Readers Write: ‘The Jessica Fletcher Effect’
Words and photos: Jason Max
Soon after I turned 40, the main character from Murder, She Wrote became part of my grand life-plan of bicycling.
That’s because it was then that I decided two things. One, to become a lifelong cyclist. And two, in order to become a lifelong cyclist, a transition from speedy, drop-handlebar road bike rider to slow, steady, upright-bike village rider would have to occur. At some point. Far in the future.
It was a conscious decision, and it felt good, like the deeply mature sense one gets putting money in a retirement plan. What was not a conscious decision was the way this eventual life-cycle shift would settle into my imagination.
Enter Angela Lansbury’s quirky and lovable character from Murder, She Wrote—Jessica Fletcher.
If you’re a child of the 80’s, then Sunday night meant 60 Minutes at seven o’clock, followed by Murder, She Wrote at eight. From the series premiere in 1984 until I went off to college 1989, my family and I sat on the couch every Sunday and rooted for Jessica Fletcher to solve the multitude of mysteries that took place around her quaint, fictional home of Cabot Cove, Maine. Angela Lansbury was in her late 50s and early 60s at the time of the TV series, but from my teenage perspective her character seemed much older and wiser.
Those are good memories. I can’t recall a single Murder, She Wrote plot line, but that’s ok, because the part of the show that now has the most meaning for me lies in the opening credits. I remember it vividly.
There’s Jessica Fletcher on her bike, waving at her fellow Cabot Cove villagers, accompanied by a jaunty orchestral theme. Her expression is one of contented joy. She’s happy in her community, with her friends, and with her place along the path of life, all while riding her upright town bicycle.
I love that moment, and apparently so did my imagination, because that’s where my eventual Cycling Retirement Plan settled in my dreams, right there in a Cabot Cove kind-of town, channeling my inner Jessica Fletcher on my upright three-speed bicycle. At some point. Far in the future.
Or so I thought.
Because soon after turning 40 I also bought a Brompton folding bicycle. I bought it because I love its London-built looks. I bought it because I love the idea of taking it on trains, ferries and ZipCars to further explore my New England home. I didn’t really buy it because it also happens to have an upright ride quality, but so it does.
Since then I’ve taken my cobalt blue Brompton to Nantucket to ride paths across windswept moors. I’ve pedaled my Brompton up the steep Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts and alongside cranberry bogs of Cape Cod. I’ve taken it on the train to the seaside communities of Boston’s South Shore, up into New Hampshire, and on the riverside paths of Rhode Island.
But it was while riding my Brompton on the quiet Farmington Canal Heritage Rail Trail in Connecticut that my little folding bicycle changed my cycling life.
I was making my way from the lovely village of Simsbury up to the Massachusetts border. The Litchfield Hills were to my left, Hartford’s suburbs to my right, and as I followed the gentle curves of the path through farmland, towns, and forests, my Brompton hummed away with its usual purr of small tires on smooth pavement. All the while, I was smiling without even realizing it. In fact, the only time I did realize it was when I passed speedy lycra-clad road cyclists heading the opposite direction who didn’t look nearly as happy as me.
Now, I get it. Road cycling is not about smiling all the time. There’s a joy in challenging oneself. It’s the whole suffering thing. I’ve been there. It’s great.
Yet on that unseasonably warm winter day on the rail trail, that joy-of-suffering bit felt strangely out of place. I cycled with a steady and patient air about me. I was wearing tan jeans, a plaid shirt, an orange jacket and my helmet. I rode at the slower speed of transportation, something that even with my car-free Boston lifestyle I had never seriously considered. As I pedaled, a little tune began to enter my thoughts. It was nice. It was an orchestral tune, from a long-past memory. It was kind of jaunty…
“Oh my goodness!” I thought as I recognized the theme from my childhood Sundays. “The transition has begun!”
I was turning into village-cyclist extraordinaire Jessica Fletcher. Already.
And it was awesome.
I nodded at the walkers, the families out for a stroll, and my fellow slow-cyclists. They smiled and nodded back. Most even said hello. I felt great in my non-cycling-specific clothes. I didn’t feel older or even wiser, or as if I was experiencing some sort of midlife crisis. It was the opposite of a midlife crisis! The present and my imaginary future merged, and life felt expansive and grand.
And so as I continued my journey down the path, I knew that I would have to dream up other adventures for my Cycling Retirement Plan. The joys of slow-cycling are too good to save. It’s a joy that celebrates gently-turning wheels, neighbors who wave to each other, leaves that fall quietly on the trail, and like Jessica Fletcher, new stories that can be spun throughout one’s life, one easy pedal stroke at a time.