March 15, 2007

What About Bob?

It wasn't the fact that we got up at 5:15 this morning to go for a bike ride. Nor the fact that it was pitch black when we started rolling down the road. It wasn't even the 15 minutes that I spent sitting on the sidewalk, in the dark, trying to adjust Catherine's maladjusted dérailleur. No, none of those got me flustered. What really did me in was much more simple. Actually it wasn't even a "what," more of a "who". More specificially, Bob.

Here's the story. Catherine's bike went all gobbledy-gook within 15 minutes of us hitting the road. I tried to fix it, but we all knew that I had no clue what I was doing. Surprisingly, Catherine let me play around in complete ignorance with all of the levers and screws on her bike as she stood there patiently watching me, with a blinding trust that warms my heart just thinking about it. When all was said and dirty, her bike was worse off than before I began to mangle it.

After I could do no more damage, she clanked her way back home, leaving me all alone for the remaining 2 hours of the morning ride. Ugh. Double ugh. It's a long lonely bike ride at 6am on a Wednesday morning. Needless to say, the moment I saw a fellow rider rolling along at about my speed, I latched on like a mail-order bride to an ugly millionaire.

Let me introduce you to Bob.

Bob is about sixty-something with a gut that can double as a side-table. He rides just about every day and is always sporting the full cycling gear from one of LA's most notoriously bad-ass teams. I've seen Bob on the road a billion times, though I'd never talked to him.

I actually caught up to Bob today because he had to brake to avoid traffic. A pedestrian was about to walk into the crosswalk in front of him and just before their foot hit the pavement, Bob hurled out a hearty "WHOA!!" that catapulted the walker five feet back onto the grass in fear and probably caused them to soil their underoos in the process.

Maybe the scream was a little louder than necessary, I thought, but I suppose you can't be too careful at this early hour. I rolled up next to Bob and began to chat.

For the next hour we rode side by side as I listened to Bob's stories about his mountain climbing feats in the Alps, his marathon accomplishments in Boston and his triathlon expertise in places I forgot to ask about. I heard about his knee problems and hearing loss. All in all, it was just the type of meaningless conversation I needed to keep my mind preoccupied on anything but the riding.

I realized that Bob, a guy I'd passed on the road for years, is a fairly nice chap. Friendly, warm and a good conversationalist. I almost wish I'd have made the effort to meet the guy earlier. Thumbs up for Bob's social mannerisms.

Soon after giving the thumbs up, I started paying a bit more attention to the way good ole Bob dealt with traffic. Sure he was nice and friendly to me, but something seemed a bit off in the way he was dealing with others.

That whole pedestrian scare at the beginning of our ride together kept haunting me. The first couple of times in traffic following that episode, I just figured he was being a bit cautious. It's a dangerous world out there and sometimes you have to be a defensive bike rider. Perhaps that means calling out to cars before they even merge into a lane close to you. People have died for less, I reminded myself.

I soon noticed that as traffic increased, Bob began to get a bit more vocal.

There was that time when we were approaching a red light and a car about four lengths ahead merged in front of us to get into the right turning lane. I hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary. In fact, I didn't even need to apply the brakes in order to avoid the car. Yet the moment we pulled up to the drivers side, Bob turned to the driver and started chastising her on her driving abilities. I had no clue what he was talking about as he raised his voice high enough to seep through the driver's side window.

The poor, scared young girl that was driving the car rolled down her window and apologized profusely. I'm so sorry, she kept repeating. I thought I had enough room. I'm so sorry.

All the while Bob kept lecturing her on driving etiquette and the rules of the road and how she needs to respect bikers and hopefully she can get to work without killing anybody.

Fortunately the light turned green and the girl drove away in fear. We began riding again. This was about the point when I realized that Bob was hard of hearing. What did she say? he asked me.

I looked at him in horrified disbelief. She was apologizing, I replied.

It got a little worse twenty minutes later. We were riding up a busy street approaching yet another intersection. The cars were lined up at the light about ten deep. Halfway into the mix there was a van slowly inching forward and gradually pulling to the side of the road. With more than enough room to pass and very little danger of getting hurt, I rode by the van. As I passed, I gently put my hand on the passenger side window, as I tend to do. If they decide to make a sudden movement to the right, I want to be able to lightly tap on the window and let them know I'm there.

Well... apparently while my hand was lightly touching the window, Bob decided to punch the van and yell at them for hogging the road. As we all can guess, when the van passengers looked over and saw my hand on their car, they immediately assumed I was the one giving their automobile the smack down while they were at a virtual stand-still in traffic.

The light turned green. Bob and I road on in front of the traffic. I cringed inside as I waited for the van to approach us from behind. I desperately prayed that it wasn't filled with those gun-toting, morning-hating people that you hear about on the 5 o'clock news. I glanced over my left shoulder to see if Bob was there and to make sure he was paying attention in case a large shotgun were suddenly shoved into his earlobe.

I saw no Bob. What?! I looked over my left shoulder again. No Bob. I looked over my right shoulder and, lo and behold, there was Bob, tail between his legs, hiding behind me like a kid that just crayoned the dining room walls. Bob, the car beater, had positioned himself as far away from the oncoming angry people as you could get. More importantly, he strategically positioned himself in a place where I would take the bullet before it even gets to him.

I'm a goddam patsy, I thought as images of Lee Harvey Oswald flashed through my mind. I didn't do it, I said to myself. I don't hit cars. I don't anger random people. I don't want to go out like this.

Within seconds the van rolled up next to me. I looked over to see three very angry people yelling words at me I couldn't understand. As I searched for the muzzle that would inevitably get me fifteen seconds on the 5 o'clock news, I watched the passengers gesticulating obscenities in my direction.

Where's Bob now, I thought to myself. Mr. Brave Man. Mr. Bob Almighty. Mr. Yell At Traffic And Hide Behind A Rock.

People in glass houses, Bob.

As the van sped off into the distance, Bob magically appeared back on my right side (his hearing side) and continued our conversation as if nothing happened. Something happened, Bob. Something most definitely happened.

About forty-five minutes later, and five more random traffic outbursts, Bob peeled off and I finished my ride in peace.

I'm alive. No thanks to Bob. Another day successfully avoiding becoming a human interest story on the local news.

[Please note, though these events really happened this morning, the real person's name is not actually Bob. The names of people have been changed to protect the innocent. Not that he was there to protect me or anything. But two wrongs don't make a right. Even though three rights make a left.]


catherine said...

OHMIGOD! i just wet my underoos!!! just as funny as when you told it to me this morning. hysterical. i love that we had virtually the same bobscapade something like 9 months apart. well, at least he's ... consistent???

No Wetsuit Girl... overseas! said...

Don't we all have a little Bob inside our heads? But most people are smart enough to not let him OUT. Sheesh, hasn't this guy EVER learned ANYTHING about how NOT to get killed on your bicycle?! The fact that there are Bobs on the road makes it less safe for all of us. I say you keep some nails in your bento box and next time you see him sprinkle them on the road behind you (on his hearing side) to keep him at a safe distance. Safety first!

Jason said...

I'm with you. Getting to the end of my ride alive is usually my preferred option. I just found your blog, very entertaining.