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December 17, 2012

Wheelies in the Rain

Wheelies in the Rain

I'm sliding down the wet street on my ass at 25 mph in a light, but steady rain. It's times like this that you wish you had insurance. Or a license plate. Or something on my feet beside my leather work shoes. The street is grinding away at the steel on my bike as we slide along together, a pretzel of steel and flesh and I'm sliding down the street for so long that I begin to wonder if I'll ever come to a stop anyway, when the curb finds me and snaps be back to reality with a sudden burst of adrenaline and pain.

But I should back up a bit....

I spend my days at work in a crucible of pain.  A private hell I've carefully constructed over the years.  I bounce back and forth between SF, Denver, and Jackson, MS like a ping-pong ball in a dryer.  

But no matter where I go, my work finds me.  I creeps into my house in Colorado.  Finds me in my dreams.  Pulls me wide awake into a nightmarish panic from a safe nap in a different time zone.

This is my life.  My own private hell.  Last week, I was so covered up that I honestly didn't have 5 hours to fly to SF so I stayed home.  No one said anything.  No one cares.  Only the work has to be done.  That is the pain that pulls at me like I'm swinging by my hair over a dark abyss.

My father was here.  This is his mind prison also.  He is here with me, in spirit, if not in body.  He couldn't make the river rise and he tried and tried until he finally cracked like a hazlenut and we went to visit him infrequently and no one talked about him because that was the polite thing to do.

Now, I have to go into work and on a rainy day, you can walk or ride the bike and I don't have an umbrella but I can get there quicker on the bike.  We solved a math problem in college where we tried to figure out if it was smarter to go wide open or slow.  I can't remember the solution, but the bike is a release for me.  A way to funnel the adrenaline into something somewhat tangential to work.

At work, I type gently on a keyboard and get manicures on a fairly regular basis.

But the bike is an outlet of a different kind.  It speaks to something primal.  Something deep inside the brain that needs to get out finds a release in the bike.

The bike likes to ride on one wheel.  This has precious little to do with me. I am a victim as much as anything.  Strangers on the street know that the bike has so much power that it will rise up like a stallion on steroids.

They see me in the street and make hand signs - an imaginary set of handlebars rises up in their pantomime.  

It's merely common courtesy to ride a wheelie and, the more often you do it, the easier it gets.  The better you get, the more wreckless you drive.  This downward spiral is something that sucks in the amatures until they end up in a stephen hawking approved scooter operated by blowing in a tube.

No one that's ever ridden with me would say I was a good driver.  Crazy maybe.  Insane.  But not good.  The good bikers I run into on the open road are always castigating me for my reckless driving.

I've wrecked a lot of times.  This isn't my first time at the rodeo.  I've been dwon many times.  They say there's two kinds of motorcycle riders...those that have gone down and those that will go down.

I've wrecked plenty of times.  Enough times that, when I ride, I wear boots, a leather jacket, gloves, and a helmet.  It's not a lot, but it's better than plenty of people you see out there on the road.  You see those morons riding around in shorts and t-shirts wearing flipflops and riding without a helmet.  That's not me.

That's not how I roll.  When I get on the bike, I wear some riding gear.  Less than some, but more than others.  Somewhere in the middle.

They say the generals are always ready to fight the last war, and this isn't my first skirmish.  This isn't my first time at the rodeo.

Now, maybe when I'm riding a wheelie, I should keep my right foot on the rear brake.  The right handbrake on the front tire is as useless as tits on a bull when the front tire is five feet off the ground.

But the right foot brake will work, if you can get your foot on it.  But when you're riding the bike like a stallion, your foot isn't really over the rear brake lever any more, truth be known.  So, the best thing to do is not go over backwards.  As that would suck.

Now, I ride a wheelie every time I'm on my bike because that part of your brain that says "nah...better not do that" doesn't work on me.  It was disabled at birth.

And, when I am riding a wheelie, you do think about going down.  That would suck.  I mean, it's hard to think about.  And I know it's crazy to ride wheelies.  In the rain.  And I know it would suck to go down.  And I think about it...my cameras all crashing to the ground around me....10 grand worth of Canon gear crashing into the street and severing my spinal cord with a nylon Canon noose.

