Slowing down to take a town's pulse

I've stopped looking at the odometer on my bicycle. When I bought the hybrid bike a few weeks ago, my goal was to increase my speed a little each time. After just a few rides, I could boast that I'd gone from an average of 8 m.p.h. to 12.5 m.p.h.

Now I have a different focus, thanks to my downstairs neighbor. A serious cyclist, he laughed at my speeds. "You have a long way to go," he said, showing me the odometer on his racing bike. On his last ride, not one of his his fastest, he'd averaged 22 m.p.h. Showoff.

Now when I cruise through the streets of my suburban town, I look at the houses. Each one has a personality, as do the neighborhoods they're part of.

Some streets look as if they are made up of siblings. Every house has a similar face – the same basic design with a few distinctive markings.

Other neighborhoods are composed of wise old sages that have watched the world turn for decades. Each structure is unique, from its shape to its carefully painted trim. I always slow down as I ride past these.

The neighborhoods that I whiz through, though, are the ones where small "sages" are being torn down to make room for new behemoths. The larger homes, too big for their lots, look like bullies on a school playground.

There's something sad about those streets, and it isn't just that the new places lack history. That comes with time. But when grace and style are replaced by sheer size, the houses will always wear a blank, unknowing gaze.

My neighbor may be racking up enviable numbers on his bike, but with my slower speeds, I've gotten to glimpse the soul of our town, before any more of it gets bulldozed.

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