He awoke early with the sun for a change. Groggily, from a late night when sleep did not come, as it often did not. He waited for slumber to arrive like a spouse waiting on the partner who had to work late: restlessly. To pass the time before her return, he watched a digital video recording of thin, super strong young men riding their bikes across Spain. A place he’d been many years ago and found himself pining for. He pined a fair bit these days, to anyone who would listen. About his underappreciated, unpaid blog and book writing. Or the aches and pains of an aging cyclist. And his unwillingness to settle for another low-paying job with a boss and all that jazz, while he struggled to start being an self-employed contractor. He couldn’t figure out how to do the job without a car but paradoxically he needed money from a job to get a car. After 13 years since his vehicle was smashed by a reckless driver, a car seemed like it would be nice. Yet it could also mean certain death to whatever modicum of fitness he had, he thought, because biking is sweaty, hard and uncomfortable, and driving a car is easy. And easy is boring. Which rhymes with snoring, which is what he should be doing, he mused.
With these half-formed thoughts swirling in his head, the man performed his morning ablutions. Used the manual toothbrush by accident instead of the electric one. Showered and, for the first time this season, he shaved to start his goatee. He liked to call it the “season of the goat.” Every spring and fall for almost 20 years he had one; come winter he wore a patchy beard, and during summers he was clean-shaven. Although lately he’d been leaving his faint blonde moustache for the first half of it. But this year’s seasonal facial regimen was shot all to hell because he didn’t want the white hairs aging his appearance for a professional headshot. Finally, he got a photo that wasn’t altered to make him look like an alien, weatherman or real estate agent. Waking from his reverie with a jolt of cold water in the shower, he realized, “Oh shit, I’m going to be late!”
He put on his backpack with a lock, apple and sport snack inside. Donning the bright yellow helmet, worn and smellygloves and the cheap, powder-blue framed sunglasses he got from the apartment complex he used to live at nearby, the dude then slotted his water bottle into its cage, got on the Fairdale bike he won in a raffle anr called Sophie, and clipped in his Pearl Izumi mountain bike shoes that were still new — purchased over a year ago, back when he had a job and money — but no life. He was really, seriously, and aggressively broke. But every day he didn’t have to slave for the man, or the woman, was a victory against mediocrity and for his self-respect.
Slowly, then accelerating bit by bit, he navigated his way across the sullen streets, sidewalks, grass where no sidewalk existed, and alongside the screaming service road of the highway that went all the way from Texas to Canada. Arriving at his destination, a community clinic, he went through the motions. The kindly doctor from somewhere in Southeast Asia was in a good mood today, taking time to listen. She shared how she had a similar ache, and what to do about it and his other complaints. The young Latina nurses were helpful. One smiled and said, “Look at you, talkin’ Spanish!” as he let some words in his second tongue slip out on his way out. He liked to listen and not speak it sometimes. Not to be sneaky, just today he was tired, so the words didn’t want to form on his lips. His brain was toast. Or mush. Or scrambled. So many breakfast food words for a sleepy mind!
Making his way through the rest of the day, he felt exhausted, distracted, and like he should be doing everything possible to make money immediately. But with little sleep and a foggy brain, he cut himself some slack. Trying to rest, he frequently checked his communications. Commenting on LinkedIn. Emailing one resource about help learning the job. Texting another who wanted to reschedule a mentoring meeting. Thanking people who followed his blog. Giving kudos on his sports app. Talking to a board member and former government official about bike advocacy stuff. He was plugged in and switched off at the same time. In almost a dream state, just tired, unable to nap but also fully awake in some sort of reality that resembled waking life. “If only I could make the writing, biking, blogging, book-writing pay,” he thought for the millionth time.
The day before he’d had to get up at 5:30 in the damn morning when itness still dark and bicycle to the new university hospital to do a stress test on a treadmill. Fortunately, he qualified for a program that would not charge him much. His heart was strong, but it had an electrical anomaly. It was benign, but one needing to be checked. The man was not a runner anymore due to his self-proclaimed status as a “fathlete” which led to really painful shin splints and sore knees for days if he jogged. He lasted several minutes longer than average, after requesting more time to get above maximum heart rate. He didn’t even have to run.
The paper-pushers hadn’t approved an echocardiogram, so he did that today. The stenographer was a chatty and friendly man. Going through the test, lying on his side in the dark with the cold sonogram gel tickling his skin, he began to notice something: despite his stupor, he felt pretty good, happy, even content. He didn’t know from whence it came, but he liked the feeling. He measured his weight: It was 12 pounds less than the last time he had measured it. The miracles continued to accrue.
Going by bike to the local community college a couple of miles away, he met a tall man with large beard and black motorcycle boots. The professor had agreed immediately over the phone to donate two gift cards to the cyclist’s effort of riding in a breast cancer charity ride. He had done so the year before, too. Abrupt yet kindly, the massage teacher saw him out and the bicyclist thanked him profusely and wished him well.
One of his bikes wasn’t working, so he texted a friend he met doing bike advocacy who had offered a chance to take care of his and his wife’s dog. Requesting a lift to the bike shop to avoid the hated local slow as molasses bus service, and happily receiving it, he then rore home. The older man was a cyclist who had not ridden his bike in some time because his wife was receiving a final round of treatment for her advanced breast cancer. The carless one was met at the gate by the other just as he was coming outside. The rider had raised over $1,700 so far for the 40-mile charity ride, the one they had ridden together the year before. Wordlessly, the kindly caregiver took the loose wheel from the man’s hand and helped him load his bike on the rack. Away they went.
