All in a night’s work

November 28, 2012 § 30 Comments

I had just dropped down Emerald past the StageOne World Headquarters and pulled up behind a white pickup waiting on the red light at Pacific Coast Highway. Dude’s window was down, and every five seconds (I counted) a big billow of cigarette smoke came pouring out the window.

I’d inhale, unwillingly, as the smoke coursed into my lungs. “Fucking cigarette smoke,” I thought. “I love it.”

Granny was a 3-pack-a-dayer, and it killed her young as she only lived to be ninety-five. Had she not smoked like a chimney since before the Great War, she’d doubtless have made it to 97 or even 98. She was robbed.

Summers in Daingerfield I was a little chain smoker too, even though I never once lit a cigarette. Lying between Granny and Jim, him playing solitaire with the cats, her reading a book, and me watching Gunsmoke, I smoked enough second-hand cigarettes to cancerize my lungs once and for all.

I still can’t breathe in that stuff without thinking about Granny and her Kents, and also without thinking about Ian, who smoked right up until the night before he died. When we cleaned out his sad apartment with the windows drawn and the unused stretch-a-matic muscle builder hanging from the bedroom door, most of the knick-knacks, such as they were, had so much tar from the years of cigarette smoke that they were glued to the surfaces on which they rested by virtue of a thick, dark brown resin of tar as tacky and strong as any super glue.

Smokers’ delight

I’ve always thought smokers were a lot like cyclists, and it hasn’t escaped my attention that so many bikers are ex-smokers or reformed drunks or other addicts transferring one habit for a slightly less damaging one. Like cyclists, smokers are always just one step in front of the meat wagon.

Smokers measure their progress to the grave stick by glowing stick, keenly aware that it’s killing them but jaundiced enough to know that life is killing them, too. This differs only slightly from the riders who venture forth with traffic, all too willing to risk death in order to make the progress to eventual death more tolerable, pleasurable, even. Not glowing stick by stick, they measure the passage pedal stroke by stroke.

The night roaches

This night I was wearing my bolt-on legs, fresh out of the box courtesy of the Hunger Diet, and Dog I felt good. Turning left onto Esplanade I caught sight of a brilliant bike headlight behind me, moving at warp speed.

It was another night roach venturing forth under cover of darkness to ambush hapless commuters like me. My night roach policy was simple: Blow by me and say “Hello,” or better yet slow down to chit-chat as Chris Down had done last week, and I’d be happy.

Blow by me while telepathically calling me a wanker, as Bumblebee Dude had done a couple of weeks ago, and I’d chase or die trying. Part of it is the old-fashioned insecurity that drives any wanker worth his salt, the inner fear that you’re not fast enough (hint: you aren’t.).

The other part is common courtesy. Our cycling community is too small, and life’s too short, for people to slam-bang past others on bikes without even acknowledging their existence. Night Roach bore down on me and then passed, chin over stem, rocketing out of my slipstream with his South Bay Wheelmen kit briefly soaking in the glare from my light.

“See you, sucker,” he telepathed me.

It took some effort, but I caught onto his wheel, and, already deep inside his head, I knew what he was thinking when he saw my light reflect off the inside of his front rim.

“Hi, there!” I telepathed “I’m back!”

“Fuck,” he telepathed in response. “Better pretend I don’t care.”

By now he was absolutely drilling it, but we had a small tailwind and were still on the section of Esplanade that slightly tilts down, and he was broad enough and going fast enough that the draft was substantial, so he now had a permanent guest.

You hooked it, now you gotta land it

In Normalworld, he would have sat up, looked back, and said something. Or he would have swung over for me to take a pull. But we were in Nightroachworld, where everything is a potential boot sole about to come down on your spine.

“If I sit up, he’ll know I’m too tired to go it like this by myself,” he thought. “But if I keep at it, I’ll blow and look like the ultimate wanker. What if he’s just resting, and as soon as I pop he powers away? If I wave him through, I’ll look stupid for not having invited him along when I passed him in the first place, and will be admitting that he’s as good as I am. Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

I took stock of his legs. They were young legs. He rode a fair amount, but didn’t have the look that comes with brokedown, carved up, older, battle-scarred, road-hardened legs. So the equation got easier. Esplanade ends in a hill. You can either bear to the right and take the stiff, steep climb, or you can bear to the left and take the gradual one.

