Debra Banks was hit by a drunk two years ago. Her ordeal was detailed in an earlier post here. I don’t know very many people who could have gone through what she endured and come out on the other end still wanting to ride a bike. But she is tough, randonneur tough, Paris-Brest-Paris tough, and for her there was never any question of whether she would ride again, only the question of when.
Everyone who gets hit by a car suffers from some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder. Getting back on your bike is only partly physical. It’s hugely mental. So when Deb told me that her doc had cleared her to ride again, we swapped emails, figured out a day, and I drove up to Sacramento so that we could commemorate this monumental event.
We left LA bright and early. I had never been to Sacramento before and was looking forward to all the mountains. We got there around noon and headed straight for an awesome coffee shop that Yasuko had found on the Internet. “You sure this place is good?” I asked, making a mental note of what seemed to be no mountains anywhere.
“It’s got a very good rating,” she said. “It’s called Estellle’s bakery. Itsa most famous chocolate croissant and we eat light and a coffee and still be hungry for dinner.” I wondered when I had never not been hungry for dinner.
We parked in downtown Sacramento across from the capitol. Sacramento is an amazing blend of gritty and funky, and it reminded me of Austin in the 1980’s, when the tallest building was the capitol. Sacramento has that feeling of pre-gentrification, where the funky and the gritty are creating the magic that, in a few years, will attract the burned out yuppies from the Bay Area who will kill it.
We got to the famous cafe and it was out of business. “I guess it was too good for its own good,” I said.
Down the street was the Capitol Cafe, a run down diner was part of a business empire that included the Capitol Bar on one side and the Capitol All You Can Eat Salad bar on the other side. It was a true cafe, where you could eat a full meal for a few bucks, and everybody knew everybody including the crazy vet nursing a cup of coffee and telling each customer that “Jesus is lord.”
Freed from the necessity of an appetite-saving croissant we decided to save space for dinner with a cheeseburger and fries, and Yasuko chose the diner’s equivalent of a croissant, which was a BLT. We would still have plenty of room for dinner if dinner were served at midnight.
We left the cafe and headed for the dumpster-filled alley that abutted the parking garage just in time to witness two homeless dudes get into a fight. It was kind of unique, because one of the guys coudn’t walk well and had a big wooden cane. “Someone’s going to get hurt,” I told Yasuko.
The cane-holder began the scuffle with the obligatory “you motherfucker” and hit the other guy on the shoulder so hard that his backback fell off.
“You’re the motherfucker,” the other dude said, and moved over into our line of sight so that we could see him fully, which is when we realized that this was going to be the fight of the the century because he had a cane, too. It was the Charles Sumner caning where both parties were armed.
The first dude (MF 1) steadied himsef after hitting the backpack dude (MF 2) and while he was regaining his balance MF 2 counterwhacked the shit out of him, dislodging his styrofoam box of leftovers from his hand and spilling them onto the street.
“You motherfucker I’m going to kill you,” screamed MF 1, but by now both MFs realized that the dislodged backpack and the spilled salad kind of canceled each other out and there was an opportunity to avoid further foodshed by simply cursing some more and declaring victory, kind of like an imaginary sprunt victory at the beginning of the third traffic island on the NPR.
We went back to the car and drove over to Deb’s place, taking the scenic route through east Sacramento, which was jam packed with the three horsemen of the gentrification apocalypse: Craft breweries, hip coffee shops, and Trader Joe’s.
We got to Deb’s and were joined by Mark, Darrel, and Kim. A sumptuous feast was served and we had the most amazing evening doing that weird thing that people used to do a lot but never do anymore. We sat and talked. For hours.
“Is it weird meeting people you only know through the Internet?” Darrel asked.
“Not any weirder than meeting people at a party for the first time. The only difference is that with Facebag friends you already know the fake stuff about their lives from their newsfeed and can go straight to what’s real.”
One of the real things was an awesome Wankmeister sculpture welded by Darrel for me as a gift, and other real things reminded me of the violent collision that had brought us all together: The shoes that had been cut off Deb’s feet in the first of countless gruesome procedures that had begun the process of cobbling back together her shattered ankle, shoes she had glued back together and planted with flowers, or the medieval external brace that had been bolted into her shin and was now a vase.
We talked and laughed late into the night, which for cyclists meant 10:30.
The next morning we drove over to Davis, where Deb and Mark broke the sad news: “There are no mountains here. It is a pancake flat valley. However, it’s super cold in the morning.”
We met up with Drew and Tuesday and rode out to Winters, where we stopped for good coffee. The day was spectacular and clear. This was Deb’s third ride and we talked about the mental and physical barriers to getting back on the bike because a lot of people simply never do.
A lot of it has to do with risk tolerance but more than that it has to do with the nature of what you require in order to live your life. For some people it’s the very existence of the risk that gives life its bite, that makes life something more than a tasteless oatmeal that you chew unenthusiastically until you reach your expiration date.
I’m inspired by people who get through to the other side, friends like Deb, like Marvin Campbell, like Chris Gregory, and so many others who get badly hurt and are able to get back on the horse. It’s partly a question of toughness but much more a matter of courage, a willingness to face fear and to power on through to the other side.
We finished the ride and were joined by Paul Thober, Darrel, and Kim for lunch, after which we selfied and got in the car for the seven-hour drive home.
Maybe that seems like a long way to drive for a two-hour ride. But to share a few moments with people like Deb, well, I would have driven twice as far.
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