Friday, February 12, 2010

Chasing Dave Stoller

I am 16 years old, and it is spring on the Upper West Side of New York City. The breeze off the Hudson River has lost its icy edge, become a tad warmer and more fishy. The trees are greening out. Somewhere far away, a very young Greg LeMond is training with the doomed 1980 Olympic cycling team, but I’m not aware of anything beyond homework and friends.

My dad, wanting to make sure I don’t sit around and rot all summer, has just recently signed me up for a crazy month-long bike trip with something called American Youth Hostels. He then shepherded me to Angelo’s bike store on Amsterdam Avenue (with soft-worn wooden floors and a perpetual aroma of bike oil and new rubber) to buy a burgundy ten-speed with a fancy badge on the front reading “St. Tropez.” Maybe it was made in Japan, maybe it was cheap, but it was pretty and it did have a French name. We were told it would last as long as I wanted to ride it.

Since then, the bike had been sitting in my room collecting dust, awaiting my departure for the trip. Then, one Friday night, my parents were going out with friends. Dad pressed ten dollars into my palm and told me to grab some pizza, and then head down to the Embassy 72nd Street and take a look at this little movie they’d seen and liked. It was called Breaking Away, and it was about teenagers, and cycling. Since I was going on a bike trip soon, who knows, maybe I’d like it.

I walked out of the Embassy four hours later a different person. How had someone climbed inside my head and made a movie about me? Dave Stoller was me. Eccentric. Obsessive. An incurable dreamer. With a father who ceaselessly worried about and pestered him, but who also, somewhere inside, loved and cared for him. They knew me, for crying out loud, they knew me somehow!

But bigger yet: The idea that you could be passionate, geeky, confused, and athletically successful. What?!? Why, Dave was happy, he had a niche! Huh. I had loved playing touch football, softball, frisbee. But I’d given that all up in a search for more friends, girls and popularity. I was smoking cigarettes, shifting from one group of friends to another. You know: Teenage identity crisis.

So, this bike thing. Could it do for me what it did for Dave Stoller?

Tune in next time and find out.