At this torrid pace, he was going to come apart as soon as we hit the hill. If not, he was the proud owner of a UCI pro license. He had to pick his poison. The left turn was more gradual and would show he was afraid of the steeper route, and therefore fearful. The right turn was gentle at first and would then break you without mercy.

He bore left. “Oh, Mr. Toughguy,” I telepathed, “afraid to go steep, eh?”

As expected, he slowed a bit at first, then quickly unraveled. Then, and only then, did he look back. “Hey,” he said hopefully, panting hard, “how’s it going?”

It was a fake friendliness, begging now for pity, and maybe a dollop of mercy, where he had given his all to wankify me on my carbon cross.

I said nothing and sat on his wheel. He churned about thirty more big, square, forced efforts and then completely blew. I pulled alongside him. “How’s it going?” he whimpered, but all it sounded like was “Howsmmlllgnnguhg?”

I revved up the bolt-ons and sped away.

A tale of two night encounters

Smokers are at least a little cynical on the inside, if not a whole lot. The act of smoking makes it impossible to lie to themselves. “These fucking things are killing me,” they think. “I guess I’ll have another one. Now.”

In our own way, cyclists share that cynicism about the negative effects of cycling–the expense, the risk, the subjugation of domestic tranquility to biking, the unhealthy eating habits, in short, the things about cycling that are killing you but that aren’t killing you quickly enough or certainly enough to make you refrain from doing it.

Why else would a night roach blast through the dark with a tiny headlamp, swerving around curbs and madly overtaking strangers, for no reward but the pleasure of administering a whipping?

I was pondering that question the following evening, twenty-four hours later. Again, I was on the way home. This time, though, the bolt-ons had been replaced by overcooked noodles. My pace was labored as I rolled through Lunada Bay.

Suddenly I heard voices behind me and saw the brilliant shine of multiple lights. A small group of four riders overtook me, going significantly faster. They slowed. “Hi, there,” said their leader.

“Hey,” I answered. “Where you guys going?”

“San Pedro, then up Via Colinita to the Domes and back to Manhattan Beach. Want to join us?”

They’d broken up their earnest pace just to chat with a stranger. “Sure,” I said.

They made a slot for me in fourth wheel. The pace resumed. It wasn’t hammering, but it was steady. These dudes were serious. The guy in front of me, John Daly, told me about the ride. “Five o’clock every Tuesday and Thursday after work,” he said. “We get in right at fifty miles. Only about 3k of vertical, but it’s better than nothing.”

Wow. After work. These dudes were serious. My spaghetti strands began talking to me. “You go with these dudes and you’ll bonk in Pedro,” they whispered. “Then they’ll drop you and leave you for dead. Politely, of course.”

As we rolled along I noted how carefully and courteously they rode, pointing out shit in the road and keeping a tight, safe line. No attitude here at all. Everyone welcome, just pay attention and enjoy the night as you rolled through it.

“Hey guys,” I said, “I think I’d better head back.”

“Sure,” the leader said. “Glad to have had you along.” They vanished into the blackness, the bright red embers of their taillights glowing with each drag on the cigarette, until they vanished around the bend.

I watched them disappear just as a great horned owl flew overhead, noiselessly, and settled on the traffic signal crossbar at Hawthorne, waiting for some rodent, who, unaware, would become its next meal.

§ 30 Responses to All in a night’s work

  • Sandbox says:

    Great Story to wake up to!!
    Thanks!!

  • velobob says:

    not sure I made the smoking connection, but the writing about “night roaches” was brilliant, and right on. The telepathic conversation was classic! Thanks for being able to put telepathy into the written word.

  • You should call these night roaches and bumblebees the wankers they are and just let them go. They only grow more pesky the more you swat at them (or respond to them). Here in Indiana, we have the ones who are down in their tuck, racing toward you, wearing the UCI pro kits. They are too cool to wave so we either flip them off or call them the booty holes they are.

