Saturday, October 10, 2009

And then...

I've been having the kind of day where things keep happening, and leading to other things, which lead to other things. I don't mean unconnected things, either- I'm talking about things causing other things. The kind of day that makes you think. And in my case, the kind of day that opens the soul a little wider with each new twist.

I woke up grumpy and sore from a bad night of little true sleep- I'd been plagued by strange and troubling dreams, my bladder and my sinuses and aching joints all pointing to the onset of a cold or flu episode- and the day seemed to promise only gritty-eyed torment. Feeling grim at best, I left the house on my Townie- the smooth-tired, load-bearing bicycle I use for doing things in and around town- to ride over to the library where an audiobook of Paul Theroux's Ghost Train To The Eastern Star was being held for me. Damnit, I grumbled to myself, I don't want to ride anywhere, especially not somewhere I've never ridden before. And I didn't want to. I never want to. I'm a lousy and lazy cyclist- poor technique and a crappy attitude get you nowhere when pedals are involved. Still, once I get going, I invariably start to feel better, which is the only reason I ever set out at all.

My route required a power merge onto an expressway (signal, go, signal again, go again) in which I had to trust strangers not to run me down when I knew darned well they were all on the phone or checking the kids' seatbelts or doing anything but looking out for me, which I dreaded. I'd been successfully avoiding this ride for months because of the scary merges, but now my closest local library branch was shut down until January for renovation, and I would have to make the ride if I wanted any books. As I came to the merge point, I chickened out because sure enough, the drivers were paying too little attention, as always. Two of them waited until the last possible moment to look up from their phones or whatever and panic-sprint their way right across the very piece of asphalt I would need to occupy, still not looking anywhere but straight ahead, and so close together there wasn't an inch of room for me, while yet another aborted the merge and came right back into the only bit of road I could use. This all happened extremely fast. It looked like those cockpit views of racetrack crashes, with cars going everywhere. The hair on the back of my neck is all that saved me.

Damned fools, I grumbled. I circled the block for another try, passing a gas station where I once worked years ago. The combination of workplace nostalgia and near-miss adrenalin was making me feel pretty good, all of a sudden, to my surprise. Just past the gas station driveway, I noticed a pretty nice looking cell-phone with a slide-out keyboard bouncing around in the road after being run over by a car. I considered stopping to see if there might be any salvageable bits, but pressed on. Back at the merge point, virtually the same thing happened again. People just don't know how to drive anymore, and they either brake or turn whenever anything scares them. I managed to avoid being killed, again, and decided I'd go around one more time, hoping for a break.

As I came up to where I'd seen the bouncing cell-phone on my last lap, I heard screeching tires back at the merge point. Really, I thought, this is just too much! I pulled over and dismounted. I wanted to wait until all these heedless drivers cleared the area. The pitiful cell-phone was bouncing around again, the battery was out by now. Yet another car ran over it. Well, I thought, that's three times now. I had the time, so waited for a break in traffic, and picked up the pieces of the phone. To my great surprise, it looked all right, so I slipped the battery in and held it with my thumb while I pressed the start-up button, not bothering to try the battery cover. I figured something somewhere would keep the thing from working, but it came to life instantly, so I tried the battery cover. It fit right in. I opened up the phone book and dialed the first number. Two rings later, I was talking to someone who promised to e-mail the owner immediately if I would leave the phone at the gas station. I hung up and wheeled my bike over to the front of the gas station and went in. A lady and the clerk were poring over a map, both obviously stumped and she looking very frazzled. I handed the phone to the clerk, told him the name of the person who would coming to ask for it- his eyes lit up. I know her, he cried, delighted. She's a customer. This is her phone! Yes, I said, good, smiling. I like it when things work out. I got ready to go on my way. The map lady looked at me and asked if there was any chance I knew how to find … and she named my street, a cul-de-sac with only nine houses on it. I told her I lived there, and led her straight to the house she wanted. I didn't have a working cyclo-computer today (pinched wire, think), so I don't know how fast I rode, but it felt like a record speed for me- I didn't want to cause a traffic jam.

Back home again, I drank some milk and ate a few grapes, thankfully, for I had neglected to eat before leaving the first time. Feeling positively wonderful by now, I set out again, and zoomed through the merge of death and onto the expressway; I surprised myself by arriving at the library in only about as long as I had spent since leaving home the first time- about fifteen minutes.

What's the point? I started out feeling terrible, and not very happy. When I calmly refused to force the situation (the tough merge complicated by criminally dangerous driving) I found a phone and saved it for its owner. Then I got to lead a family to a birthday party on my home street- sort of a hometown parade. Then I mastered the dread merge and had a nice ride. That's enough of a point for me!

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