Tag Archives: riding my bike

My broken bicycle chain

The other night I was riding my bike home from work when I started to hear this clicking sound. I couldn’t tell what was wrong exactly, but every three or four pedals, it was this noticeable click. One block away from work, two blocks, I started building up some speed and the clicks came at shorter intervals. Part of me thought, OK, something’s definitely wrong, like I know it’s not supposed to be making those sounds, but what was I going to do? It’s not like I had any tools on me, and even if I did, I wasn’t really in the mood to start pretending to be a bike mechanic on the side of East Fifty-Fourth Street.

So I started changing the gears rapidly, like maybe that would fix it. You want to something to click about? I’ll give you something to click about. Only, and this is totally speaking in retrospect, but I wish I had just left it in that one gear, because after a few turns of the shifter, the pedals jammed like the chain got stuck. I looked down, and it actually came apart, one of the links broke, and I watched the line of metal wind its way through the derailleur and then drop onto the floor.

This all happened within maybe ten seconds. It was like I was watching it, but I couldn’t really comprehend what was going on. My eyes saw the chain leave the bike, but my legs kept pedaling futilely, with nothing to give them any resistance, it was just this hollow motion, all while my brain simply could not make sense of the visual, the tactile, finally my momentum came to an end and I had to get off the bike.

I walked back and found the chain. For some reason that stupid, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” saying ran through my head, and it got me really annoyed. I had just worked a double, my back was killing me. All I wanted to do was get home and watch some TV before I passed out for the night, but now I really was going to have to pretend to be a bike mechanic on the side of the street.

The thing about bike chains, you touch them once and that’s it, that’s the last thing you can touch until you have a chance to get to a bathroom sink. Whatever bike chain grease is made out of, it gets everywhere. And of course I didn’t think about that, I just picked up the chain, and then next thing I knew I had grease on my shirt, on my backpack. I looked down and my left hand was in my left pocket looking for keys or something I might use as a tool.

I wasted twenty minutes looping the bike chain back through the system, and then I tried my best to hammer the chain back together with my bare hands. I stood the bike back upright and took off. Unfortunately, my fingers weren’t able to do the trick like a bike chain tool does, and so it was click, click, and the whole thing fell apart almost immediately.

It was close to midnight. I didn’t know what to do. Finding a cab that would let me shove my bike in the backseat would have been a long shot. Then again, I was kind of far from the subway, and at this time of night, I had no idea how much time I would have spent waiting for a train. I finally decided that I’d sit on the bike and push myself home, like a scooter.

It was one of those ideas that sounded great in my head, but halfway across the Queensboro Bridge, way too late to turn back and figure something else out, I realized what a strain this was on my system, my chest muscles felt like they were supporting my arms holding onto the handlebars, pushing my torso outward while my legs took turns alternating between standing on a pedal and pushing off the ground like I would a skateboard.

And I woke up this morning and my right foot was all swollen, like I could feel my actions last night aggravating muscles that I probably don’t use much while I’m walking or running, but I had stubbornly kept at it, refusing to let any more of the night pass than it already had. And now I’m sitting here looking at this bike with no chain, totally useless.

I love riding a bike because I’m free to go anywhere in the city without ever having to spend any time waiting around for buses or trains. And usually it’s great, I have my commute timed out to the minute, I save a lot of money on not having to buy a monthly MetroCard. But every once in a while something like this happens, something breaks, or it starts raining, or the bike lane on the bridge gets shut down for repairs. And then I’m stuck, I have to figure something out, I can’t take a cab, I can’t even run. In these moments, no longer is my bike a key to freedom, it’s an anchor, weighing me down wherever I happen to be, I’m mercilessly bound to the present.

Just a little late

Man, sometimes I really don’t want to go to work. I’m in my comfort zone right here. I’m writing. I’m getting shit done. But I have to leave this house in about an hour and a half. Which means I have to get up off the computer in like an hour. But I’m always pushing my luck. It’s a really bad habit. I’m constantly aware of what time it is, of how many minutes I have left to myself, but despite that knowledge, I’ll always just kind of willfully ignore it.

So say I commit to getting off the computer at three forty five with the end goal of heading out the door at four fifteen. I don’t have to be at work until four forty five, which, considering that I have to get there and change into my waiter’s uniform, that really means four forty. I ride my bike to work every day so I know exactly how long this whole thing is going to take.

But that’s like four steps, four different time deadlines, plus the present moment, which is all that really exists anyway, but I’m not about to get all philosophical. I have right now, then three forty five, then four fifteen, four forty, and finally, four forty five, the moment when I give up any semblance of freedom and commit to following somebody else’s rules for the next eight hours or so.

I never get going exactly when I’m supposed to. I’ll always push it. Five minutes. Ten minutes. And each step along the way, each deadline invites multiple opportunities to keep pushing it even more. So I might not get up from the computer until three fifty, or three fifty five. That’s OK, I’ll just haul ass and rush through the getting ready for work phase. Maybe I’ll make up the lost time. Maybe I’ll just run around the house extra fast and I won’t be running late anymore.

But all of that hustling, I’m frazzled, I’m frantic. I don’t want to hurry out the door just yet. I’ve got to calm down some. So I sit in front of the computer for a second, or pick up a magazine. And then my brain is calming down, and I’m getting engaged in something else, an article, a web site, whatever. And I’m still constantly looking at the clock. It’s four ten. It’s four fifteen. And now, OK, it’s four twenty. I’ve got to get going, I’m late.