    • Admin says:

      I love those wankers, second only to the pathaletes, a/k/a the guys who go full TT on the pedestrian/bike path. They are awesomely entertaining, with their outfits, their gear, their total commitment to the race in their head, and their general wankerness.

  • leo says:

    “Our cycling community is too small, and life’s too short, for people to slam-bang past others on bikes without even acknowledging their existence”

    Agree the Racing/Training Ride community is relatively small, but the increase in road bikes being ridden is huge in say, the last 10 years or so, thanks to Pot Belge Postal and perhaps the economy.

    Kinda funny to read of these riders encountered (Couple in the Canyon, Bee in PV, and now the Wheelman in South Bay) The story always seems to end with a coup de grace, seemingly because you were not given a hello. Big Deal. It’s more people on more bikes. More people, more differences. Porsche drivers used to wave to one another back in the 70’s when not so many on the road in SoCal. It still happens but not as much.

    (ot: if so many more bike users, when does an economy of scale of lower prices for tires/parts start to kick in? I realize weak dollar doesn’t help)

    Maybe they see the Big Pink socks and think ur weird and back off, haha.
    Thanks for the fun reads.

    • Admin says:

      I’m a punk and can’t handle being passed…key symptom of wankerdom, by the way.

      There’s a great story by J. Frank Dobie about an old cow who used to lead on the cattle drives. She’d never let another cow get in front of her, and her knowledge of the route up from South Texas was so extensive that the cowboys would always drive her back home to use her for the next cattle drive rather than sell her at the stockyards in Kansas.

      One thing about biking is you pass people very closely, usually within inches, and not surrounded by windows and steel. It seems offensive to ignore your fellow wanker, but then I grew up in a day when my dad used to say “Howdy!” to everyone who passed the house.

      Nice comment, by the way; thanks.

  • Mike says:

    Nice story, but I miss your fucked up comic relief!! Reader wants, blah….

    • Admin says:

      FUCR is hard to come up with on the Hunger Diet and in the absence of racing, but I promise to do better! Also, I’d rather be complained at and vilified than ignored, so feel free to whinge and carp to your heart’s content. It’s rarely taken amiss. Except when it is.

      • Mike says:

        Throwing vilification that far would take a lot of effort, ignoring you is pretty easy since it requires me to do exactly nothing…which I’m pretty good at doing. Besides, I try to stockpile effort for the bike. I think I can manage complaints though–as proven!

  • mbhoya99 says:

    Hard to reconcile the following two thoughts expressed this week:

    1) Our cycling community is small, so all must follow my unwritten rules of friendliness for every biker they encounter.

    2) What are all you wankers doing on my holiday ride making it less fun/safe for me, I wish you had stayed home instead of biking in a way I don’t like.

    Which is it, do you want newbies to show up and be welcomed, or do you only want the cool kids who race every weekend to be allowed into the club.

    • Admin says:

      I want to seek out and destroy all wankers, after politely welcoming them into the crushfest. It is my fervent desire that people feel welcomed, that they feel part of the group, and that they understand the mission is to leave them with a sense of monumental failure and collapse, preferably with evidentiary proof in the form of Jake Sorosky’s photography, a/k/a Photographer to the Wankstars.

      As it now stands, the club has a variety of reprobates, racers, non-racers, Freddies, hairy-legged weirdos, jogging shorts-sporting nutjobs, housewives, househusbands, earnest achievers, hopeless losers, and occasionally (very occasionally) the cyclist who actually knows how to ride a bike. Fortunately, I don’t hold any authority over club entrance requirements, but generally they seem to be as follows:

      1. Pulse required (no corpses)
      2. Possession of a bicycle (legally, preferably)
      3. Strong desire to pummel or be pummeled
      4. Thick skin
      5. Bad sense of humor
      6. Regular bath (monthly, whether they need it or not)
      7. Ability to understand the phrase “Go the front you fucking wanker!”
      8. Fear of Suze (they’ll come by that one way or another)
      9. Love of mobs
      10. Internet connection

      That is all.

  • Seattle weenie. says:

    You’re killing me. Great insight. Got a light?

