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.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

"Meet Me Tonight In Atlantic City"

Sorry folks, but that title bears almost no relation to this post. It's just the refrain that's been in my head ever since I ushered out last house guests by following three hours of funk and hip-hop with Springsteen's "Nebraska," a nice reprise for the night and just generally a beautiful CD I can't believe it took me this long to buy.

It also was the refrain occupying me this morning as I rode to work, bundled up, in full-fingered gloves for the first time this autumn. The wind was crisp but welcoming; traffic was unusually light along Butler Street; Sue and I were getting along fine.

I was weaving my way between traffic and parked cars at moderate speed as I approached Butler's bend to the right at Main Street. A truck was parked against the right curb, and cars, as they idled past it, were leaving very little space for me. Thus, as I approached, I started creeping out into the lane. The quarter panel of a silver Buick was in my way, and with a typically misguided sense of style over substance, I was determined to time the Buick's bumper's passage of my front wheel for mere a split-second before I reached the truck's rear bumper, black and curled by untold impacts and just generally unpleasant-looking.

My timing was impeccable: resisting the pedals gently once or twice and otherwise holding speed, I created a slot for myself behind the Buick just as we reached the truck. The car, however, slowed unexpectedly, and I had no time to react. There seemed to be just enough room between the car and the truck, and so I attempted to skip her tire and jig Sue to the right to enter the narrow opening.

The pedal letting go of my foot made virtually no sound, just a near inaudible snick, and all at once I was entirely overbalanced at the rear corner of the Buick and about to hit something just hard enough to dent and hard enough to hurt. Amazingly, I found time to entertain the stray conjecture, entirely untrue, that my impending fall was a consequence of riding brakeless.

Then, a little thing: my fully glove left hand, seemingly of its own accord, reached down to stabilize me, now going just a few miles an hour like the Buick close beside me, against the car's rear panel. And everything was fine.

It's funny the strange taboos we create for ourselves. This wasn't the first time using my hand might have mitigated a dangerous situation. But it was the first time the situation was sufficiently desperate that I could disregard my suspicion that using hands on cars is likely in the long run to provoke angry responses and confrontations, none of which I need (the road being a dangerous enough place when drivers aren't angry with me). Even after I found comfort in the car's solid curve, blew out my held breath, unhanded the car and accelerated past the truck and back on my way, reclipping my foot in the process, I expected to hear someone honk, either the Buick who surely must have observed me impossibly close to the perimeter of his car in a rearview mirror, or perhaps one of the cars behind who witnessed my precarious folly followed by my quiet incursion of the borderland between bike and automobile.

But no one honked, and it occurred to me that, as clumsy as I felt, there probably was an elegance to what I had done, a physical poetry, contingency and response in a fraction of a second.

And the whole thing as simple as reaching out a hand to steady myself against another moving target.


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