Michael Bolton is following me. In perfect cadence, he belts “When a Man Loves a Woman,” down the boardwalk. Okay, so maybe he’s inside this 60-year-old’s iPod, rigged to the back of his bike cruiser and amplified through portable projection speakers. Yet, I feel his presence, and so does every other living entity within a seven-block radius. I slow, veer my beach cruiser to the right and let Michael pass.
I did not choose to join the ranks of San Diego beach cruisers. It chose me. Pulling my Achilles tendon finally convinced me to ditch running shoes for rims. An athlete by nature, ADHD by diagnosis, I needed some form of outdoor activity to occupy my afternoon hours.
My search landed me on the steps of a beach-cruiser shop in Pacific Beach. The shop was of course “temporarily out of stock” of the $99 model they had plastered over every plaster-able surface of the storefront. I upgraded to the second-crappiest model on the lot and pedaled out of the store and directly into a pedestrian.
And so began my cruising bruising.
Luck favors me twofold. I am female, and I am wearing a low-cut shirt. I say sorry loud enough and enough times that I manage to mask his yelps of pain. My victim introduces himself as Marty, and we muse over whether his bruise will include the spiny imprints of new-bicycle rubber. He gives me his number, so I can call and check up on the bruise formation later in the week. I throw mine in for good measure. Luck favors me.
Not to be dissuaded, I pedal forward. A Saturday-evening boardwalk, with the sun setting at eye level, is not for the novice bike cruiser. Yet, when challenge calls, I ring my bell.
Well, I would ring my bell, except that I don’t have one. After smoothing out every bill in my wallet and talking the sales boy into a $3 discount, my bank account was depleted by my recent purchase.
While dogs communicate by barking, and cars communicate by honking, bike cruisers communicate by bell-ringing. Two longer dings mean I’m approaching, and I’m slowly going to pass you on the left. Three rapid-succession dings mean I’m barreling down on you, get out of my way as fast as possible, and what the hell are you doing on my boardwalk, anyway?
Not only does quantity and intensity matter in the world of bell-dinging, so too does tone. There are the high-pitched Tinker Bell bells. There are the low, resonating-gong bells. There are the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang bells and fog-whistle bells. Like the dog-walkers and their canines in 101 Dalmatians, every bell resembles its owner. Tinker Bell whistles are your Paris Hilton types. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, tourist. Gong bells, musclemen. Fog-horn bells, well, they’re just ringing for the hell of it because these fat asses are never going to pedal fast enough to pass you anyway. Unless of course, you are one of them.
In place of bell, I’m just being cautious, especially with my recent wounding. I slow for a tot chasing a pigeon. A homeless man smashing a can. A tourist in a three-for-$10 Golden Gate tee making a beeline for a temporary tattoo booth.
I have traveled precisely one block. I have also found a crumpled $5 bill in my pocket. Tired of being cautious, I pull over for a margarita. Something else to add to my equipment wish-list is a bike lock. Saddling my cruiser alongside the patio railing, I jump across. Still holding onto the handlebar, I yell my order toward the window.
The drink appears in the window, and I take a long glance up the boardwalk, then down, profiling every shady character in sight. Slowly, cautiously, I move toward the margarita, my back to the window, my eye on the bike. My back bumps against the counter’s edge. I whirl around, toss the crumpled $5 down, grab the margarita, and sprint back to the bike.
One hand on the sweating cup, the other holding on to my handlebar, I make quick history of the bottom-shelf tequila. I run my tongue around the salty rim. Michael Bolton cruises by on another lap, and I tap my toe, jump back across the railing, and onto my cruiser.
After the margarita, I’m not feeling so cautious. I want wind in my hair. I want people out of my way. With no bell to announce my approach, I improvise. I am not a gong, a fog horn, or a Tinker Bell. I am not a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I am an individual. I try warbling like a pigeon, but it ends up getting caught in my throat and choking me. I settle on a crow’s call. Down the boardwalk, I go, ca-caw ca-caw, clearing my way.
I get almost as much attention as Michael Bolton Man.
This is not a popularity contest, but it should be an Olympic event. I become increasingly convinced of this as I race down the boardwalk. San Diego boardwalks would be the perfect training grounds for an Olympic sport of bicycle obstacle-riding.
I am a contender in training. By the time I reach the pier, I have only grazed two of my obstacles (not counting Marty).
I hop off for a quick rest, watching as my fellow cruisers pass by. I notice with hilarity (minus the margarita, it would be slight amusement) that bike cruisers look incredibly cool. Pop them off the bike though, and it’s an incredibly goofy pose, arms flopped forward and over, tush thrust backward. I spend a good half hour imagining this, laughing to myself, getting a confused look from a homeless man.
Buzz wearing and sun setting, I hop on my bike and point it toward home. Wary of my skills, I opt for the sidewalks instead of the roads. My pedaling has improved, and I easily dodge a dog, a pedestrian, and a bush. However, the crosswalk proves to be too much.