And now I’m riding my bike, I’m really pushing it. This part of the commute is the most difficult to make up lost time, because while I’m always feeling up to the bike ride, sometimes I’m just not capable of really giving it my all for the entire duration. Maybe it’s really windy. Maybe it’s raining, or I’m tired, or I’m hitting a bunch of red lights.

But I could still get there on time. Maybe be exactly on time. Maybe only five minutes late. Everybody else will be lining up for the pre-shift staff meeting, and I’ll show up with them. I won’t be dressed, and so I’ll say that I’m technically not late, but my boss might disagree, seeing as how I’m not ready to go, that I am technically late. But I always punch in right away, as soon as I’m in the door, so that way if, months from now, the higher ups all decide to come at me with a list of recorded tardiness, I’ll be able to be like, what are you guys talking about? I’ve always been on time.

And say I make it all dressed, ready to go at four forty five. There’s still time to fuck around. I’ll think, well, I’m pretty good on time here, let’s get a cup of coffee. And then I’ll get a drink. And a snack. It doesn’t stop.

I think I’ve said all I can say here. But it’s just that, I have to deal with this every day. I’m always looking for two, three extra minutes, time that isn’t there that I insist on having anyway. I just need to stop working, that’s the problem. Anybody want to start donating to the Rob Doesn’t Have to Work Fund? It’s going to cost you, I’m not going to lie. I don’t have expensive tastes, but I eat a lot, all the time, and I drink a lot of coffee. So yeah, that’s going to add up. Bills, utilities. But just, everybody give me a dollar, please, and then get your friends to give me a dollar too. Come on.

Hey look, Canadians!

This morning I was riding my bike to work. I was all hopped up on some weird kind of euphoric energy. It was a mix of a couple of things, coffee, mostly. I always have three cups, and while they always feel great, they don’t always hit me this great, like great, great. Who knows, maybe it depends on how much food I have in my stomach, I have no idea. But I was feeling amazing, like I could do anything.

And so I was riding my bike, it’s below freezing out but I wasn’t bothered. It felt terrific, totally invigorating. Not only was my mood fantastic, but my body also, I imagined it an extension of my ultra-positive state of mind. Sometimes I’ll be riding my bike in the cold and it won’t feel great at all, my body won’t feel totally up to the task, like the morning commute might be a little bit more of a chore than I’d like it to be. But this morning it was a pleasure, a real treat.

I was pedaling away, the bike at its top gear, my legs pumping away, only feeling limited by the gears of the bike itself. I’m pretty sure I had enough energy to bike across the country if I wanted to. As I was flying down Crescent toward the Queensboro Bridge, I saw these people in front of a hotel, they were packing their bags into their car.

As I got closer to the car I see it’s a Quebec license plate. And I was just feeling so happy, so thrilled to be alive, and look, Canadians! And I wanted to share some of my positive energy with the Canadians, but I was going so fast, and so my intentions were hampered by the fact I didn’t really have enough time to, one, register their presence as being a foreign one and, two, think up something nice and clever or happy or funny or whatever to say to them.

So I wound up just screaming out, “Quebec!” and giving them a thumbs-up. But, and I know I keep repeating my words here, but I really was flying, like much faster than traffic. Obviously a car can go faster than a bike. But speed bumps? Traffic lights? I was definitely cruising down Crescent much quicker than any car. So quick that I didn’t even get to look at the Canadians as I shouted out to them their car’s point of origin.

And at that point I said to myself, “All right Rob, better calm it down a notch,” because, seriously, this was almost a good mood bordering on a manic episode. I wanted to make sense of what was going on, with my ebullience (that’s a pretty big word right there, but I’m demonstrating how elevated my mood was, like big-word elevated) with the Canadians. I stopped for a second and hopped off my bike, took out my iPhone and wrote “Quebec” in the little notepad application.

So now here I am, it’s after work, the sun’s down, I’m trying to get some writing done, and I open up the notepad app, and see “Quebec.” And now I’m struggling to put myself back in those happy shoes I was wearing this morning. I’m not in a bad mood, not at all. But I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as euphoric, or ebullient.

And I’m thinking about it from the Canadians’ point of view. How was their morning? Did their bodies respond to their morning coffee in the same way that mine had? Maybe they drank too much, it left them a little jittery. Or maybe not enough and they had a killer tension headache. That always happens to me when I’m away from home. I don’t have my kitchen, my coffee pot, my routine, and so I’m always feeling under caffeinated on the road.

And they were packing up, so, what, New York vacation over? Already? But it must have felt like they just got here, like there was still so much that they didn’t get to see. And did it live up to their expectations? Were they trying a little too hard to tell themselves that they really had a good time?

Getting ready for that long drive back to Quebec. Packing everything away in the car. And then this cyclist flies by and screams, “Quebec!” but he says it like a non-Quebecer, like “Kwa-beck!” instead of the “Keh-bec” that, now that he’s writing it all out, much later in the day, he always imagines Quebecers to say it like that, the second way. And maybe that was it, they were like, “all right, let’s hit the road, we’ve got a long drive, we’ve got to get to a gas station so we can get some gas and some coffee and let’s head back to Canada.”

I don’t know. I hope they had a nice trip. I hope the coffee hit them just right. I hope they got to feel during their stay here as good as I felt this morning, even for just a moment, that joy I got to feel just for my own fleeting moment.