Dan and I raced for the freeway. It was going to be tight, but in the dozens of times I’d made this drive on a Sunday the only place the traffic really stacked up was around San Clemente. We came to a squealing halt after about three hundred yards. It took fifteen minutes to get to the on-ramp.
“Looks like you’re gonna miss your flight,” Dan said.
“Yes, it does.”
“Maybe the traffic will clear up.”
“I don’t think so. It’s never been like this.”
“Just wait until we get on the freeway.”
We got on the freeway and the traffic stopped completely.
“Wow,” said Dan. “This is awful.”
“Kind of hard to believe that you scheduled a fricking bike ride the same day you had to make an important flight back home to be with someone who really needed you.”
“Yeah,” I muttered, feeling horrifically bad.
“Just kidding,” Dan said. “You hungry?” he asked, trying to change the topic.
“But there’s no time to stop.”
“And even if there were, there’s nowhere in between here and home where we can get something healthy.”
“I’m not eating any more junk food today.”
“That shit this morning was gross. I think it’s why I kept getting dropped.”
“Yeah,” Dan agreed. “That McSausagebomb lurched over to the left side of my stomach when we hit the low-water crossing and the weight imbalance is what crashed me out.”
“I would have totally made those climbs if it weren’t for those donuts. They provided lots of energy for the first five minutes but after that they were just like wet sand.”
Anatomy of a crushdown
As the traffic inched along I turned to Dan. “Why are these stupid rides in North County always so hard? I hate them.”
“They’re fun, huh? It’s because of MMX.”
“Ever notice how he’s always mashing on the gas?”
“What do you mean?”
“He never rests except to catch his breath after an effort. Then he’s pushing the pace again. Dude’s only got two speeds, ‘full’ and ‘throttle.'”
“That doesn’t explain it. He’s not superman.”
“No, but those other wankers are. He’s assembled a crew of crazies who ride just like he does. So as soon as he swings off, another one comes through, always mashing the pedals. It’s like being in an insane asylum where everyone has the exact same mental illness and the same symptoms.”
I wasn’t convinced. “What about the terrain? I think it’s also the terrain.”
“That’s part of it, too. It’s all rolling and hilly down here, no big climbs but never flat. It just wears you out. The minute you want to rest, some knucklehead pushes the pace up the next roller. Pretty soon your legs give out and you quit.”
“Even THOG looked tired at the end of the ride.”
Dan laughed. “THOG is never tired.”
Call of the wild, or call of Five Guys, anyway
The traffic continued to crawl and the clock continued to tick. With a one-hour minimum check-in time, it was going to be touch and go at best. Finally the traffic started to lighten and out of nowhere a five or ten minute window of opportunity opened.
“You still hungry?” I asked Dan.
“Starving. But no junk food for me.”
“Me, either. But we might have an extra ten minutes.”
“I’m not doing another McDonald’s.”
“What about Five Guys? There’s one just off the freeway a mile or so up the road.”
“Okay,” he said. We roared in, Dan barefoot and still in his shredded and bloody kit. We ordered really bad and unhealthy food, but to compensate we ordered a lot of it. With the clock ticking we desperately pounded down cheeseburgers, sauteed mushrooms, sauteed onions, jalapenos, Cajun fries, coke, peanuts, and a pair of hot dogs.
I slipped into my seat on US Airways with two minutes to spare.
Bags cost extra, but 200 extra pounds are free
Mine was a window seat. The aisle seat had a tiny young girl in it. The middle seat was occupied by a woman who easily weighed three hundred pounds.
“Do you mind if I lift the arm rest?” she asked once we were airborne.
“Not at all,” I said, and in truth, I didn’t. Most people hate air travel and their worst nightmare is sitting next to a sweating behemoth, but that’s not my worst nightmare. My worst nightmare is having to get from LA to Houston on a covered wagon expedition that takes six months and involves significant risk of Indian attacks, starvation, and death.
You know, like it used to be before we had what Louis CK calls “The magical flying chairs.”
I didn’t mind it when my neighbor fell asleep and her ginormous forearm rested on my leg, or when she spilled over into most of my seat, pushing me up against the window. I didn’t mind it when she started to sweat, because I thought about how easy and pleasant it was in my flying chair compared to riding a horse, or walking, or sailing around the Horn in a flimsy wooden boat beset by hurricanes, ocean storms, deadly shoals, and six months of seasickness.
My neighbor, however got very angry with me.
I had dried out completely in the cold air of the cabin. The air was also starting to make me sneeze. I felt a big one coming on. I clutched my mouth to cover it, but when the sneeze came it shook my head like a rag doll. All of the sand and grit from the ride which had been stuck to my scalp and hair from the sweat was no longer so stuck.
With the first paroxysm I showered my neighbor with a fine spray of sand. She awoke, startled at the grains on her ample bosom and side of her face. Before she could figure out what was happening, I blew again. This time it was a veritable rain of dirt, and she was grossed out and furious and, worst of all, trapped. She tried to pull away but there was nowhere to pull. She tried to put down the arm rest but couldn’t get the meat folds back inside the armrest.
As the third shake-and-spray covered her, I noted that it was all sticking to her because she’d been sweating. Reaching a huge arm up to the flight attendant button she pushed away at it.
“Could I please have another seat?” she demanded.
“Is something wrong?”
“This gentleman keeps sneezing on me.”
“I’m very sorry,” I said. “I’m allergic to heights.”
“And he’s covering me with dirt.”
“Can I wipe you off?” I offered. I extended a helping hand which, unfortunately, was still pretty grimy, especially beneath the nails which I hadn’t trimmed recently and which the bike ride had turned a fine shade of black.
“Get away from me!” my neighbor said.
The flight attendant came back and escorted her to a different part of the plane. Incredibly, my sneezing stopped. I was disappointed, as I had hoped to get to know her and have an interesting discussion about something. It was going to be a sad flight as I tilted back my chair and slept, uninterrupted, the rest of the way.