“Seems to me you got you two kinds of bicyclists in the world,” the old man in the straw cowboy hat said out loud to no one in particular, leaning on his beat up old Ford pick-up truck, sipping on a Big Red. “You got them dead ones, and then they’re the ones who are about to get dead.”
The weekend warrior bike rider, decked out in his colorful stretchy clothes, leaning on his bike, was sipping his Pickle Juice and eating a protein bar of some kind. He realized the elder was talking to him. Normally he wouldn’t take the bait, but he was amused and curious. So he replied, “You really think so, old timer? That’s kind of a downer way to look at it.”
The truck driver and bike rider were outside a convenience store in a rural Texas town on a hot summer day. As if there were any other kind with global warming. Each was taking their time before moving on. The farmer had spent many a drive home stuck at 12 miles per hour behind a pack of raving idiots on bikes. The biker had been cursed at, had bottles flung at his head, and was nearly run off the road more times than he could count. The pair were enemies before they even met.
“Well, all’s I know is you got to be purty damn stupid coming out to the country on one of them contraptions. You may as well put a big target on your back!” He removed his hat to wipe off the sweat from his sunbeaten brow. The beads glistened in the sun, and wisps of brown hair were plastered to the browner skin on his forehead. It wasn’t just hot, like 100 degrees, but it was also humid, so walking outside felt like putting on a warm, wet blanket. The farmer didn’t have much patience for fancy pants city folk, no matter what the temperature. “Why don’t you just stay in the city and use those ridiculous bike lanes? Besides, ain’t it illegal to ride out here?”
The biker looked at him, but didn’t answer right away. He took another pull of the briny sauce meant to prevent cramping in the muscles and a bite of the sweet snack. The combination was oddly satisfying, but he hoped he didn’t barf it up once he started rolling again. He’d heard the bitching and moaning from rural folk before. And he wasn’t unsympathetic to their animus. It was probably annoying to have to slow down and wait to pass a gaggle of people. But he couldn’t accept the old man’s premise. Traffic law and safety mean something, even when it isn’t convenient.
Composing his thoughts and trying to keep the emotion out of it, the user of the bipedal machine replied, “I’ll tell you why. It’s really pretty out here, you can see for miles. And it’s quiet, too, so I can get away from those city drivers and their damn cell phones. I do some good thinking, get some exercise, and look at the green pastures and farms. Plus, sometimes I get to meet interesting guys like you. I wish I could ride out here more often. But you’re right, it is dangerous, especially if you’re by yourself. I’m as careful as I can be, and so far, I’m still not dead yet.” He ended with a wry smile he hoped would be disarming. The carless guy looked to see how his little speech landed with his rural foil, but couldn’t tell from the workman’s implacable expression.
A few cars and pick up trucks passed by the ramshackle store, but not too fast. Some kids skated up and traipsed loudly into the store. A crop duster airplane buzzed across the sky, on its way to refill it’s payload. Probably some nasty pesticides, he thought. Some sort of bird cooed; a whipoorwill, maybe? Probably a mockingbird. He was city guy and didn’t who didn’t know much about such things. He didn’t even know what crops they grew out here. It was, in a word, bucolic, thought the bike man. It felt like he was in a scene out of a movie. It was a completely ordinary and random moment, but one was that like being frozen in a moment in time, too. Which is ironic because they were both dripping with sweat.
The farmer took a swig, thinking about what he had just heard. He may have talked slowly — it was plenty hot, after all — but there was a glint of intelligence in his eyes. He realized he wasn’t going to get this biker dude’s goat, because he was a cooler customer than many of the hothead racers he’d seen. In fact he’d just complimented the farmer’s own community, of which he was pretty proud, so he didn’t have a smart-ass answer for it. This rider was pretty chunky, overweight even. He noticed his bike was a light shade of green, but was bigger than the others and had straight handlebars. Deciding to change tactics, maybe kill him with some kindness and that famous Texas country charm, he said, “Fairdale, what is that? Right there on that tube.”
Relieved the confrontation seemed to be turning into a much preferred conversation, the biker replied, “Yeah, that’s the company brand name; their headquarters is right there in Austin. They make the bikes in Taiwan like most, but they’re steel and high quality,” he explained. I won this one in a raffle from a bike group, if you can believe that. Pretty cool, right?”
“Well, I don’t know nuthin’ ’bout bikes, but I guess that is cool to get a free one. It’s a real purty color, I’ll give you that,” the man of the earth said.
The bike guy had a ready reply: “Yeah, she’s pretty. Like me.” That line always got a little chuckle, and it elicited one from the farmer, too. “I call her Sophie, because she’s sea-foam color,” he explained.
The farmer didn’t know why he got his underwear in a knot when it came to bikes. They just made him nervous, like he might hit one with his truck while passing. Or he might get hit by oncoming traffic coming around the bend or on a curve while trying to go around. He remembered that as a kid he used to ride his beat up Schwinn bike around the family’s property with his brother. They’d have all kinds of adventures like hunting crawdads, collecting rocks and insects, and getting into some mischief, too. He remembered the feeling — like he was flying over the dirt roads through the farm — like it was yesterday.
The men looked at each other and then away out at the green and brown countryside. A visible heat wave shimmered over the road. Some lazy puffy clouds floated by, in no hurry at all. They were probably hot, too.
“Hey, I’ve got thought! You wanna ride her? Take her for a spin around the block?” The cyclist didn’t think he would take up the offer, but figured it was worth a shot.
“Nah, I got my boots on, and I don’t really remember how. I’d probably just fall over and make myself look as much as a fool as you do!” said the grower of living things you can eat, smiling. Remembering his manners and country hospitality that every Texan grows up with, or should, the older man added, “But thank you. Maybe the next time I see you, I’ll have a pair of sneakers or city shoes in the car.”
Surprised by his charm and the change from aggressive assholiness to peaceful pleasantness, the bike rider realized he was starting to get stiff again. They’d each finished their drinks and it was time to move on, but each lingered a moment. For some reason, they needed each other for this chance interaction. It felt important somehow. Like if they could work out their differences, maybe there was hope that the whole world could do the same, too.
“You know what, you’re not so bad, for a car driver who quit riding his bike. You ever think about trying it again? Could be pretty fun!” the cyclist inquired.
“Well, I’d have to get a bike, re-learn how to ride it, plus I stay pretty busy with the farm, kids, dogs, wife, and all that. But you never know, maybe Santa will be good to me this year,” said the once and future farmer with that twinkle in his eye.
“I hope you do, sir, I hope you do. Wish I could help you, but the manual would be good and having the serial number. So I’m gonna hafta head out now, if you don’t mind? The cyclist sort of sing-songed. “I’ve gotta get back on the road and try to make it back to the big evil city before it gets too much hotter.”
Says he: “Sure, no problem. Be safe out there, OK? And try to get them groups to at least ride two abreast. Three or more is illegal.” This time it was the regular Joe bicyclist turn to smile.
“I will, don’t worry. And how ‘bout you try to get your neighbors to cut us some slack, too?” “We’re just people trying to enjoy our lives and get around by bicycles, after all,” he added. “Keep that rubber side down and please be kind to bicyclists, OK?” the cyclist asked hopefully, with maybe some awareness that maybe his message didn’t get through the first time.
“I will. You take care, now, alright?”
“Alright. You too, sir.”
They shook hands and parted ways, both a little less ornery. Maybe the junior let his senior know he was a human first and cyclist second, and the same for the farmer was a man, not a label. These days in America, everyone could take a lesson from that.
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