Flying the friendly skies

May 23, 2014 § 26 Comments

As we waited to board I looked at the 300-lb. hippo sucking on a 32-oz. Coke and stuffing the extra large fries and Big Mac down his throat and I knew that on this full flight to Philly I would be seated next to him. How did I know? This was my fate. He would require three seatbelt extenders and would piss into his barf bag. He would sweat on me and fart in my general direction. My only consolations were that I was on an airplane rather than a Conestoga wagon and that I wouldn’t be murdered by Indians.

They were small consolations.

Mrs. WM and I got separated as we boarded. It was Southwest’s free-for-all. She got a choice seat, somehow. I waded to the back, the last of the C-boarders, knowing that the only slot remaining would be next to the Human Big Mac.

Towards the tail I saw the last open seat. I hung my head in defeat, knowing what awaited, when what to my eyes should appear but a vacant middle seat next to a smoking hot, 20-something woman. I eased in. To the seat.

The plane took off. I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye. She had already glanced at me, and accurately sized me up: Old. Bearded. Skinny. Wrinkly. Likely to embark on a tale about “When I was a young man.” She pointedly looked out the window.

Once we were at cruising altitude and the captain had told us to take off our pants I removed the Southwest in-flight magazine. I flipped through it. It was stupid and filled with restaurants I’d never visit and casinos I was too broke to become even more broke at. Then I saw him. The man. The myth. The 35+ Masters studmuffins.

I saw Charon Smith.

There he was in a full-color ad, staring out at me from the page of a magazine that had more readers in a month than the New York Times. I don’t remember what he was hawking, some recovery juice or another, but there he was, massive arms flexed, Surf City team kit perfectly reproduced in a full-color ad, handsome face hidden behind the (lame) Oakley shades, and legs cut up better than a slice of tuna at a sushi shop.

I nudged Miss Hotness next to me. “See this guy?” I said, pointing at the ad.

“Yeah?”

“I know that dude.”

She perked up, taking in Charon’s studly arms and studly legs. “Really? How?”

It all happened so quickly! Here’s what I wanted to say:

Charon isn’t the team captain, he’s the general of the peloton. He has class, he’s humble in victory and congratulatory in defeat, he races clean, he trains hard, and every year he gets better and better and better. He’s admired by many, respected by all, and mentors new riders whether they’re on his team or not. He gives you a push when you’re gassed even if you’re on the other team, and he beats you fair and square. If everyone in the world were like Charon, the world would be a better place.

But instead, I said “I’m his coach.”

Now Miss Hotnesss was really interested. “Really? You’re a cycling coach?”

“Yeah. This guy is Charon Smith. He’s one of the top pros in Europe. It’s like being an F-1 driver, only cooler.”

Miss Hotness was really interested as she checked out Charon’s hunky arms and legs. “Wow. And you’re his coach?”

“Oh, sure. I discovered him when he was a teenager. He was a skinny little punk trying to gain weight in a gym. I used to be a bodybuilder.”

She looked at my narrow arms and narrower neck. “Really? You don’t look like one.”

“I lost all that weight. But I met Charon and taught him how to lift, how to put on muscle, and most importantly how to race his bike. He’s the fastest sprinter in Europe and the US. Hits 60 miles per hour. On his bike.”

Miss Hotpants was really ogling the photo. “That’s incredible.”

“Yep,” I said. “Taught him everything he knows.”

“I like to ride my bicycle,” she said shyly.

“Really? You live in Philly?”

“No, I live in LA. I’m just going to Philly to visit my parents.”

“Well, as a professional cycling coach I’d be glad to help you get to the next level. I’m not bragging, but Charon is going to be riding the Tour de France this year thanks to my coaching, and I’d be happy to, you know, show you a few tricks.”

“That would be awesome!” She was looking at me with a mixture of admiration and respect and trembling fear.

“Oh, it’s no big deal.”

“What’s your name?” she asked, almost timidly.

“David,” I said. “David Perez.”

“How can I get hold of you?”

“Friend me on Facebook. I’m the only David Perez in San Pedro.”

“Okay,” she said, glowing. “I will.”

 

Me, my brother, and my bike

June 27, 2012 § 22 Comments

Yesterday’s New Pier Ride was dedicated to my brother, who took his life on June 16, 2012. Slightly more than seventy people rolled out from the Manhattan Beach Pier at 6:40 AM. By the time we turned onto Westchester Parkway, the peloton was easily a hundred strong.

Christine Reilly, Stella Tong, Greg Leibert, Lauren Mulwitz, Joe Yule, Vickie VanOs Castaldi, Izzie VanOs Castaldi, Chris Gregory, Tink, Suze Sonye,  Jay Yoshizumi, Brian Perkins, Gus Bayle, Rahsaan Bahati, Cary Alpert, Sarah Mattes, Greg Seyranian, Dara Richman, and David Perez brainstormed and got the word out so that people were at the Pier well in advance of the start time. Vickie and Greg took the sixty-five handmade armbands, beautifully lettered by Izzie with “R.I.P. Ian, ’62-’12” and tied one to each person’s arm. Then Dave Kramer introduced Greg, who made a short, moving, and beautiful speech about my brother, someone he had never met.

I then clipped in and led us out onto the bike path. Once I pulled off and floated to the back, I was overcome by the sight of the countless yellow armbands fluttering in the breeze. My friends had done this for me, as well as people I’d never even met, like Emily and her boyfriend Chris, who came over from the west side just to be there. Others who couldn’t make it like Dara and Laurie were there in spirit, and still others showed up at TELO in the evening and shared their sympathies and condolence. I’ll never be able to repay any of them.

