Fiction: They Came With Front Panniers- Part 2
This is the continuation of a story printed in the Winter issue. To read the beginning, go here.
Meanwhile, in a small, sour-smelling, bar just forty miles north, two girls sat at a small table drinking cheap beer from cans. They wore cycling shoes with recessed cleats, shoes chosen as much for their pedaling prowess as for their ability to evade by foot.
Planning, Adam thought, is what people who can't believe in TV do. We make big plans. And it's still vicarious even if the characters look like us. He thought this and set off through the green light, pushing too tall a gear so it would get him through the six-lane intersection. The batteries in his light had died and he rode faster than he would have liked, trying to get on the bike path and off the streets before it got too dark. But traffic was light. At the second signal he stopped alongside a new Honda Civic. An old man stared over the steering wheel. Probably anxious to get home--there already in his head. Another plan. Students complained, but he enjoyed the dead emptiness of campus that set in just after the last class. A commuter campus.
Once on the path, Adam pushed hard. He flew under the bridge and up the paved ramp then over the same bridge and back down another ramp. He followed the bay inlet, small hills short enough to stand and fly over and sweeping turns which somehow seemed to add speed. His face flushed from the effort and he savored the warmth of his skin on a cool night. He pushed harder and kept the gear tall, wanting to wear out before reaching home. In his mind he was already anywhere but home.
He ran out of steam near the park. He laid down in the empty parking lot, his back against the warm asphalt, and watched the jets fly their pattern. The flashing lights ringed the city, crowning its grey streets and floodlit-orange parking lots with a halo of twinkling jewels--bestowing on the city a living title of nobility. The planes circled overhead as a testament, thousands of decisions made to stay or to leave this place. Something important occurs here. Adam didn't think of this in words but he felt it just the same. He watched their flashing lights and tried to hear them over the low static of freeway noise but he couldn't. The planes connected him, somehow, to that important thing. Getting cold, and nearing the decision to get up, he remembered Sioux City and the man who needed a bubble fairing. Sioux City, the bike shop that always has what you need. Forgotten amidst the rush of finals, he remembered it now and smiled up at the planes.
Meanwhile, in a small, sour-smelling, bar just forty miles north, two girls sat at a small table drinking cheap beer from cans. They wore cycling shoes with recessed cleats, shoes chosen as much for their pedaling prowess as for their ability to evade by foot. The girls reclined in the small chairs, their long, worn-out limbs set free to lie in comfort. Strands of damp hair clung to their sweaty foreheads. The elbow of the taller girl had yet to fully scab over. They seemed, even to casual observers, to be happy, and only slightly worried.
Note how we just leapt from Irvine to Long Beach, from one character to another in the span of not even seconds. We did it with the simple word of meanwhile. Things happening simultaneously in different places. Meanwhile. A specific word to bring out the connective tissue that binds us all together, the connection that dissolves in the day-to-day focus on our own specific problems and joys. Meanwhile brings it back. It is the most powerful transition in fiction. For Adam, the jets circling overhead twinkle with the excitement of meanwhile; that look of worry, slight as it may be, observed on the faces of the two girls in the bar... a worry over meanwhile.
"You girls out playing anarchy again?" the man behind the bar asked.
"What's it to you Hal?" the taller girl said. Everyone called the bartender Hal.
"Just trying to keep the reputation of this joint intact, if you know what I'm saying."
"Hey Hal. How come you know my name but you won't tell me yours?"
"Because, Higgins, you like to tell people what your name is because you have a weird name." Hal closed the tap and walked the glass of beer he'd been pouring down to the end of the bar, his back to the girls. He took the money and walked back to his usual position under the wall-mounted television set. "Where'd you hoodlums strike this time?"
Higgins looked at him. She felt no affection for the man but it pleased her that he took a genuine interest in their exploits. "405, again," she said.
"Little late for rush hour isn't it?"
"There was an accident. Thought we'd liven the mood."
Hal looked around the bar, dramatizing his curiosity. "Where are your boys?" he said.
"Some Poncharelli gave chase. They had to break off early."
"Kids and truckers as usual. Got a big rig to toot the horn. Kids gave thumbs up. An ear-cooter tried to block me with his Mercedes."
"You know, those dudes with little cel-phone headsets jammed in their ears. They hate us."
Hal looked past the girls at the door. "Here come your boys now," he said.
Saturday morning. The first day in months he'd beaten the alarm clock. Adam climbed out of bed and went downstairs to make coffee. He drank what he made while looking at a map. Just down the highway, maybe a half-day's ride, was a campground and park. He'd go by Sioux City and get some panniers, maybe another water bottle, and whatever else he might need and set off for a night of camping.
It'd be the first time he'd ever camped by bike. And though the distance wasn't all that great, the element of overnight gave the small trip an edge. Even in the Mediterranean weather of Southern California, committing to a night outside was just that, a commitment, small but certain.
He flew down the hill and got lucky with the green light across the PCH. He rolled into the strip-mall and past the Jack-In-The-Box and the hair salon. He locked his bike to a lamp pole and walked over to the door that he'd passed by so many times, always thinking it was a maintenance closet. No sign indicated what existed behind the steel door. There was no window to allow a peek.
He stared at the knob, one of those industrial knobs that run parallel to the door, deciding if he should knock first. Deciding not, he reached for the handle and was a bit surprised that it turned freely. The inside was much darker than the bright outdoors and it took his eyes a moment to adjust. When they finally did, he stared at the room. "Shit," he said aloud.
The room was empty. A bare concrete floor, not a grease stain on it, and unpainted sheetrock walls boxed in complete and total emptiness. Nothing but a door in back to the alley, air and dust, and two bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling, illuminating the dust. There'd never been a bike shop here, let alone anything else, Adam thought. The Southerner had lied. Another tall tale told to the jackass kid in the Jack-In-The-Box.
Adam turned around, thoughts of camping, of adventure, the kind that beat the alarm clock, had left him. He grabbed the doorknob and turned it, squinting in anticipation of the bright day.
"Can I help you?" a voice called out from behind him.
Adam turned and saw a small man standing in the doorway at the back of the room. "Sorry," he said. "Someone told me this was a bike shop."
The man walked fully into the room and shut the door behind him. "It is a bike shop," he said. "Sioux City."
"Are you out of business?"
Adam looked around again, as if he'd misinterpreted the emptiness, a trick of the light. "Where's your stuff? I was told you had all kinds of stuff."
"Who told you that?"
"A guy riding up from Costa Rica a few weeks back. He said you had a reputation for always having what a person needs."
The small man stared at Adam and then smiled, suddenly without any warning. Waving his hand he said, "That'd be Al. Sold him a bubble fairing last week. He's a good fella but never was too precise with his language. What he should have told you was that Sioux City has a reputation for ONLY having what a person needs. A deserved one at that." He walked over to the back corner of the room. "See here," he said. "Just what you need."
As Adam approached, the man stooped down and picked a small package up off the floor. "What's that?" Adam asked.
"Batteries, of course. Two AAs... for your light. Their a bit old so I'll only charge you a dollar. They should get you through your trip, at least."
Adam fumbled in his pocket and dug out a dollar. He handed it to the man and took the batteries. He watched as the man straightened and folded the dollar into neat thirds before putting it into his pocket.
The man looked up as if surprised to see Adam still standing there. "Go on now," he waved his hand. "You got yourself some riding to do."
Adam turned and walked toward the door. At the threshold, he turned and said, "My name's Adam... thanks."
The man smiled. "Name's Hal. And you're welcome. Come again."
...to be continued