I have been riding the WestOaks Ride routinely every Saturday since I started training again in November. It starts at 7am, which is incredibly early for a Saturday. I somehow drag myself out of bed for the 5.5 hour ride. Last Saturday I just couldn’t make it. I had loaded myself up with a mountain of training earlier in the week, and the bed just felt so inviting. I slept in for a solo ride in the afternoon. I rode out to open roads through neighborhoods in East Houston. East Houston is pretty rough. Not the roughest, but not a good neighborhood.
After 4 hours of hard pedaling, I start home, only to be stopped at a train. Already waiting for the train to pass is Wayne, a 56 year old guy on a beach cruiser. We smile and I say hey, because we are instantly connected by our mode of transportation. This ‘bike bond’ is immediate, and translates through all social, racial, and cultural stigmas. Our kinship quickly diverges from here.
“Damn, how much that bike cost?”
Why is that always the first question? I hate this first question because I will have to start our conversation in a complete lie. There is no way I will tell him how much my bike is worth, because he will think I am crazy for even spending over $500 on a bike. “About $400,” I respond.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. I saw a bike at this bike shop down the street, that whip was $1000!” I pretend to be surprised, like $1000 would pay for the Aston Martin of bikes. $1000? That would pay for half my power meter. I’ve seen bikes with $1000 paint jobs.
I feel trapped in a growing awkwardness. “Nice out today… Good for a bike ride,” I muse.
“Eh, kinda hot and muggy.” Divergence. I love this weather. Sunshine, and it smells of summer rain showers. He seems uncomfortable.
“You got a job?”
“Yeah, do you?” I respond.
“Naw, been out of work about 5 years, you know, the economy and everything.” Further divergence. I give him a consoling look. There might be nothing we can relate to except cycling, which he might be doing out of necessity instead of recreation. It might seem silly to him that I am cruising around the city on a 16.5 lbs bicycle when I could be zipping back and forth at relative light speed in my perfectly good Honda Fit.
“Well, at least you have a trusty bike to ride around on, and what more do you need?”
“Amen, brotha, I know that’s right!” Success! We agree that biking is awesome, my faith in our budding relationship is restored.
But our friendship will be over all too quickly, as I can already see the end of the train coming around the corner. I think maybe I will coast beside him so we can talk some more, avoiding politics or religion until we know each well enough to forgive the differences in beliefs. Or the next block, whichever comes first.
“Well, nice talking to ya… Hey, big guy, you got some change?”
I stare at him, completely nonplussed. This guy… He has been thinking about getting money from me ever since I rolled up on my impossibly expensive bike. He thought of nothing else, while I was intrigued and hopeful of a long-last friendship. My dreams are shattered and I realize I was nothing more than a sap with too much cash. And any use of the names ‘Big Guy’ or ‘Chief’ or ‘Slick’ or ‘Boss’ is instant friendship hara-kiri in my book. Our friendship was done in that moment, and he was dead to me.
I give him a dollar left over from my gas station stop, and speed off as soon as the crossing gate allows.