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.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Variations: Nightlife

Time was, on Friday night I'd be home at 8, drinking something, anticipting a shower, considering outfits, playing phone tag with cohorts. It's not entirely unlike that now, but the occasions are fewer and farther between. Tonight weas a celebration dinner on southside, a full stomach, mist, and a phantom journey through the haunts of my recent history en-roundabout-route to home and basketball and a quiet night of, well, this and little else.

Today's commute included some unfamiliar features, and encompassed a number of nasty hills, notably Bates, which I have only climbed once on Susan, and not recently. Truth is, it was nothing I looked forward to, especially at rush hour, the most likely time for me to try it, when in addition to gravity I'd be negotiating cars backed up at the light atop the hill. It's not the sort of hill one wants to stop and then have to start up again on.

Tonight, outside the restaurant, I stripped of my sweater, rolled up my khakis, decided to skip the skullcap,and affixed lights to the frame. Cruising nightspots one after another, I observed their differing schedules: Southside Works (the map has it as a big patch of dirt, which reveals how new the complex is) was fairly busy with its movie heatre and its covertly corporate restaurants; Oakland was heating up, the young needing no excuse to start drinking on classless Friday, the sooner the better; Walnut Street in Shadyside was strangely quiet, and Ellsworth was predictably even quieter.

By then Stanton loomed, but notwithstaning persistent cramps from dinner and dessert, the incessant pistoning of my khaki-clad legs, and the beginnings of saddle sores from the coarse fabric of my cheap pants, something in the winter air, some hint of spring evenings awaiting mere days away, something even of summer urged me to pedal on, away from the direct path home. And so I pushed onward along Highland, observing a few stalwarts sitting in the warm glow inside Tazo D'Oro's picture window including one winsome woman sitting alone with only her wild hair and a book for company, climbing the last modest hill toward the park.

Then -- and only then -- did the nipping at my ears and the chafing inside my thighs urge me homeward. I turned down the hill along the edge of the park, a phantom playing out my slow descent down the steep hill, consciously forcing myself to concentrate as in my fatigue and cramping and general complaisance I didn't trust myself to hedge against the many hazards concealed by darkness -- teens exiting the park between cars by the curb, people lurking inside those same cars who cast no silhouette in the darkness, potholes barely detectable below my front wheel, dogs, errant unseasonable squirrels, firewood laying improbably in the road, the usual.

On Negley, heading back toward East Liberty, the gentle descent pulled imperceptibly at my bars, and I found myself quickening until I was nearly spun out, easily exceeding 20 miles per hour on a stretch of pavement that felt flat, speeding sufficiently to require a significant reduction in speed before I turned a wide sweeping right from the double yellow line on Negley to the double yellw on Stanton.

I slowed then, preparing for the climb, regretting that my spin through Highland Park had done nothing for my cramps. On Stanton, as I stood out of the saddle and began to negotiate my effort level with my lazier nature, I made a deal with myself: I would allow myself to use my brake descending the sharp side of Stanton if -- and only if -- I climbed all of Stanton without resuming the saddle or taking a slow-down break.

And that's where it all came together: two thirds of the way up Stanton, where I typically flag, I found an unlikely sanguinity, a resignation to my own determination, the triumph, however brief and inconsequential, of my better nature. For the first time yet, I climbed the easier side of Stanton without faltering, at a steady pace, left-right-left-right, the bike rocking beneath me like a tool, like a stubborn animal enslaved by its own ineluctable momentum or a workout partner exasperated by my persistent bitching but unwilling to let me off the hook -- I wasn't sure who was pushing whom, and before I could figure it out I was atop the ridge contemplating the other side.

Descending Stanton with the aid of a brake I'm still relearning how to use was an unmitigated rush; arriving at an empty house to a tall glass of water and a humming furnace an unmitigated privilege deferred. My ears tingled. My legs felt strong. And my wind returned soon enough.


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