Saturday, August 9, 2014

Different Instructions

I'd always done it the way I was supposed to, and it never worked right.

Years ago, we had a little Saturn wagon.  We were young and the kids were babies, and it was our only car.  But life moved on, and our suburban existence required that we join the cult of the minivan.  Which we did, buying a lightly used Honda.  12 years later, that van is no longer lightly used, but still gets the job done.

When we wanted to take our bicycles anywhere in the Saturn, we'd mount 'em on the back with a bike rack.  It fit perfectly, and worked great.

But when the four of us packed up for the beach, the same rack just never quite fit the van correctly.  It was completely unstable.  The bikes would bounce around wildly, oscillating from side to side in a way that seemed sure to dump them into following traffic.

I'd install it, exactly as I had done on the Saturn, exactly as I'd read in the manual.  And every year, it wouldn't work.  We'd talk about buying a new bike carrier, but I'm just too cheap.  I'd tighten it down, torque it, fiddle with it, snarl at it.  Nothing.

So for ten years, the bikes in back bucked and leaped at every road imperfection as we bumbled our way to the beach.  I'd grit my teeth and hope that all would not be disaster and despair, a cast-off tangled mass of spokes and chains and pedals embedded under a jackknifed semi.  Most likely blocking the Bay Bridge, my anxiety voice would whisper, as we crossed it.

Until last year, when while grumblingly removing the stupid rack we'd again not gotten around to replacing, I noticed the fading installation instructions, seventeen years old, still in the box.  I read them, again, for the first time in a decade and a half.  There it was, the thing I'd not bothered to look for, because I knew what I was doing.

For sedans, one way.  For hatchbacks and wagons, another.

And for vans?  A third way, involving a different alignment of two retaining straps.  Which, last year, after ten years, I did.  It worked like a charm.

Stable, easy, smooth.  The bikes were as stable as if I'd welded them to the van.

Just a simple change, such a remarkably simple change, and the thing that was a source of anxiety vanished like a dream on waking.

For all those years, I'd assumed that the problem was the rack, and not the way I was using it.

There's a metaphor for life in there somewhere, I think.

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