  • IMHO this installment is a literary wankerpiece ! Probably so because it is so easy to project yourself doing the very same. Rock on Wanky

  • A-Trav says:

    Man. I’d smoke a chain if I could keep it lit.

  • brian says:

    That was an awful lot of wheel sucking for a guy who has previously professed a disdain for people to do it. Are you saying that his lack of a courteous hello gave you the right to break one of your own ten commandments?

    • Admin says:

      Not sure that sitting in for less than a mile along Esplanade after Knob Hill to the bump is “an awful lot of wheelsucking,” especially after chasing like a bastard to latch on.

      But whatever.

  • brian says:

    Previously you’ve showed disdain for wheel sucking without helping ie.. your trip back to LA on PCH. Are you saying that because he didn’t offer up a hello at the moment of contact that it was OK for you to break one of your ten commandments of cycling?

    • Admin says:

      The thought that someone would remember a previous comment of mine and compare it with a present one, thereby discovering an inconsistency, inaccuracy, contradiction, or a hypocrisy, is quite frightening.

      However, in reply to your question I can only answer with The Parable of the Musical Adept.

      An enthusiastic young Deadhead had memorized every lyric to every song on every album, and had attended four straight years of Grateful Dead concerts. Despite his best efforts, he had never been able to meet, let alone speak with Gerry Garcia. Every day he turned over the lyrics to various songs in his head, trying to parse them and understand the meaning that had been imparted by this legendary prophet of the Muse.

      In particular, he tussled and tangled with the meaning behind the words in “Uncle John’s Band.” Was it a metaphor for the Grateful Dead? Or was it a metaphor for life? Or perhaps both?

      In the fifth year of his devotionals, the year was 1985, he was standing outside the Red Rocks Amphitheater after a concert, in the vicinity of a nondescript bus. Gerry Garcia walked slowly by.

      “Mr. Garcia?” he asked, voice quavering.
      “I’m Gerry, yeah.”
      “May I ask you a question?”
      “Sure.”
      “What do the lyrics in ‘Uncle John’s Band’ really mean?”

      Garcia looked at him, then raised his dark sunglasses. The sage’s eyes twinkled, and the corners of his mouth turned upward in a gentle, beneficent smile. “They mean,” he paused, “whatever you want them to mean.”

      He lowered his glasses and walked on.

      Finally, the adept understood.

  • NightRoach says:

    Thanks for the hilarious writeup.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about our night-time encounter. The NightRoach typically avoids the w*nker commuters who ride in the bike lane at 15mph, and gives them a wide berth when passing because he sees them nearly they trip over their front wheels wobbling around the reflective dots when turning onto Esplanade. The NightRoach doesn’t have time for faux-roadies doodling along in the bike lane when he’s in the Roach-zone.

    Night Roach filed your night-time existence away under ‘slow, wobbly f*ck’, and moved well clear before continuing my Roaching.

    NightRoach’s reaction to a w*nker commuter sucking wheel without so much as a ‘hello’? Give him the elbow flick and wave-through. (one last chance for W*nker to reedem himself after breaking a commandment)

    So NightRoach sits up to the w*nker go by – knowing W*nker will cream his bibs re-living his conquest on his blog, much to everyone’s amusement.

    The same encounter from the NightRoach perspective:
    “Was riding along. Passed a w*nker taking up the road going 15mph. W*nker sprunts like a wild chicken so he can suck wheel but then won’t pull through.
    If only he’d read Wankmeister’s blog, he’d know that if he’s gonna suck wheel, especially after sprunting wildly to get there, at least say ‘hello’. Decides this guy isn’t any fun to ride with.
    NightRoach goes hard for a full 18 seconds, but realizes W*nker doesn’t get the hint. Sits up to let w*nker pass, because W*nker clearly replaced his saddle cream with embro today.
    Enjoys the rest of the NightRoach training regimen in relative peace without being bothered by any more w*ankers.

    Sincerely, NightRoach

    • Admin says:

      Awesome! And all true! Except, of course, for the parts that aren’t.

      Nice recap…and shave that roach goatee thingy. Ewwwww. Movember’s over.

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