Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

99% Perspiration

What with a recent illness, various house-hunting-related chaos, excruciating heat, and downright lassitude, I've barely ridden my bike at all in the past few weeks. Friday, finally, I managed to ride in to work on a cool morning. Saturday, my legs were in agony. I was shocked; had it been that long? Evidently it had.

Last night, I went to bed late, no supper, scattered, two scotches on an empty stomach. A friend stopped by needing a pause in her hectic day, and we sat on the porch, smoked a cigarette, talked a while, until she moved on to her next destination in what I'm sure was an interminable day. I sat at my computer. Caught up on some online writing. Wrote a few words. Addressed an imbloglio that had bothered me during the day (see the Nazi, McCarty, Bush thing, below), and suddenly it was 12:30. Dehydrated, hungry, more than a little baffled by the alacrity with which the night skidded by, sad for my friend, I slept.

Needless to say, waking up was a bit of a chore this morning, and I only finally dragged myself out of bed around 8:30. Hastening, I did all the things one does in the morning, and notwithstanding my want of fluid and calories, I reflexively dressed for the road, gently packing my business casual day into a messenger bag, donning shorts, jersey, helmet, gloves, and so on, more than a little apprehensive that my hunger and fatigue would make the ride feel horrible.

Outside, though, the air was cool. The sun amiable. The street devoid even of parked cars as I set my ride down on the street and swung my left leg over the handlebars, centering myself over the frame, bag pressed against the high saddle at the small of my back. I snapped in my right foot, pushed off, headed down the clear road, not even any parked cars to impede my getting started, long, straight, and shimmering gray like a runway, my left foot snapping in on the first rotation. My right turn onto Liberty at the bottom of the hill was wide, steep, graceful, my wheels charting a clean trajectory through manhole covers and gas line covers and surface flaws, threading a needle, shoulder dipped eagerly into the turn.

It's as though I only accelerated from there.

Heading down the hill on Penn Avenue from Garfield into the Strip District, as I neared 40th Street the light changed in my favor and I blasted by all of them in the right turn lane before any of them had moved. The first vehicle was an oversized dump truck I knew as soon as I swung in front of him to slip along the parked cars on the hill I had been foolish to past. The jet engine whine of his engine braking, hovering just behind me, trying to find a way to pass, was like a spike in the base of my neck. Unless I wanted to use my brake -- and I didn't; I never do -- I simply couldn't head down the hill at car speed with any semblance of control. At the first long run of empty pavement between myself and the curb, I darted right quickly. The truck's engine swelled, like a slow giant bellowing enthusiastically, but didn't appreciably change location, and the next run of cars was coming up fast. I angled back into the lane, giving more than a door's width of space between myself and the cars. A longer gap in the cars beckoned, beyond which lay a dumpster that's been eating up more than it's share of pavement for months now. I slid right again, embarrassed, guilty, trying to be kind, and the truck finally opened up and started to slide by me. It was so large, however, that I quickly realized if I didn't modify my speed I would find myself somewhere mid-wheelbase next to the truck as we swept around the next row of parked cars and that lethal, exasperating dumpster. As I slid out into the lane, the truck passing maddeningly like a red glacier, I neared the rear panel of his bed, close enough to touch, at something very near my maximum comfortable speed. The noise of the engine faded like the sound of a train rounding a bend that baffles its sound, more of a filmic effect than something Doppler could explain, pyschological as much as physical -- I pulled back hard on the pedals, read corrugation near my ear and parked car and dumpster swiftly approaching, and managed to slip into the truck's wake, in front of the car behind him, just as we passed car and dumpster.

I passed the dumper at the bottom of the hill, and though I once more heard its roar I never saw it anywhere near me again.

Entering the Strip District on Penn Avenue, skyline beckoning, I hovered within a hundred feet of a magenta Buick Century's rear bumper for something like four green light blocks, steadily gaining, until finally, confronted with the absurdity of passing a car on a bicycle at 20-plus miles per hour, I finally accepted it: "All right," I muttered, a little winded, as I looked aslant over my left shoulder to verify that nothing was coming up on my left side, accelerating for a pass. A few blocks later, I found myself caught up, near Penn Mac, behind a bus, a pick-up, and two cars, none of which seemed to have any sense of lane or what they might be hoping to accomplish. Suddenly, instead of a bike commuter, I found myself behaving like an Indy racer, swinging left, right, left again, peeking around quarter panels, extending my neck to look over roofs, trying to negotiate the terrible pavement in that three-block span while hunting for enough of an opening to avoid breaking my feverish cadence. And when the opening came, I rocketed through it like I could go forever.

** Afterword:

I have a new hobby: cutting close enough to pedestrians who violate signals and indifferently wander into my path to startle the shit out of them. It's fun. And they deserve it. They don't assume a car will change its path for them. Why should I?


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