Drag

The lights turned amber first. A quick calculation: I can’t make it. I change modes to brake. Slow gently, stop on the line. Right foot rests on the ground. I hear him approach, his engine is powerful, sounds sick. He stops; it stops grumbling. For a moment, nothing, then I hear him toot, gently. I turn, his expression almost apologetic. Not those fuckoff eyes you see on most guys. Especially behind a wheel. Funny what power does. His gesture, clear. Over to the side mate, give me space ahead. First, I rise. Then I smile and lower my eyes. Fair enough, he asked nicely. Though riled I am, I know he will pull away faster.

Unless…

Unless. I look over. Sideways now, not behind. I did a wiggle over to here, cut left and forward onto the crossing, then reverse roll-stepped myself back into place. Clear space ahead of him now. He relaxes. It doesn’t even make sense, the half-question in my head. Maybe important that it doesn’t.

The pedestrian lights are done. Cross lights green. Taxis and vans trundling over the junction. Damp, dark, mild night. Almost there. I feel my legs shudder.

They change. I hear his revs. Red-ambe-…Green. Squeal. Of course I’m never going to match it for more than a second. Still, my toes have never been more poised. Now they push. The connection from thigh through foot-pedal-wheel to the ground feels glorious. In touch. The bike responds like it knows me. He’s accelerating off, of course we’ve no race.

We are racing. His power is great, but my wheels are doing something that I cannot explain. 30mph. 40. 45. I’m both just holding on and in utter control. I look over to his wide side-turned eyes. I grin manically. My wheels are off the ground now. Still pedalling, I wonder vaguely where the lift is coming from. Still nose-to-nose with auto. Pupil to pupil, his turned upwards.

Ground resistance gone, things really start to move. Wind ripping through me, muscles singing. I fly on. In this state of elation, language fails me. Fuuuuuuuuuuuu Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah is all I muster. His face changed. I’m close enough, can still see. Pale, eyes shrinking. Then it gets dangerous to look over, past 90° now. I AM AHEAD. I know its over. My gaze straight, concentrate on this trembling steel frame don’t let it fail me. He is creeping, creeping out of my periphery. My fingers are screaming.

This is it. My nitrous hit. Up til now’s been a board game. The bike rears. I pulse. We go. Into the night up and out. First floor. Third floor. The road beneath, the city beneath, him beneath. Laughing shrieking spinning high. Tonight we raced and I won the sky.

Californian Faces

The teens of Newport

Beach blond. Eyes bright. Moving in small packs. Clustered around the octangle at Balboa, they congregate.  I marvel at them.  What is it that intrigues me so? I watch as more and more roll in: many wheels.  I listen to conversation snippets.  I get the feeling that as tenuously as this peninsula is connected to the mainland, so too is their connection to a world outside of here.  A microcosm of lost identity.  Kids dress like adults; adults do themselves up to keep looking younger and younger, stave of ageing and keep up with the kids.  Million dollar houses and million dollar haircuts.  Everybody is  beautiful.  Nobody presents their own awkward face to the world.  Here I sit amidst this.  Trying to look cool, too.  Well ok, not that but trying not to stand out too much. Well ok, not even that, just sitting in the corner, wild hair windblown and filled with sea salt, eating fried cheese on a stick.  With a funny sort of smile on my face, watching.

 

The otter of Monterey

The water was too still.  I kept checking myself and thinking no, I cannot be at sea.  Then looking up and out over my shoulder I saw the horizon that lies drawn out forever and on, the most delicate of lines, telling me that yes, this is ocean.  I am in a stubby open-topped kayak.  These are perhaps my favourite kind of boats, for they are the closest one can get to the water without being in it.   I am at the same level as everything else.

This evening, everything else in an otter.  He looks at me looking at him.  Both of us we’re just eyes.  His face is round and furry. Long whiskers poke out from under his squished up nose.  Floating on his back, toes pointed out towards me, he cricks his neck to get a better view. My paddle lies in my lap, fingers on it softly.  The cramp I felt from a long day of driving is gone, all the dust washed away.  The expansion from car-box to here, where I stretch out beyond this boat, beyond the soft swell and the kelp seaweed arms and my new friend to some place that is allplace, it makes me giddy.  It takes my breath away.

