ast night I had to go to a friend's apartment. It's not in our subdivision. It's about 20 minutes by bicycle. It's been raining. Everything is wet. Things were not going well for me.
First off, I assumed that we'd be taking the bus. When I discovered that I could take the moped, it wouldn't start. So I ran up and grabbed the key to Ruth's borrowed bike. It has both a key and combination lock. But I forgot the combination to the lock by the time I got back down to the bike.
Meanwhile we are losing time and it was getting dark. I have no light, no reflector, and no helmet. Have I lost my mind?
I finally unlocked both locks and threw them into the basket. The seat has been adjusted for Ruth so I couldn't extend my legs far enough to get any leverage. What's worse, the bike has only a single gear . . . gear 10.
Trying to get it going, I bear down on the pedals and get a little momentum. Then someone dashes in front of me and I quickly apply the breaks. They don't grab until the last minute. In fact, I thought that I didn't have any breaks at all as they complained loudly when I pressed them. They didn't want to stop.
There are wet socks on the grips and I pull them off as I ride out of the complex but then discover that they are there for a reason. The grips are sticky from being exposed to the sun. At the next light I pull the socks out of the basket and put them back on the grips. People stare at me. Susie asks if this is the way I dry my laundry.
We dash down the busy streets and thread through a fabric of cars. A big truck lumbers in front of us and blocks our vision. We dash around it and are then confronted with a mangle of taxis, mopeds, and bikes coming the opposite direction. The key here is to maintain forward momentum. Slow down if you must, but don't stop. I weave forward.
As we get closer to our destination the streets become tragic. The pot holes are not just uncomfortable to ride over, they are treacherous. Some manhole covers are not fully closed. Others were cracked and half missing. The sewers here are uncovered and drop off to my right just a foot away into a three foot pit. One road has a 20 foot mound of mud in the middle of it, as if a dump truck come by and lost its load. It has been raining so rivulets of mud stream from its base like octopus legs whose slimy appendages reach to grab my bald tires and pull me down.
When I finally catch up with Susie, she asks if I'm alright. I lie and out of breath say: "Sure I'm fine."
"Is this the first time you are riding a bike in China?" This unnerved me. I had been discovered. My 52 year old body couldn't keep up with this 26 year old and it was showing. "Yes", I said "but it's good exercise for me." I didn't believe this and knew my place was on the moped. I cursed the fact that I couldn't get it started and had to take the bike.
We took another set of confusing turns and I followed her through a gate and down a dark lane. Occasionally I breathed in strong sewer odors but I couldn't determine where the smell was coming from. We biked the depth of the huge apartment complex and went around the back.
A brick path led to the front door. I followed it and just missed a chain draped across the entry, put there to discourage the mopeds from driving in, and ignorant bicyclists from successfully arriving. I could barely see the chain against the dark patterned brickwork but managed to slow enough to avoid it. As I cleared the chain and bore down on the pedals, I noticed a dark rod about a foot high also fixed across the pathway. Another barrier. Are they really trying to kill me? I stopped hard and stepped around it with the bike.
By the time I made it to the front door of the apartment my heart was loud, I was hot, I was breathing hard, and my legs were quivering.
Then I climbed six flights of stairs. There was no elevator.
Sometimes you're the windshield; sometimes you're the bug. - Mark Knopfler
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