While riding my bicycle, I almost hit a police car that is idling on the street.
“Take it easy,” a cop says to me through his window.
I realize I’m breaking the law, not by almost hitting a police car, but by not following other rules. I don’t have a bell on my handlebars, I’m not riding in the bike lane, and I just went through a red light without stopping. I’m not wearing a helmet, but that is not against the law.
I roll across an intersection and see a sport-utility vehicle coming toward me. For a split second I debate whether I should cross in front of it or turn back. If I cross in front of it, I might not make it. (I can hear in my head the loud thud of the truck meeting my body.) So I turn back, but a car is approaching in the lane behind me. The driver leans on his horn. I twist the front part of one foot as I try to realign my bike with the street. I feel a twinge in my foot, but it is not the overwhelming pain of a broken bone.
As I ride away from the near-collision, a hotel doorman standing in the street says, “He missed you by that much.”
He holds his hands about a foot apart. “By that much!” he repeats.
I want to say, “I know that,” but I am already past him.
I go through another red light without stopping. The light is at an intersection, but it is a T-shaped intersection. When the light is red for me, it isn’t green for anyone else. The light is mainly for pedestrians, so I ignore it and nearly hit an elderly woman.
“Idiot!” she yells.
I hit the brakes and balance on one foot as she walks away. “I didn’t hit you,” I call after her.
“You didn’t stop,” she calls back.
“I stopped,” I say. “That’s why I didn’t hit you.”
Behind me, a man on a bicycle says, “At least you could have let the lady cross.”
I take my daughter on the crossbar of my bike to a running track by the river. The trip would take about twenty minutes on foot; it takes about five by bike.
She sits in front of me, and she fits between the front of the saddle seat and the handlebars. “The crossbar hurts,” she says.
I remember riding on a crossbar as a child. The ride wasn’t comfortable, but I could stand it. I don’t remember who was piloting the bike. Maybe it was a neighbor. I doubt it was my father. He wasn’t much for biking.
“We don’t have far to go,” I say to my daughter.
I wonder how long I’ll be able to do this, take her on my bike this way.
At the track, I start to run with her. She takes off on the rubber surface while I stumble behind. She completes a couple of laps—twice four hundred meters—while I’m still on my first lap. I’m loping along when she is at the finish line. She has her hands on her knees, and she is breathing hard. By the time I approach the finish line, I am walking. I jog the last few meters, just to show I have life left in me.
I stop at local bike shop to fill up my tires. However, I see that the automatic air hose is gone. In its place is a hand pump, locked to a bike rack with a cable. I ask a repair guy for instructions, and he tells me to pump with both hands. I push down and watch the arrow on the gauge go up to fifty pounds.
“How much do I need?” I ask.
“Most people do sixty or seventy pounds.
I keep pumping until the tires are hard. They are so hard I think they might burst. If I hit a bump, they are not going to give at all. Either I’ll hear the bang of exploding rubber, or I’ll bounce on my seat like a horse rider in a steeplechase.
“Careful on the street,” the repair guy tells me. “There’s a police station on this block. They’ll stop you for running the light on the corner. Once they stop you, they’ll see if you have a bell. If you don’t, they’ll ticket you for that. If you were riding the wrong way, you’ll get another fine. It’s a bicycle trap.”
When I come to the first red light on the street, I stop for it. I wait patiently with several other riders for the light to change. We all know it’s a trap.
I ride a long way to see a friend, but when I get there I learn that he is not home. I go into a service station and look for a phone. I have a mobile phone, but there is no wireless coverage this far out of the city.
I try to bring my bike inside, where it will be safe, but an attendant won’t let me park it there. The attendant looks Asian, the same as my mother, and he doesn’t speak English well. I try to lock my bicycle to an indoor railing, and the attendant grabs the chain out of my hand. He looks like he would do more than that; he looks like he’s in a murderous rage. I take my bike outside and leave it there.
I find out the person I wanted to visit is actually in the city, where I started. He’s doing something there. We had a problem with communication. I’ll have to retrace my route to see him. Riding steadily, I might get there before the end of the day.
When I walk out of the service station, I see that my bike has been stolen. There is no trace of it; even the lock and the chain that had anchored it are missing. Other bikes are parked in the lot, but none of them are mine. I ask the station manager if I can borrow one of those bikes.
“No,” he says, “but I’ll sell you a motorcycle.”
He shows me the machine, and I take a serious look. It’s a cruiser, with a big engine, shiny fenders, and a storage compartment behind the seat.
“It’s a smooth ride,” the manager says.
I don’t have a motorcycle license, but I’m determined to ride this hog. I’ll learn to start it up, open the throttle, and clutch through the gears. I’ll get good at handling it—I won’t blow out the engine with a wrong move.
I already own a leather coat and stomping boots. Whenever anyone sees me in my getup and asks, “Where’s the bike?” I’ll be able to tell them where it is.
I’ll ride without a license to the driving test. I’ll make it there without incident, and I’ll pass the exam.
Once I’m on the open highway, I’ll fly. Aloft, I’ll see the road unwinding below me. As I rise higher, I’ll see the surrounding area as patches of color. With some kind of laser sight, I’ll find my home—a dot on the topography—and I’ll zero in on that dot.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the books Guess and Check, Violent Outbursts, Haywire, Tetched and Roughhouse. Haywire won the Members’ Choice Award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.