I was going to the bank. 2:30ish. A simple errand, a couple miles from home and then to a friends house by four for a rousing round of a favorite board game (which will not be named; my inner nerd will remain inner). 3:10, bank run completed and I turned north, encountering in reverse the hills that had enabled my speedy arrival…and sweat (for more on sweat, stay tuned for ‘from the archive’ pieces, as I update historical writings from my foundations of comuterdom). When you have a backpack that you carry all the things you may or may not need in a day of being out and about, that thing gets heavy. And a heavy thing on your back whilst you climb hills, readily panting, leads to sweat, nuf said.
First I climbed the hills, in good time, and got to where I remember having lunch with Monica once upon a December. Franklin? Franklin? With every block, I hoped to no avail. Ugh. Phone. “Where the hell is Franklin?” Ohhhhh. I had made a speedy return to the area where I live, from memory and from assumption. Where Monica and I had previously dined was a friend’s house, not her present house, and while the back-story is less important, the point is that I ended up in completely the opposite direction from where I intended on getting my nerd on and that meant that I was now, to my dissatisfaction, late.
What the drivers in our midst may or may not realize at this point is that when you decided to spend your life in a bike saddle, things change drastically. There is no speeding. There is no trunk. My tank is what I had for breakfast, and my RPMs are a ratio of the lactic acid in my quads, the weather, topography, and my will. That in mind, it’s going to take me as long as it takes to get there, and sometimes that sucks. So I dig in, standing in the saddle, at a sprint back in the direction whence I came because I hate being late. That’s until the clock went out the window.
“What the…?,” I thought, squeezing the brake lever, looking over my shoulder toward the curb. “What’s that guy doing in the gutter?” That instant-you know, the one when you have to decide whether or not “to do something about it,”–well I’ll tell you, that instant lasts longer in the bike lane. I’d like to think that this would make every biker more compassionate, but I didn’t want to stop, I was LATE. Instantaneously, I was on the road to Damascus wondering who I would play in the story. There he was, eyes semi-glazed, lying behind an SUV with bleeding hands and a huge bump on his head and he looked…kind of…dead.
But he wasn’t. I wheeled to a stop, laid my bike on the sidewalk and my first responder training clicked in. I started in on my check, call, care–the good ol’ three c’s and saw that he wasn’t dead. He was drunk. Really drunk. My man looked like he had taken a massive tumble and, as I like to say, seriously jangled up his tweakers. On his stomach in the gutter, he insisted that I couldn’t call anyone for him, saying he didn’t need to go to the hospital or anything. But he kept touching his face with his bloody hand and he quickly came to resemble something out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
“Can I at least put some band-aids on your fingers? You look like shit…and you can’t keep touching your head like that.” With his assent to care, I got some bandages from the salon we were outside and made my best patchwork. He recounted how the bartender from one tavern had cut him off, so he was making his way to another. “They never cut me off there,” he seemed proud. “Well,” I suggested, “you should probably give up on the drinking for the day.” And he resolved to stumble home. I don’t know if he made it and I hope he figures his life out. He said he used to repair small home appliances but is out of work, and I hope he finds something to take him off the bottle. But I guess you can’t know.
And so what? This has almost nothing to do with biking and, simultaneously, it has everything to do with it. I think it comes down to pace. For some reason, knowing that travel between places takes actual time, and that I can’t just put the pedal to the metal, I have experienced a very different sense of time as a biker. There is a great wealth of thought that prepares me to pedal off in the morning-from food to clothes, potential routes (hills?), and potential to meet people (deodorant). I think this mindful attention also prepared me to stop for gutter-guy. A number of people had driven past him and ceased to stop, I stopped. And it isn’t a necessary correlation, between car drivers being non-stoppers, and bikers being stoppers. It just played out that way. But it kinda makes you think, doesn’t it?
After playing paramedic for a moment, I pedaled on and made it to my nerdfest…thirty seven minutes late, with a saving excuse other than bad preparation. And while there will always be other hills, and hopefully not other guys-in-the-ditch, I think this pace suits me, and I think it’s better for the world. So there.
And in case you’re wondering, I dominated game night.