August 07, 2007

Random Birthday Smiles

It was Catherine's birthday on Thursday (no, it's not too late to sing Happy Birthday. In California the statute of limitations on Happy Birthday singing is one week. You still have time, but you've gotta rush.) In celebration, we decided to spend a few relaxing days doing some "luxury camping" up at El Capitan Canyon.

While we were up there, we rode the bike course for the Santa Barbara Triathlon. Catherine is racing Santa Barbara in three weeks and we heard it's a challenging course so we figured, what the hell. A little familiarization never turned out to be a bad thing.

So we woke up Thursday morning to the cheep cheep of birds, rolled out of our super-plush "camping" bed (which, may I add, was one of the most comfortable hotel - um... i mean, camping - beds that I've ever slept on) and set-off on our biking adventure.

The unfortunate part of the journey was that Catherine was having a fairly crappy happy birthday morning. On any normal day, when you wake up on the proverbial wrong side of the bed, there's a pretty good chance that you'll be able to find your way back to the right side of the bed in due time. Not necessarily on birthdays. I find that when you wake up in a foul mood on birthdays, it tends to spiral down into a foreboding hole. First you feel bad, then you feel bad that you're feeling bad on your birthday, and next think you know you want to have a do-over of the entire day.

Toss in a challenging bike ride, and that ups the ante. As if bike rides aren't frustrating enough on bad-mood days, the horrendous birthday bike ride not only takes the cake but it tosses it on the dirty street and pretty much rides roughshod all over the damn thing with no regard for candles or happy birthday hoopla.

Needless to say, Catherine was riding very slowly with no motivation to move much faster than a slight pedal push and I can only imagine was begging anybody who'd listen for a do-over of this entire day.

I was riding a tad further down the road in front of her. I wanted to make sure I gave her the space we all need when we're feeling bad and ensure that I don't get my head ripped off by undoubtedly saying something completely idiotic. At the same time, I didn't go too far down the road, I didn't want to completely abandon her - I read enough from the Good Boyfriend Manual to get that part correct.

So I kept it nice and easy, glancing over my shoulder periodically to make sure she was still back there. I stopped at all the major turns to make sure she didn't get lost. And I made sure I shut my mouth when we were riding within speaking distance.

We finally had slogged our way through 15 miles and were making the last turn onto the the 2 mile loop at the far end of the course. Seeing three cyclists approaching, I quickly made the left turn at the bottom of the hill and then looked back. Catherine was a good minute or so behind me, so I stopped, pulled off to the side of the road so I didn't block the path of the other cyclists, and I waited.

After a couple of seconds I looked back to assess Catherine's progress. It was at this point that I heard a voice over my shoulder...

How are you?

What the..... ?! I jerked my head around in surprise and found myself looking straight into a woman's bright green jersey. It was the jersey of the same cyclist that was riding towards me but a few seconds ago. How'd she get to me so quickly? Why'd she stop? What does she want? What the hell is going on here?!

Ummm, I'm fine thanks, I replied somewhat confused. Scratch that, extremely confused.

So where you headed?

The confusion mounted. I'm not sure where this conversation was going or why it even started. What does she want? Is she looking for directions? I noticed her other two riding friends had stopped as well. The three of them were in their 50s or 60s. They looked like they were avid riders, though they all displayed a bit of the paunch that comes with the post-peace California hippie lifestyle. The four of us were standing in a circle straddling our respective bikes. This was starting to feel uncomfortable.

Uhhh.... we' going up thataway. I pointed towards the road we had just turned on. The road we were currently standing in the middle of.

Wow, she said. That's quite a climb, it just winds up and up and up.

She got me nervous about what I was to expect, though that still didn't overshadow the confusion of the conversation. Us Los Angeles people, we don't feel comfortable with random acts of kindness. I've been living in LA for 18 years, I don't like people stopping to just say hello. It creeps me out a bit.

And from what I could gather, the only reason these three cyclists stopped was for no other reason than to say hello. Ew.

Put yourself in my shoes for a moment. Imagine yourself riding down the road with a couple of your friends. You're just out on a beautiful Thursday morning for a lovely spin. Now picture seeing a couple of other riders standing by the side of the road with their bikes. These riders do not look like they are in distress, nor do they look lost. Maybe they are just taking a break, resting their legs. They are not flagging you down. In fact, they are not even looking at you.

So tell me, how many times in your life have you actually stopped your bike ride just to say hello and strike up a conversation with these resting souls? Is it me that's the weird one in this scenario?!