It’s a very good debt to owe, forever.

Girls and bikes

I got into cycling as a result of my brother, indirectly. His second year of high school he got in a horrific fight with my mom about the car. Our parents had divorced a couple of years before, and it was the kind of hateful, acrimonious, bitter divorce that paralyzes the kids and poisons your life for the next few decades, like battery acid in the ice cream. Ian was tired of fighting over the car and one day he went out and bought a black

Fuji touring bike. It cost $300, an incomprehensible amount of money.

Going from a Jeep Golden Eagle Cherokee to a bicycle? I had one conclusion: “Dork.”

Within a couple of weeks, though, I discovered the source of his inspiration. His girlfriend was a cyclist, and they biked everywhere together. “Whatever,” I thought. “He’s still a dork.”

Then a couple of weeks after that I began to hear moaning and groaning coming out of his bedroom. This was way before Internet porn. This was awesome, and he was a dork no more. “What a stud!” I thought. “That bike deal is pretty cool!”

Buses and bikes

Although I didn’t rush out and get a bike to aid in the quick dispatch of my virginity, the idea remained that bikes were cool. This was partly because Ian had let me test ride his Fuji a few times, and it was so different from the rusted out Murray that I’d used for three years to commute to Jane Long Junior High that it hardly felt like a bicycle.

My freshman year in college at the University of Texas, 1982, my parents refused to let me have a car. I lived in the Village Glen Apartments out on Burton, six or seven miles from campus, and had to take the shuttle bus, which in those days was run by union-busting Laidlaw. They employed only hippy stoners from the 60’s and 70’s to drive the buses, and paid just enough to keep the hippies in weed, ensuring that there would never be any unionizing.

The Village Glen was one of the last bus stops on the Riverside Route before getting on I-35 and going to campus, so in the morning the buses were often full. That meant having to get out to the bus stop extra early, as the first bus or two rarely had room for even one more passenger. One morning in October I was standing in the rain waiting for the bus. The first one passed me and splashed me. The second one passed me. The third one roared by with an “Out of Service” sign on the front.

I screamed at the driver and flipped him off. He braked. I’d never seen a whole bus go sideways. Out bounded the raging hippy, fists balled and murder in his eyes. If I hadn’t been so tiny and petrified he would have killed me. Instead he screamed. “How about I beat you into a fucking pulp you snotnosed little fuck?” he roared.

“Uh, I, I, I’m really sorry. Please don’t kill me!” I begged.

“You ever fucking give me any attitude on a bus I’m driving I’ll break you in half you little prick. They don’t pay me enough in this shit job to put up with bullshit from spoiled little assholes like you!”

“Yes, sir,” I mumbled.

[To crack dealer] “So, should I start using crack?”

I had to wait another twenty minutes in the cold, pelting rain. During those twenty minutes I went from being grateful that I’d get to school with all of my teeth to angry at being a bus sheep. My resentment built throughout morning classes and exploded in an epiphany when my last course finished at noon. “I’m gonna buy a fucking bike, just like my brother did! Fuck Laidlaw! Fuck that hippy stoner fucker! Fuck the rain!”

I practically ran down 24th Street to Freewheeling Bicycles and Crackhouse, where I realized something else after walking the aisle. “Fuck, I’m broke!”

Fortunately, Uncle Phil Tomlin had just the bike for me, a Nishiki International with Suntour derailleurs, Dia Compe brakes, and Sugino cranks. At a paltry $375.00, I’d be able to easily afford it as long as I didn’t eat in November. Food or bike? It was an easy choice, especially with Uncle Phil kindly and professionally assisting me with my first bikecrack purchase.

The rest is history, and a year later I’d already been voted “Most Likely to be Killed by a Car or Truck” by my riding buddies. 1984 was my breakout year, when I dominated the Bloor Road to Blue Bluff Time Trial and won a coveted Laverne and Shirley board game for first place. The thirty years after buying that first bike have flown by, and somehow I’m still riding with the same happiness and joy as the day I pedaled that Nishiki out of the Freewheeling parking lot.

This is gonna hurt me and it’s gonna hurt you

So this thing that has given me more joy and happiness, this thing that has surrounded me with friends who are often closer than family, is a gift from my brother. I thought about that while Greg spoke. He paid me the ultimate compliment in the process, saying that they had come to honor my brother because without him, I wouldn’t be part of their community.

There’s no other way to say this than to say I felt more loved than I have ever felt in my life. Sweaty, muscled men threw their arms around me, and sweaty, muscled, beautiful women did, too, each one saying something that sounded like love, regardless of the words. And as proof that these weren’t just empty phrases, when we hit the bottom of Pershing they went so hard so fast that I was almost blinded by the pain.

“This one,” Jaeger said as he came by with the ferocity of a jungle beast, “is for Ian.”

There’s a place for gentleness and for camaraderie; it’s called the bricks on the Manhattan Beach Starbucks after the ride. The New Pier Ride itself is a place for the unbridled beatdown, the relentless attacking into the wind, the crushing of the weak by the strong.

“Memorial lap in silence?”

“Fuck you, dude.”

“Give ol’ Wankmeister the win?”

“Over my dead body. He wouldn’t want it and I wouldn’t give it.”

Suffice it to say that today I was the weak, and others were the strong, and the law of the jungle prevailed, as it always should. But even though I was the weak and struggled at the end, I didn’t get crushed. I got carried along by the unlikeliest thing of all, a raft of soft yellow ribbons floating in the breeze.

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