Curbing My Enthusiasm

Since an early age I have had an inflated opinion of my athletic abilities. It took me until sixth grade to realize that even my friends picked me last for their teams in gym. In three years of summer softball my batting reputation was so renowned that when the outfielders saw me step up to the plate, they slowly moved toward the infield. No one plays tennis with me more than once, unless he likes me a lot or likes to run a lot, or both. What I lack in skill I make up for in an unbounded enthusiasm and a willingness to try.

 I was never fast on the bike but as a kid I could make running mounts and dismounts. Ride hands-free. Slow down to catch a branch of the plumb tree and let the bike roll out from under me. By the time I was twelve my twin brothers had left home and left their bikes behind, so I had my pick of two generic 10-speeds to tool around town in. Even with the seat all the way down my feet barely reached the pedals, so upon coming to a stop I had to be careful to lower one foot at a time to the ground and   daintily maneuver around the top tube or risk losing my innocence to Montgomery Ward.

 Pedaling around San Francisco I admire and am inspired by so many cyclists, every day: Captain Fixie, with your measured cadence and balletic stance at red lights; Ms. Racer, keeping pace with the streetcars; Messenger Maniac, bag bulging, basket brimming, legs of steel spinning—I think I love you. In my mind I take you all on, I mop Market Street with your Lycra and Vans and still we laugh, we hit it off, we hang out, become fast friends…

 But you, Commuter Guy on the hybrid, you did me in.

 Wheeling west on Market, approaching Kearney, a bus was a little too close to the curb for us to pass, but you did not stop when I stopped, or even slow down, you hopped up onto the edge of the sidewalk and rode around. Wow, thought I. I wanted to follow you, considered hiking my bike up off the asphalt and getting on out of there. But the light changed and we all rolled. You were gone, but I remembered you.

 My destination was at the corner of Sixth and around the mid-point of the block there is a cutout where delivery vans park. That spot was empty this day, and the suggestion being so fresh in my mind, I knew what I wanted to do. "I'm on a cyclocross," I said aloud. "Why not?"

 Traffic was light and I crossed to the left, headed for the curb—which is lower on this block than the one I saw jumped just moments before. "Yeah, this will be great." I did not say this out loud, but I did believe it.

 A friend to whom I described my experience put it quite well when I reached this point in the story: "Don't you have to pop a wheelie to do that?" Indeed you do; and I did not. Nor did I brake. Or turn away when I still had the chance. What was going through my head as the decisive moment approached was, "Wait…what do I…" at which point my front wheel hit the curb, the bike stopped, and I kept going, though somehow I pushed back on the handlebars in time and with enough force to keep myself from flying over them. I was able to avoid falling completely and face-planting in the grime and filth of the pavement, but it all went awry too quickly for me to remember what was automatic so many years ago—to mind the cross tube—and thus I got to know my unders in a brand new way.

 As I unstraddled and righted the bike, I smiled and gave a little chuckle to let any potential Good Samaritan know I was OK. Maybe I thought a happy face would make me look less like an idiot. Perhaps I was remembering a bit of advice someone once gave me: "Laugh at yourself before anyone else has a chance to laugh at you."

 I would like to thank the good people of Mid-Market not only for not laughing at me but for actually ignoring me in my most awkward situation. I know your miseries are far greater than mine and you would have had many good reasons to delight in my spectacle, so I very much appreciated your blank stares and vacant gazes while I gathered what bits of my composure had not toppled to the sidewalk and proceeded to my meeting, walking a little funny but with my head held high, thinking, "Next time…"

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