Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Bike Hunt Stories Show the Power of Bicycles - Story 7: Sprinter

In three days, I will step into an official boxing ring to face down a stranger. The moment the bell rings and the referee says, “Box!” I will attack her with all the force and control I’ve learned from my coach and training over the past year. The photo is of me with my official USA Boxing passbook where this first bout will be recorded. Though it will be my first boxing bout, it’s certainly not my first standoff with a stranger. That’s why I’ve chosen the story of Sprinter, a hefty five-speed beach cruiser I found at a Chicago thrift store, as the next in this series of excerpts from my recently published memoir, Bike Hunt.
Sprinter’s story is a miniature of the book because I first relinquished him to a bully, just as I had relinquished myself to the job. Then, in a flash of honor for my former courageous self, I snatched him back to complete the Bike Hunt giveaway, only to face another bully on a desolate South Chicago street. The fighter, the boxer, who faced down that bully that cold, dreary morning is the part of me I will have to find on Friday if I expect to win my bout.

            Two months later on November 1st, 2004, I stepped out of a youth hostel in downtown Chicago with Sprinter by my side. It was the end of a quick, nearly disastrous trip that had centered around another fundraiser for Thunderhead. Like the San Francisco fundraiser, I had expected the Chicago bike advocates to step forward in droves to lend a hand, encouraged to help by the board chair. He was also a leader of the local Chicago bicycle advocacy organization, so he had the means to mobilize a small army and he had assured me he would. This is why I had organized the fundraiser in Chicago. Instead, a month before the event, after I’d reserved the room, secured auction items, and scheduled the speakers, not one of the local bike advocates had helped with ticket sales, promotions, or spreading the word. In the end it was all I could do to get a few dozen people to attend the expensive affair, even resorting to begging my in-laws to help fill the room.
            At the event, after the presentation of a big check from an industry sponsor who would have given it anyway and having introduced the next speaker, I nervously worked the sparse room wishing I had rented a smaller one so it would look more crowded, greeting each precious attendee like royalty. Thunderhead ended up losing money, but thankfully not much.
            When I’d arrived in Chicago, I’d simply gone to the board chair’s house and taken Sprinter. I’d told him I was going to do this via email, in statement form, not a question. His wife seemed relieved to get rid of the hefty bike. I was relieved to have him back under my care.
            That last morning, I stepped out into the chilly November air, a light drizzle falling. It was just past seven o’clock, a Monday morning. Even though it was a weekday, I knew my prospects would be slim in such miserable weather. I swung my leg over, took a few pedal strokes, and let Sprinter roll off the curb into the nearly empty street. I headed south because that’s where I’d seen the most people who seemed to be struggling, some homeless with bedrolls, others worn out from life’s relentless attacks.
            I saw him after several long blocks, his back to me, facing a fence to get a pocket of dry air to light his cigarette. He wasn’t quite frail, not quite old, but definitely sad. I veered across the four lanes of the wide street and bounced up onto the sidewalk, easing Sprinter to a stop not far from him. I gave my spiel as soon as he turned, unlit cigarette back in his hand as he took in my words.
            “Heck yeah, I need a bike!”
            I’d found Sprinter’s new home. It took me over a year, but I did it. Maybe this is what I needed, what that green-eyed man in Victoria had prayed for me to get.
            “Okay,” I said, as I rolled Sprinter close enough so he could grab the handlebar, “he’s your bike now.”
            But he didn’t reach out. Instead he recoiled and stepped back to cower next to the fence, his eyes terrified, looking past me. I turned to find a muscular youth towering over me.
            “You gonna give him that bike?” the punk spat.
            “I already did,” I said.
            “Give it to me,” the punk said.
            “It’s okay, it’s okay,” the man stammered. “I really don’t need a bike. He can have it.” He turned and began walking away.
            “Wait,” I said, maybe a bit too loud, “come back here. This is your bike. I don’t know who the fuck this guy is, but he sure as hell isn’t getting this bike!” This was Sprinter, damn it, and I wasn’t going to let any more bullies take him from me.
            I turned to glare at the punk. Fire must have been shooting out of my eyes because he stepped back. I turned to find the timid man shuffling back toward me through the misty rain.
            “You sure it’s mine?” he said, half asking, half convincing himself.
            “Damn straight this bike is yours! And don’t ever let anyone take him away from you. Promise me that.”
            “I promise,” he said, his grin returning as he finally took hold of the handlebar, swung his leg over, grabbed the key from my outstretched hand, and rode away, back straight and proud. When I turned around, the bully had vanished.

Sprinter’s Bike Hunt story is one of many throughout the book. I’ve got my eye on several more to share on this blog. All will have the label “Bike Hunt” so you can easily find them.

Better yet, you can buy your own copy of Bike Hunt to read all of the stories and more. Find it through any online book vendor worldwide (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) or order it through your local book store. We also have copies for sale at www.OneStreet.org.


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