I have a friend who I’ll call “Knoll.”
There are a lot of things I want to tell him to his face, but can’t. Before you think that’s stupid, think of all the things you wanted to say to your mom or dad or brother or sister or close friend, but didn’t. Then, they were gone, and you didn’t forever.
I’m not sure why it’s hard to say things to people, since I generally say all kinds of shit to everyone, seemingly unfiltered. The catch, of course, is that no words are unfiltered, there is no stream of verbal consciousness, there is no exactitude of sentiment or thought or even science.
Everything is an approximation.
I first met Knoll in that zipless anonymity of the Donut Ride, in 2007. He had a black jersey that said “Dopers Suck” in bold, blocked, squarish white letters.
“What a dork,” I thought, because, you know, 2007 was the apogee of big dope. Today we have smaller riders who dope smallishly. But he was right then, and he’s right now. Dopers really do suck.
I soon changed from “What a dork,” to “What a motherfucker,” because Knoll was one of those guys who went to the front in the face of certain oblivion, shattered the field, and went just so much farther that only the best could follow. Everyone else fell to the wayside with plans for next week or a reason for why following the move didn’t fit with the training plan.
I’ll lead you out
I started doing the Sunday rides out to Cross Creek. Knoll had these Sidis with red heels. I know that acutely because when the group had been whittled down to five or six, or when it was still all massed, as we got two miles out he’d always slap his ass in the universal lead out lingo of “Get on my wheel, bro.” My vision would soon tunnel down to those pounding red heels.
It’s weird to say, but we were only friends from watching each other ride. I’d latch on and he’d bury himself for one and a half miles. No one could come around until he was done. He’d swing off, far from the bridge, done, and the sprinters would blow by.
Sometimes I’d grab on and beat them at their own game, but usually not. The few times I did, it was thanks to Knoll. Who puts himself at the bottom of the pain cave for you just because he likes the way you ride? Only Knoll.
Hey, is that you?
As with so many things, he was a person who revealed himself by degrees. A guitar virtuoso. The funniest writer ever. A raw and exposed human nerve, picking up every sensation and internalizing it, absorbing the pain of others so they could get through the day, however much of a hell it made for him to get through his.
With each peeling of the onion it was voila, a whole new layer, but unlike an onion, it was never more of the same, and always more of the different. We got to know each other over the course of years, time spent riding down PCH, post-coital time spent over coffee at Peet’s, time spent on social media, being, as you’re wont to be, somehow connected and separated at the same time.
I got to know him best of all one day a few months ago. I had lit out from work at ten o’clock, drawn to the pavement by the sunny sky. For some reason I headed down the bike path to Santa Monica. On impulse I stopped at the Marina del Rey bridge and called him. “Hey, man, got time for a cup of coffee?”
He didn’t ask why, or when, or what for. He just said, with a certain kind of finality that only comes from a friend, a true one, “Sure.”
“I’ll be there in fifteen.”
“And I’m broke.”
“Coffee’s on me, then.”
A few minutes later I rolled up and he was there.