When I am getting off my bike at a coffee shop or lounging around at a coffee shop or standing in line in a coffee shop no one ever asks me anything. My scruffy facial mold and salt-caked dark glasses seem stand-offish, if not downright contagious.
Derek the Destroyer, however, always gets chatted up. He is always clean and clean-shaven. His kit is never caked with salt. He looks like the upstanding member of society that he is, amiable, professional, approachable. In other words, he attracts the nutjobs like patriots to a bird-watching refuge.
Today we had put in some huge hours, about four, doing a total of thirty miles. This is harder than it looks and always involves coffee stops. As we entered our fourth hour we decided to do something I’ve never done in the middle of a bike ride, and neither has he. We swung by the Baskin-Robbins for a double-dip in a fat waffle cone.
As Derek was tying up his horse this lady came up. We were at the PV Mall, where none of the customers work, and most are only vaguely aware of the mechanism by which their bank accounts are regularly replenished.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Can I ask you a question?”
Now the only appropriate answer to such a question is “No.” Firmly. Then you spin on your heel (hard to do in cleats but still necessary) and clip-clop into the ice cream store.
But not Derek. “Sure,” he said.
“Now I don’t mean this to you personally,” she began, which is the passive-aggressive intro to saying something very personal, “but why is it that you cyclists all ride out in the middle of the street?”
I was halfway into the shop but turned around. This was going to be good. “That’s a good question,” Derek said in what appeared to be his opening gambit for a Nobel Peace Prize.
I, on the other hand, was more in search of a Sauron Medallion of War. “It’s a terrible question,” I interjected.
The lady looked at me, concerned that the moldy-faced salty one had chosen her over the peanut butter-chocolate double dip. “A better question would be, ‘Why don’t all you cyclists just go kill yourselves or go get cars because you’re slowing us down for our hot yoga and orgasm workouts.'”
“Don’t mind him,” said Derek, “he’s harmless. Mostly.”
“Or an even better question would be, ‘Why is it that all of you cagers are ignorant of the vehicle code sections that allow us to occupy the lane?'”
“Cyclists really get in the way,” she said plaintively, “and I’m a cyclist, too. I ride my Motobiccany, when I ride it, on the sidewalk or in the bike lane. Why can’t you?”
I thought about giving her an Academie Francaise award for her pronunciation of “Motobecane,” but didn’t think I could spit that far. “Well,” said the diplomat, “it’s often safer in the lane, which is perfectly legal, than on the edge, where cars try to squeeze by on the way to yoga and accidentally kill or maim you by mistake. Those ‘oops’ moments can be really inconvenient when you spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair. And of course they scratch up the vehicle’s clearcoat.”
“Hey, can I ask you a question?” I said.
“Okay,” she said.
“This isn’t personally directed at you, but why is it that middle-aged women at the PV mall look like they’re … ”
Derek grabbed me by the elbow. “C’mon Wanky,” he said. “The ice cream is that way.” He turned to the lady, who was imagining the awful ending to my unfinished question. “Have a nice day, ma’am. And share the road.”
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