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I am told that in the winter the island can be a bleak outpost, the days gray and unemployment high among the 12,000 year-round residents. The summer is much different. Shutters are opened. Plywood panels are removed from storefront windows. The population is increased by a multiple of five or six. Money is spent as if it has just been invented.
" John Belushi is buried here," I say. "It seems the perfect place for him...."
"You told me this on the boat," my daughter says. "His grave is in Tisbury, right? His wife still lives here. Right? Carry Simon lives here. Walter Cronkite. Spike Lee has a place in Oak Bluffs. You gave me the entire story. I know, I know. That movie Jaws was filmed here. You can stop pointing out scenes, because I never saw Jaws. I was too young when it came out. You said I'd be scared." You never saw Jaws? I say to myself. Didn't it winsome Academy Awards just this year?
The idea of this trip is that we ride the bikes, spend three days traveling together. The car is parked in a lot on the mainland. The only means of transportation we use are biking and walking. The weather, late in August, finally is terrific after a cool and rainy summer. We have T-shirts for the days and sweatshirts for the nights, shorts and sandals and sneakers and that's it. There is no schedule. There are no lessons for her, no assignments for me except writing this story. We can pedal and talk. We can swim and sunbathe and talk. Talk. It is a vacation luxury.
Neither of us is what you would call a cycling enthusiast. We own sturdy, fat-tired bikes with a mystifying assortment of 15 gears. I ride maybe a dozen times a year, half of these times when my car is being serviced. My daughter rides more, out of necessity. She has no car of her own and sometimes needs a way to travel to her part-time job at a bakery or to her music lessons. That is the scope of our cycling. We have done no special training for this trip except lifting the bikes on and off the rack on the back of the car. I suppose we would be considered novices, but I would call us normal tourist riders.
"Is this supposed to be a sports story?" my daughter asks. "What's the sports story here? That we're riding the bikes?"
"I guess," I say. "I suppose this is as much a sport as, say, working out on a machine in some gym somewhere, as much a sport, maybe, as going skiing with friends. It's physical. If you took it to another level, rode in some races, then it definitely would be a sport, because there would be competition and standings and trophies and all the rest. Here, I suppose I would call it a participation sport."
"What about walking to the store for the morning newspaper?" she says. "That's physical. Is that a participation sport? What about painting a house? Mowing a lawn? Are those sports? Little kids ride their Big Wheels. Is that a sport, riding Big Wheels?"
"Sport," I say. "Everything is sport. Walking, mowing, eating, thinking. Picking up your room is a sport. You have a chance to be in the Hall of Fame for Picking Up Rooms. It will be a long shot, but you have a chance if you start practicing as soon as you are home. Is that fair enough? Riding bikes is a sport."
We ride everywhere. Our base is Edgartown, at the Harbor View Hotel. The town is an old whaling village, the 19th-century homes of the captains preserved and almost venerated, the ghosts of dour women patrolling the many widow's walks in veils, eyes turned toward the sea in search of absent men. The streets are narrow, the sidewalks cobblestone. The tourist crush overwhelms the scene, well-dressed families back from the beach and in search of the perfect T-shirt or pizza.