A breeze is sending me past him obliquely, we’ve passed our closest point now.  Like at the end of an embrace our fingers are slowly separating until only their tips touch. Then nothing. Just me, the Pacific, and the departing light.

 

The park ranger of Marin

“You need some help?” His government-licensed four wheel drive pickup pulled up beside my bike.  I was surprised to see him.  Up until now, the road had been completely deserted.

“I’m looking for the best route up to Stinson beach.”

“Helluva ride that is.” He squinted at me.  “Helluva ride.”

Each ‘e’ he spoke was way drawn out, lazy, like a day on the beach.  He turned his back, reached into the truck and pulled out a trailmap. And with a sigh he spoke,

“Well. Up Milwok, past Wolf Ridge then all the way on over Bobcat.”

The park ranger handed over the map then squinted at me again. “Long way that is”, he said, “real long way”.

“Ok” I answered, “well, thank you”.  

I paused; he waited.

I saddled up. “Thanks again” I called over my shoulder.

“Or I suppose you could hike over Mt. Tam” came his reply. “You’re talking hours though. Hours.”

But his voice was already fading away, being replaced in my ears by the delicious noise of tires crunching over gravel.

Confidence

I rolled up to the red light. She was waiting.

Track stand. No wobble. Positioned at the front of queuing cars. Ready.

She rode a fixie. Her hair was done up tight. Her light blue frame was slim and cool blue. No helmet. Slender fingers wrapped around up-bars covered in brown grip tape.

Her hips were thrust out. Maybe for balance, maybe not. They said, clearly,

Yeah? What you got?

The lights changed. I set off after her but only for a fleeting moment: she was turning right. Nipped out before a van, and then was gone.

I carried on and marvelled. The very dust kicked up from her departing rear wheel oozed cool.

a road ahead

I am trying to figure out two very simple things, how to live and how to die.

 

I am riding home in the rain. It’s dark but it’s not late. It feels late. It’s real rain, really real rain. If god were to pop into existence tonight, he could certainly peel up London off the soil beneath and wring it out like a dish cloth, and fill up a lot of buckets too.

I am riding home in the rain and, like most times, I am thinking about decisions. There are some things I am certain about. I am certain about my route home tonight. But this knowledge is precious, delicate. Were a diversion to send me down a sidestreet, my certainty would vanish. I know only one artery, this main road; the capillaries are mysteries. Thus any such certainty about where I am in the city comes with a conditional clause, change my street address, and so goes the ground I call known.

To seek something solid is human. We love decisions decided. Even in those cases where perhaps we made the wrong one. Maybe I am beginning to understand just how perverse this can be. The road ahead cannot be, will never be, the road ahead. What right has that definite article to prefix our road? We go this way because there is no other way we can go.

— Tell me, when do you plan to buy your first house? The man asked.
— Well I don’t know if I ever will, another replied. Maybe that’s not for me you know, maybe I will rent places all my life.
— I really think that you should go and talk to a therapist.

Here is the impasse between the man who cannot imagine life without security, and the man who has let go of a part of the fear of not knowing. It does not sound like much, but it is big. In fact, it is exactly the size of the uncertainty that we face each day. Either we can let it push us into the ground — into knowing where we are (and thus never leaving that spot) — or we can stand up and say

I see you.
And I don’t know.
And I go on.

It is often when we yearn for an answer that we stand to learn the most from staying with the question

 

Just like I get lost in the small roads of London, so I get lost in my life. The one artery I have — my way home — is very simple: I will die. Everything else is unanswered. I am beginning to see a new freedom in the undecisions. I don’t know, of course, but that’s ok.

The soft greens

These hills are green — still green in winter too.
I walk them slowly, triumphantly, home.

Gentle slopes are steeped in mist, and sheep
stay still, don’t care.
No cliff face, no heart race.
Here jagged ridge gives way to lazy wave
and warmth wraps around my body
— though wet and chilled and muddy it may be.

Each arising thought meets grass forgiving
and meets grey sky and meets the hungry wind.
Where the quiet roar drowns each of my beliefs
Until I’ve nothing left to do but stand
and be.

This is not living on the edge, in wonder
or tremendous peril, this is living
the soft greens, in the very heart of earth.