Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I love the feeling of riding a bike. It's a feeling that is so reminiscent of childhood that I have a hard time not smiling and laughing almost every time I get on. (This is a practice that will not only result in strange looks from passersby, but also the odd bug in the mouth.) I love the whoosh of the downhill, and the jelly leggedness from a big climb. I love the ease, the possibility of how far one can go with only the power of one's own two legs (and an intricately geared piece of metal, plastic and rubber.) I love beach cruisers, mountain bikes, the classic Schwinn, the fancy modern carbon fiber bikes that are so light it's no wonder that guy is passing me...
My current bike is an odd mixture of mountain frame and road wheels, and I bought it mostly because I was afraid of the mountain goat-horn handlebars that accompany most road-type bicycles. It has gotten me many places, in comfort if not in particular style, and it is fast and sturdy. But this story is not about that bike.
This story is about my city bike, the one I bought for like $60 because my last bike (and first true love) had been made off with while I was boozing it up at a friend's house. My city bike that was cool, because of it's junky oldness. It had style without being "restored" or "classic" or any of that jazz that would have made it more valuable, ergo unacceptable to ride in San Francisco, where I believe a bike is stolen every twelve seconds or something like that.
Actually, scratch that. This story is actually less about that bike and more, well nevermind, I'll just go ahead with it. I was on my way to work, on my city bike, the one with style. I'd just come down the hill on Fulton Street, to Masonic. There was a red light; I stopped. I've never been one of those much-loved bike types who breeze through traffic lights and weave in and out between cars and generally act as if they were actually the ones surrounded by tons of steel and airbags and whatnot. So anyway, I stopped. Then I went (at the green) and was just behind the first car through the intersection, when I felt, rather than saw, a bigass object coming at me from the right. I barely swerved, and hit the back of said object. I was catapulted over the handlebars and laid in the street. I remember thinking "what the f*ck?" I may have said it.
So at the intersection of Fulton and Masonic, there was a Starbucks (of course) on the right corner in front of me, a liquor store on the right corner behind me, and an Albertson's across the way. People came running, I remember, from all directions. Mostly I remember the girl who came out of Starbucks, because she was still in the green apron, and she asked me if I needed an ambulance. Someone had already dialed 911. This disturbed me, because I had no health insurance and heard horror stories of the exorbitant fees charged by ambulance services to unfortunates like myself. So in order to demonstrate my non-need, I jumped up and said that I was okay. It was at this point that I finally looked down at myself. Checked my hands, felt my head, shook out first my right leg, then my left. Nothing. It was like I'd jumped into a pile of feathers, not been thrown from my bicycle and landed unceremoniously on the asphalt. I temporarily pondered the possibility of angels, then realized I'd probably done nothing to deserve divine intervention. I picked up my bike, which upon first glance, looked not bad. The handlebars had been knocked sidways by the impact and the front brake was a little smooshed, but they seemed like easy fixes.
My third thought was of the driver, who had pulled over on the other side of the intersection and was getting out of his car. I felt righteous, and angry, and lucky to be able to rip him a new one. I stomped up the street and took a big breath in to scream. I got as far as "What the f*ck were" when his ghost-white face and stammering apologies and visible shaking stopped me in my tracks. He'd just moved here, he said, from some rural backwater where there are few stoplights, he was confused by the traffic and was kind of lost looking for someplace. I breathed out. I consoled him, reassured him that I was ok, said I understood how a new city can be confusing (my then-boyfriend, now-husband got five parking tickets in one morning when we first moved in.) I sent him on his way after getting his license information and phone number.
Upon further inspection, I realized my bike was not ridable at the moment, that it would take banging on with tools, and even after that it would not be completely 100% ever again. I sat down to wait for the bus, called work to let them know I would be late (and that this time I had a very legitimate reason) and called my then-boyfriend, now-husband to inform him and get sympathy. It was then that my voice started to quiver, tears came to my eyes and I started to shake like the driver had been.
I didn't get back on my bike that day. It might have been a few. But soon, I was riding again, though I was more likely to wear a helmet after that. And I feel lucky - not just that I didn't die or get maimed that day, although that's rather lucky - but lucky that I carried on, kept riding, and kept loving it. A little more jumpy, a little less risky, but still. There are things in life, like love or bike riding or choice in college major, that one knockdown shouldn't be the end. Roll on.