The Waking Room, Treble in Paradise: A Tale of Sax and Violins, and The Smell of Fear.
When he’s not writing, Eldred spends time cycling, hiking and juggling (yes, juggling…bowling balls and 21-inch knives). His passion for photography allows him to record his travels. He can be found on Twitter or Facebook, or at his website.
All photos courtesy of Eldred Bird.
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