While I am staying in New York I am staying with my wife’s dear friend Bret. Bret is about as much of a real man as you can get. In High School he captained his football and lacrosse teams, but then abandoned the athletic life to pursue working at a non-profit. He decided to move to New York so he rode an old ten-speed from Denver to New York without any training, while smoking cigarettes.
Now he travels the world working for a non-profit that cleans up pollution sites in poor countries. He also rides a motorcycle. While I’m staying with him he’s studying Farsi because he’s trying to get a job in Afghanistan. I’m not making any of this up.
Knowing I enjoy riding bikes, Bret offered me his old ten-speed bike (the one he rode cross-country) to roll around Brooklyn on. I said thank you, but internally knew I wouldn’t ride it. I hate riding other people’s bikes, and don’t like worrying about them being stolen under my care.
So it was I found myself late to a dinner meeting when the stupid subway thought I had gone through the turnstile cage when I had not. I had no choice but to ride the bike. Well, that’s not true. I had the choice of being very late, but very safe. What would Bret do, I wondered.
I gave the bike a quick inspection. The seat was too high, and the adjustment bolts were stripped. So the seat was frozen in place- until a sufficient bump at any time might send it shooting down. The rear wheel wobbled out of true, rubbing against the brake pads. Whatever. If Bret could ride this thing across America I could ride it up to Greenpoint.
Soon I discovered that the brakes weren’t just loose; they were pretty much nonexistent. Any stop needed at least half a block of planning and I quickly gave up on the brakes and used my boots to slow and stop myself. Taxis sailed out blithely in front of me and I had no choice but to swerve wildly, ready to simply jump off the bike at any moment.
After a 20 minute terror-ride I arrived at the restaurant. I didn’t bother to bring a bike lock (because I’m stupid), so I turned the bike upside-down and spent my meal staring at it, profiling everyone who walked near. Everyone was a suspect. Old Asian woman with a walker? I pictured her tossing the walker aside and leaping on to the bike. A part of me wished the bike would be stolen, so I wouldn’t have to ride it home.
In the end I took the train home because it rained, and I was given a reprieve from having to pretend I was brave. But I could picture Bret, happily riding in the rain, unconcerned that the bike beneath him was nothing but an accident waiting to happen.