When I was a little kid, my favorite bicycle was a red chopper with an extended front wheel, high-rise handle bars, shock absorbers, and a banana seat. Although it took me a few weeks to learn how to ride the bike without falling over or going head first onto the gravel road, I looked pretty cool. (I imagine the neighbors who saw me coasting down the hill thought I was Peter Fonda working on his next movie.)
By the time I turned thirteen years old, I removed the training wheels and was old enough to bike around town with my three brothers. My brothers and I constantly found ways to improve the look, speed, and sound of our bicycles. In addition to adding streamers on the hand grips and matchbooks in the spokes, our bikes were covered with stickers – everything from STP to Mountain Dew (Yahoo – it’ll tickle your innards!). My brother Harry added a high extension sign to the back of his sissy bar that was bright orange and said “Sock it to me baby.”
I’m older now and I still enjoy bicycle rides. Riding a bike is a peaceful way to travel and (if you’re not getting knocked into the ditch by passing automobiles) bike riding offers opportunities to slow down and see the beauty around you. Where I live, in Azusa, California, one can ride a 38-mile path from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Along the trail – right in the middle of Los Angeles – a bicyclist goes past multiple small horse ranches, farms, rivers, and ponds. After nearly three hours of weaving through Los Angeles, the path ends at Seal Beach. To return, instead of riding uphill another 38 miles, you can be lazy like me and grab the train in Long Beach. Take the Blue Line and, after switching trains at Union Station, the Gold Line takes you right back to where you started – Azusa.
Speaking of bikes and trains . . .a few years ago, my friend Gary and I saw a man with bicycle on a train. It was a hot night in August and Gary and I were taking a late-night metro ride from Los Angeles to Pasadena. The train was dimly lit and smelled like a days’ worth of commuters with some urine added in. Gary and I didn’t mind the stench – we were tired and it was nice to be off our feet. Our coach was nearly empty except for us and two other guys – one guy (Bike Dude) was seated in the front of the train with his bicycle and another guy (Other Dude) was in the far back of the train.
I had an early flight the next morning so I was taking advantage of the time to think through tomorrow’s itinerary.
A couple minutes later I was startled when the Bike Dude yelled at Other Dude.
“What’d you say to me?” Bike Dude shouted.
“Huh?” responded Other Dude.
“Did you say something about my bike?” Bike Dude demanded.
At this moment, Gary and I glanced at each other and then quickly lowered our heads – hoping we wouldn’t be brought into the conversation.
“I didn’t say anything about your bike . . . I was only saying – “ said Other Dude.
“No one gets away with saying things about my bike,” interrupted Bike Dude (who was getting angry and began loudly sharing choice obscenities).
At this point the argument began escalating and Other Dude stormed from the back of the train and threw himself down in the seat across from Bike Dude. More obscenities were exchanged and the argument rapidly moved from talking about bikes to some pretty rude and derogatory comments.
This was my first time riding a train in Los Angeles so I was pretty nervous. “Stay calm” I told myself. “This is LA – this is probably how people get to know their neighbors.”
Soon after, the conversation between Bike Dude and Other Dude started quieting down. They were no longer arguing but started talking about random stuff. Instead of talking about each other’s mother, they began asking neighborly questions and talking about the weather in SoCal.
After several more minutes, the train approached the next stop.
“Well, I’ve learned that the only thing I can trust in this world is my bike,” said Bike Dude loudly.
“And the Lord,” added Other Dude.
“And the Lord,” repeated Bike Dude as they exited the train together.