I swivel my head over my shoulder like an owl to see a gigantic man in a helmet that’s the color of green usually reserved for iridescent plankton. He’s on a bike that looks as if it could grasp mine, flip it on its side, and stomp it into the mud. His bike is chrome and blue, the top tube rides at about the height of my neck, and it has aggressive new styling. If his bike is Shaquille O’Neal, then mine is your sixth-grade PE coach, in those ugly short shorts, that Conway Twitty pompadour, and those arthritic, pale hands of his.
“Hello,” he says in a voice not unlike Herman from The Munsters, only with a little bit of an off-Broadway limp.
“New bike?” I ask.
“Yes-s-s-s, it is-s-s,” he answers, obviously thrilled.
“It’s a beauty,” I offer.
“Thank you. Oh well, thank you,” he speaks in a breathy tone. “I just love it.”
“How come you’re cycling?” I ask.
“Faster,” he answers. “I live on Adams and work at the hospital.”
“You just start riding?”
“Yeah. You know, I’m only a couple miles from work. My house is just back there,” he says and nods behind us. “I just thought, the other day, hey, why can’t I bike to work? And a friend helped me buy it and showed me the bridge.”
Our hubs whirr in that way that sounds as though we’re battling a giant marlin with a Snoopy My First Fishing Pole (WHIIIIIIIZZZZZZZ), and we round the corner, dashing between potholes and across the pavement to Lincoln Avenue; then we whiz, side by side, left onto Vermont Street toward the circular dead end and sidewalk. His longer legs rotate the cranks much faster than I can, and he shoots past me. Damn my short, inadequate tadpole legs.
He bops up an easement, crosses the sidewalk, and appears to fall off the cliff onto the 163 and Washington below, but he doesn’t really fall. He glides into the narrow corridor of a pedestrian bridge, and I’m right behind him.
The bridge is blue metal framed with panels of stainless steel about shoulder height that are machine-cut with inspirational phrases from people like Dr. Seuss about the joys of walking. The inspirational phrases all, unbearably, have to do with “walking miles in my moccasins” and “no greater joy than shopping for shoes all day” (or thereabouts) and a bunch of painful garbage, and I’m thankful I’m on a bike and buzzing past so quick that I don’t have time to read that drivel. Oh, it’s trash. You should go see it.
Gay Herman Munster and I slow a bit as we cross the span of the bridge, because on the other side, at the opposite end of the walking bridge, coming toward us is an antique woman, seated and humming along in a burgundy, motorized Rascal scooter.
Herman and I shimmy our dead reckoning to the right of the woman, and I feather my chrome brake handles a touch in case Herman plows into the crone and I’m stuck behind a two-person cyclist-versus-septuagenarian pileup. Herman slows and I slow more. I was planning on bombing past her, but big Herman Munster slows and I slow behind him and he’s right; we shouldn’t blast past her. It’d be rude. So we slow wa-a-a-a-a-ay down.
We’re going much slower than walking speed; our hubs are clicking methodically and loudly and echoing against the metal sidewalls of the bridge. Cars hum and honk at 50 miles per hour 40 feet beneath our rubber tires and the steel archway over Washington Street.
“This is a walking bridge,” the woman hollers as we near. “This is a walking bridge.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I offer from behind Munster’s wide shoulders. Herman and I slow it down a little more.
“This is a walking bridge!” the woman bellows from under her plaid blanket.
Herman and I slow even more. It would now be quicker to disassemble our bikes, pack them into bags, and crawl them across the bridge like short mules than to keep going at this speed. But we don’t. We stay mounted to our cycles, clicking toward the woman slowly.
“THIS IS A WALKING BRIDGE!” she shouts emphatically as we pass.
“Need I remind you,” I should’ve said, “that you, ma’am (!), are not walking either!” but I don’t. Of course.
I say, “Thanks,” and ring my little bell, which goes ping!
Thanks. For screeching at us like a badger trapped on the world’s slowest go-cart.
Thanks, I say.
I’m a dumbass.
Once off the bridge, which empties onto Vermont Street, beside Ralphs and Trader Joe’s, the Munster busts away from me with a few powerful turns of his long crank. Maybe that sounds better in my head, but the gist is he drops me and powers out toward University Avenue through the parking lot of Ralphs grocery.
Seizing an opportunity to win a race Herman Munster doesn’t know he has entered, I shag ass down a ramp and into the underground parking lot to the right; it’s behind and under Ralphs. It’s a shortcut! I ping my bell furiously and turn my headlight on so cars backing out from parking spaces at 300 miles per hour in the dim light of the underground parking garage can ignore me even further. I tuck against Blackie and zip through the parking lot, and I’m spit out into the sunlight of University and Tenth, in half the distance and time it takes Big Herman Munster the Cycling Newbie.
I turn right on the red light and enter traffic on University and deem myself the winner of the race that Gay Herman Munster didn’t know he had entered, and I’m doing the announcer voice in my head, “Olivieri takes the gold!”
“Hello-o-o-o, we meet again,” Herman says from behind me, and he rings his bell that sounds like an ice cream truck bbbbbbrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnggggggggggg.
“Hey,” I say and give him a ping as he speeds past me. Damn, tall guys are fast.