As a freshman in college, I didn’t get into James D. Houston’s Literature of California class, in spite of enrolling, interviewing, and praying. It was simply too popular! They read Joan Didion, John Steinbeck, William Saroyan, and a host of others I don’t remember now. Even though I wasn’t in the class, I read the entire reading list anyway–with the exception of Saroyan’s A Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills. I always meant to get to it, but up until now never got my hands on a copy. As soon as it comes in, I’ll finally have a chance to read the lessons the author learned about writing while riding his bike around 90210. That’s what I understand the book is about.
This a.m. I was up before the heat, and rode out into the Carneros region between Sonoma and Napa on my blue Trek. As always on a Saturday morning, there were far more cyclists enjoying Ramal Road than motorists. I saw plenty to keep my interest: an acorn woodpecker fluttering to the shoulder, a baffled expression on his clown face ; a northern harrier, light phase, working the marshes; views out to the green slopes of Mount Tamalpais and Mount Diablo; glimpses of cool-looking farm ponds that are harder to see when one rushes by in a car and doesn’t remember to pause at the vistas; pickups bumping along the rugged road on their way to the Napa marina; vineyard workers pruning and espaliering the grapes; watershed divides, always so generous with new perspective.
As I rode I pondered what Saroyan must’ve learned about writing while riding, and I came up with a few guidelines myself.
While riding or writing:
1. Stay focused–both out ahead and on the road right in front of you.
2. If you fall or fail, regroup but then get back in the saddle pronto.
3. Don’t worry if others pass you. Keep your eyes on your own journey.
4. Don’t spend a lot of time looking back. It’s the road ahead that matters.
5. Hang on tight during the rough patches.
6. Ride or write often. It gets easier with practice.
8. Take breaks for spinal health and mental acuity! You’ll be far more resilient for the long haul.
9. Wave and smile to the nice people you meet. Don’t worry about those to whom you seem invisible.
10. Don’t ride or write under the influence. You’ll think you can handle it, but you can’t.
I’ll compare my points with Saroyan’s when Beverly Hills arrives. I’m sure he writes brilliantly about what can be learned on our bikes: rhythm, patience, endurance, freedom.