After work and cycling home–
In the last ten minutes of packing my gear together, cleaning up, tying loose ends, getting the jobsite ready for tomorrow, when I will again work nine hours alone without a stereo because mine broke–in those last ten minutes, I’m rushing around because the sky just turned black. It turned black to the east, but I can’t tell if it turned black to the south yet. I hope it hasn’t because that’s where I’m headed. Five or six miles south is my home.
The sky is black to the south. This I discover when I close the garage, hop on my bicycle, and start pedaling furiously.
“I can make it, I can make it. Fifteen minutes, that’s all I need.” I’m actually saying this out loud, between breaths. I don’t really care what the passing cars think about a man covered in paint biking his heart out and talking to himself, because they are cars, not people. I feel a raindrop. It’s merely a flesh wound. I can still do this, and I will.
I’m going through an S-curve and over some railroad tracks past a little train depot. This is the curve where, a long time ago, while my friend Josh and I were driving home from drinking beers in the park, a big purple Volkswagen Eurovan overtook us and clipped us on its way back in from cutting us off, and then turned off its lights and sped away. We were 20, we’d been drinking, we did not initiate a high speed chase. When we called the cops to report the accident, they sent an officer our way. The cop asked us for our story, which we gave. He looked around at the dent in the bumper. “Looks like you hit someone, not someone hit you,” he said, idiotically. He asked us if we’d been drinking. “Nope.” He proceeded to call us liars and refuse to help us, because he smelled booze on us and we wouldn’t own up to it. “If you’d just tell me the truth, then maybe I can help you,” he said at the time. Josh and I again wisely declined. A police officer who asks you to admit to underage drinking before he helps you find a car that sideswiped you is not there to protect and to serve. He’s there to be an asshole. He’s there to arrest you.
The point being, I’ve always been suspicious of that curve. As well I should be, because it is right here where the droplets become steady and turn into rain. I keep pedaling, faster now.
My bicycle, my around-town one, is a fixed-gear bike. Every rotation of the back wheel is attached to the movement of the pedals. In plain speech, if you’re moving you’re pedaling, because that’s the only way to move. You can’t coast. Pedaling over bumps and potholes–and there are lots of them here in the American Northeast, thanks to blizzards and snowplows–becomes increasingly dangerous the faster you’re moving. The bumps throw you off your saddle a little bit. The harder you hit a bump, the greater the kick. So you have to focus, you have to keep your eyes on the pavement to find the smoothest line, and you must always be on the lookout for cars, which (being disembodied) seem to have no real compunction about damn-near grazing you, killing you, scaring you senseless as they pass you on what are, after all, roads constructed for them. All of these rules apply double in the rain. Because it becomes harder to see.
The local college has two scenic overlooks that glance out at the Atlantic Ocean. One of these is home to a small beach I sometimes swim from. The road home winds past these overlooks. It’s a narrow picturesque state highway with requisite potholes, fallen tree branches, and leftover sand patches from the winter. This is where it begins to pour.
Pour. Hard. Pour, pour, pour. Thick white pellets–wannabe hail–smash, smash, smash into my eyeballs. I’m three miles from home. I could acknowledge the obvious–that I’ve lost, and that I’m going to get soaked no matter what I do. But that wouldn’t be any fun. And besides, there’s a backhoe going up the hill, a train of cars trailing it, and I’m catching up to them. I’m catching up to the cars in the pouring rain. And if I can just keep this pace up the hill, if I can find the will to make my legs ignore the burn, just pretend there’s a lower gear ratio, I can pass the cars. I can win. I can win my own private Tour de France.
My legs refuse.
I slow down at the top of the hill. Internal combustion engine: 1, Tom: 0. Defeated.
No. Fuck that. Tom: 0.5. I get half-credit for trying.
I bike the last few clicks at my normal speed, getting soaked–or no, just remaining soaked, laughing to myself as I splash through puddles, hoping my cigarettes aren’t falling apart in my pocket, that my phone will still work when I get out of the rain. I round the corner for the last half-mile road before my house. Odell Avenue. I mosey down it, and the downpour turns back to rain. I round its one big curve and the rain starts to taper off to a sprinkle. I pull up to the last stop sign of my journey and it has stopped precipitating entirely.
“Fuck you,” I say. “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.” I do, I say it. To whom, I can’t tell. Maybe you, maybe God, maybe the weather, but that would be stupid since the weather can’t think. The sun is humming behind a puny gray cloud. I am drenched. I am incredulous. I am, against all odds, pretty pleased with myself. I bike up my driveway and pull off my shirt on the back porch–it tears completely on one arm, because it was tearing apart anyway. Then I walk inside.
Before, at least, the thunder gets me.