Budding Writer, 1979: Bicycle built for two

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About this series: I revisited my journals from my first year as a freelance writer and found they told a story of their own. In this series I get the rare opportunity to give myself, and other writers, career advice with nearly 50 years of hindsight. Enjoy!

Gasoline shortages can be high-anxiety times, but after living through three of them — most recently during the pandemic — I find they do have their advantages.

First, you can breathe easier. Less traffic means less air pollution, which was much worse in the 1970s than today. Second, scarce and expensive fuel forces you to slow down, both on the road and in life in general.

My journal entries from this week 44 years ago bear this out:

A beautiful, cool, sunny, breezy day — even being stranded in New Jersey was pleasant. However, I did feel very bad that I was unable to get to work today. I called Robert twice — he was behind on copy and ads, and would have had me come in to do office work that night, instead of [covering] Fairlee. That’s bad!

But there was nothing I could do; siphoning gas from Mom’s car was difficult and time-consuming, and would have been impractical anyway. So I stayed home and sailed. That was lovely.

I also rode the tandem down to [my orthodontist’s] office, where we had a long talk. People tended to stare, but most were friendly as I passed by on a bicycle-built-for-two.

Determined that I’d need to get up early the next day in order to get gas. …

Journal, Volume II
25 June 1979

I finished I Will Fear No Evil in the 23rd car on the 50-car gas-o-line today. Details in a separate piece (or several) for JO. Said goodbye to Mom, drove here with mind working part-time on story themes. Got about 30 mpg!

26 June 1979

I found Robert Heinlein’s sci-fi book on the remainders rack at the Jersey shore. It’s long (more than 500 pages) and not one of his better works. I’m surprised I finished it. It caught my eye because it was about a fictional first brain transplant. The questions of identity that result would present similar issues to the ideas I had for Mind’s Eye. (If I recall correctly, Heinlein’s successful transplant patient proved his identity to his lawyer using a secret handshake from their Dartmouth fraternity. Fancy that!)

Getting 30 miles per gallon was impressive in the 1970s, even for my little 4-cylinder Chevy Vega wagon driving at a steady 55 miles per hour. Today I still get about 30 mpg in a larger, all-wheel-drive Subaru Forester cruising at 75 mph.

A generally pleasant day; weather OK and I didn’t catch hell for leaving Robert in the lurch. However, [the typesetter] tells me the paper over the last 2 weeks was really bad. Good to know I’m good for something!

27 June 1979

Yes, it is good to know when you’re good for something. But it’s also good to know when you are not the center of the universe.

A newspaper has deadlines, and it will meet those deadlines or it will go out of business. As the owner, Robert made it happen even at the expense of quality. That was the lesson I should have learned.

Continuing wildfires in Quebec have meant cloudy, smoky, often rainy weather in Vermont. Photo taken June 15, 2023, over Lake Champlain. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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