My son-in-law Torazo is a badass, by which I mean a physics nerd. He also rides a bike, and he rides it about as badassedly as he solves physics problems, by which I mean yes, he loves to ride the Donut and hammer, but even more badassedly, he commutes to school on his celeste green, 4,000-lb. steel Bianchi.
Torazo goes to Harbor Community College, where he takes physics, calculus, chemistry, and a bunch of other classes that I never took anywhere, anytime, with anyone. Despite his undergraduate degree from Tokyo University, he fell in with the motley Davidson crew and wound up preferring the laid back SoCal lifestyle to the manacled, daily psycho-beatdown that you get as a salaryman in corporate Japan.
Harbor is one of the the poorest LA coastal community colleges, serving urban students. It’s about 70% Latino, 15% African-American, 10% frightened white, and a smattering of everything else. The Japanese students in the South Bay bundle up for safety and study mostly at Santa Monica College miles and a horrible commute away, where there is plenty of whiteness and richness and where you won’t suddenly find yourself in that awkward situation of having to talk to people who make up the majority of the population.
But not Torazo. He likes Harbor. It’s close, he has a 30-minute downhill ride to school and a 50-minute uphill ride home, the teachers are great, the students are great, and he’s there for the physics and calculus, not for the white bread. Like I said, badass.
Still, the school does have its issues, and the biggest one is the bicycle parking area, which is behind the gym, which is where all the jocks hang out. Many of the jocks at Harbor are trying to get a pro slot or an NCAA D-I billet, and they are like major-American-sport jocks everywhere: Big, loud talking, full of bravado, not overly impressed by any human activity that doesn’t end in the word “ball,” and not especially well known for taking physics.
So every day Torazo the physics nerd, with his 75-lb. backpack and nerdy bike pants and nerdy Big O lizard collectors jersey and nerdy bike shoes has to click-clack through the jock gauntlet to get to his bike. Nothing has ever happened, but walking through a large group of big, athletic, loud-talking people can induce anxiety in anyone, especially in a gentle physics nerd.
Today, though, it went down. He had almost made it through the tightly packed group, when a voice rang out. “Hey!” It wasn’t a greeting, it was a command.
Torazo picked up his pace but as a physics nerd he could calculate that reaching his bike, unlocking the lock, and pedaling madly away wouldn’t happen fast enough. “Hey!” the voice repeated, and this time it was sharper.
Torazo turned around, the color drained out of his face. “Me?” he asked, his voice shaking. The entire group stared at him.
“Fuck yeah, you, man. You think I’m talking to the fuckin’ wall?”
Torazo’s first language isn’t English, and in moments of extreme distress, as with anyone, his facility with the language fragmented. “How may I help you?” he blurted out, realizing that this was probably not the right playground response.
The guy who had accosted him took a few steps closer. He was easily 6’4″, with ripped arms, sinewy legs, and very intent eyes focused on Torazo. Torazo stared up at the tower. “That your bike?” the basketball player asked.
“Yes, sir,” Torazo said.
“Don’t give me no ‘sir’ shit. You ride that to school?”
“Yes,” Torazo answered.
The big guy nodded, staring intently at the shiny racing rig that stood out among the ten or fifteen other junker bikes. “What’s that thing cost?”
“I don’t know exactly.”
“You don’t know? What, you stole it?”
“No sir,” Torazo blurted. “I bought it in Japan and I don’t correctly know the exact exchange rate from that time.”
The guy wrinkled his brow, skeptically. “You ride on the road, too? Or just commute?”
Torazo paused, processing the sentence. “Yes,” he said. “Road riding all the time.”
“Me, too. We oughta ride together. I been looking for somebody here at Harbor likes to ride. I love to ride. What’s your number?”
Torazo and the guy exchanged info. “I will call you for the next Donut Ride,” Torazo said, waving as he pedaled away.
“Cool, man. Looking forward to it!” The guy went back to his friends, and Torazo was gone, one more biking friend on the way home than he’d had when he left.
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