Just about this time, Catherine rolled up. Having spent the past 20-odd years in Los Angeles, I have no doubt that she too was wondering who the hell these people were and why I was talking to them. The man of the group (it was one man and two women, to help with your visualization) looked at Catherine's jersey. She was sporting a cycling jersey from a very popular television show.

This man of the group was probably in his 60s, a bit of a beer belly and long scraggly greyish black hair that was tied into a big braid, stretching down his back. About the stereotypical mid-life crisis hippie you'd expect to see in Santa Barbara.

That's a great show, he said pointing to the emblem on Catherine's chest. Where'd you get that jersey?

A friend of ours is on the show, Catherine and I said in unison.

Oh? the man said. A cameraman from that show used to live next to us in Los Angeles.

Really? I asked, recognizing that I seemed to be striking up a friendly conversation. What is his name?

You see, I know one cameraman from the show, but just barely. He is the brother-in-law of a friend of mine. I don't know the guy well but I went on a bike ride with him not too long ago. Still, I don't know why I even asked the question. The odds of it being the same person are pretty small.

What was his name? the man asked himself as he looked towards the other woman, who we deduced must be his wife. And then after a brief moment of thought, Matt! he said. His name is Matt!

No kidding? I said. The Matt that just had a baby?

Yeah, he replied excitedly. About a year ago.

Yes!! I got a little excited myself. And he and his wife just remodeled their house, right?!?

They did! the hippie's wife jumped in, feeling just as much excitement. I drove by the house last week, she said, and saw that they had finished the remodel!

That's too funny, I laughed. I know Matt! I went riding with the guy a few months ago! What are the odds that we know the same guy?!

We all had a good chuckle and somehow I then got into a conversation with James the neo-hippie about television and entertainment and all sorts of fancy Southern California topics, while Catherine yammered away with the two women.

Since James and his wife are approaching retirement age, they decided to sell their home in Los Angeles and buy a piece of property in Santa Barbara where they can live out their days in peace and beauty. James still works in television as a producer and director.

Interesting, I said. Do you by any chance know Keith Johnson*? (*Some names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

Of course I know Keith! James the neo-hippie burst out with a smile. Keith is a GREAT guy! I worked with Keith a bunch of years ago and...

I interrupted him and, with a shit-eating grin, pointed at Catherine. Keith is her brother-in-law.

James turned to Catherine with a huge smile on his face and interrupted her conversation. KEITH JOHNSON IS YOUR BROTHER-IN-LAW?! He burst out in jubilation like a 5 year old when the clown first arrives at the birthday party. Keith is a wonderful guy! Great guy! I love Keith! I worked with him on his movie in Arizona! He's one of the best guys in the business... and on and on hippie-guy went about Catherine's brother-in-law.

It was just about this time that the big pick-up truck pulled onto the road. The Marlboro Man driver stopped the truck right by us and rolled down his window. Any of you thinking of riding up this road? he asked, pointing directly up the road that Catherine and I were about to ride.

Yes, we are, I responded as I pointed to Catherine.

Just so you know, he continued, there's a mountain lion up there that's been coming out at all times of the day. I'd be careful if I were you.

And off he drove.

OK. At this point I started to hypothetically soil my pants. Mountain lion? Up this road? I don't like mountain lions. I don't like the thought of them nibbling on my limbs and then using my thin little bones to floss their teeth. Mountain lions are good for zoos and shows on Animal Planet. I like the concept of mountain lions, not the real thing.

With the fear of mountain lion rustling my stomach, we bid farewell to our new found friends. Perhaps the conversation had faded away, or maybe they just wanted to get the hell outta dodge before they became a side-dish at the mountain lion buffet.

Do we want to go up this road? I asked Catherine hesitantly, hoping to dear God that maybe she'd say no. Maybe today she'd say something like "let's not get mauled by a mountain lion on my birthday."

Heck yeah, she said, and started pedaling.

I hopped on my saddle and started following. And I didn't mind. I didn't even respond. Because I saw a smile on her face and a gleen in her eye and I hadn't seen either of those all day. Suddenly I knew everything was going to be ok.

There was no pain in front of us, we had left it all behind. Random people on a random road on a random day in a random city brought random kindness into my girlfriend's otherwise dreadful birthday morning. And seeing her smile is enough for me to not care about the measly little mountain lions.


stronger said...

One of your best!

Andra Sue said...

So, I suppose I can assume your girlfriend did NOT get eaten by the mountain lion on her birthday? Thank goodness.

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

There's always a mood reset button, sometimes you just have to find it.

Glad the mountain lion wasn't in attendance...

Oh, and Happy Birthday dear Ca-ther-innnnnnnnnnne, Happy Birthday to You.

Laura said...

That's a hilarious entry. I laughed myself silly.