Not exactly a gloomy day, but not quite sunny either. An in-between day. A long time ago, when I was a child on another continent, this was the day St. Nicholas would leave either some candy or a lump of coal in the shoe I had put out on the windowsill with great anticipation. Back in those days and in those parts of the world, around this time of the year there would have been plenty of snow. I would lie in bed, thinking of St. Nicholas crunching through the snow and lugging a heavy sack as he approached our block – we lived in an apartment building, though with a generous yard – and as he did so, going through his list. I worried for him. Thinking that he could easily make a mistake and leave the wrong thing in the shoe. Because one year I did get what amounted to a lump of coal: nearly moldy potatoes. There had to have been a big mistake, I reasoned, because in my heart of hearts I knew I had done nothing wrong. I could not fathom being capable of a transgression that would have St. Nicholas mad at me.
I thought of St. Nicholas during my bike ride around Sausalito today as I stopped to take a few pictures. On the bench, not far from where I had stopped, an old man with a prominent white beard was eating lunch out of a crumpled and obviously much-used plastic bag. His beat-up bike, customized with a homemade electric assist, was leaning against the trunk of a tree. His clothes were rumpled and a little filthy, too. But his smile was clean and fresh and brilliant, and his happiness shone through, like that of any kid out on a ride.
We talked briefly about our bikes and riding at our age. I believe we even flirted with each other – or rather, the subject of our bikes brought a touch of sweetness to an interaction I don’t think would have ever happened had it not been for our bikes.
Perhaps in some fairy tale the old man with the white beard and mischievous smile turns out to be St. Nicholas and the panniers on his bike turn out to be a bottomless source of sweetness for kids of all ages.