Riding in Style

This time 5 years ago, my only means of transportation was a bicycle.

Yes. A bicycle.

Yes, it was pretty funny watching me wobble down the streets of Carlisle on it.

No, I never actually got very good at riding it, but I managed to get from point A to point B.

I didn’t have an option.

When I left the Army, I was basically penniless, and didn’t have much “stuff” either, so I was starting from the ground up.

I took the first job I could find – at a dry cleaning company – and was suddenly serving the people who used to be my peers – who used to sit on boards with me, who were leaders in the community like I used to be….

The way they looked at me as they handed me their unmentionables, their dirty suits, their fancy French-cuffed shirts – a mixture of disdain and pity.

It was humiliating.

I started dropping out of everything.  My world got very small .

It was embarrassing to show up to Kiwanis soaking wet because it was raining and I had to come on my bike.  It was embarrassing to show up to board meetings with mud caked on my knees and down my sides because I’d wrecked the stupid bike yet again on my way there.

And yet, I kept riding, because I didn’t have a choice.

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[the only known picture of me on the bike]

I wrecked that bike more times than I can count. Fell into the LeTort. Crashed into a clothing donation bin. Went through THREE helmets before all was said and done.

But I kept riding – because I didn’t have a choice. It was exhausting and embarrassing, and I couldn’t go any further than I could pedal [which wasn’t far, let me tell you]. But  I made it work until I had enough money to buy a car.

So that’s what I did. I took my $2000 down to Tony at Graham Motors and he set me up with my new BFF – a 2000 Chrysler Concorde LXI named Frannie.

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[Frannie, on the day I got her – June 6, 2011]

Frannie didn’t have any air conditioning, and she had over a hundred and twenty thousand miles on her, but she got me from point A to point B without much fuss. AND I DIDN’T HAVE TO RIDE THE BIKE ANY MORE.

The perpetual scrapes on my knees healed.

And I was able to take a better job, which I couldn’t take earlier, because it was further than I could pedal on my bike.

Things were moving forward.

But as the years passed, Frannie got old, and tired, and sick.

The water pump, timing belt, and radiator needed to be replaced. The seat belt stopped working. The windows quit opening. The driver’s door broke and wouldn’t open. The front right wheel wobbled on its axle.

I was afraid to drive it.

My world got smaller.

I went to work and to church, and that was it. Literally.

Aside from the safety issues, just getting in and out of it was an ordeal. The driver’s door didn’t open, so I had to climb over the center console and get out the passenger side. Not the most easy, or graceful, thing to do.

And it was embarrassing.

When I rode the bike, I’d often park the bike a block or so away, or hide it in the bushes, and walk to wherever I was going, so people wouldn’t know how pathetic I was.

It became the same with the car. I’d park a few blocks away, so no one would see me climbing over to get out, or attempting to mop up the sweat from being in the hotbox, or see it wobble down the street as I drove off.

Frannie was dying.

So I started looking for a new-to-me used car.

And I looked.

And I looked.

And I looked.

And I was turned down at no less than 15 car lots.

My credit is basically shot, since I had to completely start over from nothing, and promptly needed chemo with no health insurance, so no one wanted to touch me with a ten foot pole.

After one particularly bad day, that ended with a salesman literally laughing at me, I sat and sobbed, because the thought of driving my car was just overwhelming. I literally could not bear the thought of getting back in that horrible Chrysler one more time.

It was terrifying.

Every time I got in the car, I had to be okay with the fact that, if the wheel fell off, I’d be in an accident, and would likely be seriously hurt because there was no seat belt, and would  need to be okay with not being able get out in a fire because the door wouldn’t open.

I was convinced  that I would meet my end in that car.

Fear is a terrible companion.

I was at the end of my options – ready to go to one of those predatory, “we’ll finance anyone [at 48% interest rate]” car lots….when I got a text from a friend.

“Can you come over?”

Of course I said yes.

We sat in her kitchen, drinking a glass of wine, and she asked about the car.

I didn’t want to talk about it.

She pushed.

I couldn’t stop the tears.

And then she said something that made my head spin.

“You know, people like you are the reason the Charles Bruce Foundation exists.”

The Charles Bruce Foundation is a wonderful local foundation here in Carlisle that supports writers, artists, and musicians [WAM!] through sponsorship and stipend. They help alleviate burdens that plague and stifle creativity, and help to make dreams reality. They’ve helped musicians pay medical bills, writers secure publication, artists get their own studios and shows off the ground, not to mention all the wonderful events they sponsor  [like Father’s Day Blues and Music in the Garden]. The company they keep is incredible.

How do I fit in to that?

I mean, I know that I dabble around….I play with clay, and paint, and WORDS…and I act and sing a little, but I’ve never considered myself a real artist.  In fact, certain people have gone out of their way to remind me that I’m NOT a “real” artist.

So how am I the kind of person that the CBF could exist for?

Well.

I was reminded, rather sternly, that I have a rather skewed view of myself, and that, according to them, I AM a real artist and writer….and because of that…..they were going to help me figure out my car issues.

I sat there, stunned. Couldn’t move.

And then I just couldn’t stop the tears.

The absolute RELIEF was overwhelming.

My sweet friend sat there laughing at me [as she often does when I cry. It’s a bad habit she has – laughing when people cry….]

So last Friday, with the help and advice of the CBF, I said goodbye to Frannie the Chrysler for the last time, and drove off the lot with Bruce – a 2006 Nissan Altima with 56,000 miles on him.

And for the first time in several years, I wasn’t afraid.

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[Bruce. My New-to-me Nissan]

I couldn’t have done this without the Charles Bruce Foundation.  I now have a reliable, safe car, with manageable monthly payments, and it’s all due to them.

Please consider supporting local writers, artists, and musicians like me by donating to the Charles Bruce Foundation. They are a federally registered 501c-3 charity, and all donations are tax deductible.  They are truly making a difference here in Central PA.

For more information on the Charles Bruce Foundation, or to make a tax-deductible donation to this wonderful cause, please visit http://www.charlesbrucefoundation.org .

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