My wife told me not to ride my bicycle to church. I listened. I didn’t ride all the way to church. I rode to the Green Line. I would ride the bike home from church, not to church, giving her her wish.
Well, I got to the Green Line; it was my first time taking the el with my bike. I had seen other people do it. I still can’t find the courage to rack my bike on a bus, but I could do the el. So I got to the station. The security woman pointed to the door next to the turnstile. I walked through, got on an escalator, and lifted toward the platform. When I got to the platform, my rear wheel wasn’t moving. I thought I was crazy. I got off the bike three minutes prior. But it wasn’t moving. The wheel was off the frame. I pretended to know what I was doing when I removed my backpack and examined the wheel. I saw the problem, but I knew I couldn’t fix it. After admitting my own small failure under my breath, I tried anyway.
I sweat when I think too hard, especially when it’s 80 degrees outside. So I knelt down, salty water running and dripping into my face hairs, and worked at the wheel, trying to pull it back to the frame. I could see that it looked like the front wheel, the one that releases from the spinning thing I have no name for. Quick release? Is that it? My hands smudged with oil. I pulled my water bottle from my back pack. I checked to see if a train was coming. I was frustrated. My white polo dotted with black spots from the dirt that splashed when I tried to wash my hands. I had nothing to wipe them on. I couldn’t preach at church in a dirty shirt and dirty khakis. So I waved to no one, fanning the air and feeling sticky.
The train came. I got on it, taking the bike rather than following my first mind to leave it for the vultures. I sat down and pulled my cell phone out of the clip. I thought of three guys: Alan, Daniel, and Roland. I didn’t have Daniel’s number. He doesn’t want me to call him if things like this happen. I texted Alan and Roland. Roland still hasn’t responded. If I didn’t know he loved me, I’d be hurt. But Alan. God bless the man. Alan texted. I asked if he would be in church. He said he would and asked if I needed him to preach. If you know Alan, this is funny. I pressed a short message, explaining the situation. He promised to bring his tools and to see if he could help.
He texted me when I got to the California stop. I’m here. Are you? he asked. I was irritated. I had been walking from the el station. I was hot. I texted back: not yet. He wrote again that he’d be in his car, in AC, waiting. I wasn’t sure if Alan was joking because he jokes or if he was saying that he would wait and not go into the church. The church is 15 degrees hotter than outside in the summer. So, I called him and asked if he’d come to me. It was a good idea according to Alan. He came, picked me up, and took me to the church.
He would fix it, he said. And he did. The culprit was a missing washer. A tiny little thing. I was glad because it meant that Alan wouldn’t have to do the stuff he does to his motorcycle. I was irritated because a tiny thing could cause such trouble.
After church several kind people offered rides. I mentioned this little example of grace and help at the end of my sermon. I told the people who approached me that my bike was repaired, that Alan was a star and a gift. Ellen was among the people who came to me. But Ellen, bless her, was a bit more pointed. She asked me if I was going to tell my wife what happened. I hadn’t planned to up to that moment. I told Ellen I would decide on the ride home. Ellen said something like if I made it home. Something about there being other incidents with the bike. I smiled. She wasn’t prophesying, she said.
Ellen was the first person I thought of when I was cycling down North Avenue, near Larabee, on my way to LSD. The rear tire, the same tire I had blustered over, was flat. I tried to laugh, but I was too hot. So there I was, walking my bike again for the second time today. I didn’t bring my air pump. Who does that every time they ride? No, I prayed for some kind soul to pull to the side and sing about how they saw me and thought to help. Didn’t happen. Instead, I saw a hardware store.
They sold air pumps. I bought one and used their air-conditioned shop to pump my tire. It wasn’t working. Some kind older fellow pointed that out, as if I needed him to. The guys working at the shop were nice, as helpful as they could be. One of them said there was a repair shop up Wells, about three blocks down. He called. They were open til six. I steered the bike out of the hardware store and down Wells.
I was close to exhaustion. It took an hour for the repair. I went to Chipotle where I could eat in air.
It took longer than I wanted to make my way home. It’s been two years, yes, two years, since I’ve ridden to and from my office. Thirteen miles feels longer two years later. But today was the start of the bicycling season for me. It started with these events. Hopefully I won’t go through these again. Alan will learn to hate me and ignore my calls like Roland. Or, worse, he’ll change his number and not give it to me like Daniel.
When I came home and after I spent a day in the shower, I told my wife all about my little adventure. She was gracious. Didn’t even look at me with the “What did I tell you” face. She was glad I made it home. Even if I had to stop and rest along the way because I didn’t mentally prepare for a 2.5 hours long journey. I did listen to my wife this morning. I didn’t do everything she wanted me to. I am pretty sure, though, that I’ll remember today when she says I shouldn’t ride my bike. And I’ll probably do what she says. We’ll see. I can be committed to my viewpoint. But I will definitely be printing a list of all the bike shops on my route. I will drop the air pump in my bag so that it goes with me when the helmet goes. And I’ll laugh at myself if this happens again, hoping that you or that Alan or that some kind person will help me right before I throw my bicycle into Lake Michigan.