I’m just a normal boy

My wife says I can’t sit in the soft chair to write when I’m sweaty, so I sit on the hard wood chair. I am also supposed to use coasters for the condensation from my damp glass of orange juice and Gatorade powder.

It was a day of riding; like others, but different. They are all the same, but different. In my ears downtown is music by Ministry — it’s violence for the ears. The song is somewhere between well-timed static and swan diving nude into a blue rose bush. But as the song fades, I change direction, and the ride home goes…and here, on a hard chair, it all comes out. It all starts in the morning.

The morning is quiet — oddly so. The mist, affectionately called “June gloom” by well-meaning weather folks, absorbs sound so that everything is muffled. There is no wind whispering through the trees, no sound of morning rising in the neighborhoods, just the sound of a chain rolling around the cog and chain ring. Just the sound of repetitive breath. Meeting with a riding companion, we skirt the south side of the mesa, running an odd parallel to the 94. There’s no traffic, the lights are favorable, we make good time. There’s a little conversation about the days events, general friendliness. Destinations differ, so we split and the weave down town goes on. It’s better to simply make lefts, and rights as the lights and stop signs dictate. My favorite morning haunt is to ride through Petco park, it’s open in the morning, and a homeless man always stands guard at the entrance and eyes me as I ride through, and I give a wave in return.

Ten years ago, I started riding. Last month, for the first time, I rode on Bike to Work Day, and got all kinds of free kitsch. For six years, Bike to Work Day was avoided. It’s like going to church on Easter or Christmas, way too crowded with once a years folks. But, on the interwebs, someone scolded me, as I should be an ambassador to new cyclists, and in many ways they are right. For two weeks, I’ve wanted to write something about Bike to Work Day — it’s significance, or lack thereof, and about the various bike groups in San Diego, and about the cultural divide that is San Diego cycling. Instead, I just rode to work. It wasn’t time to write about it. And it isn’t now.

On the trolley, a sweet-faced Chamorro girl of 17 going on 40 is wearing a nervous smile and watching her drunk, thug-o-matic wannabe boyfriend as he confronts another about a blunt tucked behind his ear, and about how they handle things down in National City. I watch with mild disinterest, music in my ears: “I want to swim away, but don’t know how. Sometimes it feels just like I’m falling in the ocean.” He begins to order her to talk to another man, barking orders in a drunken slur. This man, in black boots, black jeans, and a cut-off t-shirt is danger like they can’t imagine. On the back of his neck, just hidden beneath his pony tale, is a shamrock tattoo with “666” on it, forearms with Viking faces and a general look of barely contained violence. But it’s unclear which is more dangerous, the immediate violence of the man with the pony tale, or the long term relationship with boyfriend/attempting to be a pimp. Anger wells up in me, coupled with a sense of helpless. Stomp him now, and he’ll just beat her up later, and likely she’ll attack me. “The lighthouse beam has just run out, I’m cold as cold as cold can be,” the song says. And it feels cold, a cold world.

Off the trolley now, and headed under the bridge. Headed fast into three lanes with a mandatory right turn to the 94 (which the middle lane will always fight to get into) going from sunlight to dark in the two lanes then back to three with a mandatory right, center lane is left optional and left is mandatory, all in the space of 75 yards at speeds of “I’m getting a head of you” — 35 mph accelerating and slamming brakes. A man in a brown ford truck who looks like Jerry Garcia passes. I watch his head and face to see if he’s going to move over into the new mandatory right, or stay in the middle. He’s watching me, shaking his head, an automatic warning sign. I push back and fall behind the truck — it’s a better place to be. He stabs the brakes, and I dive left. He stabs the brakes again, but I’ve already slowed, the car behind me now locks up brakes. The car ahead of Jerry Garcia’s truck is two car lengths out and still moving, no brake lights. He’s jamming the brakes on purpose. My breathing increases, my grip tightens. There’s no place to go because he’s got options in the middle: change to the right lane to turn, stay in the middle and go straight or left. He slows to catch up to traffic, I swing wide to the right and sprint ahead, and finish out there looking back in quick glances. I slow more, he’s committed to the middle lane due to traffic; he passes, drifts into the far left lane and then rolls straight anyway into the parking lot of a worn-out miniature strip mall. He waves from the window, and drives very slowly through the parking lot.

I head down the street, making my left, then enter the mall from the back side, out of view, and grab a camera. He’s in line for fast food, and as I snap a photo, he rolls down his window and begins to get animated. “I calculate what I had done/Like jumping from the bow/Just to prove that I knew how.” My Jiminy Cricket tells me to avoid conversation, but who listens to an imaginary bug? He’s yelling me a question, “did you think I was being funny?” repeatedly. I drop the bike on the ground and walk up, and he’s now yelling that his friend is a triathlete and he really respects what we do. I grab the bike and go. Who knows what was in the mind of Jerry Garcia?

Up the hills, into yet more rundown strip mall-lined roads, and the phone rings. It’s someone from work with questions and I’m happy. Happy there are things I can fix, give good advice, or at least shed honest light on. Something to make things worthwhile. Church bells, from a church I’ve never noticed, much less heard, suddenly ring in the distance, making me laugh. I climb the last mile and a half home. I hang the bike in the garage with two other complete bikes and two incomplete bikes. There’s junk where a car should be parked, and I storm the door inside with a loud yell, “some m@#$#f@#$@# tried to brake-check me”. My wife listens to the story, eyebrows raising at points, and giggles a little.

I’m both mad and sad. Sometimes riding shows us things that maybe we wouldn’t see tucked away in a car, and maybe sometimes that would be preferable. I head off to sit down in the “study”, but am shoed away from sitting, smelling like a wet glove, in the chair. “I’m reaching for the life within me. How can one man stop his ending?”

There’s no wrap up to this story. No good ending. No empirical epiphany that will make it all work. Bike to Work Day, or another day of riding a bike to work. Some are good, others not so much. Riding a bike is just part of life.