The wife was in the back seat and gave our man a big smile. He turned awkwardly and clasped her hand. He felt relieved to see her doing well, despite months of treatment that surely had put her body through the ringers of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. After watching someone go through that painful process himself once, he wished that horrible journey upon no one. But somehow, she was smiling. Her hair was whiter but growing back. She seemed to move without any pain. Miraculous.
The husband drove and marveled at how other drivers let him across several lanes of a busy road to make a turn, every time. “People are generous,” he said. The younger man wasn’t so sure about that, having had many close calls with rude car drivers. The bike rider and the wife conversed while the husband drove, and he thought about how modern medicine was brutal but had also worked to save her life and that of so many cancer survivors. He was overjoyed for them both but too tired to find the words to express it. It was a wonderful feeling. “What is going on with me — and with this day?” he thought to himself. It was if he was dreaming while awake, seeing a Polaroid picture with a pink glow he normally didn’t notice. It was like he had put on invisible rose-colored x-ray glasses and could see things normally unseen.
At the bike shop where he was a regular, he was greeted with smiles and good-natured ribbing by the mechanics. An oft-repeated scene ensued, talking about his old bike with over 10,000 miles on it, how he rode it so much it needed new parts. He griped about how biking was so expensive and lamented how his often very real fatigue, the cause of which had not been diagnosed, coupled with the lack of a car, which hampered his ability to do many things that car drivers took for granted. And then another small miracle in this strangely wonderful day happened: the mechanic who was giving him crap about not bringing him beer disappeared into the back of the shop. He reappeared with a tire that looked new and began to replace the old worn one that had a gash from glass, threadbare sidewalls, and a flattened surface with the new one. “What are you doing?” the man asked. “I told you I want to patch it and all my punctured tubes because I’m broke.” The short but powerful mechanic with the thick Mexican accent and devilish grin, who had recently ridden solo on a mountain bike 113 miles from Austin to San Antonio by himself, said in his charming but still noticeable accent “I’m giving it to you free. This is okay, no?”
The man didn’t believe what he was hearing, so it took a moment to register. Coming to his senses, he replied, “Really? Well, yes, great! Thank you! Please go ahead, that’s so nice! I owe you some beers!” Discussion ensued. The mechanic mentioned last just himsekt, instead of sharing it as instructed. The wrenchman pointed out how that was so last year, while marking the tubes with tape and a red “x” to show the punctures for later patching. The rider thanked him again profusely, inquired about his beverage preference the next time he had money for a tip, and they parted ways.
After he paid for the new innertube at the register while using his frequent customer discount, he found his friends. They went to the house where the dogsitting would take place. There was more conversation, some cleaning up and messing with the AC. Then the generous, older and wise couple dropped him off at the grocery store with promises to follow up about the details for the weekend.
Inside, he saw someone wearing a t-shirt from a fancy restaurant he’d been to once and spoke with the executive chef; she was kind, too. Several women returned his gaze and smile; normally that didn’t happen much. It was if he was in a movie that felt hyper-real and had hidden cameras, and only he was in on the gag. A reverse of The Truman Show. He imagined this was what being drunk felt like, but he had never been inebriated, so he didn’t know or care. Whatever it was, it was a warm and fuzzy feeling. His step lightened.
While buying his groceries with a gift card, which was given to him by the couple, he patiently awaited the slow customer in front of him. Biked home in the dark. Unloaded his haul of food, mostly healthy. Did his yoga while the new age music soothed his jangled brain. All these things happened in an altered state. In his tired but now refreshed mind, he contemplated the serene ordinariness of the day and its remarkable feeling of all the people whose lives he’d touched, and who had touched his. Medical personnel, retail staff and shoppers, those in the biking world, pedestrians and car drivers. People he saw, those who were in his thoughts and others he contacted by text and phone. He had wandered through a day and into something amazing, and he wondered how it all happened without much effort at all. It just was.
He decided that without drugs, hallucination or a transporter beam that he had somehow stepped into another dimension, one that was exactly like the one he normally inhabited. But this one was enhanced by heightened awareness and sensitivity, and energetically was more evolved. It was fueled by love, community, and humans helping each other get through another day. It wasn’t real, or was it?
The cyclist realized how fortunate he was to be alive. He had not died on his bike that day. He was able to access health care, while maybe not the highest of quality, but it was enough. He may have had some extra pounds, but his legs and heart were strong. He could still manage to buy some groceries. He had a place to live for yet another month while he searched for the next month’s rent money. Maybe the country was going to shit a lot or a little bit, but an election was soon going to start to change that. More bike lanes were going in. He was single and alone for the most part, and while everyone else he knew worked or was occupied, some old friends had been in touch and wanted to see him. His newer friends,. who had been through the hell of cancer and were coming out of it and through it, had taken the time to help him with his bike and also to catch up. They graced him with their kindness amd presence without even trying or knowing how much it meant to him. He was without a job, but he felt happiness and hope that he would earn some money this weekend just for hanging out with a joyful dog who would be thrilled to see him, and the feeling would be mutual. A fellow cyclist was coming to help with his blog. Tomorrow he would start again to find more income and meet with a mentor who agreed to advise him on his new venture.
Tonight, he would try to get more sleep. But first, with a tired grin on his face and eyelids heavy from more activity than rest, he finally sat down at the computer. The bike dude began to share his story with his 312 followers, most of whom would not read this post. He didn’t care. It had been a dreamy day where the sun had shined, but it was not too hot. He had been on his bike safely and didn’t have to go to a dead-end, soul-killing job. He saw people of all kinds, and they helped him through or at least didn’t interrupt the flow of his day. Most of all, it was a day wherein he got a glimpse behind the curtain where so much magic was hidden. It was a day that indeed was truly beautiful.
He hoped he would remember it tomorrow, and never wake up from the dream.
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