I love riding bikes down the California Incline to Station 8 with my son. It has been a Godsend since lock down. Since this all began. Where our lives have been turned upside down. While the world was put on pause. As my son stopped going to first grade. Stopped sports, play dates, camping trips, socializing, touching, interacting on the daily basis he was used to.
At the beginning of the California shut down, he didn't even know how to ride a bike. It scared him. The process. All of the steps. The many thoughts behind it. What you are doing. What is going on around you. Controlling only what you can in the safest way possible. Conscious at the same time, things will happen around you that are out of your control. We taught him in the Broad Theater parking lot during quarantine. Our daily outing. Knowing a little boy needs to be outside, needs to run, needs to play.
Training him not only to keep his balance, but also the necessity of a helmet and now, a mask.
Hearing his complaints of discomfort, difficulty breathing, wanting fresh air, yet also complying with his new normal. Understanding the necessity. We would go to the Broad daily, for a recess. A break from the virtual reality of first grade. A zoom class. Something else he had never experienced before. His class itself looking different. Now cut to only 5 classmates at a time. On a screen. Directions from his teacher, on the same screen. From a distance. All new.
The Broad was a welcome, much needed normality. Until one day, when the police showed up, telling us we could no longer go there. It was a liability. Stripping away our only safe haven.
We had never rode bikes on public streets. Let alone on the streets of downtown Santa Monica. So I was nervous at first, but his excitement at the prospect of riding his new bike to the beach was contagious.
I followed him closely down the bike path. Between driving cars and parked ones. Trying to be as safe as possible. Attempting to teach him to notice his surroundings, while enjoying the ride itself. Safely. Another balance.
When we reached the incline for the first time I asked, "Are you ready?"
Its a cement downward grade from Ocean Avenue to the bike path on the sand. Overlooking Pacific Coast Highway and the barrage of cars spitting off the 10 West freeway. A magnificent view of the coast line all the way down. A walkway with a constant influx of pedestrians whether there is a pandemic or not. Unsure if people are paying attention. If they are following the rules. If they are distracted taking pictures or by soaking up the view. Nerve racking for even a skilled biker. Or an apprehensive mom. Wanting to avoid an accident, broken bone or hospital visit at all costs under the reality of our current public health situation. With the threat lingering that the visit to a hospital itself could be more dangerous than the fall. While an invisible plague spreads rapidly through Los Angeles county.
"We can walk our bikes down." I recommended.
"No way!" He said confidently. "Let's do this!"
With an intriguing gleam in his blue eyes peaking over his black mask. The twinkle you get only from the thrill of doing something new. Something exciting you never have before. But always wanted to try. The nervous zeal of when that first chance finally comes. Coupled with the reality of him being stuck at home for weeks. Myself, nervous, but knowing this right of passage. Growing up in Santa Monica. Once you finally get your first bike. On your first public ride.
"Ok, let's." I say back.
We begin our journey down the incline. Picking up speed along the way. Noticing the people beside us as we zoom past. Wind in our hair, against our faces, hearing him yell out, "Yahoo!" Behind his mask all the way down.
The sunshine crisping our sunscreened skin. The outside, nature, a little dose of normalcy. The dose we need. Out of our house, protected, safely, in the fresh air, the sunlight, the breeze, the scent of ocean air intoxicating. Liberating. Behind our masks. Underneath our helmets.
Riding down the bike path to beautiful Station 8.
Where a canoe lies underneath the life guard tower. Where I throw down our towel on the heated sand beneath our feet and in between our toes. Where my son finally gets to rip off and ditch his helmet, his mask and run ecstatically into the white wash. For one moment, this moment, forgetting all the changes in his life. Remembering at the same time, all the things that have stayed the same. Watching him run. Arms out as if to hug the waves. Welcoming this minute. Engulfed in the present. Noticing the balance. And watching him embrace being his 7 years of age.