Redemption

I used to see him every time I took the bike path in Hermosa Beach. If you took the path all the way to the end, you had to dismount and go up the stairs, so the goal was to stay on the path as long as possible, then take a right up one of the little walkways which would put you on the street. That way, you could keep pedaling.

The last possible point of departure was a walkway marked by a big hedge, and he was always there. It didn’t matter how early, and let me tell you, sometimes I made early look positively lie-abed. Five-thirty, six, it didn’t matter.

He was always there.

And he was always drunk.

Not a little drunk, not getting-warmed-up drunk, but drunk. He’d be standing, leaning actually, against the wall that separates the beach from the bike path, and he would be sauced, even though you knew he’d only been up for an hour or so.

His face was drunk ruddy, and his eyes were sad beyond belief. I’d always grin at him and say, “Morning,” and even though he never answered he always nodded this sad, dying nod.

“That dude,” I thought every single time, “is drinking himself to death.” And he was.

What were his demons? What made him so sad? What had he lost, so precious that he wanted to exit this world in a poisoned trance?

Maybe his wife of thirty years had left him, or maybe he’d lost his job, or maybe he was from the Midwest and had come here to drink and drown, to finish up his days on the golden shore. Whatever it was, my pal Rex, who often rode with me in the morning, thought it was something much worse than sad.

“That’s all fucked up,” Rex said on The Morning.

“Yeah,” I said. It was on The Morning that we made our habitual turn and the dying man was leaning on the wall, sauced, and he nodded to us, but next to him was a bike. A beach cruiser with a nasty patina of rust and of course a coozy holder. “Dude’s got a fuggin bike,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Rex. “It’s my old cruiser.”

“You know that dude?”

“No. But I talked to him one morning. He lives a few blocks away and he can barely make it on foot down to the strand. So I gave him the cruiser. Might as well make his last days easier.”

“What’s his story?”

“No clue. But he’s racing to the grave.”

One morning, about two weeks after The Morning, the guy was gone. A solid year of seeing him leaning against the wall, and I knew that the poison had taken its course. This is how life is. Relentless and without pity. I’d never even stopped to ask his name.

Later that year I was in Santa Monica, a long way to the north. I stopped in for breakfast at a cafe. My waiter handed me a menu. “Coffee?” he said with a smile.

He was an older guy, but smiling broadly, and I recognized him. It was Dying Dude. “Sure,” I said. When he came back to the table, I said, “Recognize me?”

“No.”

“I used to see you every morning on the bike path down in Hermosa.”

He lit up. “Oh, yeah, I remember you. Your buddy is the guy who gave me the bike.”

“You were drinking some hard stuff, man. I don’t think I ever saw you sober.”

He laughed. “I came within a day or two of dying. That bike your friend gave me, it saved my life.”

“It did?”

“Yeah. I started riding it to the strand, and then one morning I just kept riding it, all the way to the end of the bike path, must have been twenty or thirty miles.”

“Really?”

“Yep. I was so exhausted and thrashed when I got to the end of the path that I just lay down for about six hours. Then I pedaled back to Hermosa. I haven’t had a drink since. Got a job at this cafe … commute every day on the bike path.”

“No shit?”

He laughed. “No shit.”

I ate my breakfast and got ready to ride back home to PV. The old cruiser was locked to a parking meter out in front of the cafe. I nodded to it, and grinned.

60 thoughts on “Redemption”

  1. Now that I’ve wiped the tear of happiness from my eye, I can carry on with my day that lies ahead, knowing there is still hope for the wary and struggling, of which there are far too many.

  2. Thanks! I often wonder about the folks in similar circumstances that I see on my ride everyday.

  3. AMsterdam Hammer

    what is this liquid stuff coming out of my eyes…? Beautiful Seth, thanks for sharing and Rex thanks for saving a life and giving it purpose again !

  4. Wow how do you do it? Great material, great story. As I head out into a soggy Oregon morning commute, this story makes the rain seem alright. Thanks Seth.

    1. You’re welcome. Actually, I use a blogbot. Just throw in a few words and a half-dozen emoticons, and BINGO! (Doesn’t always come out good, though … )

  5. Arkansas Traveler

    It never ceases to amaze me how many different kinds of magic can come out of the simple act of throwing leg over a bike.

  6. Seth,
    Help me fill in the blanks.
    Every (emphisize every) day this guy rides up 1 st. SP past my place on an old mountain bike, always alone, no water , never a shirt, and he never sits down. I’ve seen him on pv north, Western, Crenshaw never seated. The only variation was when I saw him walking on Western(no shirt of coarse) and I stopped my ride to see if he needed anything. He said “no, a bike shop on pch is fixing a flat for me.” That would be 3 miles from where we talked.
    Go figure.

  7. Bikes are machines of transformation. If the community at large embraces them instead of cars for primary/local transportation… they will transform the city. It’s one of those cases where you can take what happened with this individual and abstract and generalize it to a community. Anyway… nice job wordsmithing.

  8. This compelled me to tweak a line from my favorite book:

    “Upon therapy for the alcoholic himself, we surely have no monopoly. Yet it is our great hope that all those who have as yet found no answer may begin to find one on the bike and will presently join us on the high road to a new freedom.”

    Peace.

  9. Hello fsethd-san and All,

    We all probably have alcoholics and addicts in our families (and ourselves) with the frustration and love for the ‘almost’ reformed.

    When I was young, my uncle, (a former heavyweight boxing contender) at my parents behest, went to Imola, the state mental institution, which in those days was also an alcohol rehab facility. He had treatment wrapped in rubber sheets and ice, shock treatment with the rubber bone, and drugs.

    When my mom and dad picked him up he looked better than he had for months previously. Shaved, haircut, sport jacket and a tie, looked good, smelled good, big Irish smile ….. how was it they asked? “The shits,” he said and described the treatment. On the way home he said, “Stop here at the Old Adobe, I need a drink.” He died of cirrhosis of the liver the next year.

    I liked your story with the happy ending.

  10. “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” ~H.G. Wells

  11. I read this and it has inspired me to find a bike, make it totally nice and give it to him. Bikes. Matter.

  12. Awesome story – PLEASE tell me you shared that with someone in the media. For all of the death/doom/destruction we read in the papers / see on the news, this is a story that everyone needs to hear. 🙂

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