But you try to push those thoughts into the back of your mind, and go ahead an ride the wheelies anyway because, fuck? AmIrite?  We're all going to die one day.  You loafers on the couch.  Joggers. Smokers.  Vegans.  We all die. There's only one way out.

So, that's sort of the ultimate rationaliation.  And, as Brian told me, "You can rationalize anything."  That debilitation tidbit he dropped on me has had a more profound impact on my actions than any philosophy course or book I ever took or read.

But there it is.

It is out there.

We all must die.  Life is short.  Play hard.

Now, on my way into work, I don't play well with others.  I don't like the little people darting through the crosswalk against the light.  And they do.  Tapping their stupid little iPhones, they strut into the crosswalk like they own the fucking streets, and, when I'm walking, I do the same thing.  I'll walk in front of a bus or a screaming firetruck. It makes not difference to me. Fuck 'em all.

But, when I'm on the bike, by God you'd best not be in my crosswalk.  So, I stand the bike up and come roaring throug the crosswalk.  The pedestrians scatter before me like minnows parting before a barracuda.

I have the light, mind you.  Now, by the time I get there, it's turned red, but so be it.  At the next light, I ride up to the front of the queue and pull squarely in front of a taxi.  I learned this maneuver.  If you don't get in front of them, they'll try to run you off the line and knock you over int he process.  So, if you get squarely in front of them, they'll have to run slap over you, and most people don't have the balls to do that.  

So, I'm at the front of the queue in front of a taxi and the light turns green and I wind it up and ride a wheelie all the way through first gear.  Now, it's true that I don't ride a wheelie balanced properly.  I have to keep accelerating to keep the bike up....so when I wind out first gear, I just lift it up into second and never let off the gas.  I've done this many times before.  No clutch necessary.

But this time, it comes over on me and, in the blink of an eye, I'm sliding down the street at about 20-30 mph.

All my worst fears are realized as I tumble from the bike into the street and now, I'm sliding down the street on my ass thinking...wow..this is going to suck.

A few things go through my mind as I'm sliding down the wet asphalt street on my ass.  First, I hope I don't hit anyone else and I wish I had car insurnace.  That's the first thought.  Then, I think how fortunate I am that I don't have my cameras to smash into the street, strangle me, paralyze me, or worse.  Now, it occurs to me that I've been sliding for a long time and I wonder when I'll stop sliding.  And my  thoughts go back to the last time I was sliding down the street wondering when I would stop.

That time, I was in New Orleans and I was rolling down the street after I got knocked squarely off my bike and, about the time I was wondering when I'd stop rolling, I hit a telephone pole with my chest.

But this time, I slide into the curb and come to an abrupt halt.  People come rushing up to me, certain that I've met my maker.  I rise, like a phoenix from the ashes.  I wiggle my arms and legs and realize, incredulously, that I'm more or less OK.  My right hand hurts. And there's a lot of material missing from the right glove.  But mostly, I'm just embarrassed.  I try to stand up the bike, but fail.  Then, I take a second stab at it, getting more leverage this time.  The bike rises up.  The rear tail light is hanging down by the rear turn signals.  The bike starts in an instant.  I hop on it, and ride it, shell-shocked into work.

At work, I take stock of myself. I tore a hole in the back pocket of my bluejeans when I slid on my wallet. Right right glove is mangled. Miraculously, the hand is not. I have a slight blood blister on my right fourth finger. Probably it got pinched between the bike and the street when it came over. My shoes are scratched up. My backpack is slightly scratched up.

I walk into work, like a zombie. No way I'm telling these people what happened. I mean, how dumb can one person be?

JB takes one looke at me and, sensing something, say "How dangerous is it to ride that thing int he rain?"

"Ah...it's not that bad. You just have to be realllll careful."


P.S. - I've decided that I'm selling the bike.  It's not worth it.  I don't have proper impulse control.  I don't need a bike.  Not in San Francisco, in any event

Posted by Rob Kiser on December 17, 2012 at 10:16 PM


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