To Kate Bush, with Love, From Forrest Gump

I fell in love with Kate Bush once. That might not be exactly accurate. Her voice and a song pulled up beside me one afternoon, and opened a suitcase full of other music. The video for the song “Running up That Hill” was on a TV show entitled “Alive from Off Center.” Since Kate was the source of the music, the love was aimed at her. My friends didn’t understand. This was not Def Leppard or Metallica or any hard core band. This was not Suicidal Tendencies, or Corrosion of Conformity. It was not the edgy emo that was The Cure or The Smiths. It was off from that , somehow weird. And it earned a little of “that” look. Kate ran me up that hill to others similar.

My love for Kate faded into memory, occasionally brought to light by a hint of a tune, or a cover version — in this case, by a band called Placebo for a TV show about vampires. Early morning TV always has this lightening rod effect of making random connections in odd ways. Early morning TV, quick breakfast, big coffee, and then the solemn solitary bike ride focus this into a drumbeat for the rest of the day.

Which leads me into humming, in a pining way, Kate Bush’s song, all the while giggling about Forrest Gump and his speech about types of rain. So, here am I, riding up the far reaches of Broadway from downtown, singing “make a deal with god,” and getting pelted with all kinds of rain. Unless you’re oblivious, this will be no news flash: rain is not that common here in San Diego. So when it does rain, it’s nearly Armageddon on the streets. Ominous, dark clouds, skittish drivers, people trying to figure out how to work umbrellas, and me — giggling and humming — climbing up, up, up.

I was getting hit by all kinds of rain, little stinging rain, big wet rain, sideways rain, and even rain that seemed to come from underneath. No, no, that’s just spray from the front wheel. A giggle escapes, like that of a little boy, with a smirk, like I farted in a cathedral. Now, I’m singing (poorly remembered lyrics) Kate Bush in Forrest Gump tune: “I’m not a smart man, but I’m riding up this hill, in da rayhayain.”.

Humming, riding in the rain, going to meet with some folks about Critical Mass. Critical Mass is my new Kate Bush voice. Well, not so new. It’s an off-and-on love affair, twisted slightly, hard to define and even harder to defend. It lacks leadership, organization, or even real collaboration. It fights with itself, defies common sense, eats its own tail, fails to take care of its own, yet it thrives on its dysfunction and is reborn every month.  It is equal parts frustrating and inspiring. Most of my cycling friends don’t like it, my non-cycling co-workers, if aware of it, are very wary when I mention it. I cannot control it, or lead it by sheer definition, it alienates those who I would want to lock arms with, and it causes much contradiction with my own set of cycling values.

Yet, to the fountain I find my self constantly returning on the last Friday of the month. Like a Sisyphus curse, running up that hill, riding, enjoying, but then, seeing the other side. The potential of cyclists crossing barriers and doing something together, yet the moment of togetherness passes quickly, to the point of anonymity for the next 30 days until we meet again at the fountain.

We meet in a new local eatery, near one of the best local bike shops. I’m in a different strata than the others. We look different, ride different, work different, perhaps even believe different. But, if you could define Critical Mass, we’d all believe in that definition. For now, we’re trying to find focus for an elusive topic. In essence, put a name to the tune. We laugh a little, recount stories of epic rides, scenes of senseless police action, common riders, and wonder at the wonder that it is. Some plans are laid, ideas felt out, more plans laid. We’re careful, almost suspicious; it’s late, wet, a workday, we’re all tired.

One by one the others leave, and it’s down to me at the bar, alone, nursing a cold IPA, hoping that perhaps the rain will let up. The lady behind the bar has tattoos on her forearm I try hard to decipher while stretching out the drink, waiting in vain for better weather. Cars drive by, hushed conversations in corners over food, a doting man rubs the back of the girl next to me, whispering in her ear, a tired but pleasant waitress. She smiles with a real pleasantry, but perhaps in the corner of her eyes is one shift too many.

The wind blows, cold and relentless. I’m thinking how Kate Bush became The Katydids, became The Cranberries, became The Pretenders, became Natalie Merchant, became, became…. But nothing became, just added to and built from. Perhaps in my eyes is one worry too many about something that needs to be experienced from time to time and allowed to roll on. The Kate Bush music was difficult to explain to people who were interested in a more terse, directed, and explosively different kind of music. Like explaining why I saddled up in the rain to ride the streets in San Diego, despite logic saying today wasn’t the best day.

After nursing the IPA, I’m nursing a flat, a slow leak, that requires refill every few miles. It all adds to an unsettling experience, needing some sort of framing. Sweat pads, meant for sweat, are soaked in rainwater, water sponges from socks at every crank revolution. As thoughts run different directions, my tires — as always, good guides on rainy days — whisper to me “shhh…”. Clammy-cold skin, the wind causes me to squint. For a second, I’m someone out of a GQ magazine: cut-off pants, street-worn bag, aged bike with years on the road; then I’m a fool, arriving at a bail-out point, the radio playing nothing worth hearing. The silent echo of the tire tells a restless mind, “shhh…”.

What is the point of Critical Mass? Why am I so singularly enamored with it? How can we find something that is so unifying so divisive and so easy to let go, only to return, and get to know it again for the first time? Is the answer in Kate Bush’s voice?